Drance: Canucks’ defensive problems won’t be solved by ‘going back to elementary school’

VANCOUVER — Vancouver Canucks players were left speechless on Monday night after a humiliating 6-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

New head coach Rick Tocchet, on the other hand, was direct and honest and incredibly harsh in his assessment of his team’s defensive play.

“We have to go back to elementary school to learn how to defend ourselves,” Tocchet said.

On Monday night at Rogers Arena, on home ice against an underperforming offensive team, the Canucks were aired for six clean sheets. There were unforced turnovers, multiple breakaways and one of the worst line changes you’ll ever see – all of which directly led to the puck being sent into the Vancouver net over and over again.

When the Red Wings scored their sixth goal of the night, they advanced on Andrei Kuzmenko, saved the ball in a delayed penalty situation and sealed the Canucks at will. The Red Wings — 22nd of goals scored in the NHL this season — toyed with their food.

It was the 25th time in 54 games this season that Vancouver had conceded five or more goals in a game.

Vancouver is currently averaging – yes, averaging – Allowed more than four goals per game this season. Not only is that ghastly, it’s historically revealing.

In the 516 completed seasons played by every single NHL member club during the hard-cap era, no team conceded more than four goals per game over the course of an entire NHL season. If current trends continue, Vancouver — along with the Anaheim Ducks (who have somehow conceded more goals per game) — could make a credible claim as one of the most defensively leaky teams of a generation.

When it happens, it will have been hard earned.

Looking for answers during his post-game press conference on Monday night, Tocchet spoke about accountability. He called for an end to the demonstrative, angry stick-smashing – Monday night’s most notable stick-smash belonged to Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the third period – and spoke of running his racquet through remedial-level defensive walk-throughs in Tuesday’s practice.

The entire press conference after the game is worth seeing. Tocchet looked and sounded like a man grappling with the enormity of the task ahead:

Of course, it’s not really about the structure. It’s not about habits or fitness or wall work or systems.

Training time will not allow Ekman-Larsson to skate with Dylan Larkin any more than it can make JT Miller a robust defensive pivot at the age of 29.

There is no positional walk-through that could turn every player currently on this Canucks roster into a championship-caliber matchup defender.

Do not believe me? Consider this: The Canucks organization put together a historically horrific penalty shootout in two seasons. In that span of time, the club has gone through four assistant coaches directly responsible for conducting the penalty shootout – Nolan Baumgartner, Scott Walker, Brad Shaw, Mike Yeo – working under three different head coaches. In none of these four distinct eras has this team managed to achieve an 80 percent kill rate.

Honestly, this team’s problems aren’t systemic and everyone can see that. It’s not about Spencer Martin and Colin Delia and Thatcher Demko either.

Saving, Habits and Systems and a more consistent work rate would help, but fundamentally this current roster is disastrously constructed and far too low in terms of both two-way IQ and talent.

I remember thinking in 2020, back in the Edmonton bubble, that Tocchets Arizona Coyotes were one of the best trained defensive teams I’ve ever seen. While I think Tocchet is a good defensive tactician, asking him to make an average defensive team out of this group is unreasonable.

In the short term, that’s fine anyway. It’s actually positive.

This Canucks team is reeling and performing so poorly they actually came out with a significant shot at a finish in the last five. And I thought it was too late for gas.

A top five finish would be huge for the Canucks, especially amid the biggest tank battle the NHL has seen since 2014. That’s exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that has cornered the market for expensive center six wingers, but it’s also lacking in centermen, quality defenders and elite talent.

Though back-to-back regulation losses to the Red Wings deep in the middle may have felt daunting, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

If the goals conceded continue to come and Vancouver’s two-way game improves, and it has under tocchet Despite Monday night’s setback, that’s about the best possible outcome for this terrible campaign.

However, there’s one thing that’s still more important than the losses, and that’s the overall direction of the franchise. A top pick, even a generation, can only do so much when accompanied by the kind of win-now desperation — bad contracts, short-sighted trades, and lavish wealth management — that has defined the last decade of Canucks’ franchise history .

What matters in the end is not so much what Tocchet can deliver, but that Canucks’ management is watching this unfold with their hand-picked chief executive, processing it and beginning to understand the full scope of what it takes to make it happen reverse franchise . Abandon foolish hopes of accelerated conversion and commit to slow-cooking a competitor.

In their first cycle of work, it’s that understanding – confronting the extent of this club’s shortcomings – that has eluded Canucks management.

Which is odd, because if you listen to what they say, Canucks hockey operations president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin have readily cast doubt on the sustainability of this club’s short-lived flirtations with success.

They said they didn’t buy Bruce Boudreau’s hump, and Allvin told Sportsnet Monday he didn’t buy the bubble playoff run either.

That’s all well and good, and even somewhat defensible — although Allvin’s claim that the good teams didn’t try it in the bubble is utter absurdity. If the good teams didn’t try in the bubble, why did three of the bubble’s conference finalists make it back to being conference finalists the very next season?

However, how does management’s apparent skepticism about this group’s best moments fit into their actions?

Why extend Miller if you don’t believe in what the club achieved last season? Or Kuzmenko? Why sign Ilya Mikheev when this club is still so far away? Why trade draft picks and futures for 20-something reclamation projects like Travis Dermott, Jack Studnicka, Ethan Bear and Riley Stillman?

In other words, Canucks management has been keen to show its understanding of just how far this team is. In fact, however, they have doubled down to an increasingly expensive group of players who, combined, are underdefensive enough to successfully play hockey in the NHL.

Thanks to the perverse incentives that govern the bottom NHL, any loss at this point in the season is in the club’s best interests. There is pain in that – Monday’s game was awful to watch, save for an exciting second-period powerplay sequence – but there’s also clarity.

Now it’s up to Canuck’s management to make productive use of this terrible time. There remains an opportunity to actively weaken the team further until NHL trade closes on March 3. They can do their best to make sure the losing lasts. That would be welcome.

Once that’s done, the key for Canucks management is to actually trust what they’re seeing. This time they would best act on it.

(Photo: Bob Frid / USA Today)

https://theathletic.com/4196130/2023/02/14/vancouver-canucks-defensive-issues/ Drance: Canucks’ defensive problems won’t be solved by ‘going back to elementary school’

Russell Falcon

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