After a too-long summer, the Vancouver Canucks are locked on a singular goal as they prepare for training camp.
“Not making the playoffs would be a disaster for us,” head coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters Wednesday.
“But to make the playoffs we have to do better and be more consistent over 82 games, not just 56 games or whatever the number was. … I would call it a failure if we didn’t succeed in our goals this year.”
The Canucks will be on the ice for training camp in Whistler Thursday before kicking off their pre-season campaign with a split-squad matchup against the Calgary Flames on Sunday.
The team knows securing a post-season berth this season — its first since the COVID bubble in Edmonton — will require a better start than the dismal 8-15-2 record that prompted a house cleaning last December.
The results saw the club fire head coach Travis Green, general manager Jim Benning and several other staff.
Boudreau was hired to run the bench for the rest of the campaign and the team went 32-15-10 under his tutelage.
Last in the Pacific Division when Boudreau took over, Vancouver finished five points out of a playoff spot.
“Our expectation is to be playing in April,” said centre J.T. Miller. “We have to hit the ground running. Last year shows how important it is to have a good start.”
Miller, who signed a seven-year, US$56-million extension with Vancouver earlier this month, will be key to the team’s success.
The 29-year-old led the Canucks in scoring with a career-high 99 points (32 goals, 67 assists) and believes the group has what it takes to make a post-season run.
“A lot of guys here are sick of not making the playoffs,” Miller said. “Our goal is to compete for the Stanley Cup and win the Stanley Cup. There’s no reason that we can’t be there and competing for the Stanley Cup at the end of the season.”
Much of last year’s Canucks team is returning this season, plus notable free agent acquisitions Curtis Lazar, formerly of the Boston Bruins, and ex-Toronto Maple Leaf Ilya Mikheyev.
“I’m excited about the guys that we added,” said captain Bo Horvat. “Re-signing (Miller) was a huge step into making us an elite group.”
Horvat, too, is looking for another big season.
The 27-year-old centre had 52 points last season, including a career-high 31 goals, and is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2022-23 campaign.
He doesn’t expect his contract status to impact his play on the ice.
“I can put it aside completely,” Horvat said. “For me, I’m just focused on how I can make this team better. Eventually it’s going to come to fruition.”
Like his coach and teammates, Horvat has high expectations for the 2022-23 season.
Reaching them will require the players to have a specific mindset, he said
“We have to see ourselves as a playoff team,” the captain said. “If we do anything less than that, we fail.”
—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press