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It’s Vancouver Canucks day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

2017-18
31-40-11, 73 pts. (7th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)
Missed playoffs

IN
Antoine Roussel
Jay Beagle
Tim Schaller

OUT
Henrik Sedin
Daniel Sedin
Jayson Megna
Michael Chaput
Nic Dowd
Jussi Jokinen

RE-SIGNED
Sven Baertschi
Markus Granlund
Jake Virtanen
Derrick Pouliot
Darren Archibald

– – –

The Vancouver Canucks weren’t expected to move the needle much last season and they obliged many preseason predictions that had them finishing in the basement of the league.

Trying to turn around this ship with the additions of Thomas Vanek, Michael Del Zotto and Sam Gagner weren’t exactly the earth-shattering moves needed. Sure, the Canucks were a busy bunch last summer as they tried the fix-on-the-fly strategy, but that’s almost always a futile task.

The 2018-19 Canucks were a team that couldn’t score (26th fewest). They gave up too many goals (sixth most). Their team save percentage was among the worst in the league (.902, 26th) and neither goalie outworked the other to be called a bona fide No. 1.

[Under Pressure: Benning | Breakthrough: Boeser | 3 Questions]

These are the days of an NHL rebuild and a team waiting for promising young talent to emerge and take over.

Perhaps, then, it was as good a time as any for the Sedin twins to retire. Daniel and Henrik called it a career after 17 years of heroics in Vancouver. Even in their elder years as NHL players, the Sedins were still responsible for a good chunk of Vancouver’s offense, which is a hole that someone is going to have to fill.

The bad news is that likely won’t happen this season. It’s quite likely the Canucks wallow at the bottom of the tank for another year.

The good news is that among the rubble of the rebuild is several signs of life.

Brock Boeser may have given Mathew Barzal a run for the Calder if not for an apparent scary back injury that forced him to miss the final 20 games of the season. His 29 goals led all rookies until Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets pipped him for the title late in the year. He finished with 55 points in 62 games and 23 power-play points, which was second among rookies and helped the Canucks to a top-10 showing with the man-advantage.

Bo Horvat‘s season was also derailed by injury. A fractured foot forced him to miss over six weeks from early December to late January. How’d Vancouver fare without him in the lineup? They were 4-12-2.

Horvat still managed 22 goals, a career-high. He likely would have set a new mark in points, too, if not for those 18 missed games. He finished with 44 points and appears to be coming into his own as a top-line NHL center.

The Canucks went out and added once again this offseason.

It’s highly unlikely that Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle or Tim Schaller are going to be world-beaters, but that’s not what they’re being tasked with.

Their purpose is to help the Canucks’ young core along and provide Vancouver with the ability to develop some of those prospects in the minors instead of slotting them into the Show earlier than they need to be. Continued development is key, and there are several models the Canucks can look to around the league to help them resist those temptations.

A quick note on team defense: It certainly needs to improve, but it should be noted that a healthy Chris Tanev and Erik Gudbranson should go a long way to helping that. The duo missed a combined 70 games last season.

Prospect Pool

Elias Pettersson, C/RW, 19, Vaxjo (SHL) – 2017 first-round pick

One prospect that likely won’t need much seasoning in the minors is Pettersson. He’s already played among men in the Swedish Elite League, where he dominated as an 18-year-old, scoring 24 goals and 56 points in 44 games.

That kind of production helped his team to a league championship, the honor of being named the top forward in the SHL, its MVP, it’s top point-producer, it’s playoffs MVP and it’s rookie of the year. Those are just some of his accolades from last year, too. He also won a silver medal at the world juniors and followed that up with gold hardware at the world championships.

Did we mention he’s Swedish? Vancouver loves their Swedes.

Quinton Hughes, D, 18, University of Michigan (NCAA) – 2018 first-round pick

Hughes had a solid freshman season with the Wolverines with 29 points in 37 games, garnering him a spot on the NCAA (B1G) All-Rookie Team. He captured bronze at the world juniors and the world championships with Team USA, contributing five assists across 17 combined games in both tournaments.

He was also the best player at this summer’s world junior showcase.

“He’s going to be that type of player that young kids try to emulate — that they want to be, that they strive to be — but it’s going to be very difficult to duplicate what he does,” said Hughes’ U-18 coach John Wroblewski. “With this guy, he’s another generational-type talent, and he’ll be an influence on defensemen for years to come. I truly believe that.”

Thatcher Demko, G, 22, Utica (AHL) – 2014 second-round pick

We’ve highlighted one forward, one defenseman and now one goalie that could change the landscape for the better in Vancouver.

Demko is Vancouver’s future in goal, and he was solid with Utica last season in the American Hockey League with a .922 save percentage and 25 wins in 46 games played. For his efforts, he was named an AHL All-Star and got his first NHL start and subsequently his first NHL win on the last day of March.

Demko is likely to see more time this season in Vancouver, but there needs to be a fine balance of not letting him sit when he could be hogging the crease in the AHL. The Canucks aren’t shooting for the playoffs, so keeping him where he will play the most seems like the best option until the Canucks are willing to give him plenty of action as their backup.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Finland defeats Canada for gold at IIHF World Championship

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Marko Anttila helped lead Finland to its third world hockey title, scoring the tying and go-ahead goals in a 3-1 victory over Canada on Sunday.

Anttila tied it at 1 on a power play early in the second period and the Finnish captain made it 2-1 early in the third. Harri Pesonen added an insurance goal with five minutes to play.

Kevin Lankinen made 42 saves for Finland, allowing only Shea Theodore‘s first-period goal.

Matt Murray stopped 19 shots for Canada.

Anttila also scored Saturday in Finland’s 1-0 victory over Russia. The Finns knocked off two-time defending champion from Sweden in the quarterfinal. Draft-eligible Kaapo Kakko led the team with six goals.

Finland also won titles in 1995 in Sweden and 2011 in Bratislava.

Earlier, Russia beat the Czech Republic 3-2 in a shootout for third place. Russia was outshot 50-30 through 70 minutes of play, including 10 minutes of sudden-death 3-on-3 overtime, then outscored the Czech Republic 2-0 in the shootout on goals from Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev.

Unflappable Binnington won’t be affected by Stanley Cup spotlight

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BOSTON — The question was delivered after a 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators in February — a victory that came after the St. Louis Blues’ saw their 11-game win streak snapped a few nights earlier.

The Blues has just played their ninth game of the month that finished within two goals. They were in the middle of turning around their season and the backbone for the change in fortune was a 25-year-old rookie goaltender who hadn’t made an NHL start until this past January. All those tight hockey games surely had to have brought out a few nerves in Jordan Binnington, right?

“Do I look nervous?”

“No.”

“There’s your answer.”

That line was put on a t-shirt, which has sold throughout St. Louis since, with even some of Binnington’s family members grabbing a few. 

That win came in Binnington’s 18th career NHL start. But way before that game at the end of February, his teammates already knew that he was pretty unflappable.

“It’s just how he is,” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo during Stanley Cup Final Media Day. “He’s pretty quiet. He just goes about his business. That quote’s obviously funny but every day he just shows up, does what he has to do. For us, it’s enjoyable when he does stuff like that because we get a kick out of it.”

The quiet confidence that Binnington possesses has been an integral part in helping get the Blues to within four wins of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Even after defeats, that memory is erased from his head and he’s looking forward as “don’t look back” is a big mantra with head coach Craig Berube. The same can be said for his goaltender, who has only lost consecutive starts twice this season, both coming in the playoffs.

“If you want to be successful, you want to have that demeanor, you can’t let things affect you and nothing seems to bother him,” Pietrangelo added.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Binnington even has a tie to the Bruins organization after having been loaned to their minor league affiliate in Providence last season since the Blues didn’t have their own AHL team. While sharing one with the Colorado Avalanche, general manager Doug Armstrong was allowed to place one goaltender with the AHL team in San Antonio. That goalie ended up being Ville Husso. Armstrong then alerted his fellow GMs that if anyone was looking for an experience netminder on loan, Binnington, who rejected a move to the ECHL, was available. That’s when Bruins GM Don Sweeney reached out and a deal was made.

Binnington played 28 games last season in Providence and three more in the Calder Cup playoffs.

“They were nothing but good to me,” Binnington said of AHL Providence. “The Boston Bruins prospects are in good hands, I can tell you that. It was a great city and I’m very fortunate they took me in. Met a lot of good people.”

“It would be disingenuous to say that this was all part of the master plan, bring him in January and be here today,” said Armstrong. “But what he did do is he never quit on himself and that’s what I take away.”

After that experience, Binnington still had to continue fighting for a place in the NHL. He began the 2018-19 season in San Antonio and waited for his opportunity. 

It took 164 AHL and 40 ECHL games, but his chance came in January as starter Jake Allen continued to struggle. A 2-0 shutout over the Philadelphia Flyers was not only the birth of the team’s victory anthem — Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” — but also Binnington usurping the No. 1 job, reaching the Cup Final, becoming a 2019 Calder Trophy finalist, and him likely cashing in this summer as he’s scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1.

All that time waiting for an opportunity didn’t damper Binnington’s confidence.

“I realized a couple years ago I was in a situation where my back was against the wall,” Binnington said. “Got to handle it right, and I’ve just had this belief and hunger in myself to be the best I can be and make the most of my talent. I’m very fortunate to be coming to a team like this and it’s been a pretty special season so far.”

Binnington’s teammates have enjoyed being up close to witnessing his journey over the past four months. Who knew that night in Philadelphia in early January would lead to this? 

The 49 starts since have prepared Binnington for this moment as his team plays on the biggest stage. Some players who have never played in a Cup Final might be feeling the butterflies right now, but to Binnington it’s just another series. There’s no spotlight big enough that will made him prepare and execute his game any differently.

“I think that’s where experience comes in and you learn that confidence comes from preparation,” he said. “You want to be prepared for anything that’s thrown at you and that’s kind of the way I look at my life now and hockey specifically. I think that’s an important way to look at it.”

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better defensemen?
Who has better goaltending?
Who has the better special teams?
X-factors for Bruins, Blues

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bruins fan Matt Damon wowed by Stanley Cup

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When you think of Matt Damon’s connection to Boston, you’re most likely going to recall “Good Will Hunting,” and maybe make some bad jokes about apples and/or Ben Affleck. If forced to make a Boston sports connection, there’s likely the urge to compare him to Tom Brady, his occasional lookalike.*

Apparently Damon is also a Boston Bruins fan, or at least he came off as a one in the video above. If nothing else, he’s impressed by the sight of the Stanley Cup, which qualifies him as “human.” Damon was presented with the Stanley Cup while he was on hand for the Indy 500, which is airing on NBC (stream here).

There’s some good stuff as Damon explains that he was in Vancouver right after the town, um, handled the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup win poorly; Damon said he was going to work, which is hilarious and adorable. There’s also some old-school Stanley Cup trivia in the video, so that should be fun to watch even if you’re not a Damon fan.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final takes place between the Bruins and St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m. ET on Monday on NBC. Click here for the full TV info.

* – Dangerous observation: Damon kinda sorta looks like Sidney Crosby from certain angles, doesn’t he? /ducks

OK, maybe that comparison is a stretch. But Damon’s looking a bit less like Brady these days, right?

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
• Who has the better special teams?
• Who has the better forwards?
• Who has the better defensemen?
• X-factors
• PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
• Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Marchand says left hand is ‘good’ heading into Cup Final

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BOSTON (AP) — Bruins winger Brad Marchand says his left hand is fine heading into the Stanley Cup Final.

He sat out Boston’s practice Sunday after being given a ”maintenance day” by coach Bruce Cassidy. But Marchand showed no visible signs of discomfort and didn’t wear any braces on his hand as he met with reporters.

”I just told Butchy I wanted a day off. I’ve had enough of practicing,” Marchand said with a smile when asked about his status for Game 1 on Monday night. ”I’m good.”

Cassidy echoed Marchand’s assessment, saying ”he’ll be ready to go.”

Marchand tweaked his hand during the Bruins’ intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday when he bumped into Connor Clifton in front of the net. Sunday was the first practice Marchand’s missed since the Bruins beat the Carolina Hurricanes on May 16 to advance to the Cup Final.

Marchand is Boston’s leading scorer in the playoffs with 18 points (seven goals and 11 assists). He had 100 points (36 goals and 64 assists) during the regular season.

He says that bumps and bruises are simply part of the game at this time of the season and is nothing he is getting worked up about.

”There’s always things that come in. Guys get hurt in practice and stuff like that,” Marchand said. ”But I think we’re feeling pretty good in the room. Regardless, it doesn’t matter. You play with what you have and you play as healthy or unhealthy as you are this time of year. At the end of the day there’s no excuses. . They have guys that are banged up, too.”

This will be the third Stanley Cup Final for Marchand. He was 22 years old in 2011 and in his second NHL season when Boston beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win the franchise’s sixth championship. But he said the Bruins’ 2013 Cup loss to the Chicago Blackhawks sticks with him more.

”It was devastating,” Marchand said. ”It still hurts to this day. I probably look back more on the loss and what I would do differently, than the win. You lose something like this, you’re a lot closer with the hurt. It never leaves you. Hopefully we don’t feel that again.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower