Vancouver Canucks 3 at St. Louis Blues 2 (OT) – 2023-02-23 recap

This was probably the best game the Canucks have played all season.

The lead sentence isn’t saying much, and part of the problem of analyzing the Rick Tocchet era as a whole is because so much of it has been with the Canucks playing from behind and not having to defend a lead against a good team, which is where teams tend to give up a lot of shots and chances.

And against St. Louis, the Canucks are facing a team that has essentially given up on the season. They were still playing from behind.

Still, it was about as good a performance as you could hope for from the Canucks, who out-chanced the Blues 21-3 by my count, by far the largest gap this season between them and their opponent. The next closest gaps? +10 against Columbus on January 27, and +9 against Chicago on January 24, both in the Tocchet era.

I don’t want to get too much into the specifics of this game, but I think it’s appropriate to mention the Blues in the context of the Canucks “retool or rebuild”, so to speak. The Blues won a Stanley Cup with Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko as their top players. A season earlier, they dealt Paul Stastny at the trade deadline and opted not to sign him. This season, with the team firmly out of a playoff position despite some good pieces, they’ve taken the opportunity to deal O’Reilly and Tarsenko and move forward with a team centered around Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou.

Arguably, the Blues, whose only lottery pick in the organization the year they won the Stanley Cup was Alex Pietrangelo, 4th overall in 2008. It’s the only successful retool in league history, having acquired centres O’Reilly and Schenn through other trades. Even then, the Blues know when to cut bait with players and when it’s an optimal time to move them for assets.

I’m not sure if we can label the Blues a model franchise, but they certainly got to hang a banner because they didn’t make the obvious mistakes that the Canucks made. Even though they gained nothing of consequence from the Stastny trade, and it will take a while for the young assets pulled from the other two trades this season to make their mark in the NHL, it’s at least allowed the organization to chart a logical course forward.

I don’t know whether the Canucks are still insistent that they’re not rebuilding, even as sellers are making a killing across the league when it comes to picking up draft picks. The faster the Canucks can get out from JT Miller’s contract (and only really him, the other deals can be allowed to expire or wallow on LTIR for eternity) the faster they can chart a course back towards the top of the NHL’s Pacific Division.

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