Canucks Vs Wild Preview
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the league and the NHL Players' Association have agreed on a return-to-play format in the event the 2019-20 season can resume. The 24-team plan would see the top-4 clubs in the Eastern and Western Conference play two mini round-robin tournaments to determine seeding for the playoffs. The other eight teams in each conference would play best-of-five "play-in"series as follows — No. 5 versus No. 12, No. 6 versus No. 11, No. 7 versus No. 10, and No. 8 versus No. 9 — to determine the 16 clubs left standing in the playoffs.
This means the Vancouver Canucks (seed 7) will have a shot at the playoffs for the first time in 5 years, where they take on the Minnesota Wild (seed 10) in this “play in” series. This article will compare both teams’ forwards, defence men, and goaltending, to determine who has the edge. Lets jump into it!
Starting with the forwards, most national media in regard to this series gives Vancouver the edge based on depth however this notion may not be entirely true. The Vancouver Canucks are a more front loaded team, as their success is driven by the performance of their top line, and minimal help from the supporting cast. The lotto line (Elias Pettersson, J.T Miller, and Brock Boeser) have had a terrific season together and have been one of the most dominant Canucks lines in recent memory. Both Pettersson and Miller posted 27 goals with 66 and 72 points respectively. While Boeser put together 45 points in 57 games due to a rib injury he suffered in mid February. The Canucks bolstered their forward group by acquiring Tyler Toffoli in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings just prior to the trade deadline. Toffoli slotted in the top line to replace the injured Boeser and put up 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists) in 10 games. Other than these four players the Canucks forward group was quite lacking this season. Tanner Pearson had a very poor season contrary to popular belief. Even Canucks captain Bo Horvat has struggled this season in 5 on 5 play, but he was very effective on the power play and still had 53 points (22 goals) in 69 games. Sutter, Beagle, and Erickson who are all constantly scrutinized gave fans and media more reasons to do so this season. One player who may have slipped under the radar was Josh Leivo as he was on pace for his best season in the NHL, but was cut short due to a knee injury in early November (From a very suspendable hit by VGK Dman Nick Holden check it out here.) The Canucks announced that he won’t be available for this year's postseason which is disappointing considering that it further thins out the Canucks winger depth. Farhan Lalji of TSN reported Michael Ferland will play if healthy when the play in round starts, take that for what it is, it’s honestly hard to see a future where Ferland continues a career in the NHL considering the amount of injury trouble he has had in his career. Moving on to the Minnesota Wild, although nationally they don’t have a recognized superstar, the Wild have true depth. Players like Joel Erickson Ek, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Hartman, etc are all players that most hockey fans overlook. According to most underlying advanced stats, Erickson Ek is a terrific two way center, while Greenway displays an excellent defensive game on the wing. Although the young Sweedish forward (Erickson Ek) only posted 29 points, he has been a solid second line centre for the Wild this season. The most notable forward on this wild team would be Kevin “the king of toe drags” Fiala. The Wild acquired him last trade deadline, when they shipped out Mikael Grandlund to the Nashville Predators. Former Wild GM Paul Fenton was accused by many for becoming “infatuated” with Fiala, he became familiar with Fiala during his time as AGM of the predators, Fenton barely lasted a year in Minnesota after a trail of questionable hires and acquisitions (Michel Russo of the Athletic had an in depth report about this situation) however Fiala is putting together a career year with 54 points in 64 games. Eric Stall has also had another solid year with 47 points in 66 games and has been a reliable number one centre. The addition of Matt Zuccalero was key for the Wild, as he brings an offensive punch with his game and strengthens the Wilds winger depth. Although this Wild team would appear to have more depth than the Canucks, the edge will have to go to Vancouver because game changers win playoff series’. The best player on both teams in this series is on the Canucks in that of Elias Pettersson. Pettersson is the kind of the talent that can single handedly take over a game. Think back to Vancouver's game against Columbus this March. The Canucks couldn’t generate any scoring chances, they were slow, couldn’t win any puck battles, and all in all were getting dominated by Columbus on home ice. But that all changed with about 13 minutes left in the game, where Elias Pettersson was called for a questionable elbow. After the Canucks killed off the penalty, an angered Pettersson stormed out of the box, skated himself on to a partial break, and scored a beautiful goal while being tripped. The building was sent into a frenzy and the Canucks had control for the remaining 11 minutes. Only special players have the ability to take over a game, and no one on the Wilds forward group can match Elias Pettersson and his game changing factor.
Image courtesy of The Canuck Way
Starting with the Canucks, to be blunt this teams defence is awful other than the rookie sensation Quinn Hughes. These past two seasons have seen Vancouver's worst defence group to date, and they looked to address that problem this offseason by adding Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn, and Oscar Fantenberg in free agency. Improving the defence right from opening night is rookie Quinn Hughes. The Canucks haven’t had a defenceman of Hughes’ calibre in years, and as we saw during this shortened season, he had a very positive effect on the Canucks’ power play. Hughes has 53 points in 68 games which leads all rookies. Troy Stecher has been solid on the right side once again, although the market was clammering for a trade. Veteran Alex Edler also had a great season on the left side, logging big minutes again, averaging 22:37 a night. Chris Tanev has completed his first season in what seems like forever without getting injured. He has been stapled to Hughes for almost the entire season, and the two have complimented each other well for the Canucks’ first pair. And then there’s Tyler Myers. The 6’8 defenceman is often harped on for his poor decision making, and at times this season has been a tire fire in his own zone. Although Myers does have some flaws, you would be wrong if you think he hasn’t improved this defence corps from last season. Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantanberg round out the defence, and lets save time and just say they’ve been bad. Like really bad. On the contrary the Minnesota Wild have an excellent complete top four. Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba have been superb together. If you are looking for the best Wild defenseman from opening night through the end of the season, look no further than Jared Spurgeon. The 5-foot-9 blueliner has made a name for himself for his great all-around play since the Wild picked him off the scrap heap from New York in 2010. From an analytics standpoint, Spurgeon has become the Wild’s best defenseman. While the rewards of having Spurgeon have been immense for the Wild since his signing, the team and player have come to a fork in the road. Spurgeon is on the last year of his current deal before a very lucrative extension kicks in the following season, a 7 year deal with an AAV of $7.57 Milion annally, this deal was greeted with some skepticism for the soon to be 30 year old. Nonetheless, Spurgeon will be a huge factor in this series, and continues to be one of the best defencemen in the NHL. If the Wild are going to get back to the postseason they will need Ryan Suter to be at the top of his game. As he’s proven throughout his career, that shouldn’t be an issue for Mr. Consistency. Since the 2013-2014 season Suter has ranked in the top three in the NHL for time on ice and has posted 40 or more points in five of those six seasons. Jonas Brodin the smooth-skating Swedish defensemen has always been solid, particularly in his own end, this season has been a real breakout year for Brodin as he has started to produce more offensively. With 24 points through 58 games played, he is on pace to shatter his previous career high of just 25 points. And at the same time, Brodin has continued to be the reliable defensive player many have become accustomed to. Brodin is a key player to this Wild team, and it seems Bill Guerin has picked up on that. On the other hand Matt Dumba has had quite the down year. Fatigue, luck and a lack of high-danger chances are just a few potential factors contributing to Dumba’s down season. For whatever reason, he just hasn’t had the same offensive touch he exhibited a year ago, where the blueliner was on pace to score 30 goals. Perhaps this is just a slump he needs to work himself out of, or maybe he just isn’t the perennial 50-point player many were hoping he’d be after his stellar campaigns in 2018 and 2019. No matter what the issue is, Dumba returning to borderline All-Star form would do wonders for the Wild as they look to make a run this postseason. Despite Dumba down year, this is a no brainer, as the Canucks simply cannot match the well rounded top 4 of the Wild. Although the best defenseman in this series is on Vancouver (Quinn Hughes), the combination of Myers, Edler, and Tanev doesn’t even compare to the Wilds top 4.
Image courtesy of Grand Forks Herald
Similar to the defence matchup matchup, this one is a no brainer, as Stalock and Dubnyk tandem stands no chance against Markstrom and Demko. This season Jacob Markstrom has proven himself as an elite number one goaltender in the NHL. Markstrom posted 23 wins in 43 starts, with a save percentage of .918. Kevin Woodley, who runs a goaltending website in Vancouver, tweeted that proprietary data indicates Markstrom is the league’s runaway leader in goal-differential at plus-22.1 – The difference between the goals he has allowed and the number of pucks that should have beaten him based on micro-analyzed shot quality. For context, Boston Bruins starter Tuukka Rask is second at plus-15.2, based on data from the private firm Clear Sight Analytics. That’s 22 extra goals saved in 43 games for Markstrom, who has been a massive factor in the Canucks’ surge to the Pacific Division lead. No wonder there’s growing talk on the West Coast that the 30-year-old should be in the Vezina Trophy discussion this season. However a disappointing knee injury cut his regular season short. Due to the cancelation of the season, lots of speculation indicates that Markstrom should be good to go, which is a huge confidence booster for the Canucks. When the team was under the reins of Thatcher Demko and Louis Domingue the Canucks were nowhere near the same, which is why Markstrom is arguably the MVP of this team.The biggest question that looms over the Wild roster heading into the play-in series is who will start in the goal for Minnesota. They have three options — Devan Dubnyk, Alex Stalock, and Kaapo Kahkonen — considering rosters will be expanded for the round as well. There is good and bad coming with each starting goaltender for the Wild, as there is no clear-cut favorite until they get in front of their head coach Dean Evason in training camp, which could begin on July 10. Tony Abbott wrote a while back that Dubnyk’s play is likely the norm now. His play just has not been up to league average the past two seasons, and his 90.5% save percentage at 5-on-5 this season is well below that average as well. Also considering the Wild has one of the best defenses in the league, Dubnyk’s poor performance really comes into light and could lead to a potential buyout at the conclusion of the season.That great play from Stalock this season was an outlier if you look at his career numbers. His career save percentage is 90.9% at all strengths and 91.8% at 5-on-5. While he enjoyed good success in goal this season, his heater may have come to an end when the season paused. If he cannot pick up where he left off, the Wild won’t be reluctant in pulling the 32 year old. Lastly while Kahkonen showed promise in his first three NHL starts, his last two were far from great. He allowed nine goals on 59 shots in those final two appearances before being sent back to Iowa for the remainder of the season. Combine that with the fact he has NHL experience in just five regular-season games along with no postseason experience, you have the makings of what could be a shaky option in goal for Minnesota. All it takes is one bad goal from Kahkonen in a game to break the dam and shatter that confidence if you roll with him in goal. All in all Vancouver has the clear advantage, but it clearly relies on whether or not Jacob Markstrom will be healthy.
Image courtesy of NBC Sports
Comparing the two teams head to head this year, in their three matches, the Canucks won the first 4-1, the Wild the second 4-2, and Minnesota took the third 4-3 in a shootout. Since that shootout win doesn’t actually count as a goal for anyone, that leaves the Canucks scoring one more goal than the Wild. And one of Vancouver’s goals was on an empty net. Not a huge surprise, though it’s fun to note that not even overtime could settle the series. Each team used five shooters in game three, with new Wild Alex Galchenyuk (from the Zucker trade) making the difference. No, more than that: Minnesota has one more shot than Vancouver through three games. The teams each went 2-for-4 in the second game, 0-for-2 in the third. The one power-play goal in the first game was on a bench minor, and we know those don’t really count. Essentially it’s been very close in all three games.
Overall, Hockey being what it is, this series could be over in three games. But all three of those games could be hard-fought, overtime matches. No one would be surprised if either team won this in three, four, or five games.
Title picture courtesy of Last Word On Hockey