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Photo Credit: © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: Your ideal top-six configuration for the Vancouver Canucks

Welcome back to WWYDW, the only hockey column on the internet to have officially been anti-Filip Zadina since Draft Day 2018.

Speaking of unexpected surprises, the Vancouver Canucks have come into the 2021/22 season with, if you can believe it, a mildly overstuffed forward corps. The cylinders may not all be firing this early into the campaign, but the pieces are in place — especially now that Brock Boeser is back.

The only thing coach Travis Green needs to figure out now is how best to arrange them.

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All eight of Boeser, Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, Bo Horvat, Conor Garland, Nils Höglander, Tanner Pearson, and Vasily Podkolzin are all either worthy of a top-six job or will be very soon, and then there are the likes of Alex Chiasson and Jason Dickinson on the periphery.

But that’s the thing about top-sixes: they tend to only have room for about six players.

So, Green’s got options.

Does the Lotto Line get reunited, or does Miller shuffle down to third line center?

Does Pearson stick with Horvat, or is Höglander the long-term answer on that wing?

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How soon until Podkolzin gets some real ice-time?

Where is Garland best fit for success?

There is, of course, no one answer, and the Canucks’ top-six will almost certainly fluctuate throughout the season. But that’s not really how we do things in this particular column.

So, this week we’re asking you:

What is your ideal top-six configuration for the 2021/22 Canucks?

Record your answer in the comment section below to be featured in next week’s article!

Last week, we asked:

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Now that it’s over, what is your final grade for the Vancouver Canucks’ 2021 offseason?

Your responses are below.

Defenceman Factory:

Benning did an awful lot this offseason. The Arizona trade was massive. This is a much better roster than a year ago on paper, but the final grade can’t be awarded until we see how the team does. It’s also hard to ignore much of what was done involved rectifying previous missteps that Benning was a part of.

When you consider the turnover on the NHL roster, the acquired depth to stock the farm team, and some changes to the coaching staff Benning gets an A for effort. I’ll give him a C+ for the roster he has compiled for this season. In terms of how he has positioned the franchise for the future, it’s a C-. That would have been a C if he had got Pettersson onto a contract similar to what Suzuki signed for the Habs.

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Overall Benning gets a C+. The grade collapses to a D if OEL fails to perform in the role he has been given.

Burnabybob:

Sad to say, I would give this off-season a “D.” The team is better on paper, but the defence still looks shaky and I’m apprehensive about the OEL trade. I think Benning should have drafted Dylan Guenther this year and just let all the bad contracts come off the books next year, rather than adding a long-term expensive contract on a player who is already in decline. His moves might have some short-term payoff, but they aren’t enough to compensate for the longer-term problems they will create. Unless they payoff handsomely in the short term, people will regret them pretty soon.

Kanucked:

I give Benning and company a solid C+. Here’s how I arrive at that grade:

Off season plan: D — I disagreed with their strategy to give up future assets to make the playoffs this year. I think it will create significant issues for them in a few years and makes it less likely they will the cup with this core.

Execution of plan: B+ — Benning was able to multitask and pull off a few significant trades for Dickinson, OEL, Garland, and Lammikko. The extensions for Pettersson and Hughes were very reasonable. He also added some depth at the AHL level. He could have done a little more due diligence with Hamonic and Sutter.

Killer Marmot:

8.3 out of 10. Far more good moves than bad.

The good, in order of how impressed I was…

o Signing Podkolzin and Klimovich and getting them to B.C.

o Resigning Hughes and Pettersson within cap restraints.

o Ekman-Larsson et al. trade. But it comes with serious long-term costs.

o Addition of Poolman and Dickinson.

o Juolevi trade.

o Addition of Halak, Chiasson, Burroughs, Sutter, Di Giuseppe, Plasek, etc.

And the bad…

o Losing Gadjovich was unnecessary.

LiborPolasek:

This offseason moves would just mean whole lot of noise if the staff cannot put it all together on the ice. If the roster performs as intended, then a B, but if they struggle then a C-, ‘cause it cost the team an awful lot of cap and futures to acquire the players. Arizona is primed for a quick rebuild due to the picks they have and cap space; and just like the Canucks, it will ultimately come down to who and how the plan will be executed.

16forever:

I would give the offseason a solid “C.” While it is technically a passing grade, it certainly does not inspire confidence nor is it good enough to vault us to the head of the class.

The good:

  • Securing the future via extensions for Petterson and Hughes – no explanation necessary. Both guys needed to be locked in, and the AAV is more than tolerable for each. It seems quite odd to me that Benning can do such a great job with his own marquee players, and then completely whiff on much lesser free agents.
  • Dickinson trade – he looks to be working out nicely as our 3C, and the price paid (both the acquisition cost and his contract renewal) is quite palatable.
  • Coaching staff changes – I’m glad to see that Newell Brown has moved on, and that renowned defensive guru Brad Shaw was brought aboard. This should improve both the PP and PK units, while hopefully ensuring that the drop pass is not something used on every single PP entry. Extending Ian Clark was probably the single most important move though, as both Markstrom and Demko have attributed a large part of their success as Canucks to his tutelage.

The middling:

  • Juolevi trade – both sides needed a change of scenery and the value recouped was fine. It’s a shame that yet another high first rounder is gone, but it did not appear that Juolevi would ever work out here.
  • Depth signings – Sutter as the 4C, Chiasson on a PTO, improved AHL depth – all fine moves that will likely not make a material impact on the team.
  • Poolman signing – I want to reserve judgment here as he appears to have developed good chemistry with OEL, but looks to be paired with Hughes. His role will be larger here than in Winnipeg, and I’d like to see how he responds to top 4 minutes.
  • Schmidt trade – All this cost the team was salary, so nothing to see here.

The bad:

  • OEL deal – While picking up Garland was nice, this looks to be an albatross of a contract that will haunt the team for years to come, and we traded away another frist round pick for the privilege. To borrow a line from Greg Wyshynski, this was the ultimate “kick it down the line” deal, as Benning will certainly not be around to deal with the fallout.
  • Buyouts for Holtby and Virtanen – Ugly all around.
  • Hamonic debacle – I’m torn here as I find it difficult to attribute responsibility wholly to either the team or the player. Clearly Benning should have done some more digging around covid concerns prior to offering a two-year deal. Further, why not wait until later in the summer to do so? Players of Hamonic’s ilk are not hard to discover, particularly at $3 million/season, and it would have given both sides additional time to think. Accountability also falls on Hamonic’s shoulders, as he is the one that also signed this deal and is currently holding up the team as he remains in limbo.

JDMay101:

The goal was apparently to make the team better immediately at the expense of the future. If that’s the goal, one would think the path forward would be to look at the area of greatest weakness and improve it. That area was the defence. So, how’d they do?

Well, the defence is arguably somehow worse than it was before – it will take some guys exceeding expectations based on their recent play for it to improve. dWAR for the group is 31st out of 32 teams. And it cost a first round pick, six years of bad money, and a four-year deal to a 28-year-old replacement-level player to accomplish it.

That’s an F, gentlemen.

TheRealRusty:

This offseason’s moves shows that GMFA and AGMJBJW have decided to push all their chips in with this core group. While they did somewhat improve the forward group (in the short term), the gaping defensive holes on the backend ultimately dooms them to be on the outside looking in come playoff time. In the end, mgt leveraged all their draft capital and took on significant risk with their long-term cap space just to be a playoff bubble team. Their performance is neither satisfactory nor meeting expectations. So, a “Needs Improvement” grade seems reasonable.

Bing Qiu:

The offseason includes the preseason, which was crap. Green spent all five games auditioning fringe veterans, lines were in the blender and went against all expectations in finalizing the roster. Di Giuseppe, Lockwood, and Gadjovich outplayed Highmore, Petan, and Dowling, yet here we are. Unless Demko is hot, the odds tonight are not good. There is little cohesion in any of the lines and special teams were not good in exhibition. Watching the Kraken game last night, they were well coached and looked like a decent team, minus any superstars. Maybe Lammikko and a quick return of Motte will change the bottom-six outlook.

fv fan:

No one overhauls a team like this after multiple losing seasons without overhauling its coaching staff first. For that, a big fat ‘D.’

J-Canuck:

I give the team overhaul a ‘B’ to almost ‘B+. That is for the team change from last year to this year, nothing about the past or the future.

The top-six and bottom-six are more talented and much deeper. Last year, having Sutter an unknown and Boeser missing would have been a disaster.

The goaltender situation is very much improved! Thatcher is the clear-cut #1, and Halak looks soooo much better than Holtby did last season. Add on Mickey D down the road ready to step up in case of injury, a clear improvement.

The D is the only point of contention, but a swap of OEL for Edler is a big improvement in my eyes. Poolman looks to be a solid no-frills guy that can skate, I bet he surprises a lot of people. Rathbone is an exciting player that should make the team more dynamic on the 2nd PP, and fill in on the top if needed. If Hamonic were in camp playing with Quinn, I would have gone B+. Schenn and possibly Hunt can fill that gap while Hamonic is out, which is depth that wasn’t there last year.

This is a long season compared to last year, so I am optimistic this version of the Canucks will impress.

Scrub848:

I personally like to look at most things in a vacuum, as bias tends to creep in when assessing something with prior knowledge. Taking that into account, I’d give the offseason a B-.

The OEL and Juolevi trades both look like wins or at the very least lateral moves. Benning addressed what he and management saw as holes in the lineup. Yes, our defence is still suspect but a lot of defensemens’ stats have been cratering when they get to Vancouver. Maybe Jim saw that this was lack of support from the forwards and not having enough depth in the bottom-six. If that is indeed the case, he addressed it. The RFA contracts came pretty much exactly how most hockey writers expected and the Hughes contract specifically, could be a steal in a couple years.

Lots of folks here rating this offseason pretty low, with the excuse that “Benning was fixing most of his own problems.” I don’t think this is a reason to rate it so low, imagine what people would have been ranked it had he not fixed these problems. This offseason has to be Jim’s best in my opinion.

It is obvious this team is going for playoffs/playoff success, and if that was the prerogative then this offseason is a win. On paper the team is more competitive. And that is sooooo important for this team in my eyes. Players like Boeser, Horvat, and Pettersson would not be happy with a few more years of tanking, waiting for contracts to come off the books and stockpiling picks. Take a look at Buffalo for that scenario.

Ragnarok Ouroboros:

This has easily been the most transformative off season for the Canucks ever. I can’t think of an offseason that was more crazy.

Based on all the changes, I think the management team actually did a great job of rebuilding the team and I think they will compete for a playoff spot.

There are some warts though:

  • They signed players that are not playing (Hamonic and Sutter). It seems like both contracts were signed in good faith, but unforeseen circumstances have derailed their seasons before they even started.
  • They lost two players placed on waivers. Gadjovich is a loss that hurts. MacEwen was a fan favorite, but easily replaceable.
  • Injury bug is hitting team before season starts. Boeser is out with undisclosed injury (probably groin). Motte had surgery.
  • Had the long Hughes/Pettersson contract drama, but this ultimately resolved into good contracts.
  • Big gamble on OEL. Hopefully, he returns to form and at minimum is at least better that Edler who he replaces.

Surprises:

  • Rathbone looked really good in the preseason, and definitely earned his spot on the team. I suggest that he could be the Canucks Calder candidate instead of Podkolzin
  • Benning actually got a decent return in the Juolevi trade, and he didn’t have to throw in any extra draft picks.
  • Tucker Poolman may be a better defenseman than I originally anticipated.
  • Halak is a very good backup goalie to have with Demko. Definitely an upgrade on Holtby.

Overall, I give the Canucks offseason a B+.

KevinMW:

So, I think there’s two main criteria to go by here; first, did Benning improve the team from last year? Second, did he mortgage the future to do so?

On the first, I don’t think there can be any doubt that it’s a better team. Three solid lines and a fourth line that should be solid when it’s all healthy. On defence, I’d argue OEL and Rathbone put us above where we were last year. And no concerns with our goalies.

On the second, well, yeah it would have been great to get a first rounder for 2021, but you know our gamble on Klimovich doesn’t seem like such a long shot after his preseason performance, and we have a fairly young team, the bulk of which we can keep for years. So, its not like we threw away the future for a two-year window.

I’ll finish my pointing out that whether Benning was only fixing old mistakes or is a bad GM wasn’t the question. For the 2021 offseason improvements, on paper, its in the B to B+ range.