This article continues the “NHL Silver Linings” series. A series that brings hope to the fans of the hockey teams that will not be playing past April 9 this season.
The Vancouver Canucks organization has been in an unusual place for the past several years. They seemed to be rebuilding, but not entirely. The main core of their team consists of many aging veterans on the decline. Collectively as a group, the core has shown that they were no longer capable of competing for championships. In addition, management has tried to rebuild on the fly through free agency. But, it is fair to say that approach didn’t work either; if anything it has hindered the process of the rebuild.
On the bright side, it looks like Canucks’ management has slowly taken steps in the right direction. They have gradually traded away aging veterans for youthful assets, and have given many of their young players great opportunities to develop in the NHL. They also recently named Travis Green, as the club’s new head coach. These are encouraging signs to see going forward, as it seems like there is finally a plan in place, with a clearer vision for the future.
Vancouver Canucks Season Summary
The 2016/17 season was not a pretty one for the Vancouver Canucks. They finished with the second worst record in the NHL, and missed the playoffs for the third time in four years. They struggled to keep the puck out of their own net, holding the sixth worst goals against record in the NHL. They also had trouble scoring, averaging only 2.17 goals per game, good enough for second lowest in the league. On top of that, they had the 29th best powerplay, and the 28th best penalty kill in the NHL.
Several key players had disappointing seasons, including Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Despite suiting up for all 82 games, the Sedins had one of the worst seasons of their careers, putting up only 95 points collectively. Big free-agent signing; Loui Eriksson also flopped, in his first year as a Canuck, scoring only 11 goals and 24 points in 65 games.
By the new year, the Canucks had trouble keeping pace with the rest of the teams in the Western Conference. As a result, they became active sellers and began shipping out long-time veterans, Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen. The pair saw their tenure in Vancouver end, as they were moved out in exchange for youth and assets.
On the flip side, there were also a few bright spots on the Canucks’ roster. We saw Bo Horvat emerge as a legitimate NHL center, not only did he lead the Canucks in scoring, but he also became an NHL All-star for the first time. Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund also proved that they were capable of contributing at the NHL level, as they both posted a career-high in points. Rookie defenseman, Troy Stecher was also a pleasant surprise, as he scored 24 points in 71 games, and averaged almost 20 minutes of ice-time in his first season of pro hockey.
How the Vancouver Canucks stand money wise
Money wise the Canucks are in a comfortable position heading into next season. They currently have 17 players signed, and have around $19 million of cap space to fill out the rest of their roster. It is still uncertain if they will re-sign Ryan Miller, meanwhile restricted free agent Bo Horvat will likely get a nice raise. Erik Gudbranson had an underwhelming first season in Vancouver, but we should see him get re-signed as well.
Other restricted free agents include: Anton Rodin, Brendan Gaunce, Joseph Cramarossa, Reid Boucher, Drew Shore, and Michael Chaput. It is tough to say if many of these players will receive qualifying offers. The Canucks have several players looking to secure a full time roster spot next year. These players include: Jake Virtanen, Olli Juolevi, Brock Boeser, and Nikolay Goldobin.
Awaiting the prospects in the Canucks depth chart
Although the Canucks don’t have an overly elite group of prospects in their system, they have a decent amount of youth, with potential to become quality NHL players. Two of their better prospects were acquired during the trade deadline last season. With Nikolay Goldobin being acquired from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Jannik Hansen, and Jonathan Dahlen from the Ottawa Senators, in the Alexandre Burrows’ deal.
Aside from these prospects, the Canucks also have a few other young players with good NHL potential, including Jake Virtanen, Brock Boeser, and Adam Gaudette on offence. Meanwhile, having 2016, fifth overall pick, Olli Juolevi, and Jordan Subban on defence. Thatcher Demko did not have the best of seasons in the American Hockey League last year, but he still has potential to be a very good NHL goalie one day. So we shouldn’t rule him out, as a player to look out for in the future.
Finally, we can’t forget about the 5th overall pick, the Vancouver Canucks holds in the 2017 NHL entry draft. Although, they won’t have a shot at getting Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, they have a legitimate shot at landing a high-end prospect.
If they plan to take a forward, players like Gabriel Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass can be great possibilities. Meanwhile, if they want to target a defender, Cale Makar and Timothy Liljegren should be on their list. Regardless of which direction the Canucks go, we should see them come out of the draft with a pretty decent player, who will help them in the future.
Offseason predictions for the Vancouver Canucks
Overall, this will be one of the more interesting offseasons for the Vancouver Canucks. Some of the more intriguing storylines include: who will be their starting goaltender next year, will they trade the Sedins, what is their free agent strategy, and who will they lose in the expansion draft?
Who will be their starting goalie be next year?
Realistically, the Vancouver Canucks probably aren’t going to win the Stanley Cup next year, so they shouldn’t feel the need to find a top tier number one goalie this offseason. It is still uncertain if the Canucks will bring back Ryan Miller, or if they will hand over the starting job to Jakob Markstrom. From afar, it doesn’t seem like Markstrom is ready to be a full-time goalie just yet. So, the Canucks best bet might be to bring Miller back on a short-term deal, or look for another affordable stopgap goalie in the free agent market.
What will the Canucks do with the Sedins?
The Sedins currently have one year left on their $7-million contracts, with a no-trade clause. Simply put, it will be extremely difficult to trade them both, as I don’t see many teams willing to mortgage their future for their services. As a result, they will likely remain in Vancouver to play out the remainder of their contracts.
The Canucks won’t be hit too hard in the expansion draft. In the most likely scenario, they will protect the Sedins, Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund and Bo Horvat on offence. While having Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Erik Gudbranson, and goalie Jakob Markstrom exempt on the back-end.
Therefore, they will likely expose: Derek Dorsett, Brendan Gaunce, Michael Chaput, Lucas Sbisa, and Alex Biega. Truthfully speaking, the Vegas Golden Knights choices are quite slim. If I was Las Vegas’s GM George McPhee, I would go after Lucas Sbisa, simply because he is a quality depth defenceman with experience, who can help the team right away.
This shouldn’t put a huge dent on the Canucks roster next year, it might even work out in their favour. It will free up more space, and likely open the door for a guy like Olli Jovulevi to grab a roster spot next year.
Theoretically speaking, the Canucks have adequate cap space to explore the free agent market in the summer. However, as next season will be more of a transition year, it is probably in their best interest to avoid handing out big contracts. They don’t need to go all in next year, and handing out long term contracts will only cripple their cap space and slow down their rebuild.
A look forward to 2017/18
Overall, this team is still far from being a Stanley Cup contender. Next season should be another year of development, and assessment for management. It will be a good year for management to see which players of their young core in Bo Horvat, Markus Granlund, Sven Baertschi Troy Stecher and Ben Hutton, can continue to emerge and become untouchable pieces.
At the same time, we will have a better idea where some of their more experienced players stand (Brandon Sutter, Chris Tanev and Erik Gudbranson), in the Canucks’ long term future next season. Overall, the Canucks should use next year as another opportunity to add to the foundation of their rebuild, and continue to stockpile their assets. Finally, it will be a rather sentimental season for many long time Canuck fans, as the Sedins will likely be playing in their last NHL season, and retiring as lifetime Canucks.
How long do you think it will take for the Canucks to become a playoff team again? Let us know in the comment section below.