Could the Canucks go into next season without any further trades? Putting together a status quo roster
Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
4 months ago
The 2022 Stanley Cup has been awarded. The Entry Draft is complete. The Free Agent Frenzy has boiled down to a light simmer. The bulk of the NHL’s big summer happenings have already come and gone, and yet, the Vancouver Canucks still haven’t made any trades.
Despite a multitude of players reportedly on the block, and a stated desire by POHO Jim Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin to shake things up, the only additions and subtractions made to the roster thus far have been via free agency.
Now, few are expecting that to still be the case when training camp rolls around in October. If JT Miller isn’t dealt away by then, most expect at least one other forward — be it Conor Garland or Tanner Pearson or whoever — to be moved in order to accommodate some movement on the blueline.
But what if that didn’t happen? What if the new Canucks’ management team looked at the roster as it currently is, determined that the trade market wasn’t where they wanted it to be, and decided to just roll with it for the 2022/23 season.
Could they even pull it off under the cap?
What would the roster look like?
How would they perform?
These questions are all hypothetical, and they could be moot in the near future. But we’re here today to try to answer them for you, anyway — because, as we mentioned in the intro, it’s the middle of the summer.
Can the current roster fit under the cap?
A quick glance at PuckPedia will tell you that the Vancouver Canucks have about $85.3 million against the cap for next season, putting them about $2.8 million above the 2022/23 ceiling of $82.5 million.
This number, however, includes Micheal Ferland and his $3.5 million cap hit. With Ferland moved on to pseudo-retirement, keeping his contract on LTIR seems like a simple way to get under the cap. Unfortunately, nothing is ever that simple when it comes to the NHL CBA.
What the Canucks would like to do is fit Ferland onto the roster and under the cap prior to the opening of the 2022/23 season, and then to place him on LTIR afterward. The reasons for this are far too convoluted to draw out here, but the important detail is that doing so would allow them to accrue some cap throughout the season.
They could put him on LTIR ahead of opening night and not have to worry about it, but then they won’t be able to accrue space.
The easiest way to fit Ferland onto the roster ahead of time is to make a small cap dump trade. Flipping out Tanner Pearson or Jason Dickinson with no salary returning would do the trick. But that’s not the premise of this article, so let’s discard that idea for now.
An alternate route to take is the tried-and-tested method of papering players down to the AHL prior to setting the roster. By papering down any three of the waivers-exempt Vasily Podkolzin, Andrey Kuzmenko, Nils Höglander, Will Lockwood, or Jack Rathbone, the Canucks could start the year with a roster of 20, place Ferland on LTIR, and then immediately recall all three.
Doing so gets the Canucks the maximum amount of cap relief available without actually impacting the roster at all.
What would the forward lines look like?
Stacked, in a word.
If the Canucks were to keep all of the forwards around that they currently have on their roster, it would result in the strongest forward corps the franchise has put together since 2011, and perhaps ever.
With Miller still in the mix, the Canucks would almost certainly run three scoring lines again, centered by Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Bo Horvat.
Those three centers would have a veritable bounty of wingers to choose from. All of Brock Boeser, Garland, Podkolzin, Kuzmenko, Pearson, Höglander, and the newly-arrived Ilya Mikheyev have a decent argument for inclusion in the top-six.
Under this set-up, one of them ends up on the fourth line.
Three more forwards would be needed to bring the total number to 13, leaving four full lines and a designated extra. Curtis Lazar and Jason Dickinson would have the inside track, but don’t discount the possibility of Dickinson ending up in Abbotsford, either. Dakota Joshua and Will Lockwood likely battle it out for the extra spot, with Joshua more likely to get it due to his eligibility for waivers.
Here’s what it could look like:
A revamped top line might feature Podkolzin, who look good alongside Pettersson last year, taking the traditional place of Miller. This unit would have the classic EA Sports chemistry of a power forward, a playmaker, and a sniper, and this time it might actually work as well in the real world as it does in the video games.
Miller has proven that he can play effectively with just about anyone. Though Garland looked better on Horvat’s wing last year, he gets another shot with Miller here, and they’re joined by the rookie Kuzmenko, whose down-low playmaking style should mesh well with two players who love to dominate possession in the offensive zone.
This would, ostensibly, be the Canucks’ shutdown line. All three are defensively responsible while still providing a not-inconsiderable amount of offence, regardless of their deployment. Expect the defensive work of Horvat and Pearson to spring Mikheyev on a boatload of breakaways.
A talented and tenacious fourth line. Dickinson and Lazar can swap out on faceoffs depending on the side, and otherwise, this unit would be asked to hem opponents into their own end and take on a greater quality of competition than the average fourth line. Not an abundance of physicality here, but still a tough line to play against.
Either player makes sense as an energy player waiting to be injected into the lineup. Given injuries, both will get a shot this season.
What would the defence look like?
That was fun, wasn’t it? Sure seems like a nice set of forwards. Welp, let’s move on to the blueline, where things are decidedly less exciting.
The good news is that the Vancouver defence corps isn’t any worse off than it was last season. The bad news is that it isn’t any better, either.
The collection of eight defenders seems more-or-less set in stone at this point.
Quinn Hughes, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn, Travis Dermott, Tucker Poolman, Kyle Burroughs, Jack Rathbone.
There’s the odd chance that someone like Wyatt Kalynuk usurps one of the last three players listed, but otherwise, this is what the Canucks have on hand.
From where we’re standing, we can see two potential routes to choose from, and we’re going to present them both here.
First, the more traditional route:
Hughes – Schenn
Ekman-Larsson – Myers
Dermott – Poolman
Rathbone – Burroughs
There’s nothing new here, really. This is basically the same blueline that the Canucks ran last season, and the results were about what they’d expect them to be. If Schenn can continue to hold down the fort as a complement to Hughes, and if OEL and Myers can build on a solid season as a shutdown pairing, this blueline is borderline passable.
However, there may be a more creative solution to be found:
Hughes – Ekman-Larsson
Dermott – Myers
Rathbone – Schenn
Burroughs – Poolman
There’s been some talk of trying Ekman-Larsson out on the right side this season, and doing so would be one way to make a little more out of the Canucks’ current setup. They could create a super-pairing of Hughes and OEL, hand that pairing the majority of the minutes, and let the rest of the patchwork clean up any remaining responsibilities.
That Dermott/Myers combo might be a bit of an adventure, but pairing Rathbone with Schenn is probably the best way to ensure that the rookie defender has a successful start to his career.
Really, there are no perfect solutions here.
What would the goaltending look like?
Thatcher Demko, backed up by Spencer Martin.
This one was easy.
How would this roster perform?
Believe it or not, this could very well be a playoff roster.
This team isn’t any worse than last season’s edition. In fact, it’s probably better. Tyler Motte is gone, replaced by Mikheyev. That’s an upgrade, albeit an expensive one.
Alex Chiasson is out, Kuzmenko is in. That had better be an upgrade.
Matthew Highmore and Juho Lammikko have been replaced by Lazar and one of Joshua or Lockwood. Those could definitely be construed as upgrades, too.
Swapping Travis Hamonic out for Dermott was an improvement the second it happened.
And then you’ve got a full season of Bruce Boudreau’s coaching to consider. Under Boudreau, this same roster performed at a clip that would have made them a playoff team in 2021/22. Why couldn’t they do the same over another set of 82 games?
There’s also the weakness of the Pacific Division. The Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames have gotten demonstrably worse. Edmonton has improved, but they’re still banking a lot on an inconsistent goalie in Jack Campbell. Los Angeles and Anaheim are teams on the rise, but they’ll experience growing pains. San Jose is officially rebuilding. Seattle still sucks.
That leaves an awful lot of room for the Canucks to snag one of the top-three spots in the division, and thus a playoff spot. They’d do so by outscoring opponents on a nightly basis. Expect a lot of 7-6 victories from this roster.
That being said, all it would take is one key injury on the blueline for everything to fall apart. And while the postseason might look possible for this lineup, it’s far from a guarantee. And even if they were to make the playoffs, no one should be under any illusions about them making it beyond the behemoths lurking in the Central Division.
Which brings us to as good a place as any to conclude.
Could the Canucks roll with their current roster and end up with a team that is at least as good, if not a fair bit better, than what they put together in 2021/22?
We’ll leave that one with you.
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- Dakota Joshua brings everything that the Canucks have been looking for in a fourth liner
- Ilya Mikheyev may seem pricey now, but for once the Canucks could be paying a UFA for future performance instead of past
- Report cards for each of the Vancouver Canucks’ 7 free agent signings
- Monday Mailbag: Ceilings and floors for some standouts from Canucks dev camp, Pettersson and Mikheyev killing penalties, and Nils Höglander’s bounce-back season
- Realistic expectations for Ilya Mikheyev with the Vancouver Canucks
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