As we continue our reports for the 2021/22 Vancouver Canucks season, it is now time to turn our attention to the club’s defense and goalkeeping.
Thatcher Demko: A+
When it comes to impact players, Thatcher easily made Demko the greatest of all Canucks.
With all due respect to JT Miller, the Canucks lived or died through their All-Star goalkeeper’s play during Demko’s first full regular season as the team’s starter. The result was an impressive campaign of 33 wins, the ninth most in the NHL this year, and a monstrous 64 starts that surpassed only Juuse Saros of Nashville and Connor Hellebuyck of Winnipeg.
Demko’s play was routinely the only thing that kept the Canucks alive during games in October and November. Far too often in the early months of the season, a great performance from the sophomore starter would be lost due to Vancouver’s struggles on the scoresheet and penalty kill. When run support finally arrived in mid-December, Demko’s win totals soared.
Heading into the final stretch, there was a real case to be made that Demko’s strong year would make him a favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. But in the latter stages of the season, his numbers dwindled a bit as the results of Demko’s huge workload took its toll.
An injury sustained in the final month of the season didn’t stop Demko from playing in nine of Vancouver’s ten games from April 3 to 23, before finally retiring last week. Ironically, if it weren’t for more consistent help from his main backup, Demko might have ended the year with a clean bill of health and starting some playoffs.
But don’t let the bitter ending fool you; Thatcher Demko gave his heart, soul and body for a postseason chance, and the Canucks would have ended up in absolute basement without his efforts.
Travis Dermott: B-
If Travis Dermott will forever be the first acquisition by Canuck’s rookie general manager Patrik Allvin, he has set a good precedent thus far.
After six seasons with the Maple Leafs coming to Vancouver on the trade deadline, Dermott’s solid defensive responsibility has already made him a welcome addition to the Canucks’ often surpassed blue line. While his two points in 17 games are a bit low, the 25-year-old still has plenty of room to grow and adapt to his new team.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson: B
This is arguably the most controversial of all the player figures handed out today. To properly highlight Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s work, we must separate the man from his contract as much as possible.
From a defensive standpoint, Ekman-Larsson did surprisingly well when paired with Tyler Myers. Expectations were low, but during the third-most ice age of all Canucks blue airliners, Ekman-Larsson was instrumental in putting together the second-most miserly blue line in the league on an equal footing, scoring goals against per 60 of 2.13.
Offensively, OEL put in a prolific 29-point season, despite his scoring role dwindling since his time in Arizona. With Quinn Hughes ahead of him on the depth chart, it allowed Ekman-Larsson to play in lower pressure situations and get more choice matchups than he got as the Coyotes’ first mating man.
Jaroslav Halak: D-
It feels a bit unfair to give Jaroslav Halak the lowest mark of the bunch. But signing a reserve goalkeeper for a year-long backup certainly backfired.
In the Travis Green era, Halak was a victim of circumstances when the snake-bitten Canucks scorers lost him multiple low-scoring affairs, giving him a scoreless record over six games. When the front office changed hands, the $1.25 million performance bonus triggered by Halak’s tenth start made the team extra cautious about playing the 36-year veteran.
The long layoffs between games led to some lackluster performances on key nights off for starter Demko, giving Halak a final record of 4-7-2 and a save rate of 0.902. Given Demko’s eventual injury and the Canucks missing the playoffs by just five points, it’s hard not to watch Halak’s second half, where crucial points are away from Vancouver.
Quinn Hughes: A+
We already knew that Quinn Hughes is the best defender the Canucks have ever had. Now he has the record of one season to equal.
Hughes’ 68 points broke Doug Lidster’s 35-year record for points by a defender, and it’s only a matter of time before he holds the full standings. The 22-year-old also improved greatly on his own side of the ice, doing all that as he cycled through a collection of different defensive partners in the first half of the season.
For Hughes there is no direction other than up.
Brad Hunt: C+
After struggling to earn a place in the lineup during the preseason, Brad Hunt eventually worked his way into a permanent third mating role, scoring 17 points in 50 games. A regular in Vancouver’s second power play unit, the Maple Ridge native was as solid as a bottoming defender can be, and could potentially return in a similar role next season.
Tyler Myers: B+
He may be part of one of the NHL’s most expensive defensive combos, but Tyler Myers did his best to make his $6 million cap hit this season worth his weight.
Myers was the only Canuck to play in all 82 games and was unexpectedly strong in the defensive zone this year. Add his 18 points to the mix, and Myers’s had arguably the best season of any Vancouver defender not named Quinn Hughes.
Spencer Martin: A+
Yes, Spencer Martin only played six NHL games in 2021-22. But those six can live on from now until the end of time in the lore of the Vancouver Canucks.
With Demko and Jaroslav Halak each missing a lot of time in January and April, Martin was thrown to the wolves as the Canucks’ third string goalkeeper. And yet, against all odds, Martin posted an incredible 3-0-3 record and a .950 save rate behind a number of injury and illness-depleted Vancouver lineups.
With Halak moving into free agency and younger netminders like Mikey DiPietro and Arturs Silovs still in need of AHL spice, Martin is already being scheduled as Demko’s projected backup next season. And with a little extra time to learn under the watchful eye of Canucks goalkeeper coach Ian Clark, he could become a bona fide 1B option for Vancouver.
Tucker Poolman: D-
Let’s face it: While his $10 million four-year deal would say otherwise, Tucker Poolman was always the eighth defender on this team.
After starting the season with Quinn Hughes, he quickly finished behind Luke Schenn, Kyle Burroughs and Brad Hunt on the depth chart. A head injury prematurely ended Poolman’s season at the end of January, but with just three points from 40 games, it’s doubtful he would get many chances to increase that number.
Luke Schenn: A-
Luke Schenn was the people’s champion for several well-deserved reasons.
After recovering from a poor preseason performance, Schenn became the perfect stay-at-home partner for high-flying Quinn Hughes. Not only did he earn the Unsung Hero award for his thunderous hits and willingness to drop the gloves, but he also took 17 points for his best-grossing season in a decade.