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Vancouver Canucks' awards & playoff prospects as regular-season wraps up

April 5, 2020, 2:39 PM ET [336 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
First off — thank you so much for all the advice on how to cook ribs!

I read everything, and I think I have a plan in motion.

I did a variation on Neem's brine suggestion, with red wine, sugar, kosher salt, worcestershire sauce and some spices. Just put that in the fridge, where I'll leave it for 6 hrs or so.

After that, should I rub on more spices before I put them into the Instant Pot? I don't think I'll do a BBQ sauce - the brine should be sufficient for flavouring and juiciness, yes?

After the Instant Pot, should I put them in the oven for a bit to braise at the end?

If it all works out — or maybe even if it doesn't — I'll take some pictures. Wish me luck!

That's a great segue to the next topic that's on my mind this morning...

I'd rather not be bringing this up, but early indications are that the (sports) media industry is getting decimated in a hurry by COVID-19.

You may have heard that the Courier community newspaper here in Vancouver shut its doors last week — no more print or online content, although sister site Vancouver Is Awesome is still posting.

I have also seen several hockey writers and broadcasters across North America announce that they've been let go. Basically, with so many businesses having closed their doors, the pool of potential advertisers has shrunk enormously, and that affects everybody.

I'm grateful to Ek and his team for keeping the lights on here. And everything's status quo at my other gig at Forbes for the time being, also.

But obviously, my work with Stats stopped as soon as the NHL season was suspended. The two weeks of March Madness live coverage I had set up with Bleacher Report evaporated when the tournament was cancelled. And I'd been scheduled to cover the Canucks' regular-season finale against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night for The Canadian Press.

Plus — of course — I miss the games!

So far, it's looking like we're pretty fortunate here in B.C. Over the last week, the number of new cases has risen at a much lower rate than in many other places, including other parts of Canada, and people seem to be responding pretty well to the instructions they're receiving to stay home and keep their distance from others.

I hope you're well, and continue to find ways to keep your head on straight during these challenging times.

With a very uncertain landscape ahead of us, I feel like it's a good time to suggest that you follow me on Twitter @pool88 and on Instagram @carolschram. I want to make sure we stay connected — and I'd like to see what you've been up to, as well!

The pic of the ribs is destined for Instagram if all works out today...

For now — thank you for continuing to visit this site. Please, keep reading, keep arguing, and keep offering cooking tips and entertainment suggestions. This community means a lot to me, and your continued engagement is more important than ever right now.

With all that out of the way...on to some hockey talk...

If the NHL regular season had wrapped up last night, the Canucks would have given out their annual year-end awards, so let's start there.

There's always plenty of room for argument. I'm going to give you my picks — not who I think the fans would have voted for, but who I believe was most deserving based on the 69 games we saw:

Most Valuable Player: Jacob Markstrom

It was a bit of a surprise that he beat out Elias Pettersson last year. This season, I think he was even more deserving.

Overall, the Canucks left off with a 36-27-6 record for 78 points and a .565 points percentage this season.

Markstrom's record was 23-16-4 in 43 games. He delivered 50 of a possible 86 points during his starts, for a .581 points percentage — better than the team average.

His .918 save percentage this season was also an improvement on last year's .912, and his best since he logged a .923 during seven appearances with Florida back in the 2011-12 season. His 2.75 goals-against average was also a slight improvement from last year's 2.77 — despite the fact that he saw more shots per game.

We knew that intuitively, right? I just ran the numbers.

In 2018-19, Markstrom saw 1,896 shots in 3,599 minutes of action, which works out to 31.61 shots per 60 minutes.

This season, he saw 1,420 shots in 2,552 minutes. That works out to 33.39 shots per 60, nearly two shots more per game.

That may not seem like much, but over his entire career, his average was 31.37 shots per game. So the last two seasons have both been pulling that average up.

Add on the personal turmoil that Markstrom went through this season as he dealt with his father's passing and the fiery competitiveness that has made him an important leader in the dressing room, and Marky gets my MVP vote against some very stiff competition.

My runner up — I'd say, J.T. Miller. For not being shy about stepping onto a new team and playing a huge leadership role, sharing the lessons he'd learned while playing on very good teams in New York and Tampa. For being vocal. For taking players like Jake Virtanen under his wing. For sitting second in the league in faceoff percentage (59.2 percent), behind only Sean Couturier, who was being touted as a Selke candidate this season. And for sitting 17th in NHL scoring at the pause with 72 points and 21st with 1.04 points per game. With 13 games unplayed, he hit career highs in goals, assists, points, penalty minutes, takeaways and average ice time, breaking the 20-minute mark for the first time in his career at 20:06.

Unsung Hero

In an effort to choose someone who is properly 'unsung' and not just someone who people like but doesn't necessarily make a big impact on the scoresheet, I think I'll go with Adam Gaudette as my unsung hero — with Tyler Motte and Tanner Pearson as my runners-up.

Pearson got a little too much acclaim to win, in my opinion. He had also hit a career high with 45 points when the season went on pause, beating out his 44-point year with L.A. in 2016-17. And when he impressed with 12 points in 19 games after being acquired at the trade deadline, the feeling was that his production wasn't sustainable, because he was at an insane 21.4 shooting percentage.

But Pearson put up 0.63 points per game in those 19 games — and actually improved to 0.65 this season, even though his shooting percentage dropped back to a much more normal 12.8.

Of course, those team-leading six empty-net goals boosted his stats but hey — those only come when your team is leading and your coach trusts you enough to have you out defending against the opposition with the extra attacker. They still count, in my book.

As for Tyler Motte — injuries limited him to just 34 games this season, but he finished up second on the Canucks with 118 hits — just five behind the team leader, Miller.

Even with a surplus of forwards, Travis Green always seemed to go out of his way to find a spot for Motte in the lineup whenever he was healthy.

And the Canucks won more than they lost with Motte around. In the 34 games he played, they went 21-11-2 for a .647 winning percentage. In the 35 games he missed, they were 16-15-4 for a .514 winning percentage.

Of course, it's not all about him. But that's a pretty amazing differential for a guy who averaged 13:07 a game this season.

Motte just turned 25 and will be an RFA at the end of the season after earning $975,000 this year. If the salary cap ends up being as tight as we expect next season, he's exactly the kind of player the Canucks will be itching to bring back.

I'm so impressed by Motte's numbers that I'm wavering now on my choice of Gaudette as unsung hero!

But the 23-year-old former Hobey Baker winner took a huge step forward this season, going from 12 points in 56 games last season, when he averaged 10:57 of ice time, to 12 goals and 33 points this year in 59 games, averaging 12:23 of ice time. He made the most of his opportunities, with his shooting percentage spiking up to 16 percent this year, and played well enough to steal the third-line center job from Brandon Sutter in just his second full NHL season.

Despite Gaudette's impressive college career, I feel like there were lots of questions about whether he could make it in the NHL when he first arrived in Vancouver. The Canucks have done a fantastic job of bringing him along, and I think he still has a ton of upside!

Most Exciting Player

I'm giving this one to Elias Pettersson — who has quickly become a constant here in Vancouver as fans get excited about all the shiny new toys that have arrived.

Petey showed us something very important by only missing one game due to injury this year. That whole conversation about whether he's too small for the NHL has certainly faded into the background.

And after winning the Calder Trophy with 66 points in 71 games last year, Pettersson matched that with 66 points in 68 games this year before the shutdown kicked in. And unlike last season, where he faded a bit down the stretch and had 10 points in 17 games after March 1, this year Petey had six points in the Canucks' five games in March.

Despite the fact that he's now a known entity who earns top defensive matchups, we also saw Pettersson's two-way game improve enormously this season — he went from plus-three last season to a team-leading plus-16 this year. And how about seeing his hit total rise from 42 last year to 63 this season?

Petey delivered in plenty of big moments this season. He's still the straw that stirs the drink on this team.

Best Defenseman

I thought about Quinn Hughes for "Most Exciting," but I think he's actually the player we're "Most Excited About" as a fanbase this year, if you catch my distinction?

Chris Tanev and Alex Edler both had good-enough seasons that they could have won this award in plenty of other years — and I'm one of the people who thinks Tyler Myers brings something important to the Vancouver blue line, even though I'm not completely sold that his contribution is worth $30 million.

But Quinn Hughes has changed the game.

His accolades were rolling in almost daily through the last month or so of the season. With 53 points in 68 games, he was tied for third in team scoring, leading Cale Makar by three points in the rookie scoring race and tied for fourth in the league in scoring by a defenseman. He's behind only John Carlson, Roman Josi and Victor Hedman — who are probably your three Norris Trophy finalists this year.

Hughes' mastery on the blue line with the man advantage was a huge contributor in seeing the Canucks' power play jump from 22nd in the league last season (17.1 percent) to fourth this year (24.1 percent). Hughes has 25 power-play points, which ties him for third among all defensemen — behind only Torey Krug (28) and John Carlson (26).

My favourite part of his game is his never-give-up attitude toward trying to keep the puck in the zone. It leads to the occasional high-stick call, but his hand-eye coordination is incredible.

Some of my other picks could be up for debate. But I feel like we'll have consensus on this one?

And finally....

I have tried not to torture myself by thinking too much about what we've been missing over the last three and a half weeks, and how the Canucks' stretch run might have played out. But now that the original regular-season schedule is officially in the rear-view mirror, it's hard not to wonder how the playoff matchups would have turned out.

Over at The Athletic, stat man Dom Luszczyszyn has been running daily simulations of all the games that have been missed. The results always depend on how the modeller processes the data going in, but right now, it's all we've got...

And I'm not sure if you're going to want to hear this or not. Luszczyszyn's model had the Canucks playing out the string on an 11-1-1 run, and finishing the year in first place in the Pacific Division with 101 points. Can you imagine?

That would have set up a first-round matchup against the Minnesota Wild, who continued to perform well under new coach Dean Evason and finished fourth in the Central with 94 points.

So — home-ice advantage, starting this Wednesday or Thursday. Sigh.

The Nashville Predators squeaked into the second wild card with 93 points, so the Western Conference teams that got squeezed out were the Edmonton Oilers (92), Winnipeg Jets (90) and Arizona Coyotes (88). So, no Battle of Alberta after all...

Here's the full look at his first-round playoff matchups:

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