The Vancouver Canucks fell short of their preseason target to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs but a strong second half under new coach Bruce Boudreau has helped trigger a culture change that does offer promise for the club.
“That’s a really good group of guys,” defenceman Tyler Myers said Sunday as Canucks players gathered at Rogers Arena for their season-ending exit interviews. “We started to play the way we knew we could in the second half of the year and you can tell it brought us together.”
After an 8-15-2 start cost coach Travis Green and GM Jim Benning their jobs in early December, the Canucks went 32-15-10 through their final 57 games under Boudreau. They managed to keep their playoff hopes alive until late in the season, ultimately finishing five points out of a Western Conference wild-card spot with 92 points.
"With Bruce, ever since he came in, he's been a positive influence. He's taken his time with me. He definitely helped me turn around my season."— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) May 1, 2022
🗣️ Elias Pettersson pic.twitter.com/IE6xx4EkLz
“I think the better part of my game came towards the end when we were obviously playing better and winning games and it seemed like we were coming together as a team,” said captain Bo Horvat, who had a personal-best 31 goals despite missing the final seven games after breaking his tibia blocking a shot. “At the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs.
“I think that’s disappointing.”
This marked the sixth time in seven seasons the Canucks failed to reach the playoffs. It came after an off-season of significant roster changes, including a trade that brought defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forward Conor Garland.
Goaltender Thatcher Demko was named the Canucks’s most valuable player after posting a 33-22-7 record, 2.72 goal-against average and .915 save percentage with one shutout. But he missed the team’s final three regular-season games and said Sunday he suffered an unspecified injury about a month ago.
“I knew something was up right away, but we were kind of in the (playoff) mix there,” he said. “It was something I was trying to play through for the last little bit here.”
Demko said it occurred on a “weird little play, a weird position.” He’s currently working with the team’s medical staff to determine the best course of off-season treatment.
The season was one of growth for two of the Canucks’ most promising young stars. Both Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson missed the start of training camp as their contracts were being negotiated and Pettersson admitted those distractions were a factor in his slow start to the year.
“Expectations were raised,” he said. “I wasn’t as confident.”
But by season’s end, both players had accumulated 68 points _ a career-high for Pettersson, who also had a personal-best 32 goals. Hughes set a club record for most points in a season by a defenceman.
The pair also took pride in their new responsibilities on the Canucks’ penalty kill, which had been among the league’s worst units before Boudreau took over. They’re also starting to take on more ownership as team leaders.
“I’m still 22, (Pettersson) is 23,” Hughes said. “We’re still trying to learn and get better.
“I want to win and I want our culture to keep improving and growing and our accountability to be high.”
New general manager Patrik Allvin and president Jim Rutherford have plenty of work to do this summer. At the top of the list is determining Boudreau’s future and addressing the contract status of restricted free-agent Brock Boeser as well as Horvat and J.T. Miller, who each have one year remaining on their current deals.
Miller, 29, finished ninth in NHL scoring with a career-high 99 points.
Boeser capped a challenging campaign with 23 goals and 46 points. He missed the first three games of the season due to injury, was added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list late in 2021 before being sidelined for five games in April with an arm injury.
“Once Bruce took over, I think I started playing my game and scoring goals and was confident again,” said Boeser, who also had to deal with his father’s declining health.
Boudreau finished the season with 599 career NHL wins and hopes he can register No. 600with the Canucks next season.
“This is a great place,” Boudreau said after Friday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers. “I think it’s a team that’s on the rise.
“There’s a lot of exciting things to come.”
Boudreau and Canucks management are expected to meet with media early next week. The organization’s first-year AHL farm team, the Abbotsford Canucks, begins its best-of-three playoff series against the Bakersfield Condors on Tuesday.
Carol Schram, The Canadian Press