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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Monday Mailbag: 2020, Year Of The Loui

The Vancouver Canucks just responded to two disastrous Florida defeats with back-to-back matinee victories over Buffalo and Minnesota – so what better time for CanucksArmy’s resident optimist, Stephan Roget, to pop in and take over the Monday Mailbag for a week?

Meaning no offense to Ten Zowie or anyone else who uses it, I’ve got to get this one of my chest – I really don’t like the shorthand of “Noox.” I can’t put my finger on why, but something about it makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Now, on to the actual question. I’m no analytician myself, but even the best numberists would probably have a tough time pinning down exactly where the Canucks are going to finish this season. The Western Conference in general and the Pacific Division specifically have been ultra-competitive in 2019/20, and that means that final positioning for all teams is going to come down to the wire.

That being said, two easy predictors of future success after this much sample size are Points Percentage and Goal Differential – both of which reflect well on the Canucks. They’re fifth in the Western Conference in both categories, which seems to suggest they’ll be making the most of the games-in-hand they currently hold.

My personal prediction? I’ll go bold and put them 3rd in the Pacific Division.

 

The simplest answer is that the Canucks have been winning. There’s not a lot of statistical evidence out there that Tim Schaller has been contributing to any of these wins – aside from his contributions to the penalty kill – but he was just in the lineup for a seven-game winning streak, and that has to count for something.

In reality, it’s probably well past time to see whether or not someone like Zack MacEwen could add more to the team than Schaller is currently bringing – but Travis Green seems to like what he’s seeing and definitely likes to stick with what is working.

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For the Vancouver Canucks, a Sven Baertschi-for-Dale Weise swap would have come entirely down to contracts. Weise’s deal expires at the end of the season and has a cap hit of $2.35 million, whereas Baertschi’s has an additional year and a cap hit of $3.37 million. That would represent some pretty valuable cap space for the Canucks – so much so that I’d suspect they would have had to include an additional asset if this trade had gone down.

The Montreal perspective is a little trickier to figure out. Their winger depth is pretty weak, but up until recently they still had their sights set on the playoffs in 2020 – something that would require them to find some scoring somewhere. They were likely intending to take a flyer on Baertschi until Ilya Kovalchuk became available and they decided to go in a different direction – and they seem to have made the right choice.

 

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Josh Teves has been the unfortunate victim of a rare circumstance that has benefitted the franchise as a whole – a healthy blueline. None of the Canucks’ top-six defenders have missed significant time in 2019/20, and that has meant fewer call-ups from Utica – and less of a chance for Teves to get into the lineup.

It’s disappointing from an individual perspective, but not entirely unexpected. NCAA free agents are always a crapshoot, and it’s tough to feel all that let down by Teves when the other college defender Jim Benning signed at the same time, Brogan Rafferty, is proving so successful.

That being said, Teves’ story is still far from over. The health of the Canucks’ blueline won’t hold forever, and he’ll get his shot.

 

Yes, but it comes with a caveat.

Loui Eriksson is definitely playing his best hockey as a Canuck right now, and he’s somehow managed to elevate the play of Bo Horvat – who had been quietly struggling up until this point. That’s plenty of reason to celebrate, and it’s been nice to have Eriksson represent something other than a distraction for once. So, yes, let’s all be happy for Loui in 2020.

Keep in mind, however, that if the Canucks don’t figure out something to do with him over the next calendar year, 2021 will mark the point at which Eriksson’s ridiculous contract actually becomes consequential. That’s the year in which the Canucks will have to re-sign Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes – and it’s going to suddenly become a whole lot tougher to smile about empty net goals from everyone’s favourite $6 million man.

 

I think the plan was always for Olli Juolevi to spend the majority of 2019/20 with the Utica Comets. That’s definitely not what the organization envisioned when they drafted him, but it’s the reality of Juolevi essentially losing a season of development to injury.

He’s still just 21 years old, and his development track wouldn’t even be in question if he wasn’t drafted 5th overall. At this point, I would argue that finding some NHL time for the 24-year-old Brogan Rafferty should be a higher priority.

 

Defensive depth is always valuable for a team hoping to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For that reason, the Canucks would absolutely be able to find a taker for Jordie Benn and his still-quite-reasonable contract if they were to put him on the market. For that same reason, the Canucks should hang on to him for the time being.

Benn was always signed to be a bottom-pairing defenseman, and those sorts of players aren’t always in the lineup consistently. His production with Montreal last year certainly seems to have been an anomaly, but fortunately Vancouver didn’t give him a contract based on that.

The nice thing about signing a player at a bargain price is that even when they underperform they’re still paid fairly. That’s the case for Benn at the current moment.

 

Hey, look everyone! It’s Ryan Hank, host of The PP1 Podcast, fittingly asking questions about the PP. If you’re not already following that crew on Twitter, do so!

When Ryan asked this question, I didn’t know off the top of my head where the Canucks’ powerplay ranked leaguewide, and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that they were among the NHL’s best – which really speaks to Ryan’s point. The Canucks’ powerplay usually has fans at home screaming at their TVs to “MOVE!” and “SHOOT!” – but somehow it still works out better than the majority of man advantages around the league.

With the personnel they have, it really seems like the Canucks should be able to put on a bit more of a powerplay “show” on a regular basis. Maybe that’s because we’re all spoiled from a decade of Sedin excellence, but if I had to put my own optimistic spin on it, I’d say that it’s evidence that the unit still has potential to grow.

To actually answer the question, the Canucks’ PP is one of the best in the NHL, but they’re also not performing at their best – and they’ll be downright scary if they ever manage to put it all together.