It’s the third day of our 2018 offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams and today kicks off with the Vancouver Canucks.
Nobody expected the Vancouver Canucks to be a mid-pack team in 2017-18 and well, what do you know, they weren’t. The Canucks finished 7th in the Pacific Division this season with a 31-40-11 record and 73 points on the season.
Vancouver was second-to-last in Western Conference standings, behind the Chicago Blackhawks by three points in the standings and just ahead of the Arizona Coyotes.
Chicago was the only team in the Central Division to not reach the 90-point plateau, while Vancouver was one of three teams in the Pacific Division to amass less than 80 points on the season.
Other than that, Vancouver still has two fringe starter/backup goaltenders, 32-year-old Loui Eriksson under contract with a cap hit of $6.000 million through the 2021-22 season and a lack of apparent depth throughout the lineup.
At least Bo Horvat is part of the core and the team has gotten younger (due, in part, to the Sedin’s retiring).
2018 NHL Entry Draft
There’s no reason to sound all doom-and-gloom regarding the Canucks, because they’ve managed to establish a small pool of productive prospects in Thatcher Demko, Michael DiPietro, Olli Juolevi, Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlén.
Another down year can be expected, but there’s plenty of room to grow and turn a lot of heads in 2018-19.
Thankfully, in the deep draft that is the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Vancouver won’t miss out on a decent top-10 prospect with the 7th overall pick as long as General Manager Jim Benning doesn’t mess things up.
It only makes sense that Benning goes with the best available player by the time the Canucks are on the clock– whether it’s (not listed in any particular order) Brady Tkachuk, Oliver Wahlstrom, Evan Bouchard, Quintin Hughes, Adam Boqvist, Rasmus Kupari or Joel Farabee– since there’s no immediate need on the NHL roster that can be filled by a player in this year’s draft.
Pending free agents
What it all comes down to for Vancouver is sticking to the plan. Now is the time to implement more youth with the likes of Demko, Juolevi, Pettersson and Dahlén in expanded or new roles altogether on the NHL club.
However, Demko’s path to stealing a job in net for the Canucks is currently crowded by Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson as 1A and 1B solutions to the fact that Vancouver does not have a true number one, starting goaltender.
Markstrom, 28, has two-years remaining on his current contract with a $3.667 million cap hit. That’s a friendly value for any team that’s looking for a temporary placeholder in net as a low-cost, potentially high-reward, starting goaltender– as long as that team has a defense to limit shots against.
Nilsson, 28, has one-year left on his contract and a $2.500 million cap hit. Again, also a bargain in the grand scheme of things, where top-notch goaltenders run organizations around $7.000 million in cap space.
Both are in their goaltending prime, which is different from a skater’s prime in that it’s usually delayed in comparison by a few years, but neither Markstrom nor Nilsson have shown they are going to get better than their 2.71 and 3.44 goals against averages in 60 and 27 games played, respectively.
That’s not just a case of a bad defense.
Average is still average and below average is still below average. For the Canucks to get better, they almost have to get worse, which sounds horrible to diehard fans, but might not actually be that bad.
Sure, Demko doesn’t have the level of experience that Markstrom and Nilsson have, but for a team that’s truly committed to a rebuild, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to let him get more playing time to help bring his NHL game up to speed.
Aside from goaltending, Vancouver has six pending free agent forwards to assess. Three of them (Jussi Jokinen, Nic Dowd and Darren Archibald) are pending-unrestricted free agents and three of them are pending-restricted free agents (Jake Virtanen, Markus Granlund and Sven Baertschi).
Of their pending-UFA forwards, Dowd should get a callback, while the priority remains on re-signing the 21-year-old Virtanent and 25-year-old Granlund this summer.
Baertschi has only passed the 30-point plateau once in his career, but fills a role as a third line forward that the Canucks desperately need. Anything more than a bridge deal for the 25-year-old forward could come back to bite the organization if his offense doesn’t improve.
Once expected to change the course of Pittsburgh’s blueline, Pouliot was the 8th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and only just played his first full NHL season with Vancouver in 2017-18. Plus/minus aside (he was a minus-22 in 71 games played), Pouliot is worthy of keeping around, so long as Erik Gudbranson is considered expendable.
Stecher, on the other hand, has shown signs of being a puck-moving defender with flashes of a decent transition game, but had 1-10–11 totals in 68 games played as part of a sophomore slump.
While the Canucks may have higher expectations for Stecher, given his homegrown development, Pouliot outplayed his teammate with double the production (22 points).
If Vancouver is serious about moving Gudbranson and convinces Alexander Edler to waive his no-trade-clause for a transaction, then both Pouliot and Stecher have bigger roles and a proving ground to make the most of what should be bridge contract extensions.
The Canucks have a little more than $22 million to work with in cap space this summer.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Joseph Labate (UFA), Anton Cederholm (RFA), Cole Cassels (RFA), Griffen Molino (RFA), MacKenze Stewart (RFA), Patrick Wiercioch (UFA), Jayson Megna (UFA), Richard Bachman (UFA), Reid Boucher (RFA), Michael Chaput (RFA)