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Screen Shots: Canucks, WJC and Olympic Frustration

The Canucks are hot again, the World Junior Championship fallout is here and players have made it clear they're not thrilled about the Olympic decision. Adam Proteau is back with this week's Screen Shots column.
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It’s time for another Screen Shots file, in which we take a quick look at a handful of hockey topics. Let’s get right to it.

– As play resumes in the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks are the league’s hottest team, winning seven games in a row, and posting a 9-1-0 record in their past 10 games. But if you look at the standings, you’ll see Vancouver is still the second-worst team in the Pacific Division. They’ve improved to a 15-15-2 overall record this season, but the fourth-place Edmonton Oilers have four more standings points than the Canucks, and they have two games in hand on Vancouver. San Jose and Los Angeles, the fifth-and-sixth-place teams in the Pacific, have one more point than Vancouver does, but the Sharks and Kings have a game in hand on the Canucks.

Head coach Bruce Boudreau has done a terrific job building confidence among Canucks players, but he’s not a magician who can overcome the structural obstacles of the NHL standings system. At some point, there will be a regression to the mean, and Vancouver likely will miss out on a playoff berth. It’s heartening for Canucks fans to see immediate change after cleaning house on the management side, but realists understand how difficult it will be to overcome their abysmal start to the season.

Vancouver’s 2-1 win over division rival Anaheim Wednesday is a perfect example of the hill the Canucks must climb; the game went to overtime, so Anaheim earned a point, and they currently sit second in the Pacific with nine more points than Vancouver has. First-place Vegas has 10 more points than the Canucks, and although Calgary has only four more points than the Canucks, the Flames also have four games in hand on them.

Ultimately, Vancouver needs many more regulation-time wins if they’re to remain in the fringes of the playoff race. However, given that they’ve only got 10 regulation-time wins – tied with expansion Seattle for the lowest number in that category in the Pacific – it’s difficult to see them maintaining this pace. A course correction is coming, but at least there’s hope again for Canucks fans. It’s a solid start, even if it doesn’t pay off this season.

– The 2022 IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship turned out to be a disaster, with the COVID-19 virus sinking its teeth into players from a number of countries. We know why the IIHF tried so hard to stage the event – it’s all about money, of course – but in the end, they had to abide the science that, again, strenuously advised people to stay home, social-distance, and get fully vaccinated. The decision devastated players, but their health has to come first, even if they want to risk being infected and hospitalized. That’s what the IIHF is there for.

If IIHF president Luc Tardif follows up his recent hints that the World Juniors could be played in the off-season, he needs to ensure the women’s championship games that were cancelled for the second straight year get played, too. It’s unfair to only focus on the men’s side of the sport, but the outcry that followed the cancellation of the women’s tournament gave the IIHF a shot across the bow, and odds are they listen to players and fans, and re-schedule the World Championship, perhaps in the same city.

A full protective bubble is still possible, and if that’s what it takes, the women will do it. The IIHF ignores them at its own peril, but I suspect they’ve learned their lesson, and do much better by them in the months ahead.

– It’s understandable that NHLers are upset they won’t be participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. Bruins star Brad Marchand came out this week and tore into the league for changing its stance on player participation of the Games – an issue the NHL Players’ Association collectively bargained for in the league’s current CBA. But nobody could’ve predicted this COVID nightmare would be a factor. And to be honest, I’m with the owners on this topic. They’ve invested a lot of money in players, and watching their assets be diminished and dented – perhaps having to remain in China for five weeks after the Games if they test positive for the virus – isn’t justifiable.

It’s true NHLers ache to represent their country at the Games, but it’s also true the Olympics are one massive business, and it’s not right that they can encroach on NHL investments and owners have to sit back helplessly as players are injured and/or infected. It’s a shame, and it would be best if the Beijing Games are postponed for a year. That would give players a chance to realize their Olympic dreams, and fans would get a true best-on-best tournament to decide hockey supremacy.

Now, though, the league is protecting players from themselves. It’s not entirely a benevolent act. This, too, is about money. But, hockey gods willing, we’ll get past this pandemic and make it right for players and their bargained rights next year. The league owes players on this one.

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