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Vancouver Canucks 2018-19 Season Preview

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Vancouver Canucks

31-40-11, 73 points, 7th in the Pacific Division

Additions: F Jay Beagle, F Tanner Kero (acquired from CHI), F Antoine Roussel, F Tim Schaller

Subtractions: F Cole Cassels (signed, DEL), F Michael Chaput (traded to CHI, signed with MTL), F Nic Dowd (signed with WSH), F Joseph LaBate (signed with Belleville Senators, AHL), F Jayson Megna (signed with WSH), F Griffen Molino (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Daniel Sedin (retired), F Henrik Sedin (retired), D Patrick Wiercioch (signed, KHL)

Still Unsigned: D Anton Cederholm, F Jussi Jokinen, D MacKenze Stewart

Re-signed: F Darren Archibald, F Sven Baertschi, D Troy Stecher, F Jake Virtanen

Offseason Analysis: We all knew this day would come, but didn’t want the telepathy to end. Yes, both Daniel and Henrik Sedin retired at the end of the 2017-18 regular season, leaving the Vancouver Canucks with an identity crisis– well, almost.

The face(s) of the franchise shifts full-time to the likes of Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and Jake Virtanen while the rest of the roster, umm, does stuff on the ice.

Does Jim Benning know the definition of a rebuild?

The Canucks General Manager signed veteran forwards Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel to matching four-year, $12 million contracts (worth $3.000 million per season). Beagle, 32, and Roussel, 28, are not top-six forwards. One’s past his prime, despite winning the Cup with the Washington Capitals last season and the other, well, $3.000 million a year for not just one fourth liner but two is the definition of insanity.

Doing the same thing and expecting different results, Benning keeps patching a non-playoff contender with grizzled veterans on long-term contracts.

It’s one thing to fill some roster holes with veteran players while you rebuild in the short term, but four-year deals? Four-years!?! Especially when this seems to be a trend up and down the lineup since losing to the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

That should be enough to convince Vancouver’s ownership group (Canucks Sports & Entertainment) that they should hit the reset button on their current front office.

One good signing– and the only good signing– made by Benning at improving the Canucks bottom-six depth was the addition of former Buffalo Sabre and Boston Bruin, Tim Schaller.

Schaller’s respectable two-year deal at $1.900 million per season is right about what you would expect to pay a top-notch fourth liner that can play third line minutes when called upon.

His 22 points in 82 games with Boston last season matched Beagle’s output in 79 games with the Capitals and was five-points better than Roussel’s 5-12–17 totals in 73 games for the Dallas Stars in 2017-18.

Schaller’s cap hit is a little more than half of Beagle and Roussel’s.

Goaltending continues to be an issue for Vancouver since trading Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo one year apart from one another.

Thatcher Demko isn’t ready for a full-time NHL role yet– either in the starting capacity or as a backup netminder. Anders Nilsson had his worst season as a backup in his first year as a Canuck, amassing a 3.44 goals against average and .901 save percentage in 27 games played.

Meanwhile, subpar starting goalie, Jacob Markstrom worsened from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in GAA (going from a 2.63 to a 2.71), but improved in SV% (.910 in 2016-17 to a .912 in 2017-18)– all while making the jump from being a backup himself in 2016-17 (playing in 26 games) to being Vancouver’s starter in 2017-18 (and playing in 60 games).

There’s hope to be had in 2018-19, however, in standout prospects Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen. Both should make the Canucks NHL roster and be implemented in the lineup for added flair, coupled with the Horvat, Boeser and Virtanen regime that’s now in full swing.

Despite the rumblings of a young core, Vancouver’s still in a tough spot given the strength of the Pacific Division.

The San Jose Sharks look to be a Cup contender on paper, Los Angeles is seeking one last chance at completing a trifecta this decade and Anaheim rounds out the annual California hockey powerhouse.

Meanwhile the Vegas Golden Knights certainly aren’t slowing down.

Between the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver– anything can happen. Edmonton should be better than they were last season, but should and in reality are separate things. Calgary, despite their revamped roster, has Bill Peters behind the bench (enough said).

So if the Canucks are looking to make any ground from 2018-19 to 2019-20, it very well might be on their Pacific Division Canadian counterparts.

What about the Arizona Coyotes, you ask?

They won’t be in last place in the division this season, so Vancouver better watch out. Unless, of course, Benning and Co. are starting to come around to the idea of tanking for a high-end 2019 1st round pick. That’d probably do them a lot of favors.

Offseason Grade: D

It’s hard to track progress when you let yourself get in the way of whatever you’ve got going. I don’t know what that means other than trying to say that the Canucks should continue to pursue a youth movement, decent depth signings (like Schaller) and abandon all hope on– oh wait, they signed Beagle and Roussel to matching four-year contracts.

Never mind.

If The Hockey Guy sees this by any chance– ‘sup. Let’s be friends, friend.

2018 Offseason Preview: Vancouver Canucks

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.

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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.

Yes, Brock Boeser— the 2018 NHL All-Star Game MVP– emerged as a rookie sniper, but the faces of the franchise in Daniel and Henrik Sedin retired after almost 20 years in the NHL.

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.

Finally, the Canucks have a pair of pending-RFA defenders to re-sign this offseason in 24-year-olds Derrick Pouliot and Troy Stecher.

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)