Today, I'd like to pick up on a thread from the comments in the last blog, focusing on the lack of NHL playoff experience for a number of key Vancouver Canucks as well as coach Travis Green.
The starting points was this article
from Iain MacIntyre at Sportsnet: "Five questions Canucks need to answer in series versus Wild."
The eye-popper was Question 4:
Are you experienced?
Quinn Hughes, 20: 0 playoff games
Elias Pettersson, 21: 0 playoff games
Brock Boeser, 23: 0 playoff games
Adam Gaudette, 23: 0 playoff games
Jake Virtanen, 23: 0 playoff games
Thatcher Demko, 24: 0 playoff games
Bo Horvat, 25: 6 playoff games
Tyler Motte, 25: 0 playoff games
Troy Stecher, 26: 0 playoff games
Josh Leivo, 27: 0 playoff games
Jacob Markstrom, 30: 0 playoff games
Looks scary, doesn't it? But I'm not sure it's as bad as all that.
Firstly — the list excludes the many Canucks players who *do* have meaningful playoff experience:
• Tyler Toffoli, 28, 47 playoff games, 1 Stanley Cup
• Tanner Pearson, 27, 34 playoff games, 1 Stanley Cup
• Jay Beagle, 34, 85 playoff games, 1 Stanley Cup
• Alex Edler, 34, 65 playoff games, played in Stanley Cup Final
• Chris Tanev, 30, 16 games, played in Stanley Cup Final
• J.T. Miller, 27, 61 playoff games, played in 2 Conference Finals & was with the Rangers during 2014 Stanley Cup Final run
• Brandon Sutter, 31, 33 playoff games, played in Conference Final
• Loui Eriksson, 34, 34 playoff games, played in Conference Final
• Tyler Myers, 30, 39 games, played in Conference Final
• Micheal Ferland, 28, 20 playoff games
• Antoine Roussel, 30, 19 playoff games
Secondly — almost all of the Canucks' Young Guns have been winners at other levels:
• Quinn Hughes: U18 gold, World Junior silver & bronze, World Championship bronze
• Elias Pettersson: World Championship gold, U18 & World Junior silver, SHL championship, MVP of both SHL regular season & playoffs
• Brock Boeser: World Junior bronze, Frozen Four winner, NHL All-Star Game MVP
• Adam Gaudette: NCAA Hockey East Champion, Hobey Baker winner
• Jake Virtanen: World Junior gold, Ivan Hlinka Tournament gold, U18 bronze
• Thatcher Demko: U18 silver, NCAA Hockey East regular-season champion, NCAA top collegiate goalie, AHL All-Star Game
• Bo Horvat: 2 OHL championships, OHL playoff MVP, Ivan Hlinka Tournament gold
• Tyler Motte: U18 silver, NCAA B1G champion, Hobey Baker finalist
• Troy Stecher: World Championship silver, Frozen Four winner, BCHL champion, RBC Cup champion
• Jacob Markstrom: World Championship gold and bronze, World Junior silver and bronze, Ivan Hlinka gold, AHL All-Star Game, played in AHL Final
I consider that Utica Comets' 2015 playoff run to be huge, experience-wise, for both Markstrom and Travis Green. Sven Baertschi was on that squad as well, and finished with 15 points in 21 playoff games.
As for Travis, he also won the WHL championship as head coach of the Portland Winterhawks in 2013, and had 56 games of playoff experience during his playing days, including a run to the Eastern Conference Final with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2002.
Plus, Green's 232 games of NHL head coaching experience tie him with Arizona's Rick Tocchet for the ninth-longest tenure among active coaches with their current team, and put him 220 games ahead of Dean Evason, who had 12 games with the Wild before the season was paused.
The two coaches are more evenly matched in playing experience. Evason appeared in 56 playoff games, and never got past the second round.
In his coaching history, Evason only made it as far as the second round twice in his head-coaching history — with the Vancouver Giants in 2004 and as co-coach of the Calgary Hitmen in 2007. From there, he went on to spend seven years as an assistant with the Washington Capitals — during those years when the Caps couldn't get past the second round. Then, he failed to win a round in six years as head coach of the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals before joining the Wild as an assistant in 2018-19.
As well as things went for Evason when he took over behind the Wild bench in February, his overall coaching record doesn't look especially intimidating.
And as far as the Wild's roster goes, there's not a ton of serious playoff experience there, either.
At 35, Zach Parise leads the way with 97 games of playoff experience, including a big role in the New Jersey Devils' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. And while Parise has dealt with back problems in recent years, he played every game for Minnesota this year and had 23 goals and 46 points at the pause — not bad at all. If he's healthy when play resumes, he could be a difference maker.
At 32, Mats Zuccarello has 73 games of playoff experience. He also had a good run to the Final against the Los Angeles Kings, as a member of the Rangers in 2014. Zuccarello's numbers with the Wild were modest this season, but he has had a tendency to turn up the juice in big games.
A quick look at other key players:
• Ryan Suter, 35: 78 games, never past second round, lost to Canucks with Nashville in 2011
• Eric Staal, 35: 56 games, won Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006, Conference Final in 2009
• Kevin Fiala, 23: 18 games, played 6 games in Nashville's run to the Final in 2017 but broke his leg in the first game of the second round
The goaltending picture is also uncertain for the Wild, who were leaning on Alex Stalock later in the season:
• Alex Stalock, 32, 4 playoff games, all as a backup
• Devan Dubnyk, 34, 26 playoff games, never past second round
All things considered, the Canucks actually stack up pretty well in terms of experience against this particular opponent.
Athletic beat writers Thomas Drance and Michael Russo tag-teamed on a new article that dropped on Wednesday, comparing the approaches of Green and Evason as of now, with the re-start still well out into the future.
This comment from Evason jumped out at me:
"I actually talked to Billy Guerin the other day and we were talking, I’m like, 'Oh, what would you like me to do now?' And he’s like, 'Well, don’t start doing anything yet.'"
With so much runway, there's a risk of overpreparing, or preparing under assumptions that might turn out to be false if and when the re-start actually happens.
Green said the benefit of the pause has been a chance to do some deep analysis of the Canucks.
"We’re not talking to players about a game plan right now, that’s for sure," he said. "We’re definitely not going to overwhelm our players.
"The pause in the season was really good for our coaching staff. You always think about things within your group that you like, that you don’t like, strengths, weaknesses, areas for improvement and you ask, 'How do you improve?' Much like we do at the end of every season, we’ve had a chance to really take a deep dive into those areas."
Fans also have a long wait ahead to see if Green's preparation pays dividends and gets the Canucks into a *real* playoff spot for the first time in five years.