Canucks Finally Embracing the Rebuild

Saying the last few years have been frustrating for Vancouver Canucks fans would be a massive understatement. The Canucks haven’t won a playoff round since they knocked out the San Jose Sharks in 2011, have allowed countless players to walk while receiving nothing in return and ultimately missed the playoffs in what will soon be three of the last four seasons.

But things are finally starting to look up in Canucks land. The last few days have been bittersweet and seeing Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen leave the organization has been a tough pill to swallow. But it seems, after years of preaching “retool” and “rebuild on the fly,” that management is finally ready to admit that this is a mediocre team that needs a full-scale rebuild. That’s great news for Canucks fans.

Excellent Trade Returns

What’s even better news is the incredible returns the Canucks got for The Dragon Slayer and The Great Dane. As monumental as Alex Burrows has been for the Canucks in the past 10 years, he’s in a steep decline. Watching him game after game only solidifies the fact that his prime is way behind him, and he is a total non-factor in most games. Receiving Jonathan Dahlen, a top Swedish prospect who the Ottawa Senators drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft, is astonishing. Dahlen has amassed 44 points in 45 games for Timra IK in a Tier-II Swedish league. That’s good enough for fourth in league scoring.

A constant threat at the 2017 World Juniors, Dahlen seems poised to be an NHL star for years to come. Burrows, on the other hand, will be lucky if he has three years left in the league. He’ll help the Sens in the playoffs without question, but this was not a good trade for GM Pierre Dorion.

Jannik Hansen isn’t quite in the same boat as Burrows. At 30 years of age, Hansen is still fast, gritty, and can play an important role on the third line of a playoff team. That’s exactly where he’ll slot in for the San Jose Sharks in the postseason. Many Canucks fans would have been happy with a second rounder in return for Hansen; instead, they got Nikolay Goldobin, a crafty Russian forward who has had an excellent year in the AHL with the San Jose Barracuda. As an avid follower of Russian players, I watched Goldobin at the World Juniors in 2015 and was really impressed by his play. He’ll be in the Canucks’ lineup in Thursday’s game against, you guessed it, the San Jose Sharks.

Conditional Pick Could Be Monumental

In the Hansen-Goldobin trade, the Canucks also received a fourth-round pick from San Jose. That itself is icing on the cake, but the condition on the pick is unlike any I’ve ever seen. If the San Jose Sharks manage to win the Stanley Cup, that pick turns into a first-round draft pick.

Let that sink in. The Vancouver Canucks could potentially be receiving 2014 and 2017 first-rounders for a bonafide third-line player. That’s insane. It’s always hard to cheer for a team in the same division, especially a team that swept the Canucks in 2013. But if a Stanley Cup is what it will take for Vancouver to get another first-rounder, no Vancouver fan would be upset to see Hansen and the San Jose Sharks hoist Lord Stanley come June.

Prospect Pool Shaping Up

Demko Lancers
Thatcher Demko is very likely the Canucks’ starting goaltender down the road. (Photo Credit: Omaha Lancers)

Looking at the Canucks’ roster right now leaves a lot to be desired. But after basically confirming that the team is done trying to fight for a playoff spot by trading away Burrows and Hansen, the new young talent only improves an already-solid pool of prospects. We aren’t talking Arizona Coyotes elite here, with the likes  of Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome in the system, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Jonathan Dahlen and Nikolay Goldobin join the ranks of Adam Gaudette, Brock Boeser, and Will Lockwood in the NCAA, Olli Juolevi and Brett Mackenzie in the OHL, and Guillaume Bresebois and Carl Neill in the QMJHL. Not to mention goaltender Thatcher Demko in Utica. Many of those players could be playing for Vancouver as soon as next year, and in three, all of them could potentially be in the NHL.

Finally, a Bright Future

Watching the Vancouver Canucks brass try to rebuild on the fly has been a painful experience. Things have gone downhill since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final: a disappointing exit to the eventual champion L.A. Kings in 2012, a sweep at the hands of the Sharks in 2013, and not even qualifying for the postseason in 2014; that’s when the rebuild should have began.

Instead, management decided to pick up Radim Vrbata and make a playoff push in 2015. While the regular season was promising, that also ended poorly, after a six-game defeat at the hands of the Calgary Flames.

For the last two years, it seems like the entire Canucks faithful minus the front office has understood that a rebuild is necessary for this team. With two empty seasons to show for the failed retool, GM Jim Benning finally proved his worth. He made the tough calls by letting Burrows and Hansen go, but the returns for both were spectacular. And now, both of those players will have the chance to compete for very good teams in the playoffs. That’s something the Canucks haven’t done in years.

It has never been easy to be a Vancouver Canucks fan; the lack of a Stanley Cup over 47 years in the league will tell you all you need to know. But if their deep pool of prospects shape up, and the likes of Bo Horvat and Chris Tanev reach their potential, there’s no reason the Canucks can’t compete again in three years or fewer. The last few days have been an excellent first step.