Just a few years ago the Vancouver Canucks were a force to be reckoned with. The magical moments that they produced on the ice left them with win after win. But times have quickly changed and the team is no longer in that same boat. A third of the way through the 2015-16 season and the Canucks have managed to create some unforgettable memories – at least for a few players.
In 26 games thus far the team has featured 29 names and has had seven players make NHL debuts (three of which earned regular roster spots). That’s a lot of fresh blood. Of those seven players five are forwards and just two are defensemen.
A quick glance over the Canucks stats page will unearth a certain hint of concern. Veteran scoring forwards Chris Higgins and Radim Vrbata have struggled immensely this season. Meanwhile starting goaltender and the six million dollar man Ryan Miller has looked uninspired at best with just seven wins and a .910 save percentage.
It’s a tough analysis though. At the top of the lineup the Sedin twins have returned to form with Daniel at more than a point per game and Henrik right behind it. Alex Edler has reestablished himself as the top defender in the franchise and when he’s healthy Chris Tanev has been his trusty sidekick.
But if not to prepare for another set of landscape changing moves, why would the Canucks be testing out so many different youngsters?
Surveying the Inventory
To no one’s significant surprise the Canucks kept three rookies out of training camp. Both Jared McCann and Ben Hutton have exceeded expectations so far and Virtanen has showed glimpse of the future while trying to adjust to the pro game.
But beyond those names the Canucks are left with a deep but overflowing pool of talent. 23-year-old Alexandre Grenier is a huge body with consistent production. Hunter Shinkaruk was a recent first round choice and is looking to diffuse the common argument that he’s just too small. Brendan Gaunce. Andrey Pedan. Jordan Subban… the list just keeps going.
The point is this: if the Canucks can find takers for big salary eating contracts like Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata there is no reason not to jump on it. They have the personnel for a rebuild. And they have it now.
Then, just a few years down the road will be the emergence of Thatcher Demko, Guillaume Brisebois, Ashton Sautner (who has continued to prove people wrong every step of his career), Brock Boeser and Cole Cassels.
There’s just no reason to hold on to a $5 million failing contract, especially if he’d be a wanted commodity for someone else.
The Arising Problems with Too Much Youth
There is a town in the north of Alberta by the name of Edmonton. Does this paragraph need any more?
Really though. The one issue that arises with idea of moving two or three of the Canucks veterans is that it would more than likely force at least another under-23 player into NHL action. And we’ve all seen what happens when you have too much youth on an NHL roster.
The Canucks would need to carefully dissect their options to make sure they were keeping the most professional and impressionable veterans around for the swath of youth coming in. Players like
the Sedins, Burrows and Hamhuis would almost virtually have to remain just based on the length of their careers with the franchise and their knowledge of what it takes to be a successful professional athlete.
Unfortunately a guy like Chris Higgins – who has been an outstanding member of the Canucks family for five years – would probably be a casualty of this systematic approach to shaking things up. But as most players in the game say, it’s all part of the business.
Should They Do It?
Connecting the dots is easy enough and it seems as though the Canucks’ dots are in line to make some changes. Or they are at least seriously preparing for it.
Now deciding whether or not a move like this would benefit the Canucks is a whole other task.
If the Canucks find suitors for Vrbata and Miller they would be freeing up $11 million in cap space. Instantly. In actuality they would only be giving themselves the freedom from Miller’s gigantic salary since Vrbata’s contract is up in July anyways. What the Canucks would be doing is capitalizing on Vrbata’s worth before they lose him for nothing. And that could be vital.
Although Vrbata’s production has dwindled this year, he had the second best year of his career in 2014-15 and would give a team on the verge of being a contender some serious secondary scoring. Think Detroit, Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Nashville.
It’s all but inevitable that someone from Vancouver’s veteran corps will be moved so long as the team doesn’t dig themselves out of their current slide. For the team’s longstanding leaders like Henrik, Daniel, Burrows, Hamhuis and the likes, it would surely be a taste of reality.