It’s the Vancouver Canucks against the world. In spite of a strong off-season, projections, predictions and flat out guesses elsewhere all point to a last place finish and a lottery ball determining this season’s worth.
And yet, the Canucks refuse to go gentle into that good night. They spent much of this off-season chasing the post-season dragon. Whereas a team with no apparent succession plan for their ageing core should hoard high-end prospects and the picks to find them, Vancouver didn’t blink at the price (Jared McCann and a pair of picks) to acquire sturdy stay-at-home defenceman Erik Gudbranson. Similarly, they defied convention when kicking the door down in free agency to throw term and cash at a 30-plus free agent in Loui Eriksson — the type of move generally reserved for contenders.
This team isn’t ready to embrace convention, though. They haven’t been for as long as Jim Benning’s been their General Manager.
Which means that those among the Canucks’ faithful won’t get the rebuild they’ve crooned for season after tire spinning season. For the never say die crowd, they’ll get precisely what they want. This team is all in for the post-season. No half-measures.
All that hangs on hope. In much the same way the Canucks were undone by injuries last season, they’re hoping that ill won’t visit them this time around. In spite of their many efforts to the contrary, they’re an injury to one of their core members away from fulfilling the 65 point prophecy USA Today Sports has foretold.
It needn’t be one that takes a player from their lineup for an extended period, either. Remember, if you will, the impact of a hobbled Henrik Sedin standing on the Canucks bench game after game at the mid-point of last season and the domino effect it had throughout Vancouver’s lineup. Last season showcased the Canucks’ fragility for all to see and I can’t imagine they’re any sturdier now.
That underscores a problem that will follow the Canucks through this season and likely several that follow. For all their depth, and they’ve put yeoman’s work towards setting that in place, they haven’t any players to step into premier high-leverage roles. Not now and likely not a few seasons thereafter.
The Canucks might, assuming everything goes their way this season, have enough to squeak into the playoffs, but to what exact end? They have an above average first line, first pair and goaltending. But this is a league of the haves and the have-nots. And if those are the only parts of their roster that check out as above average, it might not cut it against the high-end rosters they face night in and night out.
If the 36-year-old Sedin twins can get this club into the playoffs, and that’s a distinct possibility, I’m not sure where the Canucks go from there. Two seasons ago they faced arguably the worst club in post-season history and were unceremoniously dispatched in six games.
What reason do we have to believe that the Canucks, wholly dependant on their first line, can get any further with their lead horses two seasons closer to pasture? And if Ryan Miller, also 36, is their ‘number one’ goaltender, how far can he take the Canucks?
They’re going to need more than a little help from their friends to do it. Perhaps Bo Horvat can continue to break through the proverbial glass ceiling offensively. Horvat’s already scoring at a fringe second line rate, who’s to say he’s ready to plateau, or worse, falter? There’s also Sven Baertschi to consider. If his second-half to last season is any indication, Baertschi, 24, is on the cusp of meeting the lofty expectations that come with being a 13th overall selection.
Out of the spotlight, Anton Rodin, Jake Virtanen and Philip Larsen are just eager to prove they belong. Though the Canucks’ investment in the three vary, each has the potential to fill a glaring need. Rodin for scoring, Virtanen speed and physicality and Larsen as a power play quarterback
Most clubs would be happy to bat .500 when building value on the margins. The Canucks aren’t in so enviable a position. If they can’t hit on most, if not all of the prescient questions in and around their lineup, it could spell doom.
The Canucks don’t have enough at the top of their lineup to cover shortcomings elsewhere. Because for all their improvements, I’m not sure they’ve even kept pace with some of their primary competitors. Their stars don’t match up with the Los Angeles Kings or the San Jose Sharks or the Anaheim Ducks. Their prospects don’t match up with the Edmonton Oilers or the Calgary Flames or the Arizona Coyotes. They’re a day late and a dollar short.
This isn’t an industry for excuses, though. And that surely has to weigh on Canucks Head Coach Willie Desjardins. The embattled bench boss spoke at length of the ties that bound him as he tried to develop young players and remain competitive at the same time. With his job on the line, he’s not likely to grant that quarter this time around.
In the end, though, all those efforts are likely for not. As with most things in life, the Canucks likely can’t have their cake and eat it too. They’ll probably need to get worse before they get appreciably better. They might not be a 65 point team, but they’re probably not a playoff team either. Then again, I’ve seen worse teams make it to the dance. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Key Additions: W Loui Eriksson, W Anton Rodin D Erik Gudbranson & D Philip Larsen
Key Subtractions: W Radim Vrbata, C Jared McCann, C Linden Vey, W Chris Higgins, W Brandon Prust, D Matt Bartkowski, D Dan Hamhuis, D Yannick Weber
2015-16 Record: 31-38-13
2015-16 Scoring: 2.27 Goals per game, 2.91 Goals against per game.
2015-16 Special Teams: Power Play 15.8%, Penalty Kill 81.1%
Standings: 6th in Pacific Division, 13th Western Conference and 28th Overall
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Daniel Sedin||Henrik Sedin||Loui Eriksson|
|Brendan Gaunce||Brandon Sutter||Jannik Hansen|
|Sven Baertschi||Markus Granlund||Jake Virtanen|
|Alexandre Burrows||Bo Horvat||Derek Dorsett|
|Alexander Edler||Chris Tanev|
|Ben Hutton||Erik Gudbranson|
|Luca Sbisa||Philip Larsen|
|Nikita Tryamkin||Alex Biega|
2016-17 Cap Space: $3.23 million
2016-17 Contracts: 47