It might feel like it’s not a good time to be a fan of the Vancouver Canucks after a disappointing 2016-17 season, but sometimes all it takes is for a team to get into the playoffs — and then something special can happen. Look at this season’s Nashville Predators, who were the 16th overall seed in the postseason and reached the Stanley Cup Final, losing in six to Pittsburgh. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers were two of the worst teams in the NHL in 2015-16 and now are rising powers. Yes, it helps they have franchise players Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid, respectively.
As recently as 2012-13, the Canucks were Northwest Division champions (before realignment). However, that team was swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by San Jose and it has been all downhill since. The one-year John Tortorella experiment in 2013-14 was a failure. The next three years under Willie Desjardins weren’t any better.
Last season, the Canucks weren’t the best Canadian team in the league as they finished with just 69 points. The club went an NHL-worst 7-23-3 over its final 33 games — a 42-point pace over a full season. Their 12 straight games without a victory at Rogers Arena (0-9-3) to close out the year also broke a franchise record. The Canucks’ last home win in regulation was Jan. 20.
All of that losing, to no surprise, cost Desjardins his job. Even the draft lottery went against the Canucks as they had the second-best chance of winning it but instead slipped to the No. 5 overall spot in the first round, the worst possible outcome. Last year the Canucks selected Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with the fifth overall pick. He had a strong 2016-17 season with London in the OHL (10 goals, 32 assists, plus-26) and looks to be a good building block for the Canucks.
What can fans and bettors expect from Vancouver in 2017-18? A review of the odds on Bodog sees the Canucks at +7500 to win the 2018 Stanley Cup, those are not the best odds in the NHL.
Travis Green, a native of Castlegar, British Columbia, is the 19th head coach in franchise history. Green spent the last four seasons coaching Vancouver’s top farm team, the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League. Green spent 14 years as a player in the NHL with the Islanders, Ducks, Coyotes, Maple Leafs and Bruins. His final season was 2006-07 and his best came in 1995-96 for the Islanders when he scored 70 points in 69 games.
Green’s first job is to fix an offense that scored only 178 goals last year, the fewest in franchise history in an 82-game season. The only club with fewer was Colorado (165). The power play also was 29th in the NHL at 14.1 percent. Henrik and Daniel Sedin, the former faces of the franchise, combined for only 94 points. Both brothers had at least that many by themselves as recently as 2010-11. The two each have one year left on their contracts, earning $7 million each next season. They also have no-movement clauses so surely will be on the team even though they will be 37 in September and don’t really fit in a rebuilding project.
Loui Eriksson was a massive free-agent bust. Given a six-year, $36 million deal last July, Eriksson dropped from 30 goals and 33 assists in his final season with Boston to 11 goals and 24 points with Vancouver. At that salary, the Canucks are going to be stuck with the guy. It’s hard to imagine that Eriksson isn’t significantly better in 2017-18.
A bright spot was 22-year-old centre Bo Horvat leading the team with 52 points. He was the first non-Sedin to lead the Canucks in scoring since Markus Naslund in 2005-2006. Horvat, Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund are the top returning scorers under the age of 25. It’s a good place to start.
In addition, no key players are free agents. Goaltender Ryan Miller is a UFA, but he’s soon-to-be 37 and likely not a true No. 1 any longer. Miller was 18-29-6 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 2016-17. He could still be brought back. Otherwise, Jacob Markstrom is in line for the top job. He was a solid 10-11-3 with a 2.63 GAA and .910 save percentage last year but has never been a true No. 1 or played more than 33 games in a season.
The Canucks do have plenty of money to spend in free agency, which opens July 1, as they are projected to be more than $17 million under the 2017-18 salary cap. That could come in handy for trade purposes as many top teams are tight up against the cap and could trade a top young prospect to Vancouver for the Canucks to accept a big salary.
Vancouver may miss the playoffs again next year, but at least it likely won’t finish last in the Pacific this time. The expansion Golden Knights should land there. A review of the odds on Bodog has Vegas as a +10000 long shot to win the 2018 Cup and the Canucks at +7500 to win the 2018 Stanley Cup. The Canucks will learn who they lose to the Golden Knights on June 21 in the expansion draft.