Wanna blog? Start your own hockey blog with My HockeyBuzz. Register for free today!

Martin starts, Garland returns vs. Jets as the Canucks' Allvin era begins

January 27, 2022, 2:30 PM ET [617 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Thursday, January 27 - Vancouver Canucks at Winnipeg Jets - 5 p.m. PT

The Vancouver Canucks will kick off the Patrik Allvin era with a four-game road trip heading into the All-Star Break. That action starts Thursday in Winnipeg, against the stumbling Jets.

In Tuesday's 3-2 home overtime loss to Edmonton, Spencer Martin returned to the net after his brief foray onto the Covid protocol list. He was outstanding again, making 48 saves — including nine in overtime.

Just like against Florida last Friday, 3-on-3 is really not kind to the Canucks, with their current roster holes. Hopefully that's something that can be avoided against the Jets.

Roster-wise, the club is taking a step in the right direction on Thursday. Conor Garland and Jaro Halak are back in the fold. They'll suit up on Thursday, while Thatcher Demko, who has also been cleared from Covid protocol, is scheduled to join the team ahead of its next game in Calgary on Saturday.

That means Spencer Martin will get another crack against Winnipeg, making his third start with the Canucks.

There's also one injury on the blue line to note: Kyle Burroughs was injured against the Blues on Sunday — reportedly, a leg issue — and is currently set to be out until at least the All-Star Break. That's why Brad Hunt is back in the mix.

As for the Jets — this is another crucial Western Conference four-pointer. Just like Tuesday's game against the Oilers, the two teams are tied in the standings — now, with 41 points. Winnipeg has three games in hand on Vancouver — one fewer than Edmonton — and the clubs are sitting in a tie for 12th in the West, now five points back of the second wild card, Calgary (46 pts).

For the Canucks to have any hope of making the playoffs, we'll need to have less nights like Wednesday, when the Flames hammered the Blue Jackets, the Sharks knocked off the Capitals and the Ducks picked up a point in Toronto. But considering how much we hear about how the Pacific is the worst division in hockey, it warms my cockles a bit when the Canucks' division-mates perform well out east, in the earlier timeslots.

As far as the Jets go — goaltending aside, they may be more undermanned than Vancouver on Thursday. Blake Wheeler has recently returned to the lineup after he was injured in a game against the Canucks back in mid-December, but now Nikolaj Ehlers is sidelined. And they're currently quite short on the blue line, with Josh Morrissey in Covid protocol and Logan Stanley, Dylan DeMelo and Dylan Samberg all on the injured list.

A depleted blue line and an overworked starting netminder can lead to a lot of goals against, and it seems like that has been the case for the Jets recently. Connor Hellebuyck's last night off was that game in Vancouver back on Dec. 10, so he looks set to make his 13th-straight start on Thursday. And even though he's only fourth in the league in minutes played — mostly because the Jets have played fewer games than all but five teams — he ranks second in total shots faced. And unlike his usual Vezina-worthy numbers, Hellebuyck has allowed four goals or more in six of those last 13 games.

Of course, there's one other huge change since the last time the Canucks saw the Jets: Paul Maurice is no longer behind the bench. The longtime coach announced his resignation about a week before Christmas. I wrote about that here, if you missed it or would like to know more:

Maurice may have felt like his message was no longer having the desired impact on his players, but since Dave Lowry took over on Dec. 17, the Jets' record is 4-5-2.

Spencer Martin's emergence has further ignited debate about whether or not the Canucks can move a goalie at the trade deadline. Given Halak's salary-cap situation, that could be Job 1 for Allvin, who officially took over the GM's chair on Wednesday.

During Allvin's introductory media availability, Jim Rutherford made no bones about the fact that he's not happy that the Canucks are a non-playoff team with no cap space. I fully expect that he and Allvin will start chipping away at that issue over the next two months, leading up to the trade deadline.

The issue with Halak, of course, is his bonus structure. Per CapFriendly, because he's on a 35-and-over contract, Halak's contract was structured in such a way that he's making a base salary of $1.5 million this season, but will receive an additional $1.25 million if he appears in 10 games or more — and another $250,000 if his save percentage for the year is .905 or better.

At the moment, Halak is at eight games played — and had been set to play his ninth on the Canucks' last road trip, before he landed in Covid protocol. His record for the year is 1-4-2, with a .915 save percentage.

Because the Canucks are maxed out on this year's cap, those bonuses would be applied to next season if they kick in. So Allvin can potentially avoid a $1.5 million hit in 2022-23 if he can get Halak's contract off the books. And there are teams looking for goalies, but Halak has a full no-move clause. Martin's emergence, and perhaps, even his potential as a long-term backup, creates an interesting scenario. But the no-move clause means the Canucks have to keep Halak on their main roster. They can't even give him the Loui Eriksson treatment and put him on waivers.

If Halak is moved, it'll only happen if he wants to be moved.

Allvin's official appointment also seems to have caused all the J.T. Miller trade talk to heat up. With the year he's having, it makes sense that contending teams are interested. And Miller has one year remaining after this, at a very reasonable $5.25 million cap hit and $4.5 million in real money, before he becomes an unrestricted free agent at age 29.

The Canucks were able to void the no-trade clause that was attached to Miller's current deal when they acquired him from the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2019 draft. So Allvin has the freedom to trade Miller anywhere if he chooses to go that route.

I can understand the logic behind moving him. He'll be in line for a big deal in the summer of 2023, when his current contract expires. But he's also the Canucks' most important forward this season, and I'd argue that his competitive drive is a huge part of what success the club has had.

While the Canucks could probably get quite a nice haul of futures for Miller, my guess is that Allvin and Rutherford will give the club some more time to show whether or not it can stay in the playoff mix before making a decision on this year's trade deadline. March 21 is still 22 games away for Vancouver — more than a quarter of a season.

Bruce Boudreau has now been in charge for 17 games, and the Canucks are 10-4-3 in that time. Rutherford admitted on Wednesday that he isn't thrilled that the club only got two of a possible six points out of this latest homestand. But in the same breath, he lauded the players for their commitment under difficult circumstances, while they've been so shorthanded.

I think, as of now, the game plan will be to see if this group can catch lightning in a bottle. Don't forget, when Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2016, the Penguins had replaced Mike Johnston with Mike Sullivan just a few months earlier, on Dec. 12, 2015.

At that point in their season, Pittsburgh was actually five games above .500, at 15-10-5. The Pens went 33-16-3 the rest of the way under Sullivan, climbing to second place in the Eastern Conference before going on to their championship.

Allvin is also a Pittsburgh alumnus who was with the team at that time. Now that he's officially installed as GM, I think it'll be worth further examining how the Penguins operated to get from the mid-season coaching change all the way to a Championship.

For now — enjoy the game!
Join the Discussion: » 617 Comments » Post New Comment
More from Carol Schram
» It's official: Bruce Boudreau will be returning to the Canucks for 2022-23
» Lammikko Joins Finland At Worlds; Ekman-Larsson Named Sweden's Captain
» Canucks hold 15th spot in 2022 Draft Lottery, Linus Karlsson to rep Sweden
» As fans wait for update on Boudreau's status, Barry Trotz becomes available
» Canucks cut ties with 5 amateur scouts, Abbotsford coaches set to return