This is Part 8 of a 10-part series examining the longest Stanley Cup droughts in the NHL, and how close teams are to breaking through for their first championship in decades — or ever.
The Vancouver Canucks have yet to win a Stanley Cup, and it would be tough to claim that a team with one playoff appearance in its last eight seasons is knocking on the door.
During the offseason the team added Carson Soucy and bought out Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but otherwise it was relatively quiet. That means Vancouver is rolling with approximately the same squad that went 38-37-7 last season — except they'll have a full year of Anthony Beauvillier instead of Bo Horvat.
That doesn't sound immensely promising, but Vancouver might've been a typical Thatcher Demko season away from making the postseason in 2022-23. The Canucks starter managed just 32 games and produced a -2.8 GSAA after two straight years of above-average production. The team finished with the second-worst team save percentage in the NHL (.888).
Vancouver also showed signs of life after Rick Tocchet took over behind the bench, posting a 20-12-4 record in the final 36 games of the season.
Add in a massive breakout season from Elias Pettersson, continued growth from Quinn Hughes, plus the emergence of Andrei Kuzmenko and there's something brewing for this team. Whether that something can translate into a championship in the near future is up for debate, but there are teams in far worse straits than the Canucks.
Here's a look at the state of the Canucks' Stanley Cup drought:
How long has it been?
The Canucks have not won a title in their 52-season history.
How close have the Canucks come?
The Canucks have been in the playoff hunt more often than not during their history with 28 postseason appearances. While 17 of those trips to the playoffs resulted in first-round exits, there were some notable runs, too.
Among those were three appearances in the Stanley Cup Final.
The 1981-82 Canucks got absolutely rolled by a legendary New York Islanders squad in the final, losing in four games by a collective score of 18-10.
That result wasn't particularly surprising based on how the teams fared in the regular season as New York went 54-16-10 while Vancouver produced a much less impressive 30-33-17 record.
In the first three rounds of the playoffs the Canucks were driven by the scoring of Thomas Gradin and Stan Smyl, who combined for 13 goals and 30 points. The biggest difference maker was Richard Brodeur in net.
The 29-year-old veteran produced a .918 save % and 2.71 goals against average during the postseason. Those numbers don't jump off the page by modern standards, but they are remarkable considering the league averages at the time (.873 SV% and 3.95 GAA).
Although this version of the Canucks got close to a championship in a literal sense, they were clearly outclassed and it's hard to concoct a what-if scenario that ends with Vancouver winning the Cup in 1982.
Much like the 1981-82 group, this version of the Canucks was an underdog who failed to impress during the regular season. Unlike that team, however, they got extremely close to winning the Stanley Cup.
Vancouver took the 1993-94 New York Rangers to seven games and lost the final contest by a single goal. The Canucks were outscored by just two goals in the series as a whole, fighting back from a 3-1 deficit to put a scare into the favoured Rangers.
New York was probably the better team, but the Canucks featured the most dynamic scorer in hockey: Pavel Bure. The Russian Rocket scored a league-leading 60 goals during the regular season and put together a special playoff run with 16 tallies and 31 points in 24 games.
He also propelled his team past the first round with a double-overtime dagger against the Calgary Flames.
Trevor Linden also stepped up in the playoffs with a 25-point effort, and Kirk McLean was stellar between the pipes, producing a .928 save %.
That trio of players helped elevate a team that had been ordinary all season, but it wasn't enough.
This time the Canucks really were the best team. During the regular season they led the NHL in points (117), while scoring the most goals in the league (315), and conceding the fewest (180).
Vancouver got 198 points from the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler scored 41 goals and won the Selke Trophy, the Roberto Luongo-Corey Schneider duo generated a .928 save % and the blue line was packed with reliable veterans like Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa.
This group was stacked, but that didn't really come through when it mattered most.
Although Vancouver took the Boston Bruins to seven games, the Eastern Conference champions outscored the Canucks 23-8. Boston didn't take a single multi-goal loss and all of its wins came by three or more.
Goaltending played a significant role in those results, though, as Vancouver outshot Boston, but Tim Thomas was a brick wall. The 36-year-old put up a .967 save % in the series.
In the deciding Game 7, Vancouver outshot Boston 37-21, but lost 4-0.
The Canucks' dynamic trio of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler combined for one goal and five assists in the series — and the rest of the team had only slightly more success solving Thomas.
Vancouver's best chance to win it all was snuffed out, and the team has two series wins in the 12 seasons since, both coming in 2019-20.
How does Vancouver's championship prognosis look now?
Not fantastic, but far from disastrous.
Unlike a number of the other teams in this series the Canucks have some foundational talent to build around, but they are still a ways away from putting together a contender.
Pettersson is a compelling offensive centrepiece, Hughes is one of the NHL's best puck-moving defenders, and Demko is capable of providing stability between the pipes — even if he didn't do so last year.
The team lacks cap flexibility for 2023-24, but it should have plenty of space to build around its core players in the years to come. Until Pettersson is extended, the Canucks have just two forwards (J.T. Miller and Connor Garland) and two D-men (Hughes and Soucy) signed beyond 2024-25.
That's a mixed blessing as the cap sheet isn't filled with bloated anchors, but Vancouver will need to fill out its roster in the years to come and its prospect pool isn't full of blue-chip guys on the verge of making a big impact.
It will take some crafty roster construction to turn the Canucks into a team to be feared in the years to come, and a couple of elite young players doesn't guarantee a shot at the Stanley Cup.
No one sees the current version of this squad as a championship contender, and there aren't too many avenues to profound improvement based on the players who are currently in the building. A Miller deal that yields pieces more aligned with the team's current core age-wise is one lever to pull, but the centre probably has plenty of good years left, and his offence wouldn't be easy to replace.
Just because it's difficult to map out a road to true contention for the Canucks doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Vancouver has more pieces to work with than a number of clubs trying to break their droughts, and the work the team does in the next few years will be crucial in determining if they can ever build an elite squad around Pettersson and Hughes.