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Photo Credit: © Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The best and worst case scenarios for the Vancouver Canucks’ 2021 offseason

The Vancouver Canucks are gearing up for what should be a pivotal offseason, but not in a super exciting way. The Canucks won’t have the cap flexibility to add much to their roster via free agency or trades (unless they get incredibly creative), and the real intrigue lies within a few of the current members of the organization.

Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Travis Green highlight the crop of business that the team needs to take care of this offseason, along with whatever Jim Benning decides to do, which could simultaneously be impressive and heartbreaking for Canucks fans.

I want to take a look at how the Canucks could make this offseason great with a few moves both in and out of their control, but I will also lay out some doomsday scenarios that may come to fruition this summer.

Best Case Scenarios

Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are re-signed for a total of under $13 million AAV

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but the Canucks have some salary cap issues. In fact, some would say it’s been quite the issue lately. Assuming Jim Benning will still be the General Manager this offseason, he will have to make some smart moves and allocate money wisely if he expects his team to be competitive next season. The issue is that ‘creativity’ doesn’t seem to be part of Benning’s vocabulary.

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One thing I will give Benning credit for is his ability to re-sign pending free agents at reasonable price points. Tanner Pearson’s deal pokes a hole in that statement but Thatcher Demko, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser’s contracts are reasonable. None of those deals are Home Runs, but they’re ok, which seems to be this management group’s sweet spot. Benning’s resume with UFA’s is obviously a whole different story.

If Benning can get the two cornerstone pieces in Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes locked up for under $13 million combined that would be a win in my books, even if they are bridge deals. Vancouver only has a projected $15.8 million in cap space available for 2021-22, so that would give the Canucks the ability to at least try to add another winger or depth piece on defence for next season.

Travis Green returns

I maintain that the only reason the Canucks made it to game 7 against the Golden Knights last year was because Travis Green made the necessary adjustments to keep games close. They obviously had two excellent goaltenders that won them most games, but the team also played in a way that limited chances as much as possible. The skill just wasn’t available for the team to truly contend, and Green squeezed every drop from that roster.

That being said, I don’t think Green is irreplaceable, he still has his flaws but coaches need time to develop as well. The bigger worry for me is that the organization would be unwilling to spend money on the coaching staff, which would mean whoever does replace Green would be unproven at the NHL level. That’s not ideal for a team that is supposedly entering into a competitive window shortly, so it’s probably in the team’s best interest to retain their current Head Coach. The latest reporting suggests that this will indeed be the case.

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Bo Horvat gets a winger

This is the annual topic. In my view, the Canucks have five out of six spots filled on their top two lines with Pettersson, Horvat, Boeser, JT Miller, and Nils Höglander. Vasily Podkolzin seems like he could be the missing piece there, but not every prospect can come in and immediately make an impact, despite how much luck the Canucks have had recently in that area. I hope Podkolzin does come in and match what the Canucks have gotten from rookies lately, but there should also be some insurance in the case that he needs some time lower in the lineup. Also, wouldn’t it be nice to have depth, you know, for when players get injured and stuff? I think it’d be nice.

The Seattle Kraken choose Braden Holtby

Holtby has had a bit of an up-and-down year in Vancouver, with him finding his game recently. I still think it was a wise decision to bring him in this past offseason, it’s always good to have insurance, especially in net. We also hadn’t seen Demko prove himself for an extended run like we are seeing now.

The issue is that we now know what Demko is, and that means the Canucks have an overpaid backup goalie. There is only one year remaining at $4.3 million after this year on Holtby’s contract so it’s not a complete albatross, but it would be much better spent elsewhere on the roster, especially if Mikey DiPietro is ready to back up next season. The easiest way to get out from that contract is if he heads south of the border to the Kraken, which would also give the Canucks a bit more wiggle room if contract talks with Pettersson and Hughes hit a snag.

Loui Eriksson disappears

I promise I mean disappear in the nicest way. Like, I hope he gets to tend to a farm in Dallas or Sweden or something, reminiscing on his days in the NHL and spending his millions on headbands in Mexico.

Seriously though, there would be a lot of doors that open if Eriksson was to retire and free up $6 million in cap space. A buyout would not be as beneficial, but it would free up a couple million as his cap hit would drop to $4 million for next season. That could be the difference in the Canucks being able to add a legitimate top six forward.

Worst Case Scenarios

Ian Clark does not return

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with Travis Green’s return, but it may be even more unforgivable to let go of Clark. The organization’s outlook in the crease has been completely revitalized since Clark returned to Vancouver. Jacob Markstrom was stellar during his time in Vancouver, Demko has been consistently one of the Canucks’ best players this season — perhaps even the best — and even Michael DiPietro spoke glowingly of the goalie coach.

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If the Canucks are going to be in a situation where they aren’t adding many impact players then they need to make sure their limited strengths don’t turn into weaknesses. That means re-signing Clark and making sure Demko’s development doesn’t stagnate. Flat out, the Canucks aren’t winning many games next year if Demko regresses even a little bit.

Jim Benning makes more than two long-term signings

The two signings he needs to make are kind of obvious. Pettersson and Hughes need to be signed and that is not dependent on whatever General Manager is in charge. Having discussions drag too far into training camp, or even into next season, is unforgivable in my opinion. These are your franchise players, they’re not the ones you should be penny-pinching on, especially when you give a King’s ransom to any player that’s ‘good in the room’. That doesn’t mean you can give them whatever they want, but don’t play hardball with them.

Past those two, I don’t want to see any contract signed that’s longer than two seasons this Summer. Of course, there may be a situation that arises where signing someone for more than a couple years makes sense, but for the most part I don’t trust Benning to make that decision. I’m sure Benning knows he probably isn’t long for the Canucks organization, so from his point of view it may be low-risk to sign someone long-term. Luckily, his own salary cap missteps may make that incredibly difficult.

The Canucks ‘Run it back’

You know when sports teams win a championship and then the following season their Twitter is all like ‘Run it back😤’? If you see ANYTHING like that from the Canucks then something has gone horribly wrong.

I know this is kind of contradictory to my last point since I don’t want Benning making any long-term signings, but there are ways the Canucks can re-tool the team without limiting themselves past the next couple years. I just think it would be quite the challenge to try to sell season tickets, or hope in general, to fans that are fed up with the way the team has been playing this season if you don’t add any fresh faces this Summer.

Jack Eichel gets traded to the Los Angeles Kings

This is dependent on the price, but the Canucks may be in a good situation next year with the expected return of the Pacific Division. Edmonton will more than likely be a perennial playoff team, Vegas will be scary as always, and who knows what Seattle will look like? That leaves the Calgary Flames, who are in a bit of an identity crisis right now, and the three California teams all on the downswing. Theoretically, that would leave the door open for the Canucks to sneak into the third spot in the division or snag a Wild Card spot.

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The Kings trading for Eichel could throw a wrench in that. Eichel at his best is a top 10 player in the league, and when you add that to a Kings team that could be coming out of a mini-rebuild, it could turn them into a threat to make the playoffs at least. This may not impact the Canucks directly, but it would make trips to California a little less enjoyable.

The Seattle Kraken offer sheet Elias Pettersson

I just think this would be really funny. It’s not going to happen, right? A team like the Kraken with a very flexible amount of cap space, looking to attract fans, hoping to make a splash, and establish a rivalry definitely wouldn’t look to their closest opponent’s best player, an RFA on a cap-strapped team, as a potential option. Right?

The odds are probably incredibly low, and yes the Canucks will match any reasonable offer, but even the act of offering a contract to Pettersson would be enough to get that rivalry going before the teams even play each other.

Who knows? This offseason could be unexpectedly fruitful and the Canucks come back in 2021-22 with renewed hope! Or it could be yet another Summer full of heartbreak and frustration.

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