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Could a veteran coach help the struggling Vancouver Canucks change course?

November 23, 2021, 2:37 PM ET [605 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Vancouver Canucks are back out on the road — a five-game trip that starts Wednesday in Pittsburgh, then continues in Columbus and Boston before coming back across the border to finish up in Montreal and Ottawa.

Away from their home base, the volume of noise around the team should turn down a bit for the next few days, especially with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up in the U.S. on Thursday.

But these are some tough games on the immediate horizon.

• The Penguins have suddenly turned into the second coming of the Calgary Flames defensively. They're coming back from a three-game Canadian road trip with three wins and just one goal allowed. Tristan Jarry pitched back-to-back shutouts against Montreal and Toronto, then gave up a single goal to Winnipeg.

• The Blue Jackets have started the season with a solid 10-6-0 record. They're a little more porous defensively, with three goals or more allowed in each of their last six games. But they can score themselves out of trouble — as they showed in their 7-4 win over Buffalo on Monday.

• The Bruins, in Boston, tend to give the Canucks trouble. The last visit at T.D. Garden was a 4-0 shutout loss on Feb. 4, 2020. The game before that was fun, though — an 8-5 win on Nov. 8, 2018. The Bruins had won three straight before getting shut out on Sunday by Calgary. But that happens to everybody these days.

Here's a crazy stat that I saw mentioned on Twitter on Sunday night:

• The Canucks (14 points in 19 games) have six wins so far this season (four in regulation)
• The Flames (27 points in 19 games) have seven shutouts so far this season (11 wins, all in regulation)

I was wildly skeptical of the Flames' hiring of Darryl Sutter last season. But he actually has turned the Flames into the second coming of the 2012-14 Los Angeles Kings. He built a big defense and has gotten the most out of players like Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov. But perhaps his best blue-line achievement is unlocking the potential of Oliver Kylington. The 24-year-old has been a frequent healthy scratch and played in just eight games last season. But this year, he's a second-pairing regular, playing with Chris Tanev and averaging nearly 17 minutes a game. He's plus-10 and is leading the Flames' defense with 12 points in 18 games — when his previous career high was eight points in 38 games back in 2018-19.

Like those Cup-winning Kings teams, the Flames are now almost impossible to score against. But I expected them to be leading the league in hits, and they're not. They're actually ranked 20th overall, averaging 20.70 hits per 60. Even Vancouver is ahead in that category — 17th at 21.27.

Predictably, though, the Flames do come in near the top of the height and weight rankings. Even with Johnny Gaudeau pulling the average down at 5'9" and 165 pounds, Calgary still ranks second in the league in average height (6'2", 187.13 cm) and third in average weight (203 lbs., 92.18 kg), according to Elite Prospects.

And even with 6'8", 229-pound Tyler Myers pulling their average up, Vancouver is still tied with Columbus and Chicago for 18th in average height (6'1", 185.77 cm) and 21st in average weight (198 lbs., 89.65 kg).

At the top end of the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning became a championship team when they got heavier and tougher. And even after all their offseason roster changes, they remain the heaviest team in the league, averaging 206 pounds. The Flames are serving notice that, while there's room for a player like Gaudreau, who's thriving, that big, strong approach to roster construction can pay dividends. And, of course, former Lightning forward Blake Coleman was their big offseason acquisition up front...

I bring this up because I think Calgary's success shows that a turnaround can be partly driven by coaching — but also requires tweaks to bring the roster into alignment with the coach's desires.

It's not like the Flames flipped the switch as soon as Sutter arrived last season. But it does make me wonder how much the Canucks have been held back by having two rookie NHL head coaches during Jim Benning's regime?

Certainly, the Canucks' big-money contract for experienced Cup-winner John Tortorella was a disaster. I can understand why the organization has been reluctant to go back down that road.

And while I think that Travis Green has, for the most part, done well to get the most out of what he has been given, I wonder if the time has come for the Canucks to not just change the voice, but bring in someone experienced.

Bruce Boudreau is available, and itching to get back into the NHL. His playoff record isn't great, but he does have an established track record of helping struggling teams turn things around in a hurry — and, for the most part, getting his teams into the postseason. Could he do it in Vancouver?

Meanwhile, trade rumours continue to swirl around the team. Here's the latest from the agent-whisperer, Rick Dhaliwal:

J.T. Miller was missing from practice in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, but Travis Green told reporters afterward that it was just a maintenance day. You may recall, the TV cameras caught Miller looking a bit hobbled on the bench late in Friday's game against Winnipeg.

Seeing Tyler Motte on the top line suggested to me immediately that he was skating as a placeholder for Miller. But after Podkolzin-Pettersson-Garland created some chaos during a brief stint together against Chicago on Sunday, it's interesting to see them back together.

As expected, Travis Hamonic has once again been re-assigned to Abbotsford. Don't imagine he'll be travelling with the team if they're back on schedule this weekend, though. I haven't seen any reports of the team back at practice following last weekend's game postponements due to the flooding in the Fraser Valley, but they're scheduled to play a back-to-back set in Arizona this weekend, against the Tucson Roadrunners.

From Tuesday's line deployment, I imagine we'll see Luke Schenn draw in on the right side against the Penguins on Wednesday. And don't forget, that's an early start, with puck drop at 4 p.m. PT.
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