Vancouver Canucks 2017-2018 Season Preview

imgres-2Vancouver Canucks

30-43-9, 69 points, 7th in the Pacific Division (’16-’17)

Additions: F Alex Burmistrov, D Michael Del Zotto, F Sam Gagner, G Anders Nilsson, D Patrick Wiercioch

Subtractions: D Chad Billins (signed with Linköping HC, SHL), G Michael Garteig (signed to an AHL deal with the Utica Comets), F Alexandre Grenier (signed with FLA), D Philip Larsen (signed with Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL), G Ryan Miller (signed with ANA), D Tom Nilsson (signed with Djurgårdens IF, SHL), F Borna Rendulic (signed with Pelicans, Liiga),  F Drew Shore (signed with ZSC, NLA), D Nikita Tryamkin (signed with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, KHL), F Michael Zalewski (signed with Straubing Tigers, DEL)

Still Unsigned: F Joseph Cramarossa, F Bo Horvat, F Jack Skille

Offseason Analysis: Despite finishing 29th in a league of 30 teams last year, the Vancouver Canucks have much to be looking forward to this season. Sam Gagner joins the club after one successful season with the Columbus Blue Jackets that has reinvigorated his career and looks to add much needed depth to compliment the likes of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Loui Eriksson, Derek Dorsett and Bo Horvat (though Horvat is still an unsigned RFA).

Yes, production was down all-around for the Canucks last season, but one thing was always missing and that was a durable group of bottom-six/top-nine forwards. Gagner’s 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) are sure to improve the -61 goal differential for Vancouver’s 2016-2017 campaign as Eriksson seeks to rebound from a dismal 24-point season (11 goals, 13 assists in 63 games) in his first year of a 6-year, $36 million contract.

The Sedin twins aren’t getting any younger (they’re 36-years-old entering the 2017-2018 season) and finding the right winger to join their tandem is imperative to scoring success. Luckily for the Canucks, they’ve got options, but only if the price is right.

Horvat still needs a contract as we embark on the month of September, where training camp lurks around the corner and preseason action kicks off. General manager Jim Benning knows just how important it is for the 22-year-old to not miss a step in his development.

Ideally, a fair contract for both sides should’ve been worked out by now, but with Leon Draisaitl‘s pay raise in Edmonton setting an example for fellow young, talented players, like Horvat and Boston’s David Pastrnak, it’s no surprise that neither side has budged to an agreement.

Whereas Draisaitl improved from a 51-point season in 2015-2016 to a 77-point year last season as a 21-year-old, Horvat is only riding back-to-back 40-plus points a year since the 2015-2016 campaign (18-24-40 totals in ’15-’16– 81 games played, 20-32-52 totals in ’16-’17– 82 games played). Likewise, Horvat doesn’t have the whole “Connor McDavid is literally my linemate so pay me like the demigod that I am” argument going for him.

Nonetheless, Horvat is a player to build around, with the Sedins nearing retirement and Markus Granlund coming into his own as a 24-year-old forward who had a career year last season (19-13-32 totals in 69 games played).

Gaining experience pays off and it is destined to help Vancouver ascend the rungs of the Pacific Division standings.

While the future of the Canucks’s offense seems intent on rolling with their young guys, one thing that needs attention is the other end of the ice. Vancouver’s defense is nothing to write home about, but luckily Chris Tanev is the only blue liner with three years remaining on their current deal.

This will provide incentive for each defenseman to get better as they age into their prime. Olli Juolevi might be penciled in on the NHL roster sooner rather than later and has an opportunity to compete for a top-6 role.

Finally, goaltender, Ryan Miller, has moved on to role of the Anaheim Ducks backup, leaving Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom as the presumed starter heading into the preseason. Markstrom has yet to appear in more than 33 games in a single NHL season, but has proven to be durable as he enters “goaltender prime” (if you’re new to the sport, goalies typically develop a little later than skating prospects– this is, of course, not always true when Braden Holtby or Matt Murray exist).

His 2.63 GAA and .910 SV% in 26 games last season is nothing to go crazy over, until you consider what a more experienced and retooled roster in front of him can do to limit shot attempts against of all kinds (on net, wide of the net and blocked). Keep in mind, a goalie has to react to every puck that’s even remotely coming at his/her direction, which can be a lot of work depending on your defense.

Anders Nilsson was signed via free agency, coming off of an impressive role as the backup for the Buffalo Sabres, where he posted a 2.67 GAA and .923 SV%. Nilsson will make a run for the starting role, without a doubt. There’s going to be some healthy competition in front of Vancouver’s twine. All things considered, that’s pretty remarkable for an organization that traded away two, All-Star quality, franchise goaltenders (Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider) in less than a decade.

Now, Markstrom and Nilsson are no Luongo and Schneider, but they both are only 27-years-old and have shown signs of brilliance.

The untrained eye-test says that this could be a breakout season for Nilsson and a respectable year for Markstrom, showing improvement as his minutes are increased from past years.

Combined, the Canucks are only spending about $6.167 million on a pair of goalies that aren’t going to slow down, like how Miller’s play deteriorated over his years in Vancouver (okay, really since his days in anything but a Sabres uniform).

The Canucks have a shot at moving up from 7th in the Pacific last season to at least 6th in 2017-2018– though they could always surprise everyone and go further.

Offseason Grade: B

As deserving of criticism as Beinning’s moves as general manager have been, this offseason had a different flavor for the Canucks– one in which an emphasis on letting talent develop and bringing the right guys in to help others flourish is apparent, reminiscent of when Vancouver dominated the Western Conference in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

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