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Photo Credit: The Coaches Site

Canucks Can Look To Predators, Oilers & Leafs For Hope

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.

  • DJ_44

    Some times I wonder if the author of the post (I would be loathe to put my name on this one as well) has even watched the Canucks, or Western Conference teams in general. This syndrome is rampant in the eastern media for the simple reason they do not watch the games. They are on too late for them. This is why, for the most part, western media and fans are better informed, because we can watch a lot of Eastern conference games with the 4 or 430 start times.

    Take this post for example. It is factually wrong.
    “The one-year John Tortorella experiment in 2013-14 was a failure. The next three years under Willie Desjardins weren’t any better.”

    Two poor seasons under Willie, yes, but his first season (2014/2015) was 101 pts and 2nd in the Pacific. That is six points better than the miracle 2017 Leafs that squeaked in thanks to the big boys resting some star players, better than 2017 Predators, and on par with the 2017 Oilers. Now I am not say we have not be transitioning the line-up over the last 3 seasons, and are experiencing the pain associated with it, but do not diminish a really good season and what should have been a longer playoff run.

    No significant free agents? I would consider Bo significant. No mention of Boeser in the up and comers? Come on, that is just lazy. CapFriendly is a wonderful thing. Use it.

    On the bright side, we were not subjected to the name Subban in the article.

    • Goon

      Have to agree – misleading headline, too. “Oilers, Leafs and Preds were bad, now they’re good. Canucks are bad, maybe they’ll be good too” isn’t exactly insightful, hard-hitting analysis.

      The Canucks were awful last year. They’re likely going to be awful for the foreseeable future. If that’s all you’re writing, why bother writing anything at all? We all know this.

    • Jabs

      I don’t have a problem with the article, I thought it is quite positive and looking to better things ahead and some good points are made.
      Regarding the free agents, from the context that is given, this is clearly pointing towards UFA’s.
      I agree Willie was a failure during his tenure. His first season was a good regular season but a lot of credit for that goes to the talent that was still in Vancouver at that time. Come playoff time it became painfully obvious that Willie was very outmatched as a coach at the highest level.

    • Missing Lou

      I watched most of the games last year…. this article forgot to mention that the Comets made up nearly half of the NHL roster. Hard to finish near the top with an AHL roster.

  • Bagged Almond Milk

    I hate to say it but I think the Canucks have a few years left to rebuild, as it has only somewhat started now….. The Oilers took Ten years to get back to the playoffs… They made some extremely poor decisions along the way, but the fact remains that any rebuild doesn’t happen overnight. The leafs were lucky this past season, and the Preds might have the best d Core in the league…. Again, this didn’t happen over 1 season….

      • Goon

        The fact that there’s been roster turnover doesn’t mean they’ve been rebuilding. You don’t sign multiple veterans to $5+ million contracts when you’re rebuilding – you do that when you’re contending.

        The rebuild started with the trade deadline this year and the departure of Burrows and Hansen. That’s the first sign we’ve seen that management knows the current team can’t compete and they need to rebuild. Up to that point, everything they said and did pointed to a management group that believed they had a competitive roster.

        • Killer Marmot

          Before those trades, Benning had introduced Horvat, Baertschi, Granlund, Gaunce, Hutton, Stecher, Tryamkin, Gudbranson, Sbisa, Virtanen, Rodin, and others into the lineup.

          Not all of these young players worked out and not every one is a gem, but over a three-year year stretch that’s a consider infusion of young talent.

          • These are mostly young players that were already in the system when he arrived, or acquired for young players who were in the system when he arrived, and is part of normal roster turnover, not a “rebuild”.

            Look at teams like San Jose, Chicago, and Pittsburgh – all these teams have developed notable players over the past few years who are now in the lineup and contributing. None of those teams have been rebuilding.

          • Prior to the trade deadline, six of the team’s top nine forwards were veterans and five of those six were over the age of 30 (Sedin, Sedin, Eriksson, Hansen, and Burrows), the team’s top four defencemen were veterans with three of those four being over the age of 25 (Edler, Tanev, Sbisa, and Gudbranson), and the team’s starting goaltender was over 35.

            That is not the roster of a rebuilding team.

          • Killer Marmot

            These are mostly young players that were already in the system when he arrived, or acquired for young players who were in the system when he arrived, and is part of normal roster turnover, not a “rebuild”.

            You rebuild by getting young players on the roster. Where you find those young players — whether they are drafted or already in the system or traded for — makes little difference.

            Going into next season, I expect seven or eight out of the twelve starting forwards will be 25 or under. The Canucks will be one of the youngest teams in the league. To say that the rebuilding is just starting is preposterous.

        • DJ_44

          Multiple veterans to $5M contracts? That’s a bit disingenuous. Eriksson was the only contract that fit that category.

          Unless of course you are harping on the Miller signing, which has proved to be quality since it has provided some stability in the net moving forward. The team took a goaltender in the 2nd rd of their first draft to address the future of the team, and Miller has given them three years to sort out the transition. Hopefully Markstrom, despite a tough year last year, can bounce back and fill in until Demko is ready. I will say it again, the age of a transition goaltender does not matter, provided they are solid.

          I suggest the transition started when GMJB and TL took over, and they have followed a plan, which is to get younger. There had the minefield of high priced, long term NMC/NTC contract to get through, but they are basically out the other side.

          As for Burrows(NTC) and Hansen(M-NTC); do you think they could have gotten anywhere near the return they received at the TDL if they moved them last summer? Don’t know, but probably not.

          Upfront they had Horvat (21), Baerschi (23), Gaunce (22) Granlund (23), Rodin (25), Sutter (27) and later Molino (23), Sure, they had some fillers in Chaput (24), Megna (26), Dorsett (29). Yes, they have the Sedins. Yes, they signed Eriksson (and I am not overly bothered by that one).

          On defence, they had Tryamkin (21), Stecher(22), Hutton (23), Gudbranson (24), Sbisa (26) and Tanev (26). That looks like a rebuilding team to me. Yes they have an NTC in Edler (31) and Biega (filler) (28). It is what it is. They also have some quailty D prospects coming up. Their D-corp was younger than the Leafs, or anyone else in the league (probably one team younger but too lazy to look.

          Sbisa, Chaput, Megna, Dorsett,and to a lesser extent Sutter are placeholders until the prospects are NHL ready. I my opinion, a rebuilding team does not go with everyone under 25 … (see Edmonton before McDavid).

          (note, all ages were as of the start of the 2016/17 season)

          • Brandon Sutter is a veteran Benning signed to a $5+ million contract. Prior to that, Benning signed Radim Vrbata and Ryan Miller to $5+ million contracts, though I think you can make a fair argument that that team *could* have been competitive and didn’t necessarily need a full rebuild. But every season Benning has been here, he’s signed at least one $5+ million contract for a veteran player.

            It’s hard to see any plan in place since Benning has been in charge. He’s vascilated between signing older players like Miller, Vrbata, Eriksson, and Dorsett to medium or long-term contracts, trading young prospects for slightly more mature prospects, and trading veterans for picks and prospects. This suggests management that can’t decide if they’re a contender, if they need a “retooling”, or if they need a full-on rebuild. All the messaging from management since Linden and Benning took over suggests the same thing – one day they think they’re a contender, the next day they think they need a retool, the next day they need a full rebuild. If there’s been a plan in place for the past three years, it’s a completely nonsensical one.

          • DJ_44

            Not quite, Sutter was extended as a 25yr old at $4.3-4.4 M, not $5M. Right on with Vrbata, 2 years at $5M, but at a more competitive stage…he fell off a cliff.

            I do not think it is difficult to see the plan. Get younger by filling in the obvious age gap with some talent (this is your young prospects for better, slightly older prospects example). Draft well and try to remain competitive while the prospects mature.

            They have been consistent in this message, at least form 2015 on. The only inconsistent action in this plan was the Eriksson signing. That is it. He is the only piece that may not be around (or their contracts expire) when the group will be challenging.

            Not all moves pay off; such is life. But I do not see any moves (other than Eriksson) that is inconsistent with a rebuilding, or transitioning team.

          • Missing Lou

            I don’t want to use the Coiler rebuild model, we need some vets in the line up to bring the up and comers along. Vancouver has cap space so I am not upset that we have older players. Unfortunately I think this phase Vancouver is in will take some time.

    • Neil B

      The Oilers took roughly 4 years to get back to the playoffs, and wasted 6. That’s not the same as taking 10 years to get back in. The average NHL ‘life’ of a player is just over 5 years; with roughly 2-3 draft+ years to make it to the NHL, we can see that any rebuild can really only be 8.5 years, max. Any longer than that, and all you’ve done is ball up & throw away the careers of the first two seasons’ draft picks.

      And, by the way, that’s rebuild-to-rebuild time; if you are actually looking at how long until you hit your window, it’s probably 4-6 years, tops.

  • Neil B

    Well, that was a bust of a column. FIrstly, “The next three years under Willie Desjardins weren’t any better” is factually incorrect. The first year under Desjardins was significantly better.

    That’s the problem, of course.

    Had Willie D’s first season been a bottom-5 finish, JB’s assessment of his team might likely have been “yep, we definitely need to knock down & rebuild.” Instead, the team finished with 101 points, tied for 8th overall in the NHL, 5th in their conference, and with only one fewer ROW (42) than division-leading Anaheim (43). Willie gave the team structure, and created the illusion that there were still a couple good years left in the Sedins’ tanks, if their time was managed properly. That really set us back 2-3 years on the rebuild.

  • Killer Marmot

    The defense rebuild took a hit when Tryamkin jumped ship.

    The good news is that the rebuilding of the forward lines is accelerating. Boeser, Goldobin, Dahlen, Gaudette, and a fifth-overall draft pick look like a solid set of up-and-comers. Plus we can’t write off Virtanen, Rodin, or Molino.

          • Bud Poile

            Boeser,Juolevi and Demko are all top – ten draft pick calibre players.
            Throw in Granlund,Goldobin,Baertschi and this year’s fifth and there is a few more.
            That’s a lot of first-line potential in just three years.

      • fretallack

        That list might not have a McDavid on it, but I’d say that forward group has the potential to be better than Nashville’s in a couple years, depending on how that 5th overall pick turns out. Obviously, we would still need 3 more high end dmen to compare overall… but hey 2 more top 6 draft picks and something in return for Tanev in a year or two and the nucks could be set up for success in a couple of years…

    • Neil B

      Let’s not overstate the value of the BFG. His top-end development potential was certainly intriguing; what he actually brought to the table was essentially dead-average 3rd pairing play, with a below-average 3rd pairing first assist rating, while playing a physical (although not aggressively physical) game. If McEneny continues on his development path like hie did in the last half of last season, he could replace what Groot actually did, and with a bit more attitude.

  • I’m not one of the Eriksson haters. Desjardins didn’t put him in a position to succeed. If you’re going to pay a guy a Top 3 scorer salary, play him in that role. Don’t play Megna over him. I hope Green puts Eriksson back with the Sedins, gets rid of Desjardins’ restrictive defensive strategy and let them run a dynamic cycle game at 5v5 and on the PP.

  • TheRealPB

    Terrible clickbait article, especially since the Leafs, Oilers and Preds have all had distinctly different histories the past decade and half, with Nashville being a relatively good if boring defensive team for most of that time and TO and EDM being the tire-fires we all know them to have been. As others have already covered, this article looks like it’s been written by someone who hasn’t actually watched the Canucks. It’s not really analysis if you simply look at a situation from afar (or read about it fourth hand) and bring nothing new to the table.

  • I am Ted

    If you’re going to post an article, at least get a competent blogger to pen it. This guy is a moron. Has he finished high school? This writing is bushleague.

    Coilers have been a pile of steaming doo doo for over 20 years – yes, they had a couple of good seasons in there but other than that…Coilers.

    Leafs have been a joke for decades as well . Morons will go on about their Cup wins etc but hey….the last time this sad sack franchise won a Cup, there were 6 teams in the league?! Something like that?! Sadly, the rest of Canada gets subjected to the Laffs every Saturday thanks for the Canadian Bullsh!t Channel. Sad but true.

    Canucks are on the slow rebuild and it isn’t easy but a lot of us stick by the team. It’s hockey. It’s entertainment. I’m OK with the results whatever they may be. I’d like to see the Canucks win a Cup but I’ll live if they don’t. There are other things in life.

    • Bud Poile

      Henrik was tied with Bo for team scoring honors going into the last game of the season.
      This team can use the Sedins for a few more years yet.
      Re:”It’s hard to imagine that Eriksson isn’t significantly better in 2017-18.”
      I beg to differ. It’s easy to imagine he’s a lot better.

  • canuckfan

    I see the Canucks being a lot better than what the pundits see. Willie was hell bent on defense, which is important but hard to score when you are constantly defending. The power play is the key, and was what I thought was going to be the key last year. But there was no imagination just too predictable. We lost a lot of games by one goal and am sure the power play in a lot of those games may have been able to tie and take into overtime. Having a poor power play has to be hard on the moral of the team, where it should be a momentum builder . If teams are hammering us constantly the best way to stop that is by scoring on the power play stops the other team from spearing, bad hits etc. If we don’t score they will keep with the dirty tactics. I think we will be better next year and will be in playoff hunt right up to the end. Tanking is not an option with lottery. For those who say Leafs and Oilers way of building a team is the way to go it is hard to duplicate sheer luck of winning lottery with those teams winning the lottery in those particular draft years they would still be at the bottom. Having generational superstars goes a long way to bringing success.

  • RandomScrub

    This is a horribly written article. “Last season, the Canucks weren’t the best Canadian team in the league as they finished with just 69 points.”

    No, they weren’t the best. In fact, they were the worst. Is this supposed to have a sarcastic tone, or does the author simply not know how to write sentences? Also, the content scarcely relates to the headline. This article has no business being published. Who is the editor who posted this?