After finishing the 2021-22 season with eight wins in their final 12 games and a record of 32-15-10 under new coach Bruce Boudreau, the Vancouver Canucks enter 2022-23 with a lot of hope and optimism. With him back behind the bench, they hope to continue that run of success and make the playoffs for the first time since the Edmonton Bubble back in 2020.
Boudreau will be joined by two new assistant coaches in Mike Yeo and Trent Cull and a few new faces brought aboard via the free agent market. Ilya Mikheyev, Curtis Lazar, Dakota Joshua and Andrei Kuzmenko will likely make the roster and help form a deeper forward group than the Canucks have had in years. The defence largely will stay the same barring a trade and the goaltending will feature 25-year-old Thatcher Demko and Spencer Martin, who earned the job after a tremendous cup of coffee in the NHL last season that saw him finish with a sparkling 1.74 goals-against average and .950 save percentage along with a 3-0-3 record.
With all the changes, there are bound to be some X-factors that will emerge not only from this group but the organization as a whole. Let’s take a look at three of them now.
Tabbed as one of the top European free agents on the market, Kuzmenko decided to sign with the Canucks after being wined and dined by a number of NHL teams. Immediately met with excitement over his potential, he will be expected to make a difference in the top nine alongside either J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat. He will also probably get power play time on a much-improved second unit (at least on paper) with fellow Russian and former Kontinental Hockey League star Ilya Mikheyev.
Kuzmenko, who might turn out to be Patrik Allvin’s best free agent signing (or his worst), is known for his elite presence around the net. Whether it is passing or using his quick hands to bury rebounds, he just has a knack for finding loose pucks in and around the crease – at least in the KHL anyway. If he can translate that skill to the NHL, he should be able to carve out a career similar to former Canuck and current Calgary Flame Tyler Toffoli, who makes his living doing just that.
The only unfortunate thing about Kuzmenko’s contract is that it’s only for one year. If he decides to make Vancouver a layover city en route to a big payday somewhere else, he will end up having something else in common with Toffoli – a lightly used home and away Canucks jersey. The hope will be that he has a productive rookie season in the NHL and likes the team enough to re-sign long-term under a team-friendly cap hit. Then he will not only be an X-factor for this season but for many more to come.
After a tremendous rookie season with the Canucks in 2021-22 that saw him score 14 goals, Vasily Podkolzin is ready to take his game to the next level. In fact, Pete Jensen, who covers fantasy hockey for NHL.com, believes he could eventually be the best winger on the team. He definitely won’t hit those heights next season considering Brock Boeser has four 20-goal seasons under his belt and Podkolzin has yet to record his first, but that doesn’t mean he can’t climb to that summit in the coming years.
Jensen wasn’t the first to heap praise on the 21-year-old this offseason either as Miller also lauded his skill and potential on a recent episode of the Dropping the Gloves podcast when he said that the “sky was the limit” on Podkolzin’s ceiling in the NHL. His speed, size and willingness to drive the net will get him a lot of goals in the future as he grows into his 6-foot-1 frame. Hopefully, for the Canucks’ sake, that future starts to be realized in 2022-23.
Coming into his first full season as general manager (GM) of the Canucks, Allvin will have his work cut out for him as he tries to clean up the mess that former GM Jim Benning and company left behind. As such, he’s as much of an X-factor as Kuzmenko and Podkolzin going into this season. How he deals with Horvat and Miller’s upcoming contracts and/or subsequent trades will either destroy his legacy before it even starts or get his tenure off on the right foot as a better GM than his predecessors.
If Miller is not re-signed, Allvin must get an adequate return that sets the Canucks up for not only the present but the future, and if he can somehow get him under contract, then it needs to be team-friendly in term and money which does not destroy the potential for re-signing key players like Podkolzin, Kuzmenko, Pettersson and possibly even Jonathan Lekkerimaki down the road. Basically, the Miller deal – contract or trade – could be the make-or-break transaction of the season.
The same goes for Horvat. While he’s more likely to be re-signed than traded, Allvin and his contract expert Émilie Castonguay need to get him signed to a deal that will not handcuff the team in the future and at the same time provide value for the present. Easier said than done when guys like Jonathan Huberdeau are getting $10.5 million in average annual value (AAV) for only one 100-point season. The Canucks captain definitely won’t be getting that type of money, but his agent can comfortably demand $7-8 million AAV considering players like Thomas Hertl just got $8.137 million AAV for similar production.
Regardless, Allvin and his staff won’t have it easy this season as they try to navigate the salary cap with two key players up for unrestricted free agency in the offseason. The pressure will only get higher as the trade deadline creeps closer, and depending on where the Canucks are in the standings, could be one of the biggest in the history of the franchise. What a way to start your career as a GM in the NHL, right?
Interesting 2022-23 Season Ahead For the Canucks
As mentioned off the top, the Canucks are going into the 2022-23 season as an improved team. Having said that, there are still a lot of questions to be answered. From what Allvin will do with Miller to how he’s going deal with upgrading the defence and clearing the log jam of NHL-calibre forwards, September will be an interesting month to follow as the Young Stars Tournament gets going on Sept. 16 with training camp shortly thereafter. All I have to say is, is it October yet?