It’s here. And it’s painful to watch.
Yet without the pain, you don’t get the reward.
It is the Vancouver Canucks limping to the finish line after trading away their captain in Bo Horvat.
Don’t get me wrong – it was a trade that had to be made as Horvat would have walked at the end of the year as an unrestricted free agent – but when you move your leading goal-scorer for essentially futures, you’re basically telling your team that you’ve run up the white flag.
This descent into the depths of the standings was to be expected.
The reward is that with each loss the Canucks improve their chances in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes, or as it’s more formally known, the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Even if the Canucks don’t land the first overall pick in the lottery, there are still some nice consolation prizes to be had.
Bedard, the North Vancouver native who is tearing it up with the WHL’s Regina Pats, is a generational talent who is in a class by himself but the next tier of prospects featuring Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson and Matvei Michkov should also provide a dynamic player who you can build your team around.
Getting to those top four slots will take some work but the Canucks do have an outside shot given their current trajectory.
As much as the organization was hoping that the hiring of Rick Tocchet as head coach would give this team a bump, it’s been the opposite.
After Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to the New York Rangers, Tocchet’s record as head coach of the Canucks has been a dismal 3-6.
The new bench boss was so frustrated after the 6-1 loss to Detroit on Monday night that he stated his team needed to go back to ‘grade school’ when describing certain aspects of its defensive zone coverage.
Ironically enough, two of Tocchet’s wins as head coach came against teams that most Vancouver fans are hoping the Canucks will sink past in the standings.
The gap between the Canucks and the Columbus Blue Jackets – the second-to-last place team in the overall standings – is eight points as we start the weekend. Reverse the result of the Canucks 5-2 win against Columbus on Jan. 27, and that total would have been down to four.
The spread between Vancouver and the last-place Chicago Blackhawks was at nine points as of Friday morning. It could have been sitting at five had the Canucks not beaten Chicago 5-2 on Jan. 24 in Tochett’s debut as head coach.
Yes, it’s an exercise in futility wondering ‘what if’ but it goes to show how critical some of these games are down the stretch when it comes to seeding for the draft lottery.
Gone are the days when you would circle dates on the schedule against teams that you were battling with for a playoff spot or a divisional title.
Now the dates are circled for games against Anaheim (three times), Arizona and Chicago (twice) and San Jose (once) – all teams tied or below the Canucks in the standings.
For most of Canuck Nation, it’s reverse scoreboard watching that is taking place right now – with the local fans hoping the home team loses while opposing teams win.
As much as that deviates from the basic fundamentals of being a fan, the fact of the matter is every loss helps this team’s chances of acquiring a difference-maker.
Landing in the top four is about the only thing Canuck fans can hope for right now as their biggest chip – Horvat – has already been played.
Speaking of which, I was told that the offers they were receiving on Horvat were lukewarm at best seeing how most teams saw this season as an outlier and viewed him as more of a perennial 25-goal scorer.
As for other tradeable commodities, goaltender Thatcher Demko shot down rumors this week that he had asked to be traded.
Even if the Canucks wanted to move on from Demko, they’d be selling low on a goaltender who hasn’t played since Dec. 1 compounded by the fact that there no replacement options in the organization.
Defenceman Luke Schenn in all likelihood will be traded by the March 3rd deadline and will most likely fetch a 2nd or 3rd round pick in return – not exactly the type of transaction that will move the needle for most fans.
Add it all up and there’s really not that much to look forward to as the season winds down other than where this team winds up in the lottery seeding.
As for my prediction for what to expect for the rest of the year, I’ll steal a line from Clubber Lang in Rocky III.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.