Right, then. The Vancouver Canucks have had a worst-case scenario hit with the COVID-19 outbreak striking the majority of the team. The players are out of commission for an unknown amount of time. Our best guess right now is another ten days, minimum, but the health of the players and staff will determine that. Since there are far too many unknowns right now, we’re going to leave this trade deadline and those possible moves alone. If you’re really curious, here’s our last analysis in March. But today, we’ll take a stab at looking towards the Vancouver Canucks future, and what it might hold.
We’re looking forward to everyone getting healthy again. LWOS wishes them the best and hopes they and their families get – and stay – healthy. Everything else right now is academic.
Vancouver Canucks Future Needs
We’re going strictly middle-term, here. None of this “rental this, draft pick that, give-the-kids-a-shot” stuff! At the start of next season, what is the ideal makeup for the Canucks? That they have needs is hardly a question. Battling for fifth place in a seven-team league with the season mostly over is all the evidence anyone needs of that. The question is what they’re going to do about it. Obviously, we have to make one big assumption here: that no one’s been fired. So starting there.
General manager Jim Benning has been content to simply walk away from unrestricted free agents in the past. He’s also managed to flip some for assets, but this trade deadline is absolutely shrouded in mystery for the team. Again, we’re going to make our best guesses here. Looking over the team’s current strengths and weaknesses is the only way to project these Vancouver Canucks future moves.
Tempted as we are to simply write “money” and move on, there’s a bit more to it. The devil is, after all, in the details.
Money issues are, indeed, part of the Vancouver Canucks future in coming years. The moves made by Benning prior to the season’s start were clearly cash-saving. Even the Thatcher Demko contract is weighted specifically to ease the financial burden next year. Team owner Francesco Aquilini is clearly feeling the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown. Unsurprising, given how many of his businesses are tourist-related. That is not only going to play a part in the signing of their restricted free agents but their pursuit of unrestricted ones. Anyone who isn’t a bargain is going to get a long, hard look before the pen touches paper.
On the Ice
Speaking of which, an ongoing problem with the Canucks during Benning’s seven-year tenure *cough-cough* has been signing depth forwards. That depth is necessary for any winning team, but they are also the players you fill in after you’ve built the rest. These are, normally, the finishing pieces. It’s not a position a team should be paying a premium for, but premiums were certainly paid for Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, even Micheal Ferland, though that last was expected to play in the top-six. Late waiver pickups Travis Boyd and Jimmy Vesey are the sorts of players at the sort of cost more typical of the role. Neither is likely to stick around, both being unrestricted at the season’s end.
What has hurt most up front is watching Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette stumbling badly after big years. Virtanen is the gamble the team took in letting Tyler Toffoli walk at the end of the year, and they lost. Gaudette got a one-year Show Me deal, and he was asked to focus a lot more on his defence. He wasn’t going to bump either Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat out of the top two centre spots any time soon, after all. Unfortunately, the transition has been a tough one for the third-year veteran. The Canucks have some centre-capable players, but outside the oft-injured Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle, there’s little in the way of defence.
Speaking of which, Alexander Edler is likely on his last deal from the Canucks this year. After a decade of the best, the Canucks have, introducing Quinn Hughes is an appropriate finale. But it also means another off-season of change in front of the goalies.
Right at the top, baby! Specifically the top-end skill. The best players they have are young. Demko is already a certainty, in his contract if not his future performance. Pettersson and Hughes are undoubtedly going to be dealing with the team together. On the downside for the team, it means a player who would normally be a 10.2c will have a lot more clout. On the upside for the fans, it pretty much guarantees a deal gets done without the shenanigans from last time they had one of those. The “Old Skill” of the team is neither that old nor uncertain – Horvat, J.T. Miller, and Nate Schmidt are all signed past the 2021-22 season.
Off the (NHL) Ice
The prospects who are coming – or in Nils Höglander‘s case, here – are going to help, and soon. Ironically, the financial difficulties the team faces make it more likely they will transition to their younger/cheaper players. And the players they have ready are champing at the bit. Vasili Podkolzin is a virtual lock to sign as soon as the end of his Russian obligations, and given his role in the playoffs breaking into the NHL should be straightforward. The team’s experiment moving Kole Lind to the centre has had far better results than expected, though only in the AHL so far. We suspect Lind is going to get time in the NHL this year with the rather unsubtle “in town to check an injury” excuse to wait out quarantine. Even teammate Jonah Gadjovich is making a huge impression this year.
For not-so-young guys, Zack MacEwen, Jayce Hawryluk, and Justin Bailey may not have top-six potential like Podkolzin or Höglander do, but play a game that suits the bottom-six. Between all these names, expect three or even four to be regulars next season. There are even a couple of guys who can make the team at the blue line, one taking years to get there and another seemingly coming out of the blue. Between Olli Juolevi and Jack Rathbone, the Canucks future defence looks solid on the left side. Should Travis Hamonic re-sign, it frankly doesn’t look all that bad for the 2012-22 season. Even if they aren’t quite ready by NHL standards, there’s the once-and-future Canuck Nikita Tryamkin itching to return. Given Vancouver’s mixed history of Russian players, maybe bringing two at once will improve the Canucks future?
There are going to be gaps on the team. That’s the nature of pro sports – and of time moving in a linear fashion. Yes, there’s an expansion draft coming up, but frankly, when you can only lose one player, that’s fine. On a better team, that would hurt more. This one? Meh. What’s missing here isn’t something that can be quickly fixed, unfortunately.
The turnover this season on defence is very survivable, and goaltending is set. It’s going to be all about the forwards. There’s an opportunity for the Canucks future to include a bunch of their future in it. The problems with expensive depth players can be partially addressed with eager youth ready to go. Höglander probably should have started on the third line, but the higher-skill prospects – like him and Podkolzin – are getting pushed up rather than skill being pushed down to the second. And that’s the crux of the problem.
With neither Virtanen nor Gaudette commanding a top-six spot, the biggest absence is the same as ever: a second-line winger. Tanner Pearson has played well since joining Horvat but beyond that? Maybe Podkolzin takes advantage. Maybe Höglander takes another step. But even if they are there in the Canucks future, starting their NHL careers there is a tough ask.
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