If there is one thing that Canuck fans know how to do, it’s criticize. While they’re far from the most toxic fanbase in hockey, Vancouver fans have always found a way to let players and coaches alike know when their performances weren’t appreciated. However, in the interests of constructive criticism, it would be nice if sometimes complaints were a bit more pointed and direct. With that in mind, here are five specific complaints about Canucks, with exemplars to point out how each player could theoretically improve.
Player: Emerson Etem
What Fans Criticize Them For: Etem is the classic “all the tools, no toolbox” sort of player. He’s big and can skate like the wind, but rarely does it translate into effective hockey. He is usually not physical, and doesn’t put himself into scoring situations consistently enough.
Who They Should Play More Like: Jason Chimera.
Chimera is a career bottom-6 player, despite a couple of 20 goal seasons. Most importantly, he’s carved out a long-term role for himself in the NHL, something that currently looks like a bit of a long-shot for Etem. Chimera, like Etem, has blazing speed, but he actually uses it to punish on the forecheck and hustle back on defense. Most enticingly, Chimera uses his combination of size and speed to frequently hand out huge bodychecks, something Etem almost never does.
Will It Happen?: Possibly. Etem is only 24 years old, so he’s young enough to reinvent himself. However, the clock is ticking, and he’ll only get a few more chances at the NHL level.
Player: Alex Edler
What Fans Criticize Them For: Alex Edler once terrorized the Western Conference with his combination of offensive prowess and physicality. Memorable hits on Drew Doughty and Patrick Kane left an impression, but that sort of play is no longer part of Edler’s repertoire. His booming shot is also seen much less frequently than it used to be.
Who They Should Play More Like: Dustin Byfuglien
Byfuglien certainly has greater skill than Edler, but he also uses it much more effectively. Byfuglien plays with a sort of reckless abandon that regularly changes the flow of games. His huge hits or blasts from the point constantly keep opponents on their toes. Byfuglien can best be described as an absolute presence on the ice, and the same used to be said of Edler.
Will It Happen?: No. A large part of the reason why Edler no longer plays a risky, Byfuglien-esque game is his history of injuries. Most concerning and relevant of these are recurring back problems, which directly affect his ability to throw hits and take slapshots. Edler’s playing style is likely forever altered.
Player: Erik Gudbranson
What Fans Criticize Them For: An overreliance on physicality. Gudbranson has a lot of physical tools, but sometimes uses them thoughtlessly, resulting in goals and penalties against. His game is heavily criticized for its inefficiency by the analytics crowd.
Who They Should Play More Like: Niklas Hjalmarsson
Hjalmarsson, like Gudbranson, is a stay-at-home defenseman with some limited offensive upside. Hjalmarsson also has a penchant for physical play, as seen by his recent destruction of Ty Rattie. However, Hjalmarsson doesn’t go for the big hit on every shift, and deploys his size and strength with a more reasoned approach. Hjalmarsson knows how to play within his means, resulting in him being rarely beat by opponents, and always miserable to play against.
Will It Happen?: Possibly. Gudbranson has thus far only been a member of one NHL organization. Players often see a career renaissance after their first trade, and Gudbranson has yet to enter his prime at age 24. Gudbranson may yet develop into a top-flight defensive defenseman.
Player: Jake Virtanen
What Fans Criticize Them For: Virtanen has a wicked shot and is among the more physical young players in the NHL, but rarely puts himself in a position to use his gifts well. Whereas, ideally, his shooting and hitting skill would blend themselves into an ideal power forward, Virtanen often seems to be out of sync, constantly choosing whether to focus on scoring or physical play.
Who They Should Play More Like: Wayne Simmonds
Simmonds plays with much more skill than Virtanen, despite the disparity in their draft positions. The two have similar physical tools, but the major difference is how Simmonds deploys his. Simmonds is a classic power forward, and he uses his physical play, and the fear it inspires, to buy room for himself on the ice, which he then uses to unleash his terrific shot. This is a player who makes the most of what he’s got.
Will It Happen?: Hopefully. Virtanen has expressed a desire to play the role of power forward, and one has to think that every member of the Canucks organization is giving him similar feedback. It’s pretty likely that Virtanen knows what he has to do to succeed, but knowing and putting it all together are two very different things.
Player: Luca Sbisa
What Fans Criticize Them For: Sbisa can definitely hit hard, and has occasionally used this skill to make a real impact on the ice. Unfortunately, his lack of hockey sense rarely puts him in a position to use what skill he has, and he spends more time chasing his own turnovers than doing anything else.
Who They Should Play More Like: Radko Gudas
Gudas is another player whose physical abilities are greater than his height would suggest. Gudas was once known only for his hitting, but has since used hockey smarts to craft out a niche for himself, playing within his means and using his physicality to supplement an otherwise sturdy defensive game. Could do without the suspendable hits, though.
Will It Happen?: No. Unfortunately, hockey sense doesn’t seem to be a skill that can be learned, and especially not this far into a career. Sbisa is the same age as Gudas, and miles behind him in terms of development.