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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Monday Mailbag: An old hope, A New Hope, and hoping that the drop-pass dies

Questions. We’ve all got them, but only some of us have answers.

Fortunately, I, Stephan Roget am one of those answer-havers, and I’m tagging out David Quadrelli for this week’s Monday Mailbag, only at CanucksArmy.

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There’s always reason for hope, and especially in the sport of hockey.

The Montreal Canadiens are currently in the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On paper, that’s ridiculous, and yet nobody is really all that surprised, because hockey is weird like that.

All the Canucks really need to do is make the playoffs, and then anything can happen — but, then again, the same can be said about 31 other franchises.

If you’re looking for specific hope, I’d point to the sheer number of Canucks who had down or regressive seasons in 2021. The team’s top two players, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are on that list, and bounce-back seasons from both of them would go a long way toward righting the ship. Chuck in better play from the likes of JT Miller, Nate Schmidt, Tyler Myers, and a depth piece or two, and suddenly things are looking a lot better. Solid progression from Nils Höglander and Jack Rathbone, plus a good rookie campaign from Vasily Podkolzin, might be enough to push the Canucks into bona fide overachievement territory.

Of course, that’s a lot of ifs. But you didn’t ask for guarantees, you asked for hope, and on that front, you’re covered.

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Thanks for limiting the scope of this question, so as to make it more answerable. If we assume NO existing contracts are offloaded, we’re really dealing with a tiny sliver of cap space, so it’s time to go UFA bargain hunting.

If the Canucks have just a million or two to play with, they absolutely have to focus on the backend, where both Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic need replacing. Honestly, those two might be two of the best cheap bets available, especially with a hometown discount factored in, but that’s not a very exciting answer, so we’ll look elsewhere.

Brandon Montour stands out as a RHD with good two-way chops, but he’s probably going to be a touch too expensive.

Jani Hakanpaa, traded from Anaheim to Carolina at the deadline, is a reasonable bang-for-buck option. He doesn’t bring much offence, but is defensively-oriented and physical. He’d be a signing in the same vein as Hamonic, and probably shouldn’t be penciled in for top-four minutes, but he’s a perfect fit for the bottom pairing.

Cody Ceci wouldn’t be a popular signing, because of the meme status his blunders attained in Toronto, but he had a quietly excellent season in Pittsburgh and would be a dynamite fit.

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Anything beyond them probably has to be considered a downgrade on either Edler or Hamonic.

This one is really tough to answer, because it really depends on the player. There’s a funny thing at the top-end of the salary scale where the value starts to distort. For example, Connor McDavid makes $12.5 million, but he’s worth a hell of a lot more than $1.6 million than Mitch Marner.

So, if we’re talking McDavid, I’ll take him over basically any combination of $6 million players in the league.

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But there aren’t many McDavids around. I think, in general, you’re better off to spread the cap around your roster as much as possible.

And if I’m reading between the lines of your question correctly, I’ll go as far as to say, yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs have kinda screwed themselves by dedicated almost $22 million of their cap to two less-than-top-flite skaters in Marner and John Tavares.

Easiest question of the day. It is Star Wars, and by at least a couple parsecs. I’m not anti-Star Trek, but it’s just not my thing. I’ve seen maybe three episodes of any Trek show, Wrath of Khan, and two of the reboots, and that’s about it. Whereas I’m a veritable Sarlacc when it comes to Star Wars content.

I think it’s probably because I enjoy fantasy as much or more than sci-fi, and Star Wars is the perfect blend of the two. I honestly like the core utopian message of Star Trek a lot better than the whole “special blood-bugs make some people better than others” Star Wars has going on, but respecting something and enjoying it are two different things.

Oh, and my favourite lightsaber is a tie between Kanan Jarrus’ or Ahsoka Tano’s white set.

This is another easy one, because I’ve never seen Battlestar Galactica. I will, however, take any and all opportunities to talk about my love for The Expanse.

The book series is, without a doubt, my favourite works of science-fiction. Imagine someone worked with George RR Martin, learned to master the best parts of his writing and to avoid the worst parts, and then applied that knowledge to sci-fi, and you’ve basically got The Expanse. Gripping, grounded, and believable, yet somehow still mind-boggling in its scope. A truly immense fictional universe.

The show is about as perfect as any television adaptation could reasonably be, and has only added to my appreciation for the story.

If you haven’t dived down the gravity well into The Expanse yet, you’re missing out.

Both.

The drop-pass is now ubiquitous to NHL power plays, and Newell Brown actually deserves a good chunk of the credit for that. The simple fact is that the drop-pass is difficult to defend against while shorthanded, and so it will continue to be utilized by the Canucks and every other team in the league for years to come.

Difficult to defend against is not, however, impossible, and the drop-pass becomes a whole lot easier to defend when opponents know you are going to use it at literally every opportunity. That was one of many fatal flaws in the power play under Brown, and it’s something that Jason King will no doubt want to avoid.

The King PP will still use the drop-pass, but they will also dump the puck in. They should also occasionally just let Quinn Hughes skate it right into the zone, because one of the best skaters in the league at doing that. Likewise, there are probably some pretty unique and unpredictable ways that Elias Pettersson could figure out to enter the zone on a man advantage, and he should be granted the freedom to infrequently attempt them. The Canucks are blessed with some of the most creative players in hockey, and allowing them to express themselves more on the power play will go a long way toward making it less predictable.

I just let Quads use my Disney+ account, so as to skirt around bribery laws.

He’s trying to catch up on all the movies he was too young to see when they came out, like Cars 3.

Well, bruh, this might seem like a tough question at first blush, but it’s really not.

Jim Benning will be fired the next time the Canucks miss the playoffs.

Someone has to go if the Canucks miss in 2021/22, and the coaching staff has the benefit of having just been re-upped. The easiest move would be to can Benning at that point and then let the new GM decide what to do with Green and Co.

If the Canucks make it back to the postseason in 2021/22, though, then Benning is almost certainly staying through the end of his contract. A step back and a playoff miss in 2022/23 would probably result in Benning not being re-signed at that point, but if the Canucks stay in the playoff hunt and maybe even win a round or two, he will probably get an extension.

There could be other mitigating factors at play; like further bad contracts, fumbling negotiations for Pettersson and Hughes, Tyler Toffoli continuing to make him look foolish. But, for the most part, Benning’s future is tied directly to the Canucks’ participation in the Stanley Cup Playoffs — and we can’t help but mention the inevitability of that affecting Benning’s decision-making this offseason.

Buckle up!