The Sunday Crease

The Sunday Crease: Tanev, Hart Candidates and the Value of Late Season Victories

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The Canucks set out on the road this week with one goal in mind; to break a then six-game losing streak.

They extended it to seven in a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Golden Knights, but on Thursday against the Blackhawks they finally broke through.

The 5-2 win over Chicago had plenty of positive storylines. Bo Horvat notched goal #20 of the campaign, Jacob Markstrom played like a true number one goalie and Henrik Sedin scored his third goal of the season and first since November 14.

We could talk about how the victory on Thursday and an equally dominant performance today against the Dallas Stars hurt the Canucks’ chances of drafting Rasmus Dahlin. But with the draft lottery as unpredictable as it is, I want to focus on the results on the ice this time.

The Canucks may not have been playing world beaters, but they did take over two games with a lineup that has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese. Chris Tanev missed the game against the Stars thanks to a knee injury he sustained in a 4-1 loss to the Blues on Friday, and Brendan Leipsic has sat out the last two due to an undisclosed ailment.

It’s hard to argue that the Canucks haven’t made the best of a terrible scenario, and while a lot of us might secretly wish they hadn’t, it does give the team something to build on next season. Some of these players will also return to the AHL once the Canucks season ends, and with the Utica Comets having booked their ticket to the league’s playoffs, any sort of success they have will only make Vancouver more prepared for 2018-19.

But if that’s not enough to make you want to root for Vancouver in the last two weeks, there’s also rumours swirling that highly touted college prospect Adam Gaudette will sign with the Canucks this week, now that his Northeastern Huskies have been eliminated from the NCAA tournament. And I think we all remember what happened last time the Canucks made a late season signing.

The Tanev-itable

Chris Tanev is injured again, and in other news, water is wet.

Considering how bad Tanev’s luck has been this year it might be time to consider shutting him down for the rest of the season. But considering how depleted the defensive core already is, it’s hard to imagine the team being convinced enough to let Tanev rest, even if it is the best call.

Injuries have played a pretty big part in the downfall of the Canucks this season, and it isn’t a new issue. According to data from NHL Injury Viz, Vancouver has lost 305 man games this year, the third most in the NHL behind the Ducks and Jets. The Canucks have also finished third in the previous two seasons, 2015-16 and 2016-17.

The fact that the Canucks just can’t stay healthy for long periods of time feels like it could be something more than just bad luck. For me, it seems like Vancouver’s medical and training staff (a lot of which were brought in after the first season under Linden and Benning, 2014-15) should have some tough questions to answer in the offseason.

A Hart to Hart Talk

From what I’ve seen online lately, it looks like everybody and their mom has a different opinion on how the NHL should award the Hart Trophy for the league’s MVP. This all stems from the fact that Connor McDavid currently leads the NHL in scoring, even though the Oilers won’t be making the playoffs the season.

So what’s one more person’s opinion, right?

While 96 points is something only one of the best players in the game could accomplish, it’d still be hard for me to hand Connor a Hart Trophy vote since Edmonton is going to finish nowhere near a playoff spot. If the Oilers were a bubble team that just lost out on a spot in the final days of the season, I’d be more on board with the idea.

The players I’d be looking at as potential Hart winners are guys like Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov and Taylor Hall. Each of them have played a massive role on a (likely) playoff-bound team and helped exceed people’s expectations of the franchise. Especially when you consider that the Avalanche, Lightning and Devils all missed the postseason last year.

But if it were up to me, my vote would go to Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck. His numbers may not top Andrei Vasilevskiy’s in a few departments, but he’s led the Jets into the playoffs despite crushing injuries to players like Mark Scheifele (twice) and Jacob Trouba, and has done it all after starting the season as Steve Mason’s backup. Hellebuyck likely won’t win, but he at least deserves to be in the conversation.

Around the Rinks

For the first time in over a decade, the Blackhawks will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs, signaling the end of a dynasty that featured three Stanley Cups in a six year span. I’d argue that a lot of that is due to the injury that’s kept Corey Crawford out of the lineup since December, but apparently some people feel that Hawks’ coach Joel Quenneville might be out of a job in April.

If Chicago management really wants to keep this from becoming a regular occurence, firing one of the best coaches in NHL history isn’t going to make it better. Any sort of retool the team has planned is going to need a good leader behind the bench, and Quenneville is certainly that.

But as someone who’s seen their team get burned by the Blackhawks on far too many occasions, I’ve got my popcorn ready and “Chelsea Dagger” queued up on my playlist.

The Blue Jackets might’ve lost a 2-1 contest to the Blues on Saturday, but it marked their first loss in 11 games. Columbus is one of the most exciting young teams in the NHL, and their success is one that the Canucks should take some notes on.

The real test for the Jackets will come in the postseason, considering the franchise has yet to win a single playoff series. But if goalie Sergei Bobrovsky can play like his regular season stats say he can, Columbus has a good chance to shock the hockey world.

A huge congratulations is in order for the Markham Thunder, who won the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup championship earlier today in a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory over the Kunlun Red Star, with Laura Stacey scoring the Cup-winning goal. Congrats to the entire Thunder team, and I’m sorry I made a joke at your team’s expense a couple weeks ago. I probably owe you a t-shirt purchase or something now.

Also worth congratulating? Former NHLer/current broadcaster Eddie Olczyk, who officially became cancer-free this month. Cancer is such a scary disease for anyone to go through, and it’s fantastic that he was able to beat it. Happy to see you back in the booth, Eddie.

Thanks for reading! How much value do you put on winning games in the final stretch of a lost season? Leave a comment below!

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