Ben Kuzma: Canucks’ 2016-17 schedule won’t do the team many favours


Emerson Etem, Derek Dorsett

Emerson Etem, Derek Dorsett

Photograph by: THE CANADIAN PRESS, The Province

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They hobbled into Madison Square Garden and were running on fumes.

In the middle of a draining six-game slog last January, the Vancouver Canucks had lost Henrik Sedin to injury two nights earlier in Brooklyn, where they surrendered 48 shots and somehow eked out a 2-1 shootout victory over the Islanders.

Against the Rangers, they were forced to play rookie Jared McCann on the first line, bump Bo Horvat up to the top power-play alignment and hope for the best. They gave up 49 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss and Ryan Miller looked physically and mentally whipped from facing 97 shots in those two outings.

He would lose six of his next seven starts and the team injury list would eventually swell to nine and on some nights down the stretch of a sorry season, the Canucks iced as many as seven rookies.

Miller was at his best last season when healthy and rested. He missed eight games with a Dec. 20 groin strain at Florida during a six-game road trip. He tightened up in overtime in a warm arena and said he “got cramped up” and didn’t feel well in a shootout two nights earlier in Detroit, where he “got dehydrated in a shootout game.”

And when you consider the offensively challenged Canucks purposely have the tandem of the US$6 million Miller and Jacob Markstrom — plus the addition of defensive defenceman Erik Gudbranson — to have their goalies steal a few, they better be healthy and rested.

“I saw the schedule once and we tried to make some changes to it,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning. “Last year at one point, we had played the most road games in the league and by the end of that trip in January, we had survived it, but from then until the end of the year, we didn’t have any gas left.

“We talked to the league about making changes so it’s more balanced and we’re home for half a month instead of being on the road, home for two and out on the road again.”

Fast forward and the 2016-17 schedule won’t do the Canucks many favours.

They lobbied the NHL during that January trip to include New York, Brooklyn and New Jersey games in one stop. But in a six-game early November trip they play back-to-back in Montreal and Ottawa and then back-to-back in Brooklyn and MSG. The Canucks have a five-game road trip in December and a six-game trip in February and a five-gamer in March. It could be better. It could be worse.

Last season, the Canucks had a seven-game trip in November, were home for two days and then on the road again for four more. They then had those arduous six-game sojourns in December and January.

Here are Rogers Arena dates to consider and some trips to ponder:


OCT. 15: FLAMES: The home-opener against former assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, who’s now guiding the Calgary bench. No tunnel tirade, but a lot of curiosity about division rivals who missed the playoffs and are ready to sell hope along with massaged rosters and egos.

OCT. 18: BLUES: Ken Hitchcock doesn’t want a weepy Goodbye Tour as he steps away from the game. However, he’s third on the NHL coaching list with 1,158 games, won a Stanley Cup and got a junior franchise to flourish in Kamloops. He should be saluted.

NOV. 19: BLACKHAWKS: Always a monster matchup. There’s enough slay-the-dragon playoff history, enough giddy-up in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Artemi Panarin to dial up the pace and plenty of incentive for the Hawks to top the conference. Definitely a must-see.

DEC. 1: DUCKS: An old/new tougher coach in Randy Carlyle, the chorus of boos for Ryan Kesler, the edge of behemoth Ryan Getzlaf and those accidentally-on-purpose forays by crease-crasher Corey Perry. What could be better? The refocused Ducks will be a handful.

DEC. 3: MAPLE LEAFS: Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen and whatever Toronto accomplishes in Buffalo this week is reason alone to attend the Hockey Night In Canada grudge match and be entertained just as much by leather-lunged transplanted Leafs faithful.

DEC. 16: LIGHTNING: If Steven Stamkos stays put and Jonathan Drouin picks up where he left off last season, that’s enough of a drawing card by a hybrid club that understands where the league is going. Plenty of speed in a lineup that’s not the biggest, but among the fastest. Get there.

JAN. 20: PANTHERS: Roberto Luongo, Jaromir Jagr, Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov. Plenty of old-boy and fresh-face storylines and don’t forget that post-game melee last season here when Florida took cheap verbal shots at the Sedins, and Daniel responded with the OT winner.

FEB 2: SHARKS: Can ageless Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau climb the mountain once again to the Stanley Cup Final? Will Brent Burns continue to prove he’ll be a Norris Trophy candidate every season and — of course — will they let those beards grow? Never dull games.

MARCH 7: CANADIENS: Remember last October? The Habs had set a league record by winning their first nine games in regulation, but McCann scored twice while Luca Sbisa, Radim Vrbata and Derek Dorsett had the others in a 5-1 win in which Brandon Prust was injured.

MARCH 11: PENGUINS: The Stanley Cup champions complete with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and, of course, Nick Bonino. If the Canucks are still in a wild-card hunt, they’ll find out in a hurry if they can match stride with the speedy Penguins. Track meet.


ONLY IN CANADA, EH? A three-game trip to Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto from Nov. 2-5. Get to Montreal at least a day early, get to Crescent Street for the bar scene and to the Old Port for cuisine. Dress up. People have good taste there, no yoga pants. Take your fashionable coat and scarf, take the train from Montreal to Ottawa and hit the underrated Market Square area by the Parliament Buildings for a good time. Take your time getting to the way-out-there Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata and enjoy the funky districts of Toronto.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: If the Eastern Canada trip doesn’t work, consider a weekend in The Big Apple and then back-to-back games in Brooklyn and Madison Square Garden on Nov. 7-8. Take in a Broadway show, have the lobster-stuffed ravioli at Sardi’s and you’ll probably bump into somebody famous or certainly see their pictures on the walls. Take the express subway to the Barclay’s Center and enjoy the jig-saw seating. Get to MSG early and wander around the revamped sports mecca. First hit the famous Katz’s Deli for mile-high pastrami sandwiches. Mustard. No ketchup.

CALIFORNIA DREAMING: Get out of the rain in early March. Games in San Jose (March 2) and weekend tests in Los Angeles (March 4) and Anaheim (March 5) work on every level. Walk to the arena in quaint San Jose and hit The Brit bar before or after the game and you may meet owner and former Shark forward Owen Nolan. Get to L.A. Live for plenty of pre-game options and cross the street to the cavernous Staples Center. Drive up to Anaheim early and take the kids to Disneyland before the Honda Centre. Brownie points.

Emerson Etem, Derek Dorsett

Emerson Etem, Derek Dorsett

Photograph by: THE CANADIAN PRESS, The Province

Emerson Etem, Derek Dorsett
Canucks schedule.jpg
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