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Vancouver Canucks 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 23-29-4, 50 points

7th in the Scotia NHL North Division

Missed the postseason for the first time since 2020

Additions: F Justin Dowling, F Jason Dickinson (acquired from DAL), F Phil Di Giuseppe, F Sheldon Dries, F Conor Garland (acquired from ARI), F Nic Petan, F Sheldon Rempal, F John Stevens, D Kyle Burroughs, D Oliver Ekman-Larsson (acquired from ARI), D Brad Hunt, D Brady Keeper, D Tucker Poolman, D Luke Schenn, D Devante Stephens, G Jaroslav Halak, G Spencer Martin (acquired from TBL)

Subtractions: F Sven Baertschi (signed with VGK), F Jay Beagle (traded to ARI), F Travis Boyd (signed with ARI), F Loui Eriksson (traded to ARI), F Tyler Graovac (KHL), F Jayce Hawryluk (SHL), F Kole Lind (expansion, SEA), F Lukas Jasek (Liiga), F Marc Michaelis (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Petrus Palmu (Liiga), F Antoine Roussel (traded to ARI), F Jake Virtanen (buyout, KHL), D Jalen Chatfield (signed with Chicago Wolves, AHL), D Alexander Edler (signed with LAK), D Mitch Eliot (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL), D Brogan Rafferty (signed with ANA), D Nate Schmidt (traded to WPG), D Ashton Sautner (signed with Abbotsford Canucks, AHL), D Josh Teves (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL), G Braden Holtby (buyout)

Still Unsigned: F Elias Pettersson (RFA), F Jimmy Vesey, D Quinn Hughes (RFA), G Jake Kielly

Re-signed: F Justin Bailey, F Brandon Sutter, D Guillaume Brisebois, D Travis Hamonic, D Olli Juolevi

Offseason Analysis: Canucks General Manager, Jim Benning, has been busy this offseason undoing past misjudgments and moving Vancouver forward in other areas (however small they may be).

At least he didn’t sign anyone to a head-scratching long-term contract the day that free agency began on July 28th this year.

With about $10.664 million in cap space currently and Elias Pettersson as a restricted-free agent alongside Quinn Hughes, the Canucks still have some work to get done before the season begins or else they risk falling behind even further in the standings.

While Pettersson would probably love to make about $9.000 or $10 million per season, he hasn’t exactly reached that status yet as a 22-year-old center with 153 points in 165 career games.

A solid bridge contract is more likely in his future than, say, a long-term seven or eight-year deal.

It may be kicking the can down the road to pay him later, but with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 26 games last season, there’s always the risk that his wrist injury might quite literally hurt his skilled hands in the near to long-term future.

A bridge deal insures the Canucks of avoiding prolonging the salary cap hell that they’ve been through until Benning was able to dump most of it in Arizona via the trade with the Coyotes for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland.

That said, Pettersson is worth paying a premium for to build off of Vancouver’s young core. He had 28-38–66 totals in 71 games in his first season in the league in 2018-19 and amassed 27-39–66 totals in 68 games prior to the COVID-19 pandemic being declared in the 2019-20 season.

Hughes, on the other hand, is important to Vancouver’s future, but had a dip in production from 53 points (eight goals, 45 assists) in 68 games in his first full season in 2019-20 to 41 points (three goals, 38 assists) in 56 games last season.

Nevertheless, for a defender to wrack up 40 or more points in a season is pretty good all things considered.

Especially since Hughes is only 21-years-old and has plenty of track left on route to his potential.

It should be easier to get a deal done with Hughes than Pettersson if the sticking point is that one sees themselves more valuable to the team than the other.

If, for some reason, things went south between the Canucks and Pettersson, the Canucks could survive– albeit reminiscent of the last days of Pavel Bure with the franchise.

In other words, you probably don’t want that to happen again.

All right, what about what Vancouver has already taken care of this offseason, shall we?

Jaroslav Halak left the Boston Bruins for the Canucks via free agency this summer and signed a one-year deal worth $1.500 million with another $1.500 million in performance bonuses to become the backup to Thatcher Demko, though Vancouver may prefer to utilize Halak and Demko as some sort of a 1A/1B tandem.

Despite Halak’s 9-6-4 record in 19 games last season, he maintained a quality 2.53 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage with two shutouts in that span as Boston’s backup until Jeremy Swayman entered the conversation.

In 2019-20, Halak and Tuukka Rask captured the William M. Jennings Trophy as the goaltender(s) with 25 or more games played that allowed the fewest goals against in that season.

Halak went 18-6-6 in 31 games and had a 2.39 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and three shutouts in that remarkable regular season run.

It served as a reminder that Halak was once a surefire starting goaltender and could very well, in the event that was necessary, command a team from the crease as a starter once more.

This after a 22-11-4 record in 40 games played with Boston in 2018-19, in which he had a 2.34 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage and five shutouts.

But at 36-years-old, Halak’s time in the league is dwindling as he continues about the twilight of his career.

At the very least, he brings in more stability in the crease than Braden Holtby did for Demko– and that’s precisely why the Canucks felt is was O.K. to buyout the remaining year of Holtby’s contract.

The bulk of Benning’s work this offseason came via making trades.

He most recently acquired goaltender, Spencer Martin, from the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 31st for future considerations to solidify depth in the event of injury or to at least provide the Abbotsford Canucks (AHL) with a quality starter.

But earlier this summer, Benning kicked things off with a small grab for top-nine depth by sending the Dallas Stars a 2021 3rd round pick (73rd overall, Ayrton Martino) for forward, Jason Dickinson, on July 17th.

Six days later, Benning phoned Bill Armstrong in Arizona and executed a trade that saved the Canucks almost $5.000 million in valuable cap space after sending Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, a 2021 1st round pick (9th overall, Dylan Guenther), a 2022 2nd round pick and a 2023 7th round pick to the Coyotes for Ekman-Larsson and Garland’s signing rights before re-signing the latter to a five-year extension worth $4.950 million per season.

Arizona retained 12% of Ekman-Larsson’s salary, thus shaving $990,000 off of his cap hit for Vancouver, who is assessed a cap hit of $7.260 million per season for Ekman-Larsson through 2026-27.

With change coming to the blue line in Vancouver, Nate Schmidt reconsidered a trade he had initially rejected and informed Benning he would be fine being moved after all in a deal where the Canucks sent Schmidt to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2022 3rd round pick on July 27th.

If Ekman-Larsson’s able to rebound from his decline– reaching 55 points in 75 games in 2015-16, then 39 points in 79 games the following season before rebounding with 42 points in 82 games in 2017-18 and 44 points in 81 games in 2018-19 prior to his dropoff again in 2019-20, where he had 30 points in 66 games and 2020-21, where he had 24 points in 46 games– then Benning might just be a mastermind after all.

At the very least, Ekman-Larsson’s 24 points last season with Arizona was more than Schmidt had in 54 games with Vancouver, as Schmidt dropped from 31 points in 59 games with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2019-20 to 15 points in 54 games with the Canucks.

Offseason Grade: B

If the Canucks had signed Pettersson and Hughes to extensions already– and assuming they weren’t overpaying them– then Vancouver probably would get an “A” overall for their willingness to free themselves from past mistakes and try something new.

Will they be as bad as they were last season? Probably not.

Will they be “blow other teams out of the water” good this season? Also probably not.

But at the very least, they’ve given themselves enough to work with in the next year or two to fill out the rest of their core and supplement their best players with better pieces of the puzzle.

If, however, everything falls on their face, then I guess Vancouver is just cursed like that then, huh.

By Nick Lanciani

I have a degree in communication and yet I cannot find the words for this bio. Anyway, I write stuff on Down the Frozen River, make/appear on podcasts, used to write stuff for Couch Guy Sports and apply to jobs for a living when I'm not painting something cool to distract myself from my unemployment.