Over the next six weeks, we’ll be taking a quick look at each of the 30 NHL clubs — examining their major storylines, pivotal players and the most important questions they need to answer heading into the 2016-17 season.
By the time we’ve hit every team, it will be mid-September. And that, of course, means it will be time for training camps to open. Perfect timing, really.
Today, it’s the Vancouver Canucks…
Two years ago, the Vancouver Canucks finished second in the Pacific and took on Calgary in the opening round of the playoffs. And if you go back even further, they actually won their division every season from 2009 to 2013 — even making a Stanley Cup appearance in that stretch.
Last year, however, the wheels came off. They finished with just 31 wins — second-worst in the entire NHL — then fell a couple spots in the draft lottery, ultimately picking at No. 5 instead of the No. 3 spot they were originally slotted for.
For all their regular season success over the last decade, the Canucks have now finished near the very bottom of the Pacific twice in the last three years. And that 2014-15 campaign is starting to look like an outlier. Things certainly appear to be trending down for the organization at the moment, to the point where many preseason predictions have them on the short list of clubs vying for the No. 1 pick in the draft again next June.
If they want to avoid that scenario, they’ll need some of the younger players on the roster to step up in a big way alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
What exactly is the long-term plan in Vancouver?
Answering this question as soon as possible will be huge for the Canucks. On the one hand, they have established talents like the Sedin twins and Ryan Miller in net. The Sedins have combined for 1,912 career points between the two of them, and amassed a total of 116 points just this past season. Meanwhile, Miller has a Vezina Trophy on his resume.
On the other hand, there isn’t a whole lot of guaranteed production on the roster outside of that top line at the moment. And Miller’s numbers aren’t what they used to be before he got to Vancouver.
One of the toughest things for a franchise to do is admit that they need to hit the “reset” button, but the Canucks might be there. And, if that’s the case, accepting it and building towards the future now — particularly while the Sedins are still around for the next wave of youngsters to learn from — might be the necessary path to take.
NOTABLE SUMMER ACQUISITION
Loui Eriksson (from BOS)
This is a pretty good example of why many people in the hockey world are a little confused by what Vancouver is doing. Loui Eriksson — once traded for Tyler Seguin, by the way — is an excellent hockey player. His 30 goals and 66 points last season landed him second on the Boston Bruins in terms of scoring and, at age 31, he should still have plenty of good hockey left in front of him.
So the issue here isn’t Eriksson at all. The issue is if he’s really a fit for the Canucks. If this is truly a club that needs to rebuild, then it doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense to sign a vet to a six-year, $36 million deal. Adding Eriksson to, say, the Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks — teams fully engaged in win-now mode — seems like a more logical choice. On the surface, at least.
Olli Juolevi (drafted: No. 5 in 2016)
Vancouver surprised some people by passing on Matthew Tkachuk with the fifth pick in the draft, allowing him to slide to the rival Flames. But the Canucks were able to snag a gifted two-way defender in Juolevi, who models his game after Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
The smooth-skating 18-year-old likely plays this season in London, but many scouts had him ranked as the top blueliner available in 2016 when draft day rolled around.
BIGGEST CAP HIT
Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin ($7 million each)
Of course, if the plan ever shifts to trying to deal them away for future assets, that’s a $14 million cap hit that any potential trade partner would have to take on. Good luck with that.
2017 UFA TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Depending who you believe, Tampa Bay might be interested in dealing either Ben Bishop or Andrei Vasilevskiy at some point in the upcoming season. And Pittsburgh may be inclined to move Marc-Andre Fleury as well, thanks to next June’s expansion draft.
Turns out Vancouver could have a goalie to offer up as well, with Miller set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. If they’re somehow still hanging around in the playoff race late in the year, it will likely be because of Miller’s play, and they’ll just hang on to him. But if they’re sellers at the deadline, Miller’s exactly the sort of piece they’d want to move. Especially with Jacob Markstrom and — eventually — Thatcher Demko in line to take over between the pipes.
He’s an x-factor — not so much in the sense that his play can dramatically swing the Canucks’ season or anything — but mainly because, well, someone has to be the x-factor here.
Remember, Horvat is on this team because of a draft day deal that sent Cory Schneider to New Jersey in 2013, so there’s always going to be a little extra added pressure on him in Vancouver. He delivered a solid, 16-goal, 40-point campaign as a 20-year old last season though. And as the franchise (eventually) starts setting itself up for the future, they sorely need Horvat to be a major building block.