Team underachieved in season filled with COVID-19 outbreak and off-ice issues
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
Vancouver then went on a six-game losing streak to begin February; the team could not find their mojo.
The Canucks’ 2021 season, before it began, had projected optimism and hope. The team performed well during the playoff bubble in Edmonton in 2020 and advanced to the second round for the first time in nine years. So, it would seem fitting that the Canucks would build on the success they had.
Unfortunately, this did not occur as the Canucks’ 2021 season can be compared to the wooden roller coaster at Playland. It started out calm and slowly and then it became progressively unsteady with numerous ups and downs (mostly the latter). The Canucks were plagued with inconsistent play, injuries, and a COVID-19 outbreak with the NHL rescheduling their last remaining 19 games. Vancouver is out of the playoffs as they were officially eliminated from the post-season mathematically on May 10. And considering how inconsistent they have played this season, it should not be a big surprise.
Prior to the start of their reduced 56-game season due to the pandemic, Canucks GM, Jim Benning, had many Canucks fans perplexed and angry. Several players left for free agency: Chris Tanev, Jacob Markström, Troy Stecher, and Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli signed with the Montreal Canadiens, and Canucks fans were upset with Benning not resigning Toffoli as the Canucks need more offensive scoring upfront. Toffoli finished the season scoring 28 goals (including eight goals in eight games against Vancouver).
Unfortunately, the Canucks did not have a training camp or play any exhibition games to prepare for the upcoming season. And this was apparent in their performance on the ice during the first month of the season in January. The Canucks struggled with a record of 6 to 5. Vancouver then went on a six-game losing streak to begin February; the team could not find their mojo. The Canucks continued to struggle and lost four consecutive games to end February (February record was a dismal 2 to 11).
But in March, the Canucks began to play better, ending the month with eight wins and five losses. However, a COVID-19 outbreak would halt their season in late March. The Canucks returned to the ice on April 18 after a 25-day hiatus. Their record in April was three wins and four losses. And it should be no surprise that the Canucks looked like a team who had been through a COVID-19 outbreak: tired and sluggish.
And just when you thought the Canucks’ season could not have anymore setbacks, another one would rear its ugly head. On May 2, the team released a statement that forward Jake Virtanen was put on leave and is now involved in a civil lawsuit pending an investigation into an alleged sexual misconduct incident with a woman in September 2017. On May 5, the CBC reported the Vancouver Police Department opened an investigation into the Virtanen sexual misconduct allegations.
Virtanen has underachieved during his time as a Canuck. Drafted by the Canucks in 2014 (first round, sixth overall) the Abbotsford native has shown signs of being a gifted player who possesses great speed, plays hard, scores goals, and delivers solid body checks. Unfortunately, he has not done enough of this on a consistent basis in his seven seasons with Vancouver. Subsequently, pending the outcome of the VPD investigation, Virtanen may have played his last game in a Canucks uniform.
The Canucks play their final regular season game on the road against Calgary on May 19. However, the only positives from this disappointing season are the Canucks’ development and insertion of younger players late in the season: Kole Lind, Jack Rathbone, and Jonah Gadjovich. Other players with more NHL experience received more ice time as well: Tyler Graovac, Travis Boyd, and Jimmy Vesey. Rookie Nils Höglander has been another positive along with the performance of goaltender, Thatcher Demko. Also, goalie Braden Holtby, played better late in the season showing signs of his top-notch self when he helped the Washington Capitals win the cup in 2018.
Yet, there is the uncertainty regarding the status of head coach, Travis Green, who remains without a contract extension. Green declined to discuss his contract situation during a Zoom meeting with the media on May 11: “I’m not going to comment on my contract situation. From the first day I got here, I wanted to coach this team through the rebuild and get to a spot where I thought we were getting some good young pieces and had a bright future. And I still have the same feeling. [General Manager] Jim [Benning] said he wants me to coach the team and we’ll see where it goes.”
With the pandemic far from being over, this off-season will be very interesting to see what the Canucks will do—to hopefully improve the team for next season.