The Canucks beat the Carolina Hurricanes. Good for them. Or is it? It’s all so confusing now so we’ll leave that for another time. Of far more significance is the fact the team lurched to the midway mark of its 2015-16 National Hockey League schedule on Wednesday night. Halfway through this season, the Canucks are 16-16-9 good for 41 points in 41 games. That puts them on pace for 82 points over the course of the full season and I don’t care how bad the teams around them in the Pacific Division are, there is no way 82 points will get the Canucks a return trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Whether it’s a rebuild, retool, reload or whatever other re-word fits, the Canucks simply aren’t a very good hockey team. The facts are the facts. By any measure, the Sedins are having terrific seasons. And their performances are made that much more impressive when judged against what’s going on around them on a nightly basis. But beyond the Sedins, the Canucks have been a disappointing bunch in the first half of this season.
Now, it’s important to keep expectations in mind. And at the outset of the season, I had the Canucks pegged to stay in the mix late into season, but figured they would fall short of their stated goal of making the playoffs. In that sense, they are about where I figured they’d be. But I had no idea just how heavily they would rely on the Sedins for production nor did I have any sense of the struggles so many players have had in the first 41 games.
Based on their overall record, their performance on home ice, their special teams struggles and their general inability to score more than two goals most nights, I will give the Vancouver Canucks a passing grade — but by the slimmest of margins:
As far as individuals go, I will issue letter grades for all skaters who have suited up for at least 20 games as well as the team’s top two goaltenders. All others will receive an incomplete grade.
Daniel Sedin: (A+) — simply put, Sedin has exceeded all expectations and has unquestionably been the Canucks first-half MVP. Clinging to a spot in the top-10 of league scoring and deservedly named an All-Star on Wednesday morning, Daniel has led by example and has been a model of consistency through the first half of the season
Henrik Sedin: (A) — just four points behind his brother despite playing through a nagging injury for the past month, Henrik has had an exceptional first half, too. But he’s gone quiet in the goal-scoring department and, as the quarterback, hasn’t been able to breathe life into an ice-cold power play. So he gets high marks for his first half, but not quite as high as Daniel
Jannik Hansen: (B+) — responded to his promotion to the team’s top line by scoring 12 goals in the first half of the season despite virtually no power play time. A tireless worker on the penalty kill, Hansen accepts his role on the hockey club and has made the most of it. It’s not always about how much ice time you get, but what you do with the ice time you’re given. Hansen is one of four players to play every game for the team this season and is one of a small group on the team that can look himself in the mirror at the midway mark knowing he’s done his part
Alex Edler: (B) — it’s hardly been smooth sailing in the first half for Edler. But with most other regulars missing good chunks of time due to injury, Edler has been asked to hold down the fort which hasn’t been an easy task. It also makes it difficult to accurately assess his season. Through it all, though, he’s managed 6 goals and 17 points which isn’t terrible on a team that doesn’t score much. Yeah, you’d like to see more intensity and fewer shots into opponents’ shin pads, however on balance Edler’s first half performance has been solid, but not spectacular
Chris Tanev: (B) — playing with a sore hand for a good portion of games and more recently returning after an ankle injury, Tanev lost some steam after a strong start to his season. He gives the Canucks big minutes in tough situations and generally holds his own. He’ll need to elevate the offensive side of his game to ever rise above a B letter grade, but if he had an offensive dimension to his game he’d be a $6 million defenseman instead of the $4.45 million he currently makes. But it is interesting to note that Tanev does have points in three straight games
Adam Cracknell: (C+) — signed a depth guy weeks before training camp, Cracknell has been more than serviceable in his fourth line capacity. Low-maintenance and responsible defensively, the veteran has given the Canucks solid minutes and has even chipped in with reasonable production for a guy in that role
Jared McCann: (C+) — the rookie made an early splash with five goals in his first nine games. Offensively, it’s been a struggle since then. But on a team with few good news stories this season, the 19-year-old shows flashes of the kind of offensive player the Canucks need him to become and at the very least represents hope for the future. He’s fifth on the team in goals with seven at the midway mark. Nothing wrong with being on a 15-goal pace in your first go-round in the NHL
Ben Hutton: (C+) — a quick start to the season had people buzzing. His offensive production has dried up although his nightly performance level has not dropped significantly. With injuries all around him, he has been forced to take on a bigger role than anyone could have expected at this point in his first season. There has been a steep learning curve, but the positives have far outweighed the negatives. And like McCann, Hutton represents the future for the Canucks and it will be fun to continue to watch him develop
Jacob Markstrom: (C+) — has given the Canucks a chance to win most of the games he’s started. Has done good things with limited goal support which isn’t easy knowing he has no room for mistakes. Has responded well to current opportunity as starter giving Canucks reason to believe he may be on proper developmental path, but only if he addresses that glove hand of his
Bo Horvat: (C) — it’s impossible to ignore the five goals and team worst -19 at the midway mark, and yet I feel like Horvat has played better than his offensive production indicates. And nights like Wednesday against Carolina may be proof he’s awakening from his season-long slumber. But it’s important to recognize that at 20, he’s been over-matched on a lot of nights and hasn’t been ready for the role he’s been thrust into as the team’s top penalty killing forward. His second half needs to be better than his first — and with three goals in the last two games, he hits the second half with some much-needed momentum. Or is that Bo-mentum? Carry on
Dan Hamhuis: (C) — the veteran blueliner wasn’t having a banner season, but no one deserves a puck in the mouth like he got on December 9th. On many nights, he looks like a 33-year-old struggling to keep up with the speed of today’s game, he doesn’t win many one on one battles and produces next to no offense. Yet given what else they’ve got on the back-end, the Canucks miss Hamhuis who brings leadership, professionalism and a quiet calm to the locker room
Sven Baertschi: (C) — the subject of intense scrutiny for the first two months, Baertschi struggled early. But his 13 points at the midway mark is the same as Bo Horvat in a considerably less prominent role. He’s a skilled player and needs to generate offense with consistency which he has yet to do as a Canuck. December was easily his best month of the season and it looks like that has allowed him to relax a little and carry his improved play into the new year. His goal on Wednesday was a thing of beauty
Matt Bartkowski: (C) — an underwhelming free agent signing last summer, Bartkowski skates well but struggles in too many areas. He has been able to use his skating to help the Canucks transition game, but appears to have few offensive instincts when he crosses the centre line. And in his own zone, he’s been guilty of puck-watching on too many nights
Ryan Miller: (C) — was terrific early on, but then a ridiculous workload took its toll on the 35-year-old. After a strong October, his play dropped off considerably before he was injured just prior to Christmas. Less is more at this stage of Miller’s career and hopefully the Canucks learned that lesson with the way they handled him in the first month of the season
Radim Vrbata: (C-) — yes, his 10 goals are third on the team at the midway mark. But three came in the same game against Buffalo and simply put there just hasn’t been enough production from a guy whose job is to score. No one expected him to match the 31 he scored last season, but he’s just too much of a non-factor on a lot of nights and that has likely affected his asset value if the Canucks choose to deal him before the February 29th trade deadline
Derek Dorsett: (C-) — outside of the occasional fight, Dorsett hasn’t offered much to the Canucks in the first half of the season. He certainly hasn’t resembled the player who put up 25 points and did a good job of sticking up for teammates a year ago. And, remember, this is the first season of that eyebrow raising four-year extension he signed last spring
Brandon Prust: (C-) — like Dorsett, it’s hard to find many nights when Prust has had any kind of impact on a game. He was good out of the gate on the wing with Jared McCann, but after an ankle injury forced him to the sideline he’s barely been noticeable. From this vantage point, he just doesn’t look fully invested in the Canucks and gives off the vibe of a player who knows he’ll be moved before the deadline
Alex Burrows: (D) — this is by far the toughest grade to give because Burrows has bled Canucks blue for so long and given so much to the organization. But there just isn’t much there right now — and perhaps any longer. Fair or not, it’s impossible to ignore his $4.5 million price tag. The Canucks certainly expected more than the five goals he’s contributed at the midway mark
Chris Higgins: (D) — once one of the hardest workers on the team, Higgins is invisible most nights now. And Wednesday couldn’t be found on the ice because he was a healthy scratch. His season got off off to a tough start with a broken foot in the preseason and perhaps that derailed him entirely. Outside of some penalty killing duties, it’s hard to see the value he brings. Never a huge scorer, there is now no offense from Higgins even though he still somehow manages to find his way onto the power play
Yannick Weber: (D) — like Higgins, Weber seems like a shadow of his former self. An 11-goal scorer with one of the hardest shots in hockey last season, he’s still looking for his first goal of the 2015-16 season. But offense aside, the real issue has been Weber’s play in his own zone where he seems overmatched against almost all opponents
Incomplete grades for the following regulars: Brandon Sutter, Luca Sbisa, Jake Virtanen, Alex Biega
Willie Desjardins: (C-) — the second year coach hasn’t been blessed with a lot to work with and on top of that his roster has been hit hard by injuries. So it hasn’t be an easy time for Desjardins. We’ll give him that. But there are still many questions about the job he is doing developing young players and the way he has deployed those players late in close games. He continues to show too much loyalty to under-performing veterans and seems slow to make necessary adjustments both in-game and from game to game. Like many of his players, Desjardins needs to be better in the second half of the season. In fact, his job may depend on it
Agree? Disagree? I would love to hear what you think of my assessments and where yours would differ. Leave your comments in the comments section below or send me a tweet @patersonjeff
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