As the Canucks kicked off their four-game set against the Edmonton Oilers last Monday, I took a look at Connor McDavid's numbers to see if there was a chance that he might get to 100 points by the end of the week.
I wrote about it then because it seemed plausible. And because the Canucks played the role of the Washington Generals for some of the big Harlem Globetrotters moments of Wayne Gretzky's career back in the day.
So while I wasn't surprised to see McDavid cap off his week on Saturday with a four-point night and an assist on what proved to be the winning goal as he hit the century mark, I honestly was a little surprised that they didn't stop the game and start doing interviews and speeches immediately, like they did for Gretzky when he broke Gordie Howe's all-time goals record in 1994.
Given how much criticism McDavid takes for being robotic, it was nice to see so much genuine emotion from both him and his teammates. I loved Leon Draisaitl's comments earlier in the week about how the team wanted this milestone for him — and it showed in the ensuing celebration.
Last year in the bubble, the Oilers seemed like a disjointed group as they fell to Chicago in the preliminary round. Their team vibe on Saturday night was strong. If I was an Oilers fan, that would make me hopeful that this year's playoff run could be special.
I also liked the fact that every point mattered on Saturday night. Good on the Canucks for keeping it close, for using the second-period goal that was called back on the offside challenge to raise their game, and for the secondary scoring that's now starting to come.
With Zack MacEwen serving a one-game suspension for kneeing Darnell Nurse during Thursday's game, the Canucks' forward group got yet another tweak — with Marc Michaelis drawing back in after missing eight games with an upper-body injury.
Miller now has nine points in the 12 games since the Canucks returned from their Covid shutdown. That's the most on the team, although four players are right behind with eight: Brock Boeser, Nils Hoglander, Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes.
Hughes picked up his 32nd assist of the year when Tyler Graovac scored on Saturday night. It was the second goal in two games for the big center, who has played just seven NHL games this season.
Jayce Hawryluk got the primary assist on Graovac's goal, following up on a two-point night on Thursday in Edmonton.
Vancouver's other goal was scored by Travis Boyd, assisted by Jimmy Vesey.
It was the first point in a Vancouver uniform for both ex-Leafs, who were plucked off the waiver wire in March.
As fringe players whose NHL futures are far from certain, players like Graovac, Hawryluk, Vesey and Boyd all have a lot to play for right now. And while some teams' seasons are winding to a close, this group has the opportunity to use the ice time that the Canucks have available over their last seven games to audition for next year — whether it's with Vancouver or elsewhere.
Despite the loss, Vancouver's faint playoff hopes are still alive, thanks to another loss by Montreal on Saturday night. But the Canucks would now have to go 7-0-0 to catch the Habs and win the tiebreaker, and Montreal would need to lose both of its final games against Edmonton, in regulation.
The Tragic Number is down to one for both Vancouver and Calgary.
A truly forgotten man in all of this is Loui Eriksson, now a taxi squad regular whose last game action came on March 15. He has dressed for just seven games this season, and tallied one assist.
I imagine it'll finally be buyout time for Loui this summer. Per CapFriendly, he's owed $3 million in salary and $1 million in signing bonus for the final year of his deal in 2021-22.
If he stays on the main roster, the Canucks absorb a $6 million cap hit.
If he gets sent to the minors, the hit next year would be $4.875 million.
If he's bought out, the Canucks would pay him the $1 million signing bonus, plus $2 million in base salary, saving themselves $1 million in real dollars.
More importantly, Eriksson's cap hit would drop to $4 million for the 2021-22 season, with $1 million added to the cap for 2022-23.
If the Canucks' money next season is going to be as tight as we think with the new contracts due for Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson, that extra $875,000 in cap space that could be squeezed out next season could be important — even if it's really just a one-year deferral.
It's still incredible that those big free-agent deals that were handed out to Eriksson and others in the summer of 2016 turned out to be almost universally bad.
Milan Lucic was in that class, and still has two more years to go on his seven-year deal. To help out the Flames, he said last week that he'd waive his no-movement clause for purposes of the expansion draft, allowing the Flames to protect one more player on their roster.
To his credit, Lucic remains an everyday player, and his numbers have actually been on the upswing, although his 20-goal seasons appear to be behind him. In his last year in Edmonton, he had 20 points in 79 games. Last season, he put up 20 points in 69 games. This year, he's at 20 points in 51 games.
David Backes was also in that class. His $6 million-a-year deal signed with Boston was only for five years, so he's now wrapping up his season, and his career.
Backes is five years older than Lucic, and has dealt with serious injury issues. He played just 22 games last season, and 15 this year.
So as his career wraps up, Backes gave a very thougtful interview this week to Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek on the 31 Thoughts podcast. He's well-spoken and candid.
I bring this up primarily because he goes into details on the numbers of the offer sheet that he signed with the Canucks back in 2008. It was his second contract, and after his agent was unable to get the Blues to agree to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, Mike Gillis swooped in and offered three years at $2.5 million a season on July 1 — while Backes was in Hawaii on his honeymoon.
We don't hear the player perspective on offer sheets very often. Backes does a great job of explaining the conflicting emotions and how his agent walked him through the process — and how, even though she loved St. Louis, his wife even came around to the idea of the quality of life and the team in Vancouver before the Blues grudgingly matched the offer less than 24 hours later.
The Blues retaliated by offer sheeting Steve Bernier from Vancouver one year later — with a one-year deal at $2.5 million, which Vancouver matched . That was the first nail in the coffin for teams taking the plunge on offer-sheeting second-contract players — something that almost never happens nowadays.
Backes also shares some stories from his rookie party at a steakhouse in Vancouver. He came into the NHL in 2006-07. That was when the Roxy Flu was still a thing, wasn't it?