There is a lot to like about the Vancouver Canucks win on Long Island on Thursday. Coming from behind – twice – to win it in the third. Goals from Vasili Podkolzin and Nils Höglander. The first is from Brad Hunt as a Canuck. Quinn Hughes playing a casual 25+ minutes again and getting two points and that is “normal”. Thatcher Demko does not need to play out of his mind to get the win for once. Another strong outing from what is supposedly their fourth line. But what kind of Canucks post would this be if we only focus on the positive? Let’s talk about winning being bad news and the Canucks Playoff Run Paradox that can save them from temporary success.
The Hazards of Success
With a win over the New York Islanders, Vancouver is now, amazingly, back in the thick of the playoff battle. They are still massive underdogs, giving up games in hand to the teams they’re hunting. But it’s a shock to see them four points away from sixth place in the Western Conference on March 3rd. That’s especially after a mediocre January brought their December run to a crashing halt. And it gets even better looking ahead.
There are eight games left between March 4th and March 20th. The first is on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs, followed by an amazing seven-game homestand. It’s not all wine and roses, with Tampa Bay and Calgary coming in. But the rest? No one is all that unbeatable* – a quick look at what happened to Calgary the last time they played Vancouver confirms it. It wouldn’t be an absolute shock if Vancouver won six of the next eight games.
If they win six of eight, that would give the Canucks 72 in 64 games. And if 85-ish points wins a wild card spot, they would only need another 13 points in the remaining 18 games. Which would be awesome for the fans, getting legitimate playoffs again. It would also be great for the owners, as players don’t get paid for playoff games. Yes, they could get stomped by an absolutely furious Colorado squad in five or six. Or four. But playoffs! In a full season! It’s possible!
The problem isn’t with the fans, of course. Fans should root for their team, and the playoffs are a hell of a lot of fun. Having a winning team is better than having a losing one every time. The problem is that the NHL trade deadline is on March 21st. And after March 21st the Canucks play Colorado. Then Minnesota, Dallas, and St. Louis twice, with four of those five on the road. April then kicks off with three of five games being against Vegas.
As possible as it is that Vancouver could be in a playoff spot before the deadline, they could be thoroughly out of one a month later. Asking for the Golden Knights to suddenly be the smallest guy at the brawl would embarrass a djinn. Sure, it’s theoretically possible, but still asking for an awful lot. In total, the Canucks play the Flames twice, Wild twice, Stars twice, Blues twice, and Golden Knights three times. The Sharks, Kings, and a desperate Oilers team are in the mix, too. That’s a real tough close to the year.
Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin can’t afford to let a strong run in the first three weeks of March fool him. This isn’t a team built for long-term success yet. There are holes that need to get patched, and not temporarily. The trade deadline has to be put to use.
Avoiding Groundhog Day
Whatever move Allvin makes here is going to set a tone. Whoever is traded out, whatever is brought in, will tell what exactly he thinks about the team. If the target is for, say, three years, that might not include J.T. Miller who is turning 29 this month. And whatever the timeline, the defence clearly needs an overhaul. Though it will admittedly be a challenge to move Myers or Hamonic or Poolman now or in the offseason.
The bottom line is that Allvin can’t afford to think the team should buy this year. Yes, fans and the owner alike are frustrated by the past five seasons. Yes, it will look like the team is giving up on the year. But Canucks fans, while frequently lunatic, aren’t stupid. They know the odds of winning anything this year are remote, and that’s okay. It’s not great, but it is realistic.
There is a plus side to a winning streak happening now, however. The Canucks Playoff Run Paradox is set to go.
What the Canucks Playoff Run Paradox means is this: the better the team does leading up to the trade deadline, the safer a trade is for management. Simply put, if the Canucks can build a substantial cushion – such as winning six of their next eight – then they can afford to play .500 the rest of the way. Or worse, if they win against the right teams. Even five wins in their next eight games can give them enough juice in a weak division to get a wild card spot.
But What About the Draft?
What, you’re concerned that the Canucks won’t win the draft lottery if they make the playoffs? *cue bitter laughter* C’mon. They won’t win the lottery, you know this. Whatever good luck Vancouver’s had in the draft has been from teams ahead of them taking surprise players. And it’s a pretty solid draft year – there doesn’t look like a whole lot of difference between finishing 22nd and finishing 16th.
Play well now, make the deals that need to be made, maybe reach the playoffs anyway. Even if the remaining players lose their playoff spot this year, it’s the only way everyone can win.
*Counterpoint: the New Jersey Devils. But we don’t talk about Jacko.
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