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Photo Credit: © Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Canucks’ defence will look very similar next season unless they trade Nate Schmidt or play him with Quinn Hughes

Once the Canucks lock up Quinn Hughes, what’s next?

There is room to grow for the defence core that is currently anchored by Tyler Myers (signed through the 2023-24 season) and Nate Schmidt (signed through the 2024-25 season).

Jack Rathbone is a promising young defenceman who will more than likely get a run as a top-four defenceman as soon as this season. He’s under contract through next season on his ELC before becoming a 10.2(c) next summer and if he shows well this season, a pay raise will be in order for his services on the back end.

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Olli Juolevi is an RFA who can be offer-sheeted this offseason but shouldn’t be looking for too much of a raise as he has still not proved to be a full-time NHL player at the age of 23. There’s a good chance he signs a two-year deal at or under a million dollars, and if his game develops a bit more, this could be a nice piece for the Canucks over the next two seasons. I believe that Juolevi still has room to grow and though he battled injuries that delayed his development, last season was still a win for the Juolevi truthers.

Juolevi has a chance to be a nice depth piece on the defence core if he can begin to be trusted on the penalty kill and bring a bit of offence to a third pairing.

I can’t be the only one who is pretty damn sure we will see Alex Edler back in Vancouver next season.

Edler has said that he still wants to play in Vancouver and with the weight that he holds in this organization, a deal will get done. The Canucks should not pay him more than two and a half million dollars but his agent is obviously aware that Edler led the Canucks in shorthanded ice time and he still averaged 20:54 last season for the Canucks.

At this point in his career, Edler’s future contracts shouldn’t be longer than one-year deals and if the Canucks can get him for around 1.75-2.25 million dollars a year, that is perfectly fine for next season.

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Finally, Travis Hamonic. He began to show well as Hughes’ defence partner as the season went on and though the Canucks will not be able to lock him in at such a cheap deal as this past season, Hamonic on a cheaper two-year deal does fill a need on this team.

The Canucks have two young offensive defencemen on their left side. As Rathbone evolves into an everyday NHL player next season, Hamonic feels like a great fit to usher Rathbone into the NHL. Rathbone and Myers isn’t the pairing that we want to see next year. Rathbone can play his game with a defensive defenceman like Hamonic and if that’s not the fit that Travis Green chooses, Hamonic showed last season that he can be that defensive rock for Hughes on the top pairing.

So here’s my realistic projection for the Canucks’ back end if Benning is able to get short-term contracts done that won’t hurt the team moving forward. It’s going to take a three-year bridge deal for Hughes, a one-year deal for Edler and a two-year deal for Hamonic to return to Vancouver as a depth defenceman.

Name 2021-22 Cap Hit 2022-23 Cap Hit 2023-24 Cap Hit 2024-25 Cap Hit
Tyler Myers $6,000,000 $6,000,000 $6,000,000 UFA
Nate Schmidt $5,950,000 $5,950,000 $5,950,000 $5,950,000
Quinn Hughes $5,400,000  $5,400,000  $5,400,000
Alex Edler $2,000,000 UFA
Travis Hamonic $1,950,000 $1,950,000 UFA
Jack Rathbone $925,000 RFA 10.2(c)

With this six-man unit, you are committing $22,225,000 to the defence corps. That’s only 27.3% of the projected cap of 81.5 million dollars.

That being said, returning with the same defence core (plus Rathbone) seems like a minuscule upgrade to a defence group that did not show well last season.

You will have Olli Juolevi, Madison Bowey and Jett Woo to fill the seven-eight-nine spots on the depth chart and will have a small chunk of change to potentially add another depth defenceman through free agency.

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It’s not the ideal defence group it’s certainly not a group that instills much confidence in the fan base. Just remember that with the cap opening up after this coming season, next year is the time when the Canucks can attempt to seriously upgrade the defence core.

We’ve all heard about the trade rumours that continue to swirl around Schmidt and when there’s this much smoke, you have to believe there’s fire. Schmidt went through a tough first year in Vancouver but seemed to always present a positive mindset about being in Vancouver. It makes you wonder if the COVID-19 outbreak or the fact that they finished dead last in the Canadian division has him actively looking to get out of BC.

For now, Schmidt is under contract with the Vancouver Canucks and until the day he is traded, we are going to continue to make lineup projections with him as a part of them.

One of the things that we didn’t see a lot of last season was the defensive pairing of Quinn Hughes and Nate Schmidt.

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During Schmidt’s 1086 minutes this past season, only 6.35% of that was spent on the ice with Hughes. Before last season, I wrote about Schmidt and Hughes being that power-pairing that would be used more when the Canucks were trailing. When Schmidt found chemistry with Edler, the idea of the Hughes-Schmidt duo getting much time was replaced with the Hughes-Myers pairing as we saw during the 2019-20 season.

If Schmidt is back with the Canucks this season, moving him to be Hughes’ partner could be the swap that Schmidt and the rest of the defence needs to show a different look from last season.

Quinn Hughes Nate Schmidt
Alex Edler Tyler Myers
Jack Rathbone Travis Hamonic

With this defensive set, you are getting an uber-offensive first pairing, a defensive second pairing and a veteran stay-at-home defenceman to help bring Jack Rathbone into the NHL.

You can find more of a balanced ice time set between the second and third pairs if Rathbone is able to make as big of an impact as many of us hope to see with this group.

On top of that, you can swing Rathbone up to play with Myers when the team is losing to attempt and create two top four pairings that will be ultra-offensive.

It’s a look we didn’t see last year and now with Rathbone in the mix, moving Hamonic down to that role makes a lot of sense for the overall fit of the defence pairings.

It’s a new look but a look that has some promise to make the group look a little bit different.

The Canucks unfortunately (or fortunately if you don’t believe in Benning) can’t take many big swings this offseason so they will likely trot out the same defence as they did last season with the addition of Jack Rathbone. It’s going to be an eat-it kind of season where the only real changes they can make is if they want to trade Nate Schmidt or move on from Alex Edler. I don’t see this team moving on from Edler and unless the rumours are true about Schmidt, I’d expect to see him back in Vancouver next season with the hopes of a better year under much better circumstances.

It looks like it will be much of the same again this season and it’s going to take some shuffling of the deck to try and assemble a better hand for the Canucks’ blue line.