Player movement can be tough on a fanbase. Supporters of NHL teams are often forced to watch the players that their favourite franchise drafted and developed go on to find success elsewhere, and that’s never easy – though at least hockey fans have it better than those who follow the NBA, where superstars seem to swap addresses on a yearly basis.
In both the past and present, the Vancouver Canucks fanbase has felt the sting of regrettable transactions. Sure, winning a trade – see Gudbranson-for-Pearson or Stojanov-for-Naslund – is all well and good, but it just doesn’t match the hurt that comes from a less fortuitous deal – like the one that brought Erik Gudbranson to Vancouver in the first place or the one that sent Cam Neely to Boston and then the Hockey Hall of Fame.
And for every quality free agent signing, there’s sure to be a Loui Eriksson waiting in the wings to give fans conniptions on each-and-every Canada Day.
The cruel nature of player movement has often led to idle fantasizing about a return to the good ol’ days of sport, where an individual played for the franchise that drafted them until they retired – or until the owner ran them out of town, whichever came first. From the perspective of this labour-supporting author, that sounds pretty terrible – but it also makes for fun speculation, so we’re going to dive in anyway.
Please enjoy this hypothetical look at what the Vancouver Canucks’ roster would look like in 2019/20 if trades and unrestricted free agency did not exist. That means the Canucks would only be able to use players they had actually selected in the Entry Draft – or those they signed as undrafted prospects, like the Chris Tanevs and Kellan Lains of the world.
Jared McCann-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser
Two-thirds of the Canucks’ top line remains intact – but it’s a pretty steep drop-off from JT Miller to Jared McCann. The former first round pick is currently playing center for the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sidney Crosby out of the lineup – and pacing to have the best offensive season of his career – but he’s just as experienced playing on the wing at the NHL level.
A first line of McCann with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser would probably still be fairly effective, and there are certainly worse top units out there – but it would be nowhere near as potent as the Lotto Line.
Michael Grabner-Bo Horvat-Jake Virtanen
The second line is where the Canucks’ recent inability to draft quality wingers becomes apparent. Aside from Brock Boeser, the most recent top-six winger drafted by the Canucks was Michael Grabner back in 2006. Even then, the 32-year-old has typically played further down the lineup than that during his time in the NHL – and we’ve got him playing on his non-preferred side, to boot.
Jake Virtanen occupies Bo Horvat’s other wing here, though he has a whole lot less competition for the spot in this hypothetical scenario than he does in the real world of the 2019/20 season. At the very least, the Canucks’ dearth of successful winger selections might mean that Horvat finally gets consistent – if not quality – linemates.
And yes, we realize that in a world without trades the Canucks would have never been able to draft Horvat 9th overall in 2013 – but we’re choosing to ignore that.
Jordan Schroeder-Adam Gaudette-Anton Rodin
The good news is that Adam Gaudette no longer has to compete with Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle for a gig at the center position in our imaginary circumstances. It’s a bit of a monkey’s paw, however, because he’s flanked by two wingers who haven’t seen NHL ice in a good while.
Jordan Schroeder was once a highly-touted prospect, and has remained on the big league periphery ever since – possessing a two-way contract as recently as the end of last season. His most recent NHL games came in 2017/18, and he’s currently putting up solid numbers for the Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo in the KHL.
Anton Rodin beats out Sergei Shirokov for the right wing position due to his younger age and the fact that he’s more recently attracted NHL attention – signing with Anaheim for the 2018/19 season but terminating the contract after training camp. After two years in Switzerland, Rodin is right back to ripping up the SHL – and he represents a better option on Gaudette’s wing than anyone else the franchise has drafted recently.
Darren Archibald-Brendan Gaunce-Zack MacEwen
The undrafted free agent Zack MacEwen is the only player of promise on this hypothetical fourth line – and he’s accompanied by two individuals whose NHL days have probably passed them by. This trio has two big league games in the 2019/20 season between them, and both of them belong to MacEwen.
Darren Archibald is currently plying his trade for the Toronto Marlies, and he continues to be one of the hardest-hitting forwards in professional hockey. He made it into three games for the Ottawa Senators last year.
Brendan Gaunce, on the other hand, is having the best offensive start of his AHL career for the Providence Bruins – but he hasn’t received much of a look from Boston as of yet.
This fourth line is indicative of the lack of depth afforded by Vancouver’s shaky history of drafting and developing forwards – and it might just make fans a little more grateful for the presence of Jay Beagle.
Alex Edler-Chris Tanev
On the whole, the Canucks’ defense fares a lot better than their forward corps do in this hypothetical trade-free world. The Canucks’ top-four defenders are all members of the actual 2019/20 team, and they’re also arguably the four best blueliners on the current roster.
Since we’re ordering players based on their ability level, we’re pairing Alex Edler and Chris Tanev for the time being. Were this roster to actually hit the ice, however, it would likely be Edler with Troy Stecher and Tanev with Quinn Hughes.
In any case, the Edler-Tanev duo – a third round draft pick and an undrafted free agent, respectively – represent absolute home runs for the organization.
Quinn Hughes-Troy Stecher
Quinn Hughes is probably already the best defenseman on the Canucks’ real roster, and he’s already managed to outstrip the expectations of his lofty draft position. Troy Stecher essentially made the team right out of college, a relatively rare accomplishment for an undrafted free agent defender.
Together, this pairing may not represent the “bang-for-buck” factor of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev – but they’re not that far behind.
Ben Hutton-Nikita Tryamkin
The new third pairing features a player that was a Canuck as recently as last season and one who is still technically Vancouver property – and might be angling to rejoin the team in 2020. Ben Hutton has been logging solid minutes for a terrible Kings roster after signing a one-year deal with Los Angeles – which suggests he’s more than capable of a bottom-pairing job.
Nikita Tryamkin’s return to the KHL hasn’t quite been the raging success he hoped it would be, but he’s still reportedly in the Canucks’ future plans – and looked perfectly comfortable playing on the blueline back in 2016/17.
Hutton and Tryamkin may not anywhere near the quality of Jordie Benn and Tyler Myers, but they’re a heck of a lot cheaper – and still have the look of a competent NHL pairing.
With no Jacob Markstrom in the way, Thatcher Demko would have easily glided in the starter’s job by now. He’d just have to beat out Cory Schneider for the gig – and given that Schneider has gone calendar years between wins and recently cleared waivers, that’s more-or-less a foregone conclusion. In fact, under these imaginary circumstances Demko would likely be a seasoned veteran already at the age of 23 – because the Canucks would be desperate for goaltending by the time he left Boston College.
Cory Schneider may no longer be an NHL goaltender, but he’s still got enough in the tank to hold down the Canucks’ backup position in a world without trades or UFAs. Having long since cast aside the challenges of David Honzik and Joe Cannata, Schneider would have served as Vancouver’s starter until Thatcher Demko usurped him – and he’d probably be spending much of 2019/20 riding the pine and nervously keeping tabs on Mike DiPietro’s rookie season with Utica.