Seven months ago, after a Vegas Golden Knights empty net goal ended the Canucks’ run in the bubble in Edmonton, J.T. Miller braced to break his stick over his own post before relenting. Instead, he chose to hunch over the crossbar and look into the void of empty seats at Rogers Place. A sharp death stare at how close his team came to a berth in the Western Conference Finals. A chance at the Stanley Cup Finals. A face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning, after being traded to free up cap space, fresh off of signing a five-year contract. The Canucks’ journey was over, but perhaps, at that moment, J.T. Miller was looking beyond the seats into the future where they were better prepared, battle ready, and tested for the grind of the playoffs. G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragon can be killed.”
He’s absolutely correct. The winged beast can be slain and the kingdom purged of evil (especially if Chris Campoli is throwing you a sword). But sometimes, the enemy grows multiple heads. Let’s call them Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Oh, and Auston Matthews. Tyler Toffoli swoops in. Sometimes, the monster devours you and the only person to blame is yourself for not managing the gold in your purse correctly.
[Enter, pursued by multiple dragons]
The 2020-2021 Vancouver Canucks.
Roughly a year later, the team is in a position eerily similar to the COVID pause last March. This time, however, the reality of the pandemic has been felt far too close to home. With a third of a season before them, the health and well being of players, staff and families have to be prioritized. No one should care about the fairy tale right now. We can wait for the story to continue when everyone is able to play their roles. We can also take this second pause as an opportunity to reflect on one of the most tumultuous periods in modern Canucks history. An off-season of large player movement, disagreements about the definition of time, and ghosts of seasons past coming to spook you out of your Harold Druken themed jammies.
The Calgary Canucks took your MVP, your step-dad, and that one friend you only saw at summer camp. The Red Wings opened their arms to the partner that was way too good for you anyways, and Montreal, well, you’re the friend with benefits right before someone got married (you’re a fun person but if you can’t manage a watch, sweetheart, how can you manage a mortgage?).
The large change in personnel mixed with the aforementioned changing of divine beasts in the schedule left a newly formed Canucks squad too little time to do entirely too much emotional homework for the start of the 2021 season. Complete blowout losses to bitter rivals coupled with the success of former teammates in other markets continued the freefall dive into the luscious pool of Vancouver apathy. The addition of the fixed salary cap paired with ownership that put a halt on spending resulted in deals expiring on both the head coach and the goaltending messiah, offering little optimism to a restless fan base.
However, as time passed, an uneasy equilibrium has been reached across the North division. The Flames, the weird cousin that lured away some of your most prized possessions, ended up with an identical 16-18-3 record as the Canucks after 37 games. Sadly, one just spent 10.5 million dollars on fresh long-term deals for players entering the second half of their careers. Yes, the Canucks spent that mu- oh wait, sorry.
Wow, no, okay – amazing, the Calgary Flames did. Sorry, force of habit there. Well there we go. I see this as an absolute win. Hope! Optimism! Huzzah!
They seemed to stabilize as much as could’ve been expected. Slowly marching into the trade deadline, the next narrative was fixed on moving expiring assets for any sort of capital that could be offered in such a polarizing season. Claiming two forwards off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs seemed to indicate that moves could be coming ahead of Monday, April 12th. However, if another trade deadline passes by with the Canucks not recouping any future losses, this may be the last straw for a fan base that has a long off-season ahead of them with too much time on their hands. But after the events of this past week, the narrative should be altered to one rooted in empathy and understanding.
So here, at the end of Easter long weekend, the priority should be the path to recovery for the team and their families. Following a clear bill of health, it should be the discretion of the players whether or not to make-up any games missed due to the outbreak. The long term effects of COVID-19 are unknown, and expecting players to recover their health and quickly train their bodies to a playable standard to complete a handful of games should be a non-starter. A few draft positions are not worth the risk of long-term damage to the individuals that make up the current team.
The next few months should be focused on three key events: the Seattle expansion, the NHL Entry Draft and the expiring RFA contracts of both Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. The 2020-2021 season for all other matters should be considered finished, done and buried. The Canucks are in two years of limbo. Expiring veteran contracts are coming off the books (given out by the same management group that is expected to do things differently this time) by the end of the 2021-2022 season. With Pettersson, Hughes and now Demko extended, there is a relatively clear slate for the team to be rebuilt as a serious contender, if a strong plan has been established.
Production, please star wipe back to J.T. Miller hunched over his own net steamingly looking towards the future.
A plan hasn’t necessarily been the strong suit of this organization. It’s own general manager even admitted a month ago that they take things “day to day”.
Looking at this season as a whole, it’s just another year closer to immovable contracts being taken off the books. Yes, entry level deals with both Hughes and Pettersson were mostly wasted beyond one fairy tale in a bubble, but whatever core was constructed at the time of those rookie deals wasn’t going to be a giant enough wave for them to ride. If luck falls onto their lap, they could even be looking at another top 10 draft pick to really finish off the start of the Hughes and Pettersson show.
But finally just over the horizon, we have something we haven’t had much of in this market this past decade.
Possibility. Flexibility. Opportunity.
Yes, the same management team that got us into this situation is the same group that’s now responsible for getting us out of this jam. But more than a year into the pandemic where we should be staying at home as much as possible, keeping our distance from the people we love for the greater good of the world around us, we should be quite used to holding out hope for the future. Unlike the amazing country we live in, we don’t get a democratic vote into who leads us into this next window of Canucks history. We get who we get.
All we can do is hold out that they’ve learned from past mistakes and cross our fingers that this window is the one where we finally get through. Where the schedule relents, our purses are so full that we toss a coin to our Witcher and our homegrown stars shine brighter than the rest of the universe around us.
Until then, rest up back to full health, take care of those around you, sharpen those swords and wait for the perfect opportunity.
Because dragons have to sleep sometimes too.