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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

6 storylines to watch heading into the 2021 Vancouver Canucks season

This is going to be a season like we’ve never seen before, and hopefully the last of its kind. All signs point to an all Canadian division and realignment to our neighbours to the south. However, right here in Vancouver, there’s plenty to discuss when it comes to lineups and contracts.

These are the most intriguing storylines heading into camp and the start of the season.

Who will ride shotgun with Bo Horvat?

 If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, which should be the case for the lotto line, leaving Tanner Pearson on the left side of Bo Horvat, and the right-wing spot wide open. Last season we saw the pair play with Loui Eriksson, Jake Virtanen, and Josh Leivo. It was pretty much a carousel of wingers on the right side.

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The two most used players on that line are back for another year as general manager Jim Benning tried to part ways with Eriksson but just couldn’t find a dance partner; while Virtanen signed a two-year contract in the offseason worth $2.55 million per year after setting career highs in goals and assists.

With limited cap space available — if Micheal Ferland goes on LTIR — the likes of Nils Höglander and Kole Lind will likely get a look with Horvat during training camp. However, unless the Canucks can acquire a top-six forward, it looks as if Virtanen will be the favourite to slide in on the right side in the top six once the season begins.

The Loui Eriksson debate 

What to do with Eriksson? The best stretch of hockey he played last year was when he provided some insurance late in games, which was a massive part of the Canucks holding onto leads late in games. Averaging 12:22 a night, Eriksson played on the PK and saw stints on the 2nd and 4th line when he wasn’t a healthy scratch.

As mentioned earlier, reports have said that Benning was on the phones trying to work out a solution for all parties involved, but with Eriksson’s cap hit, a high sweetener surely would have had to been involved, which Benning was opposed too.

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If Eriksson ends up losing the second line job to Virtanen or somebody else, he will find himself among the players battling for the 13th forward spot. If it plays out like last year, that could be a blessing in disguise. Having a veteran on the team who can play big minutes and hold his own defensively in a season that will surely see injuries will be vital.

However, the 13th forward spot could be a fight throughout the entire season. Eriksson, Höglander, Lind, Jayce Hawryluk, Justin Bailey, Zack MacEwen and others could see some time during the year to keep everyone fresh.

Taxi Squad Members

A proposed 52 or 56 game schedule means a whole lot of hockey in the next few months. Keeping everyone healthy is the main priority, but what will happen if players get COVID-19? Or are forced out with an injury?

If the Canucks decide to keep the Comets in Utica — as has been widely reported — what will that mean for called up players going across the border?

The feasible option would be to have an expanded taxi squad or roster (if the NHL allows). If that is the case, having players rotate from time to time could play a great hand with the coaching staff.

Defence situation 

With Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher leaving in the offseason, the Canucks are hoping Nate Schmidt, who can play the right side, can be a sufficient enough option. The top four is basically set in stone with Quinn Hughes, Alex Edler, Tyler Myers and Schmidt, which leaves the fifth, sixth, and seventh defence spots there for the taking.

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Jordie Benn, who played in 44 games the past season, has his foot in the door for one of the final spots as he too can play both sides of the ice. Two more spots should be available for Olli Juolevi, Jalen Chatfield, Brogan Rafferty, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jack Rathbone to battle it out for. Though I believe Juolevi has a leg up for the starting job, given his strong impression on Green during July’s return to play.

How many games will the goalies split?

With a shortened season with the potential for a lot of back to backs, this season could work wonders for Thatcher Demko and his development into becoming a starter. If the league does go to a 56 game schedule, will we see a 28/28 even split, or will the Canucks lean more on veteran goalie Braden Holtby? Having Demko play half the games when you consider the long term outlook of the team, especially considering Holtby could be snatched up by the Seattle Kraken during the expansion draft next offseason.

Green’s contract

The longer the Canucks don’t ink their current bench boss, the more questions will be raised and will drag out the entire year until he is signed. The Canucks should sign Green and not have him in a lame-duck situation. He has earned it, and for everyone’s sake, let’s hope it’s before training camp or again, the players and Green will be talking about this.

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With the season still presumably about a month away, these storylines can still change, but training camp is quickly approaching, with more and more Canucks making their way to Vancouver.