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THE MOJ: Playing out the string should give the Canucks plenty of time for evaluation

Situation offers new coach Rick Tocchet a chance to give himself an extended training camp
Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet, back, stands behind Ilya Mikheyev, from left to right, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks in Vancouver, on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Sometimes you wonder how people get to where they are.

I was listening to one so-called hockey analyst who questioned why the Vancouver Canucks would hire Rick Tocchet to finish out the season. With the playoffs out of reach, what was the point they wondered?

The answer is simple – evaluation.

As the Canucks finish out the schedule, Tocchet is going to find out pretty quick who is going to continue to compete every night and who is going to play out the string.

The NHL schedule is a grind even when things are going well for a hockey club. It’s drudgery when you are faced with the reality of losing on a consistent basis and the playoffs are a pipe dream.

Who shows up and who doesn’t will be a key factor in terms of who is in the Canucks plans moving forward and who’s not.

Tocchet will also get a read on his player’s personalities. Who responds to being called out and who responds to a subtle nudge? He will also learn which players are coachable and those who have difficulty understanding new concepts and/or instruction.

Another aspect to the timing of this hire is systems implementation.

Gone are the days of two-week training camps with practices in the morning AND in the afternoon.

The modern version of an NHL training camp is more of a three-day meet-and-greet with very little time for a new head coach to fully implement his systems.

The second half of the Canucks season will allow Tocchet to introduce his concepts to the team and to evaluate how players execute them.

As much as fans have written this season off for the Canucks, the next ten weeks provide a glorious opportunity for the new coach to learn about his team for the aforementioned reasons.

Now who that team is moving forward with as the March 3 trade deadline approaches is another question.

Bo Horvat was the first player to be moved, with Luke Schenn, Brock Boeser, Conor Garland and Thatcher Demko possibly to follow.

Of the four, Schenn has the greatest appeal.

If you are going to take a run at a Stanley Cup, depth on the blueline is paramount as some teams have gone seven or eight deep on their depth chart by the time they’ve reached the finals (go to the head of the class if you can tell me what Chris Tanev, Brian Glynn and Neil Belland have in common).

Schenn is probably the biggest chip that the Canucks have left to play as he has the appeal of a gritty defencemen on an expiring contract who has the intangibles associated with being a two-time Stanley Cup winner in Tampa Bay.

Moving him shouldn’t be an issue.

Boeser and Garland have put up average numbers at best but the number and term left on their contracts will scare teams away. Boeser has two years left at $6.6 million per while Garland has three years left at $4.95 million per.

That leaves us with Demko – the injured netminder who was supposed to be out for six weeks after getting hurt in a game on Dec. 1, but is now projected to return in late February.

Demko has a good contract and term moving forward at $5 million per year for the next three years and there are possible landing spots for him such as Buffalo, Los Angeles or Pittsburgh, but I can’t see the Canucks moving him for several reasons.

He’s had a subpar season to date as his save percentage currently sits at .883 – well below the .905, .915 and .915 numbers he put up in his first three seasons and nowhere near the ridiculous .985 he posted during the 2020 playoffs in the Edmonton bubble.

If Demko does return in late February, he would only have a handful of games to show that he’s healthy and that he’s back in form. Failing to do so would result in the Canucks selling low.

Then there’s the fact that the Canucks do not have a suitable replacement waiting in the wings as Latvian prospect Arturs Silovs – currently in Abbotsford – still needs more time to develop.

Add it all up and Demko will probably remain in Vancouver unless someone offers Jim Rutherford and company a deal they can’t refuse.

With the hiring of Tocchet and the trading of Horvat, things will be relatively quiet moving forward but it doesn’t mean the Canucks organization won’t be hard at work trying to figure a way out of this mess.

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.

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