The Vancouver Canucks are in a tough spot.
After Tuesday’s loss in New Jersey, they sit five points back of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
They also have four games left on a very tough road trip.
Oh, and they’re down three defensemen — Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, and Philip Larsen — and three forwards — Jannik Hansen, Derek Dorsett and Anton Rodin.
But other than that, everything’s going great.
Tonight, the Canucks will take on the Lightning in Tampa Bay. Three more games at Florida, Washington, and Carolina await.
There is good news, though, as Larsen does not seem to be seriously injured after taking that devastating hit from Taylor Hall. The 27-year-old defenseman was medically cleared to return to Vancouver. He’ll be replaced tonight by little-used Alex Biega.
But the Canucks (11-13-2) need to find a way to stay in the playoff race, because it doesn’t get any easier once they got home, with visits from Tampa Bay, Columbus, and Winnipeg (twice). By the Christmas break, they could easily be in an even bigger hole, and that would make things very interesting indeed.
That’s because, earlier this week, GM Jim Benning told The Province newspaper that he will not be approaching any of his players about waiving their no-trade clauses. That includes Alex Burrows, a pending unrestricted free agent who’s been among the Canucks’ best this season. A versatile forward with playoff experience, Burrows could theoretically bring a decent return at the deadline.
“Now that Jim said that, well, for me, I love my teammates, I love my team and I love this organization,” Burrows said, per the Vancouver Sun. “But at the same time, things can change quickly in this business. I’ve learned that before. I learned that last year, last summer. So for me, it’s take it one day at a time.”
Things could certainly change if the team falls short, especially after ownership committed $36 million to Loui Eriksson in free agency. The Canucks are right up against the salary cap. So far, they have refused to tear it down and rebuild, a la Toronto and Buffalo.
Which is to say, if the Canucks are out of the playoff race by the deadline, management (and ownership) may have to reconsider their stances. Because after last season’s deadline disaster, they really can’t afford another.
The best way to avoid such a scenario would be to stay in the race and play the “meaningful games in March” that they’re still aiming to play. That starts tonight in Tampa, against a team with some desperation of its own. The Lightning have just one win in their last six, so they won’t be taking their opponents lightly.
And that could be more bad news for the Canucks.