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It appears that we now have some clarity on how the NHL might attempt a comeback from the late-season “pause” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After only two teams out of 31 voted against the league’s 24-team playoff proposal based on points percentage, it seems certain that—if the NHL comes back, which is still not a guarantee, but hey, there’s money to be made so it seems like the solid bet—this is the format they’ll be using.
In said format, four teams in each conference will get byes while the other eight will battle it out in a five-game series to advance. It’s also important to note, for a whole host of reasons, that this first stage is not technically going to be called the playoffs. Tough news for many GMs in the league who would love the job security that often comes with losing in the first round of the playoffs, cough Jim Benning cough. (OK, probably not the joke to make during these times, I apologize.)
Anyway, in the theoretical first batch of games of this postseason competition (see what we did there), the No. 7 seeded Canucks would play the No. 10 ranked Minnesota Wild.
After some much-needed research to remind myself who the hell Alex Stalock even is, here is a lists of the pros and cons of the Canucks playing the Minnesota Wild in a five-game series.
Pro: The Canucks are young, the Wild are not
As the league gets younger and younger each year, the Canucks are relatively well-positioned with an average age of about 27, good for fourth-youngest in the league. The Wild, led by veterans like Zach Praise, Eric Staal and Ryan Suter, would likely ice a roster with an average age of just over 30. The only teams with a higher average age are the L.A. Kings and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
And while the Wild heavily rely on their older bodies, some of the Canucks’ best players are well below that average age. It’s going to be tough for all the league’s players to get back into the flow of playing professional hockey, but it might be extra hard for the older bodies.
Con: The Wild were on something of a tear
Sure, it might not matter in July (when the league is looking at resuming play), but the Wild had been playing their best hockey down the stretch. They had lost only three of their last 11 (which started with a 4-3 shootout win over Vancouver) and forward Kevin Fiala looked to be finally hitting the potential he was drafted 11th overall in 2014 for. He had 16 points in those 11 games and was only held pointless twice.
Pro: The Canucks will be healthy (or at least close to it)
After enjoying a relatively full bill of health for most of the season, the injuries started piling up for the Canucks near the end of the campaign, with both Brock Boeser and Jacob Markstrom falling to the IR list.
Both are reportedly good to go, and there have been rumblings that the Canucks might also get Josh Leivo and Micheal Ferland back in the lineup as well.
As they did in the regular season, the Canucks will likely only go as far as Markstrom will take them, so hopefully he’s able to shake off the additional rust that comes with not having played since late February.
Con: The Wild are analytics darlings
Looking at their basic stats, the Wild look, um, basic. They have an even goal differential and, until that aforementioned recent run, weren’t exactly playing high-event hockey.
The Canucks on the other hand, have scored the second-most goals in the Western Conference and hold a goal differential of plus-11.
But if you look a bit closer, it’s not such a pretty picture for the Canucks. Vancouver sits 23rd in Corsi (shots directed at the net), while the Wild are 18th. More concerning for the Canucks should be the Wild’s fourth overall ranking in even-strength expected goals. The Canucks, again, come in at 23rd.
Hopefully, the Canucks can lean on tehir superior firepower upfront and the stellar play of Markstrom. Which brings us to…
Pro: The goaltending battle could be lopsided
Markstrom was earning Vezina Trophy buzz for his season before he was hurt, while the presumptive Wild starter Devan Dubnyk has had a tough season on and off the ice. He was supplanted by career backup Alex Stalock, who performed pretty well, going 20-11-4 with a .910 save percentage.
But the Wild can’t be overflowing with confidence in their goaltending situation.
Con: The “firing a coach” factor
The Wild fired head coach Bruce Boudreau on Valentine’s Day, and lost to the San Jose Sharks the next day. The game after that? That 4-3 shootout win over the Canucks. So yeah, Dean Evason, in his first NHL head coaching job, has the Wild on a heater.
We’ve seen in past years when a coaching switch is all a team needs to really get going, with last year’s St. Louis Blues being the most obvious recent example. The Wild (probably?) aren’t the Blues, but there’s no denying they are a solid possession team that plays hard. Again, how much that carries over after a huge break remains to be seen.
In the end, as all playoff matchups do (I know, it wouldn’t be an actual playoff series, get off my back), it’ll come down to timely goals and hot goaltending. The Canucks have benefited from both this season. Let’s hope that sticks around for a couple more months.