A lot has changed already for the Vancouver Canucks within the last couple of seasons. A year ago, they were competing in a grueling second-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This year, they are watching them from home. If Vancouver wants to get back to playing playoff hockey, they have a busy offseason ahead if they want a successful 2021-22 season.
The core is in place (pending a couple of signings) and the foundation is solid, which is arguably the hardest thing to do when building a team. But now it’s time to find the right mix of pieces, whether it’s offensively or defensively, to go with the players that are in place heading into the 2021-22 season.
Keeping the Core Together
It’s always the goal and focal point of any organization: draft, develop and grow together. The Canucks have drafted and developed extremely well, from Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, to Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko. There is a very stable core to build off of. However, Jim Benning is tasked with finding a way to get both Pettersson and Hughes new contract extensions for next season.
With the likelihood of one or more buyouts to clear out cap space, Benning should have little to no trouble locking two of his cornerstone pieces up. Pettersson is a former Calder Trophy winner who has averaged .93 points-per-game through the first three seasons of his young career, despite being limited to just 26 games this past season with a wrist injury. Hughes, on the other hand, hasn’t scored fewer than 40 points in each of his first two campaigns, and is averaging nearly a point per game in the postseason as well. Whatever the cost may be for these two, they should remain a part of the organization for years to come.
Finding Secondary Scoring
Vancouver is not shy when it comes to talent and goalscoring. As mentioned earlier, Pettersson, Boeser and Hughes represent the main chunk of the Canucks’ future. J.T. Miller stepped up and had a nice second season, finishing second on the team in points. After that, though, there was a significant drop off in terms of production.
Outside of the aforementioned players listed earlier, along with rookie Nils Hoglander and defenseman Tyler Myers, no Canucks player registered more than 20 points all season long. A year ago, Nate Schmidt compiled 31 points in 59 games. This past season, in 54 contests, he registered just 15. Yes, he is a defenseman, but after the success he’s had in the past, having that production on the back end goes a long way to support the rest of the roster. As a big trade acquisition a year ago, the Canucks will need him to be better moving forward.
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Notable free agent forwards like Alex Ovechkin and Gabriel Landeskog don’t seem likely to join new teams next season, but there is a strong cast of available players that fit the bill for the Canucks perfectly. Mike Hoffman, Tomas Tatar, Taylor Hall and Brandon Saad are just a few players that, if they hit the open market, would be solid candidates for Benning to try and sign that could take the offensive pressure off the big guns for Vancouver.
Fill in Holes Where Needed
This will be more of a wait-and-see approach. As mentioned earlier, secondary scorers will have their place, but for this section, this is where the remainder of the roster gets filled out. It will also be predicated on the NHL Entry Draft, the Expansion Draft, and what player is selected by the Seattle Kraken.
Vancouver, towards the end of the season, gave auditions to some of their younger players, including Jack Rathbone, Kole Lind and William Lockwood, who will battle for a roster spot come training camp, not to mention whoever Vancouver selects with the ninth-overall pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
There will also be veteran players that could come on cheaper contacts and take on a leadership role, like Eric Staal has in Montreal, or Corey Perry or Brandon Dubinsky. It’s clear in these playoffs, and in years past, that experienced veterans on relatively cheap contracts have paid off significantly for those teams. Whether it’s through free agency or prospects ready to take the leap, there should be a few options for the Canucks.
There should and will be change to this Canucks roster before the start of training camp, but if Benning can address the team’s needs and build around the core already put in place, it could set the team up for similar success it had just two seasons ago.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.