Bruce Boudreau has high expectations for his team.
After taking over as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, Boudreau led the Canucks to a stellar 32-15-10 record to close out the 2021-22 season. It wasn’t enough, however, to make the playoffs after a dreadful start. As the Canucks look to build off how they played to end last season, Boudreau was blunt about what they need to do in the coming season.
“Not making the playoffs would be a big disaster for us, individually and collectively,” said Boudreau. “But to make the playoffs we have to be more consistent over 82 games, not just 56 games or whatever it was. I would be disappointed and would call it a failure if we didn’t succeed in our goals this year.”
"Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup."
That sentiment was echoed by the Canucks’ captain, Bo Horvat, who has made the playoffs just twice in his eight seasons in the NHL.
“We have to see ourselves as a playoff team. Anything less than that, I think we failed,” said Horvat bluntly.
That was the resounding theme of the Canucks’ media availability ahead of training camp, which kicks off in Whistler on Thursday. With J.T. Miller locked in long-term, there’s no rebuilding or retooling the team — it’s time to start winning.
“We’ve got a lot of guys here sick of not making the playoffs,” said Miller. “Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup…I don’t think the goal should ever be less than that.”
“It’s a very long process to get there,” he added. “But if we all buy into that process and buy into the way the Canucks are supposed to play, there’s no reason why we can’t be there competing for the Stanley Cup at the end of the season.”
A big reason for that belief is that the Canucks really only made additions in the offseason, with no significant subtractions. New wingers like Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko should give them a stronger top-nine forwards, while Curtis Lazar and Dakota Joshua should improve the fourth line.
“I believe that we have a playoff team here,” said Horvat. “All the pieces that we added, I really believe in this group. Obviously, we have unbelievable goaltending, our D corps is solid, and our forwards are really good. I'm excited about this year.”
"The best lines, they don't change much."
With the new additions at forward, the team has some enviable depth and should be able to create some dangerous line combinations alongside centres Horvat, Miller, and Elias Pettersson. It gives Boudreau a lot of options to work with and he got a twinkle in his eye when asked how many line combinations he’s been creating in his head.
“How high a number can you think?” he quipped. “And not only different lines but who’s playing the right side, who’s playing the left side? The only thing I really know is that we want to start with Bo, Petey, and J.T. up the middle.”
Still, even with all of the options, Boudreau doesn't want to experiment too much with different lines at training camp.
“At the start of tomorrow’s practice, we’ll have at least four lines that we’re hoping look like opening night,” said Boudreau. “But the next day they may all be changed, so who knows?”
“In the preseason, at least the first couple of games, the lines that we have out there, we’re going to try to keep them together as a unit,” he added. “I’m trying to keep the lines together to keep some familiarity with them.”
Horvat is certainly hoping for some consistency in his linemates so he can build some chemistry. The centre has seen a rotating cast of wingers the past few seasons.
“You look at the best best lines in the league — they’re together a lot,” said Horvat. “Obviously, lines break up every once in a while but they always seem to come back together and they always seem to stick together…The best lines, they don’t change much. To have consistency, to have trust in your linemates, I think it’s a big part of being successful in this league.”
"I have a ton of confidence in our D corps."
As for the defence, that’s still a little bit in flux despite bringing back the same group. With the possibility of moving Quinn Hughes to the right side, that could change all of the defence pairings from last season. They also need to figure out if Jack Rathbone can play consisten enough defence to earn a regular spot in the lineup.
There have been concerns that the Canucks didn’t make any changes to their defence this offseason, but Thatcher Demko, at least, isn’t worried and is happy to see the same group as last season.
“I’m really close with the D corps,” said Demko. “You get a little bit closer with those guys that are laying their bodies on the line, blocking shots. Obviously, we love the guys that score goals too” — here he gave Horvat a playful punch in the leg — “but I have a ton of confidence in our D corps.”
Demko is also excited about having Spencer Martin as his backup. Martin was stellar in his six starts with the Canucks last season, posting a .950 save percentage, which earned him a two-year, one-way contract extension.
“He came in last year, he played unbelievable,” said Demko. “Every night, it seemed like he was on his game and taking advantage of the opportunities he was getting. I’ve been skating with him here for over a month now, just trying to build that chemistry with him off the ice. He’s been looking good.”
"We can't just be satisfied with 'almost.'"
The big question for the Canucks is if they can avoid the disastrous start that sunk their chances last season. That’s going to be their primary focus at training camp — preparing as best they can to get off to the best start possible.
With largely the same group of players, the Canucks collectively know what that start felt like and how much better the second half of the season felt.
“The last two years, we’ve kind of shot ourselves in the foot right at the beginning of the year where you have to play catch-up all the time,” said Horvat. “It was promising what we did last year, having so many meaningful games and winning a lot of them is a step in the right direction, but at the same time, us not making the playoffs isn’t good enough.
“We can’t just be satisfied with ‘almost.’ we can’t be satisfied with ‘good try.’ We’ve got to go and do it now. There’s no more excuses for us.”