The pre-season is over, fantasy hockey drafts have finished, and the regular season has finally started. Opening-night rosters have been set, and each team is ready to go. With that being said, some of America’s biggest sports media companies have conducted their season previews and expectations for each NHL team. If you were to rely on those sites to help generate your own expectations for the Canucks, you are in for a long, painful season. The Canucks seem to be an easy choice to fail this year. The overall consensus of the media is that the Canucks will be finishing in last place in the standings – but who and why are they saying that?
The Hockey News
“The Canucks are a bottom-of-the-league team adding veteran players as if they were a playoff contender. They’re just delaying the rebuild that needs to happen.”
Their outlook: “One quick look at their roster and you start to question why (they are trying to make the playoffs). Simply put, this team just isn’t very good and they’re only delaying any future contention further by foregoing a rebuild. As presently constructed, this roster isn’t good enough to compete and the team is kidding themselves if they think otherwise.”
|Projection||Point Projection||Playoff chances||Stanley Cup Odds|
|7th in Pacific||77.9||7.0%||80-1|
The Hockey Writers
“There will be more trials and tribulations for the Canucks this season. No one expects much from the Canucks other than a bottom-five finish. That’s a consequence of trading away draft picks while competing for the Stanley Cup, and not drafting well with the picks that they’ve had. “
“While the Canucks improved in the offseason, so did their competition. There will likely be more parity in the Western Conference this year, since the likes of Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim did little to improve their teams. It’s hard to envision the Canucks finishing any higher than sixth in their division, possibly ahead of Edmonton or Arizona. They are one Sedin injury away from being pegged as a front-runner in the Nolan Patrick sweepstakes. If everything goes according to plan, the Canucks could push for a wild card spot. However, there are too many variables to predict the Canucks making the playoffs. Finishing in the basement of their division is a more likely scenario.”
Prediction: 32-35-15 (7th in Pacific)
“Everyone else seems to be moving forward while the Canucks, most charitably, seem to be going sideways – or is that in circles?”
Their outlook: “The Canucks are in a slow transition. They never quite gutted the teams that vied for Stanley Cups, so they never bottomed out. That decision cost them a crack at some of the premium talent their Pacific Division rivals grabbed at the top of the draft. Vancouver does have nice, young players like Jake Virtanen, Bo Horvat, and Thatcher Demko, but not enough that you feel confident about the pending transfer of the baton from Daniel and his brother Henrik Sedin to the next generation. Vancouver, for now, seems like a team stuck in transition.”
Projection: “It will be Vancouver that replaces Edmonton in the Pacific cellar.” (yes, they actually bolded it.) Scott Burnside currently has the team as 30th in his Week 1 Power Rankings.
Their outlook: “We’re not entirely sure what Jim Benning’s plan is for the team. He says he wants to win now, but his team is a mishmash of old veterans and young kids. Vancouver could be good if they keep the kids together, just not right now. It’s only more pain for the Canucks in the near future.”
Coach hot seat rating: 8. “Willie Desjardins made the playoffs in his first season behind the bench. In the second season, the team declined substantially. Once the team hits the rough patch, GM Jim Benning could reach the panic button and reset with a new coach.”
Their outlook: “This doesn’t look like a promising season on Canada’s West Coast. The Canucks finished 28th in the standings last season and don’t have nearly the same kind of young talent coming into their lineup as 29th-place Edmonton and 30th-place Toronto.”
Ray Ferraro: “They have way too many questions in way too many positions. Everything has to be perfect for them, but I don’t see them as a playoff team.”
Jeff O’Neill: “I don’t think they’re going to be as bad as everything thinks they’re going to be. They’re just hovering around and acting like they’re good. They sign Loui Eriksson and have a great top line, but not much after that. It might”
Bob Mckenzie: “I don’t think [the Canucks are as bad as people say], but they could be. People don’t like the direction the team is taking. They’re not doing the traditional tear-down, rebuild, four or five lottery picks, then on their way back to being a contender. They’re trying to the old “we’re trying to compete for a playoff spot, and introduce a bunch of kids, we’re going to stay competitive but we’re never going to be that bad to get a really high-end pick.” People don’t like that, they get confused.”
|TSN||Sportsnet||The Hockey News||The Hockey Writers||ESPN||EA Sports simulation|
|30th||30th||7th in Pacific||7th in Pacific||30th||30th|
Doesn’t give you much hope right? Wrong. If you were to base your judgment solely on what these major conglomerates have to say, then, by all means expect a last place finish. Comparing the current team to that of last year’s, player-for-player, you could say that they are a better team now. Breaking it down, it would be hard-pressed to think of a reason as to why the Canucks project to be a worse team than their 75-point performance last season.
|Loui Eriksson||Radim Vrbata|
|(A healthy) Brandon Sutter||Jared McCann|
|Anton Rodin||Brandon Prust|
|Brendan Gaunce||Chris Higgins|
|Erik Gudbranson||Dan Hamhuis|
|Philip Larsen||Matt Bartkowski|
Most would agree that Loui Eriksson is an upgrade over last season’s Radim Vrbata. Coming off a 30-goal season, Eriksson will most likely spending a majority of the season with the Sedins – whom he has established chemistry with over the years. He might not be able to surpass his career-high 73-point season, but do not rule out production that would be hovering around those numbers. Overall, it looks like the Canucks got the better of the two.
The Gudbranson-Hamhuis swap, in a way, remains neutral. What Hamhuis brought to the table was very steady defensive play with little offense. We have yet to watch Erik Gudbranson on a consistent basis but do know that he plays a defensive style with physicality. By no means was Dan Hamhuis a bad player, but Trevor Linden cited his age as an influencing factor in letting him go. They swapped old for young but kept the presence of a solid, defensive defenseman.
A healthy Brandon Sutter could be a large factor in the potential success of the team this year. It certainly wouldn’t be wrong to say his injury led to the team’s downfall. Jared McCann did not have a stellar rookie season – some may even say he should not have been in the NHL to begin with. Although he may have top-6 potential, the projections are for this season, not the future. In this swap, a healthy Brandon Sutter would get the check mark over 20-year-old Jared McCann.
Anton Rodin had an impressive preseason with 2 goals and 3 assists in 5 games. Playing with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi, their combination looks to have good potential as a 2nd or 3rd line. The MVP of the Swedish Elite League is currently on the injured reserve, but the good thing is that it is not going to be long-term. Brandon Prust has a solid first few games as a Canuck, but it all crumbled after his ankle injury. Who’s the better out of these two? Probably Anton Rodin.
Brendan Gaunce has finally cracked the opening night roster as a 22-year-old. He also had an impressive pre-season, which he will look to build upon as a 4th-line C or LW. Chris Higgins was one of the players bit by the injury bug, and his 4 points in 33 game pace was not eye-catching. Younger, bigger, more versatile, and stronger, Brendan Gaunce is likely an upgrade over Higgins.
Last but not least, Philip Larsen. The so-called “saviour of the Canucks power-play” is coming in as one of the KHL’s best defensemen. However, this is the NHL – smaller ice, quicker players, faster plays. His pre-season play showed flashes of his offensive game, but his defensive play has yet to be shown on a consistent basis. There might be a worry that he is more of a one-dimensional player who thrives in the offensive zone but struggles defensively. He previously found himself unable to solidify a spot in the NHL, but it seems as if he has rounded out his game while playing in Europe. Will his playing style translate to the NHL? Only time will tell. For the comparison between him and Bartkowski, we will have to wait and see.
Jim Benning: “I believe in this group. We have good goaltending, and adding Erik Gudbranson is a stabilizing presence on our defense. The young players have taken the next step in training camp. A healthy Brandon Sutter will help us, and adding Loui Eriksson is a good move for everybody on the team. Our goal every year is to make the playoffs; part of our success is predicated on our young players continuing to get better. I like what I’ve seen so far, I can’t wait to get started.”
A 30th-place finish with roughly 65 points is hard to achieve, even with the amount of troubles that the Canucks endured last season. The consensus among the media is that the Canucks will be the worst team in the NHL this year. Their negative perception of this may emerge from one of these three different options:
1) They are being realistic and possessing thoughts that Canucks fans fail to acknowledge and accept.
2) They hold the so-called “East Coast bias” and simply do not know enough about the Canucks.
3) As Ben Hutton would say, “They have to pick someone to finish 30th.”
You could make a valid argument saying, despite the Canucks looking like a better team this season, it is simply not enough to keep up with the rest if the division. EDM, CGY, and ARI have all gotten faster, younger, and more skilled, while the Canucks, as Jeff O’Neill said, are just “hovering around.” Comparing the Canucks to the rest of the teams in the division, you could say that a 7th-place finish in the Pacific might be a more realistic possibility than 30th in the NHL. Despite what the media outlets have to say, take their opinions with a grain of salt. Obviously, it is hard to make a judgment without having played a regular-season game, but only time will tell.
Are they a playoff team? That may be an overly optimistic statement to make. Are they challenging to for a wild-card spot? It could happen, especially if the team is able to stay healthy and players play to their abilities. Could the Canucks end up where they were last season as a bottom-3 team? It is possible, especially if they encounter similar situations. Are they a sub-par, 65-point, last-place NHL team? Anything can happen, but even achieving the lowest of the lows is hard to do.