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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: Where will the Canucks finish in the Pacific Division in 2021/22?

Welcome back to WWYDW, the only hockey column on the internet that thinks the Tucker Poolman signing was worth it just based on his cool name alone.

And Poolman wasn’t the only name of note added to the Vancouver Canucks’ depth chart this offseason. He’ll join Conor Garland, Jason Dickinson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jaroslav Halak, Luke Schenn, Brad Hunt, Phil Di Giuseppe, Brady Keeper and more on the revamped 2021/22 roster — along with this cheap “Brandon Sutter” kid who we think people are gonna really dig.

Clearly, Jim Benning and Co. have not been standing still this summer, but then neither have their division-mates, either.

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The Canucks have flipped back over to the Pacific Division to start 2021/22, along with the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, where they’ll reconvene with the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Vegas Golden Knights. Then there’s the new kids on the coastal block, the Seattle Kraken, to consider.

Of the entire set, only the Vegas Golden Knights have established themselves as true contenders of note. Beyond them, spots two-through-eight appear to be wide open, making it all the more possible that the Canucks find themselves back in the playoffs when the 2021/22 regular season comes to a close — or, if you prefer pessimism, all the more possible that they find themselves back in the divisional cellar.

Either way, there’s always a fun element to calling your shots ahead of time, and that’s what we’re asking you to do this week:

Where do you think the Canucks will finish in the Pacific Division in 2021/22?

 

Last week, we asked:

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What is your review of the Canucks’ offseason so far, through Expansion, the Entry Draft, and the opening days of free agency?

Your reviews are below!

Kanucked:

In a nutshell, closer to the playoffs and further from the Cup. Benning and the Aquilinis mortgaged future assets on a number of hope bets, with OEL being the most prominent.

The team next year, particularly the forwards, will be much better. The defence will be worse if those bets don’t come through.

FairPM:

It’s been an impressive offseason. We’re definitely better than before. For the griping about mortgaging the future, we did also pick up Garland. Trading for Garland has a price for it. We’ve now got a bunch of players in the their low- to mid-20s. This gives the mgmt team plenty of time to restock the cupboards. I don’t get the comments about Benning paying to get rid of his mistakes. Every gm makes mistakes and when you want to get rid of them, there is a price. To get rid of the bad contracts, mgmt either had to take back bad contracts or attach assets. Having yet another crappy year is not good for resigning RFAs, signing UFAs, or for the current players on the team. The team is better now.

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As a fan, I was hoping for Johnson or MacTavish. With Guenther there, I’m glad we had traded it. I’m sure Arizona was hoping for a better pick than Guenther too. Sounds like many bloggers felt the same way too.

Killer Marmot:

In one week, Benning has rebuilt a mediocre team into a competitive one while under severe cap constraints. And I think he made the best of Vancouver’s draft. But he did all that at the cost of a first and second round draft pick and a six-year contract that could easily turn into an albatross.

If Benning’s marching orders were to give the Canucks a good chance at the playoffs, then he’s done an impressive job, certainly exceeding expectations.

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Burnabybob:

The team clearly looks better as a result of Benning’s moves. Their offence is starting to look powerful, their goaltending is strong, and I hope their defence is improved. Their LHD looks pretty good, but their RHD is definitely suspect.

Personally, I would have done things much differently than Benning. I would not have traded the first round pick for Miller two years ago, and would have used that pick to take either Braden Schneider or Justin Barron in last year’s draft. This year, I would have kept the 9th and drafted Dylan Guenther. The team would likely still be bad this coming season, but would be well positioned to draft one of the six RHD expected to go in the first round of the ’22 draft. Next summer when the bad contracts came off the books, I would reap the bonanza and go after someone like Ryan Pulock who is eligible for UFA, and perhaps a third line center. Such an approach would have taken a bit longer for the Canucks to become a playoff team, but I think they would have been on more stable ground once they got there, as they would have a lot of good, young players on ELCs and their defence would be solid. The way Benning has set it up, OEL has a lot of weight on his shoulders. He will need to play like a real top-four defenseman into his mid-30s for this trade to be worth it. And they still have a pretty big hole on their defence.

kermit:

There’s no question the team will be better this season, but it still leaves you wondering if there’s any plan in place to manage the cap. Assuming it’s flat, the only new space available next year will be the expiration of the $3m Luongo penalty. Not only has JB used all of this year’s cap, he’s mortgaged the $3m coming next year to cover the Holtby/Virtanen buyouts and the Halak bonus. Boeser and Rathbone are on expiring contracts. Where’s the cap space required to cover their raises going to come from? Maybe there is plan. Trade Pearson? Trade Miller? Buy out Myers? Buy out OEL already? It feels like we’re putting out fires. Like the plan is to look no further than the season at hand, make the playoffs and hope to go on a roll. Next year, rinse and repeat.

Kanuckhotep:

Expansion Draft- Benning can always reclaim Lind off of waivers because frankly can’t see the kid cracking the Kraken line up, so not grievous.

Entry Draft- They handled the signing of Klimovich to positive effect and accruing goaltenders looks much the better with Ian Clark in the fold.

Free Agency Frenzy- GMJB did well here and now it looks like a competitive team going forward. All in all, it looks like FA has given Mr. Benning the green light to go for it and I have never enjoyed an offseason like this one.

Forever 1915:

In the span of a week, Benning dumped all of his bad contracts, revamped the blue line with emphasis on shoring up the right-side, secured the top-six scoring winger he’s been looking for since he was hired in 2014, and still has about $20M space to sign Pettersson and Hughes long-term and sign Juolevi and Dickinson. I look much more favourably upon the OEL trade now that I understand the tension between OEL and Tocchet (who was recently fired as head coach) – I think OEL will outperform all expectations next year. People were screaming for bold moves and Benning delivered.

Benning in the hot seat aside, I think Benning knows that his window is now because Pettersson, Hughes, and Demko can produce at an elite level and we have Horvat and Miller at reasonable costs for the next two years ($5.5M and $5.25M) respectively. You think we have cap problems now? Keeping those two when they become UFAs will be really hard, if not impossible.

We’re also starting to see Benning shift from having no resources to integrating his draft picks into the roster and developing a true, elite homegrown core. We’ve never had that from one GM. Benning has Pettersson, Boeser, Höglander, Podkolzin, Hughes, Rathbone, and Demko. Just looking at the cream of the crop, that seven of 23 roster spots. No GM in Canucks history has been able to draft this kind of talent. And that doesn’t include the other secondary prospects on the way; DiPietro, Woo, Lockwood, and possibly Gadjovich and Klimovich. Build through the draft – check. Build from the goal out – check. Benning fixed the scouting department and we’re starting to see drafting the best-player-available rather than relying on Gillis’s team, who scouted Virtanen.

Benning still makes mistakes but every GM does. Sakic just overpaid a 1st round pick, a conditional 3rd, and a good prospect to rent the pending-UFA goaltender because he wasn’t able to resign his elite starting goaltender, even though he had the cap space to do it. Whiz-kids like John Chayka are long gone (costing Arizona their 1st this year on the way out) and I predict Kyle Dubas is going to lose his job very soon after botching his cap management.

I think Benning really did well to give this team the best shot at the Stanley Cup this year, and I appreciate the fact that he tries to make this team competitive every year. Barring the usual NHL screw-job (a six-game road trip to start the season, hoping to make them as tired for the Kraken’s home debut), I think the Canucks are finally a Cup contender.

A River Named Curt:

Goaltending is about the same as last season. It’s still Thatcher Demko’s show.

The additions of Podkolzin, Garland, and Dickinson should greatly improve the performance of the middle-six forward group at both ends of the rink.

Unfortunately, the defence looks considerably shakier than last season. Myers, OEL, and Poolman are all bottom-quattuortile (bottom one-14th or 7%) defenders.

Long term, the prospect pipeline looks pretty bare and the cap outlook is much more problematic than it was two weeks ago.

Overall, I’m not optimistic that the improved forward ranks will be able to make up for a defence that is a downgrade from last season’s North Division cellar-dwellers.

Ragnarok Ouroboros:

This offseason, on the whole, has been a good one. No one thought that Benning would be able to move Eriksson, Beagle, and Roussel. I personally thought the Canucks would be stuck with a bad bottom-six forward group. Benning actually did a good job of clearing cap space and giving the team options.

Benning has made a big bet on Oliver Ekman-Larsson becoming the player he used to be. If that bet pays off, then Benning will look like a hero. If the bet misses, then Benning loses his job; it’s too early to say which way it will go. The defensive group as a whole has improved in comparison to last year. Losing Schmidt and replacing him with Poolman is a downgrade. Replacing Edler with Ekman-Larsson is an upgrade. Having Rathbone come in as a full-time player is also an upgrade.

The forward group has definitely been upgraded. We have three legitimate top-three lines now, and the fourth line will be solid with Motte, Sutter, and who ever (Highmore likely).

Goaltending has improved over last year, as well. Demko is now an established number 1 goalie, and Halak is a cheaper and better upgrade on Holtby.

You can nitpick individual signings, like Poolman, but as a whole the team has been greatly improved. Travis Green has been given the tools to succeed with, and I expect this team to make the playoffs next year, and perhaps make a bit of noise.

We now have a group of hardworking players, and the floaters have been purged from the team.

JDMay101:

This pretty much sums it up… go out and get a bunch of players who were really bad for other teams last season and hope they somehow become good when added to a last-place roster.

wojohowitz:

Let`s give Aquilini a little credit. My rough estimate is that he spent $40m yesterday on player contracts.

TheRealRusty:

(Winner of the author’s weekly award for eloquence)

Say what we want, but the focus and direction has been unyieldingly consistent. This owner posing as a GM has had a one-track mind since 2011; lusting to dive back into the fountain of playoff revenues.

All the moves made by his AGMs over the past seven years have been to mortgage the future (with both picks and cap space) for immediate gratification. The ink on their self-proclaimed two-year plan, for bad contracts to expire, was barely dry when he was tempted yet again by the Arizonian mirage of another shortcut. He swapped one backup goalie for another, moving cap issues from this year to the next ($1.9m plus $1.5m). He gutted two drafts worth of top-end prospects (2020 and 2021 drafts) which would have provided the cheap ELC contracts to fill the roster when BoHo and Boeser comes off their bridge contracts. They took an unwise gamble on the last six years of a declining OEL’s contract ($7m hole in the 2024-2027 cap space) which could possibly pose problems re-signing Podkolzin/Höglander to reasonable mid-term contracts (buying one or two years of UFA) after their ELC. All of these efforts to improve for next year, only serve to hamper the salary structure by kicking the salary cap problems three or four years down the road.

What we are seeing is a business model which requires the team to constantly dump contracts (and picks), over-relies on salary-escalating bridge contracts and executing more buyouts (taking in more dead cap space) in order to prevent being cap stressed year after year. Inefficient, most absolutely. Entertaining for pundits, hell yes.

Defenceman Factory:

This offseason has been truly historic. The magnitude of change is incredible. The effort level to do so much in so short a time astounding. Next year’s team is much improved, and on paper looks like it will be near the top of the division. Definitely some gambles on a couple D-men, but if those pay off this is a team with the skill and depth to make a deep run next season and the year after. There were no half-measures here. The Canucks are fully refurbished.

I truly dislike almost all (the few draft picks look fine) of what has been done this offseason. I have an uncle who is a huge fan of the Canucks and ever since the ‘94 run he has said just once in his life he wants to see the Stanley Cup in Vancouver. If it doesn’t happen in the next two years, he will likely never see it. I’m at an age where, as a kid, I put up posters of Kurtenbach and Tallon on my wall. After this offseason I’m wondering the same thing as my uncle about my lifetime. The scorched earth left by the Benning years could be as desolate as what Gillis left behind.

I am very excited for next season. If OEL and Poolman come as advertised this will be an extremely good team. It looks near impossible to keep it that way for very long. I give the Canucks organization a tip of the hat for stocking the farm team with quality professional players and spending the money necessary to do it. This was a first-class move for the launch of a new team.

J-Canuck:

GMJB got rid of players that didn’t want to be in Vancouver or were useless and brought in players that want to play for the Canucks. To me that is a win. The top-nine might be the best in the Pacific, the backup goaltender is an improvement while the defence is a wild card, but it was last season. My belief is that with Shaw as the new coach, a proper offseason, training camp, and actual practices the defence will improve. I’m excited for next season.