Looking back at 2021 for the Canucks

OTTAWA, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 01: Thatcher Demko #35 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on December 01, 2021 in Ottawa, Ontario. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
OTTAWA, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 01: Thatcher Demko #35 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on December 01, 2021 in Ottawa, Ontario. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images) /

2021 was quite the year for the Vancouver Canucks.

It started off with the team playing in an all-Canadian division thanks to COVID-19 border restrictions. Despite losing key players such as Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, and Tyler Toffoli in the offseason, the Canucks were expected to be competing for a playoff spot.

Unfortunately, the playoffs didn’t happen in Vancouver in 2021. The Canucks ended up finishing last in the Scotia North Division with a 23-29-4 record and 50 points. There were so many poor efforts from the Canucks in the 2021 season. The defence was very bad and they relied on goaltending to bail them out. Perhaps the most painful part for Canucks fans was seeing Toffoli score many goals against Vancouver.

Toffoli was traded to the Canucks a few weeks before the 2020 trade deadline and did well in ten regular season games and seven playoff games before the Canucks “ran out of time” to re-sign him. He was the Montreal Canadiens leading scorer with a large chunk of his goals coming against the Canucks and he helped the Habs reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Despite a slow start in 2021, Elias Pettersson managed to find his form in February and March before going down with what became a season-ending wrist injury. The positives were the play of Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. (Boeser managed to hit the 20 goal mark) and the emergence of Thatcher Demko as the number one goalie.

COVID continued to show its wrath and the team went through the NHL’s biggest COVID outbreak to date with over 20 players and staff testing positive in late March and April.

After the 2021 season ended, then-General Manager Jim Benning promised an “aggressive offseason,” and he delivered.

The biggest transaction of 2021 was acquiring Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland in a draft-day blockbuster which sent Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Loui Eriksson, the ninth overall pick, (used to select Dylan Guenther.) a 2022 2nd and a 2023 seventh to the Arizona Coyotes. Taking a declining Ekman-Larsson and his contract is a big risk but the Canucks did manage to get a good top-six winger in Garland who is settled in well with the team so far.

In the summer of 2021, the Canucks also acquired Jason Dickinson for their 2021 third-round pick before the expansion roster freeze and signed numerous free agents including Jaroslav Halak, Luke Schenn, and Tucker Poolman. Poolman was another one of Benning’s questionable signings. The team’s AHL affiliate moved from Utica New York to Abbotsford so the Canucks signed a bunch of players for the AHL including Phil Di Giuseppe and Nic Petan.

Benning’s 2020 offseason moves came back to bite him. He prioritized Jake Virtanen over Toffoli and Virtanen was bought out and signed with Spartak Moscow of the KHL. (Virtanen was also amid a sexual assault allegation and has yet to appear in court.) Braden Holtby didn’t work out and was also bought out. Nate Schmidt wasn’t a fit and wanted out. He got his wish and was traded to the Winnipeg Jetss.

Perhaps the best day in 2021 for Canucks fans is December 5. That was the day the organization fired Benning, assistant GM John Weisbrod, head coach Travis Green, and assistant Nolan Baumgartner. Change was needed for the team as they kept on losing as they did in the previous season with Demko’s goaltending carrying them.

The “Fire Benning” chants and a jersey being thrown on the ice on December 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins were the final straws for Francesco Aquilini.

Since then, it’s been fun for the Canucks under Bruce Boudreau and his offensive style and personality have brought life to the Canucks locker room as they have won six straight games. Unfortunately, COVID was the buzz kill as the Canucks and the rest of the NHL have had multiple games postponed. They were supposed to play the Seattle Kraken on Monday but that game has been postponed too. As of now, it seems the game in Anaheim is going ahead. Boudreau confirmed the team would be traveling to Anaheim on Tuesday.

It’s safe to say 2021 wasn’t a year of more bad than good for the Canucks. It will be remembered as a year of bad hockey, COVID, and the risky blockbuster draft-day trade.

Canucks fans should be happy 2021 is over but should also be hopeful for 2022.

Looking ahead to 2022

Under Boudreau, the Canucks playoff chances have been slowly increasing. There is hope again. They may not make the playoffs but it will be fun to see them try to make a push for it. Boeser and Pettersson will hopefully continue to bounce back and so will Demko’s stellar play. It will be exciting to see how Vasili Podkolzin continues to progress as well.

There is also the hope that whoever the new GM is can steer the ship around. What kind of moves will he make in the offseason? Will he actually use the first-round pick instead of trading it away? What kind of contract will Boeser get? Will a core piece be traded? We shall see.

2021 wasn’t a good year but with 2022 on the horizon there is hope in Canucks Nation once again.

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