No Respect for the Vancouver Canucks

19.1.2024. The Vancouver Canucks are on top of the National Hockey League standings as this is being written. And yet, the team from Canada`s left coast seems to be totally forgotten when Stanley Cup contenders are being discussed. No respect? No respect at all?

Canucks are number one

The Vancouver Canucks have 30 wins and 64 points in their first 45 games. They are leading the Western Conference and the entire NHL as we speak.

The Canucks have been very impressive this season.

They just came home from a tough, but wildly impressive road swing through the Eastern Conference, to beat the Arizona Coyotes at the Rogers Arena. They were bludgeoning teams in the Eastern timezone (to quote reporter Thomas Drance).

There was maybe a more businesslike 1-0 victory over the Sabres in Buffalo, and an overtime win in Pittsburgh, but the Canucks owned all three New York area teams impressively. The entire team played great.

Their win at Madison Square Garden on Monday, January 8th, was the most impressive. The Canucks literally looked like the Harlem Globetrotters in that game at times, and the New York Rangers looked like the Washington Generals.

It almost looked like an act of revenge for what happened at MSG almost exactly 30 years ago. No more hitting the posts. On the biggest stage.

The road trip was also tough logistically. The Vancouver Canucks got stuck on Long Island because of the weather and barely got to Pittsburgh on time. They got stuck in Buffalo because of the snowstorm and had to bus up to Toronto to catch a flight to Columbus.

Major Surgery

It has been a remarkable turnaround in Vancouver compared to last season with all the drama that surrounded the team not that long ago. It was almost to the day in 2023 when the president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford aired the blunt truth of what this organization wanted to do.

Call it Rutherford`s on-ice State of the Union, if you will.

If one remembers, that was at the time when the team was not doing so well. A segment of the Canucks fanbase wanted a full tank, as that was the year when there would have been the possibility of winning the lottery, literally, with North Vancouvers own Connor Bedard as the prize.

But Rutherford and the Canucks would have none of it. No tanking, but changes were coming. “We have to do major surgery”, said Rutherford. And he meant what he said. Even if it meant having to do things that even he didn’t think they would.

Captain Bo Horvat got traded. A top-line centre. The club had committed to a J.T. Miller extension the summer before and was criticized heavily on this one.

Elias Pettersson was and remains untouchable. Quinn Hughes – who now skates with the captain`s C on his sweater and heads the list of Norris Trophy candidates in a fantastic season – was almost out of the question. But other than those two, Vancouver would consider anything.

Coach Bruce Boudreau`s treatment was arguably not fair at all. They let a respected and popular coach float in limbo before showing him the door. The eventual change to Rick Tocchet was expected. To help the defense, another good one from the Pittsburgh days, Sergei Gonchar was thought to be on the radar.

The coaching change has turned out well, to say the least.

Jim Rutherford`s dream was always to get a chance to run a team in his native Canada. All this is very meaningful to him. Being successful in a great hockey market is a huge motivator for him. It remained to be seen if his vision for the Vancouver Canucks would work.

It has.

Bringing the house down in the back end

As the Canucks failed to make the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years, the team`s brass addressed their defensive deficiencies by a complete restructuring of the D-corps in the off-season. Only Quinn Hughes and Tyler Myers remain from the season before.

Carson Soucy and Ian Cole were added in free agency and Nikita Zadorov was acquired recently via a trade. Filip Hronek took a spot in the line-up.

The extreme extent to which the Canucks demolished and then restructured their D is paying dividends now.

Another great move by GM Patrik Allvin happened just as the training camps started. The Canucks acquired goaltender Casey DeSmith from Montreal. DeSmith has turned into a very valuable backup for Thatcher Demko, giving the Canucks` world-class starter some rest when needed.


Rick Tocchet was named head coach almost exactly a year ago in Vancouver. The Gordie Howe Hat Trick all-time record holder (18) from his playing days – the 59-year-old retired in 2001 – bemoaned a lack of practice time upon arrival. He questioned the team’s fitness level. He publicly took issue with the team’s lack of bite, and play away from the puck.

It was clear that he needed a full summer and a full training camp to instill his standards. Tocchet spent the summer calling his players and letting each one know individually what he wanted from them.

The players responded and liked it. They bought in. They were tired of losing and wanted to build an identity.

J.T. Miller was not a player many expected to become a leader in the room. Many have turned into fans. Coach Tocchet let Miller start from a clean slate. Miller is now known as the unselfish emotional leader of the Vancouver Canucks.

Quinn Hughes came into the season with a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to prove that he belonged in the upper echelons of NHL defensemen. He worked all summer on how to walk the blue line, and how to defend with smarts and quickness.

Brock Boeser had a couple of tough seasons, with his dad passing away. He was told by coach Tocchet to battle a little harder, and be first on the forecheck and he started to work on that. A big shooter whose hockey IQ is underrated. Tocchet makes sure Boeser always goes second or first in practice drills.

He has 27 goals. These are the key pieces to Canucks` success. It should not be understated that the forward depth has carried this team at times. A sign of a very good team.

All the right things

Rick Tocchet gave his team the game plan, identified the leaders, and made sure everyone kept doing the right things.

Tocchet made headlines on October 31st when the Canucks beat Nashville. Despite the win and Elias Pettersons hat trick, the coach was not happy with their turnovers, and especially with Petterson. He criticized a win!

A good start was now good enough, it is all about the process for Rick Tocchet. Do the right things and keep doing the right things. He is not even worried about the wins and the losses.

Tocchet has evolved from his Gordie Howe Hat Trick days and understands the response to an opponent that takes liberties is different now. A power play where you are all over the other team, taking a beating in front of their net, or playing hard against their tough players – even if you are not known as a tough player yourself – are the responses the coach wants. The other guys who can do uncomfortable things.

Rick Tocchet doesn’t like entitlement, win or lose, you have to earn it the next day. Whether it`s practice, off-ice, or a video session, earn it. Get Involved, bring some energy, and compete. Every day. Yesterday is yesterday. Short memories help out of losing streaks.

Rick Tocchet is not only a tough taskmaster, however. He emboldens every player on his roster. Players like Phil Di Giuseppe, Dakota Joshua, and Sam Lafferty are flourishing under coach Tocchet.

A good sign of a winning team is that it plays well and with structure even on a bad day, even when it loses. The players know what to do when they are not playing well. Best teams know how to recover when they are struggling and how to get quickly back to their game because their coach has them playing within a structure.

And then there is Thatcher Demko. A great goaltender who doesn’t care about the stats, only about winning. Vezina candidate.

A winning team

The best players have been the best players. The role players have been important. The defense has held up. Backed by world-class goaltending. There`s a lot of things to like about the Vancouver Canucks.

With the Florida Panthers losing to the Detroit Red Wings by Dylan Larkin`s overtime goal on Wednesday night, the Canucks are the only remaining team left in the NHL that has not had a losing streak of three or more games this season.

Jim Rutherford is known for not shying away from very cold-blooded moves when he thinks his team can win. Expect one or two moves in Vancouver before the deadline on March 8th. Jake Guentzel`s name can be heard around the speculations.

The Canucks haven`t been a clear buyer since maybe 2012. Their record dictates that this team deserves something big.

Will the Canucks be able to hold up when the games get heavy in April and May?

It is tough out west. The Edmonton Oilers may be the best team in the National Hockey League right now. The Winnipeg Jets are flying under coach Rick Bowness who also raised the bar on team standards. The road to the Stanley Cup goes through the harsh prairies of Alberta and Manitoba.

On the other hand, the competition has not been this open for decades. This is a unique year. There is at least ten teams that can win the Stanley Cup. You could actually make a strong case for twelve. The NHL is not as top-heavy as it has been. And therein lies the chance for an upset.

It is time to show some respect to the Vancouver Canucks. They are real and they are spectacular. Elite players in every single important position, are ready to lead. A fun team to watch.

This team is good enough to win.

Jouni Nieminen, Edmonton

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