Canucks this week: Robot referees, real coaches and punchable faces

A local legend gives the league an earful, a former GM tells Tocchet to tone it down and two Canucks land on the most punchable face list

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Your weekly roundup of what they’re saying about the Vancouver Canucks around the hockey world:

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‘That Bieksa bleeping grin’

Leave it to a familiar face to provide some levity with heads exploding leaguewide.

Moments after Tyler Myers was assessed a five-minute elbowing major — from the bench — Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman was busy calling the NHL’s situation room.

Friedman hadn’t seen it happen before — where the referee review changed the player who was getting the penalty — because it wasn’t in the rule book.

With the league telling Friedman it just wanted to make the right call, there was fellow Hockey Night in Canada panelist and former Canuck Kevin Bieksa adding to the insanity of the moment.

“He’s got that Bieksa bleeping grin on his face,” Friedman said on Monday’s 32 Thoughts Podcast. “You have to understand, the whole time I’m talking to the situation room … Bieksa is standing next to me yelling, ‘when are you guys bringing in the robot referees!?’”

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“He’s not helping, he’s making the situation worse,” Friedman said with a laugh. “I’m like, get out of this room, just get out of here.”

Former Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who signed a one-day contract with the NHL hockey team to officially retire, skates with the team at the start of practice, in Vancouver, on Thursday, November 3, 2022.
Former Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa skated with the team before he officially retired on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Friedman agreed with the league, saying “if you were to give anyone a major there, it had to be Myers, certainly not (Ian) Cole,” but also understood the response the one-of-a-kind call would get in Vancouver.

“It couldn’t have happened … with a more hornet’s nest fan base than the Vancouver Canucks … they were furious.”

Friedman was right. Canucks fans couldn’t bear to see the referees decide the Columbus game after the Blues game was decided on a non-call a few days prior.

And it wasn’t just Canucks fans calling the league out for it.

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They weren’t buying it in Sweden.

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And even the most hardened Blues fans couldn’t believe their luck.

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When the Blues announcers are laughing about the “little shove there to (Elias) Pettersson” and the main culprit, Brayden Schenn, outright admits post-game that “it was a cross-check” and “I pushed off on him” as the broadcast crew cackles along — that’s going to sting in Vancouver.

At least we have Bieksa in our corner, expressing, rather hilariously, how the zebras walked right into the hornet’s nest this past week.

Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet stands behind the bench in late September.
Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet stands behind the bench in late September. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Tocchet’s truth

Rick Tocchet felt his post-game comments asking more of Pettersson were blown out of proportion by the media.

Former Blue Jackets GM and Sportsnet commentator Doug MacLean thought it was a mistake for Tocchet to even go there.

“I thought it was a waste of time, and then, to call out the media, is a deal you can’t win,” MacLean said on Friday’s Real Kypper and Bourne show on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. “I blew it. It cost me big time, because I got so ticked off with the media in Columbus because of all the B.S. they were saying, and it hurt me big time.”

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MacLean went on to say that Tocchet should use his experience in the media and play his cards a little closer to his vest.

“It’s the most difficult part of the job, dealing with these guys … the problem is, it’s so frustrating because you read it and so much of it is not accurate, so much of it your owner reads and other people in the organization read, and that’s what drives you absolutely batty about it.”

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MacLean used former Canucks coach and GM Pat Quinn as an example, a tough but fair guy who was “unbelievable” at handling the media circus during his time in Toronto.

Co-host Justin Bourne took MacLean to task, however, talking about how there are a few head coaches around the league — Tocchet, John Tortorella, the fired Craig Berube — whose brand is their authenticity.

“What’s better, to be a guy who is always up front about things, or a guy who is (inauthentic)?” asked Bourne.

Host Nick Kypreos also shot back: “Does that go with everybody, Mac? Because there’s a lot of people out here for Sheldon Keefe to call out Willy Nylander or Matthews for a long time here, should they be treated the same way, that they’re off limits?”

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Replied MacLean: “The more you get into individual rip jobs from a coach in the public, I don’t think you win from that.

“Tocc was trying to be honest, but it caused a storm they didn’t need. They’re in first place. Why bother?”

Considering Pettersson responded with two goals, an assist and five shots on goal on Saturday night, Tocchet’s authentic approach seems to be working just fine.

Power Rankings

Heading into the All-Star break, the Canucks are tied atop the league in points and points percentage, lead the league in wins and continue to sport the best goal differential.

They’re starting to get their due.

In ESPN’s newest power rankings, Vancouver is in first place, having “hit all the right notes this season.”

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Same thing with the Seattle Times, who bumped the Canucks up to first overall despite the OT loss to the Blues.

TSN, meanwhile, has the Oilers in first place for the second week in a row, with the Bruins in second and the Canucks third (again).

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Canucks winger Dakota Joshua is congratulated after scoring against the Stars on Dec. 21 in Dallas. Photo by Sam Hodde /Getty Images

Best value

His line may not have a name, but he’s making one for himself nonetheless.

Bottom-six forward Dakota Joshua was chosen by ESPN as the Canucks’ best-value player, in a recent piece by Kristen Shilton.

Shilton writes:

“Joshua has found his niche on the Canucks’ third line with Conor Garland and Teddy Blueger. Their undeniable chemistry (and outright success) has made Joshua — and his $825,000 cap hit — the steal of the season for Vancouver. The 6-foot-3 player packs a wallop, and he has already produced the best scoring totals of his career (12 goals and 23 points in 46 games). The Canucks must enjoy him now because if Joshua maintains this pace, there will be a deserved pay raise in his future.”

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That’s the rub with this current Canucks team: this rising tide of a season will result in pay raises across the board.

And with Joshua, Blueger and a handful of others becoming unrestricted free agents this off-season — not to mention the high-priority restricted free agents still to sign — some hard decisions will have to be made by the extended Patrik Allvin and Co.

Conor Garland celebrates with Nikita Zadorov after scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 20. Both Garland and Zadorov made the list of punchable faces among current NHL players.
Conor Garland celebrates with Nikita Zadorov after scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 20. Both Garland and Zadorov made the list of punchable faces among current NHL players. Photo by Derek Cain /Getty Images

Most punchable face?

We love what Conor Garland has been doing this season for the Canucks.

The rest of the league, apparently, does not.

In The Athletic’s yearly anonymous poll of current NHLers, Garland came in fifth place among skaters “whose face NHL players would like to punch.”

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Is it the way he plays, possessing the puck like a little Tasmanian devil? Or the way he celebrates a goal, crouching down on one knee and making all sorts of faces, all apparently punchable.

Surely it can’t be the way he looks at Thatcher Demko after every win, because who wouldn’t love that.

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Keeping Garland company on the list among Canucks is hulking defenceman Nikita Zadorov, who came in 16th.

Big or small, they’re hated after all.

Divisional deep dive

The standings are one thing, but which division in the NHL is truly the league’s best?

TSN’s Travis Yost broke down each of the NHL’s four divisions on Monday, providing some valuable insights into what the Canucks have been able to accomplish this season.

A cursory look at goal differential places the Atlantic and Pacific in the top two, with the Atlantic having the slight edge, based on how they’ve fared against competition outside their division.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference

But once you factor in only the top-four teams in each division, the Pacific closes the distance. Neither the Central or Metro have been competitive outside their divisions.

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Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference
Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference

And once you whittle it down to playoff teams only, the Canucks have the best goal differential within their own division, and are behind only the Vegas Golden Knights, Florida Panthers and Maple Leafs in terms of goal differential against playoff opponents outside of the division.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference
Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference

Yost concludes: “The Atlantic has the strongest argument as the best division in hockey, but I’ll be curious to follow this as we get deep into the playoff race. The top of the Pacific looks just as competitive.”

And Canucks fans can conclude that their team should be competitive this coming post-season, no matter the opponent.

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