The Vancouver Canucks were on an incredible hot streak after the hiring of Bruce Boudreau. They went 8-0-1 in the nine games after he was hired, kicking off 2022 with the eighth of those wins against the Seattle Kraken on January 1.
Then they didn’t play another game for over a week.
The two games the Canucks had scheduled for the following week — a January 5 game against the New York Islanders and a January 8 game against the Ottawa Senators — were both postponed. Both games were rescheduled because of COVID-19 but not because the teams had too many players unavailable. Instead, they were rescheduled because BC’s provincial health orders restricted Rogers Arena to 50% capacity.
In other words, the two games were postponed for financial reasons. It was hoped that by the time the games were played, Rogers Arena would be back up to 100% capacity and the team would be able to sell twice as many tickets for those two home games.
The gambit partially worked. Capacity restrictions were not lifted when the Canucks played their rescheduled game against the Islanders on February 9 but were lifted long before they played the rescheduled game against the Senators on April 19. The reported attendance for that game was 18,845, just shy of Rogers Arena’s full capacity of 18,910.
The irony is, the Canucks would have made a lot more money with, at minimum, two home games in the first round of the playoffs.
Postponed games turned into back-to-back traps
If the Canucks had played the Islanders and Senators when they were originally scheduled, it would have been two games in nine nights — a nice balance of staying well-rested while keeping game speed going during the middle of the season. In similarly rested situations elsewhere in their schedule, the Canucks beat both the Islanders and the Senators.
Rescheduled, however, both games became the second nights of back-to-back games. Those can be difficult for any team but they have particularly plagued the Canucks this season, winning just 3 of the 12 games on the second half of back-to-backs.
The games against the Islanders and Senators were among those nine losses.
The Canucks gave up five goals in the first period against the Islanders on February 9, with both head coach Bruce Boudreau and captain Bo Horvat saying the team simply wasn’t ready to play. Then, just last week, the Senators put a stop to a six-game winning streak for the Canucks, with Adam Gaudette scoring the shootout winner for the Senators.
There’s no guarantee, of course, that the Canucks would have won those games where they were originally scheduled, but the odds were a lot better than in the second half of back-to-backs. A Canucks team on a nine-game hot streak could have continued their streaking ways against two teams set to finish below them in the standings in a friendly portion of their schedule.
Winning both of those games would give the Canucks three more points, which would still have them just outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference but there would certainly be a bit more hope that the Canucks could pull off the implausible and sneak into the playoffs.
It’s not just those two games, however.
"I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be tough."
By the Canucks’ own admission, the long break between games after their 8-0-1 streak was an issue. A week of practices is not the same thing as playing games and it can be tough to jump back up to game speed immediately.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be tough,” said Horvat at the time. “We’ve just gotta keep practicing, keep our legs under us, and get ready for the road trip.”
That road trip was nearly a disaster, as it kicked off with three-straight losses before the Canucks seemed to find their legs and won the final two games of the trip.
Again, there’s no guarantee that the Canucks would have won any of those three games — they were playing three of the best teams in the Eastern Conference in the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Carolina Hurricanes — but perhaps they could have put up more of a fight if their two previous games hadn’t been postponed. They would have kept their legs going at game speed and could have gone into the road trip on a hot streak.
The bigger issue has come in the past week.
"You need mental breaks as well as physical breaks."
It’s not just that the game against the Senators was on the second half of back-to-backs — it made the entire week that much more difficult. The Canucks were originally scheduled to play three games last week but the added game against the Senators made it four games in six nights.
At the end of a season where the Canucks have had to treat every game over the past several months like it was a playoff game, playing four games in six nights is both physically and mentally exhausting.
“Rest is important,” said Boudreau just before last week’s tough schedule. “At this stage of the season, rest — not only your body but your mind — we’ve been grinding for so long now that you need mental breaks as well as physical breaks.”
How can you not see fatigue as a factor for Thatcher Demko, who has played 29 more games this season than his previous career-high? Demko was forced into the game against the Senators when Jaroslav Halak was injured late in the first period, wrecking the Canucks’ plans to give him a little more rest.
Subsequently, against the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames, Demko gave up five goals in each game, his first time giving up five goals in a game in over two months. Those two games were not the dominant Demko that Canucks fans know and love.
Once again, there’s no guarantee the Canucks would have won either of those games — the Wild and Flames are two of the best teams in the Western Conference — but a little more rest for Demko and his teammates could have given them a better chance.
Shortsighted and greedy
If the Canucks won those two games against the Islanders and Senators where they were originally scheduled, that would give them 90 points. Just one more win and an overtime loss out of any of the games that were influenced by the postponed games would have the Canucks at 93 points — tied with the Dallas Stars for the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, with the edge in the first tiebreaker, regulation wins.
If those two games had been postponed because too many players on either the Canucks’ or their opponents’ rosters were unable to play because of COVID-19, that would be understandable — it would be the type of misfortune that Canucks fans have gotten used to during the franchise’s 52-year history.
But it wasn’t misfortune. It was an intentional choice to postpone those two games in an attempt to maximize ticket revenue. And it may have cost the Canucks the playoffs.