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Hindsight Experiment: Could the Canucks have reached the Cup Finals in 2023 with just ten transactional do-overs?
8 months ago
The stage has been set for the 2023 Stanley Cup Finals, and it will be the Florida Panthers taking on the Vegas Golden Knights for hockey’s ultimate prize.
But what if it wasn’t?
They say that hindsight is 20/20, and that’s never more true than in the hockey-writing offseason, where hindsight is more like 20-25% of the content.
With that in mind, we present a thought experiment that, on the surface at least, is patently ridiculous: could the Vancouver Canucks have reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2023 if they were granted just ten transactional do-overs from their own recent history?
In the current timeline, the 2022/23 Canucks didn’t even come close to making the playoffs, missing by a dozen points. Never mind the Cup Finals.
But how thin is the line between abject failure and total success?
Let’s try to find out.
Below, we’ll grant ourselves those ten do-overs and see if we can’t put together a hypothetical hindsight roster that could potentially stand in there with the Panthers and Golden Knights in another timeline.
We’re not going to go back too far, because we still want players like Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes in place as the team’s competitive core.
It’ll be the changes around those key players, we hope, that’ll make all the difference.
Obligatory Note: None of this is intended to be taken particularly seriously, so try to have some fun with it.
Do-Over #1: Don’t Sign Tyler Myers
Our time machine goes back as far as the summer of 2019 and the eventually-regrettable signing of one Tyler Myers. History has shown that Myers was not a difference-maker for the Canucks, save for that his cap hit wound up creating far more difficulties than it was worth.
The Canucks are much better off just letting someone else sign him to a long-term deal instead and not adding to their blueline quite yet.
Do-Over #2: Sign Chris Tanev
Who could have predicted that, the summer after signing Myers, the Canucks would wind up letting a much better RHD walk for a much cheaper price? Well, besides everyone who predicted it at the time.
The Canucks instantly put themselves in a much better position by having not signed Myers and instead offering Chris Tanev the sort of extension he would go on to sign with the Calgary Flames. Honestly, the Canucks probably could have had Tanev even cheaper than the four-year, $4.5 million commitment that it took to make him a Flame, but in hindsight, we’ll take what we can get. That contract wound up being a bargain.
Do-Over #3: Sign Tyler Toffoli
Letting Tanev walk was immediately and continually regrettable. Letting Tyler Toffoli go is less obvious of a mistake. But for what it would have cost to keep him, and what the Canucks would eventually pay to replace him on the roster, it would have made the most sense to offer him an extension.
Again, just the four-year, $4.25 million AAV contract he signed with the Montreal Canadiens would have been just fine and dandy for the Canucks, and if they could have got him signed for even less, all the better.
Do-Over #4: Don’t Sign Braden Holtby
This one comes down to cap management more than anything. Holtby was a waste of money when Thatcher Demko was more than ready to take the reins as the full-time starter anyway, and his contract just turned into a buyout penalty after a single, non-impactful season.
The Canucks are much better off to have just signed a sub-$1 million backup and let Demko roll through a majority of the starts.
Do-Over #5: Trade Jake Virtanen
Hindsight is better than 20/20 on this one. Instead of re-signing Virtanen after what only looked like a breakout season to the most optimistic of observers, the Canucks should have dealt his RFA rights and washed their hands of him entirely.
They couldn’t have possibly known the depths to which Virtanen would sink his career in the near future, but even on a purely hockey-based level, there were reasons aplenty to doubt Virtanen’s long-term efficacy as an NHL player. Trading him in the summer of 2020 recoups an asset and avoids a buyout.
Do-Over #6: Trade Tanner Pearson (Instead of Re-Signing)
In the end, Pearson was still a fine player up until his hand-injury-turned-medical-odyssey, and he’s not exactly that much of a detriment to the team, even in the present day. But removing his contract from the books, and instead replacing it with the second round pick (or more) that could have been gleaned for his services as a rental at the 2021 Trade Deadline, leaves the Canucks in a much better position overall.
Do-Over #7: Trade for Vince Dunn Instead of Jason Dickinson
Okay, for this one, we have to rely on a rumour, which we realize is asking a lot, especially given that this particular transaction is really key to the whole thing.
But bear with us all the same.
The word on the street is that, heading into the 2021 Expansion Draft, the Canucks had a few different players available to them for the cost of a third round pick. In the end, they traded for Jason Dickinson of the Dallas Stars. Within a year, they’d be giving up a second round pick to move Dickinson’s contract to the Chicago Blackhawks.
But what if, instead, the Canucks dealt that third round pick for someone else that was reportedly offered to them for the exact same asking price: Vince Dunn, then of the St. Louis Blues.
Dunn went untraded and unprotected into the Expansion Draft, where he was selected by the Seattle Kraken and has since become a de facto top-pairing defender. After pushing the Kraken into the playoffs, Dunn is likely to receive Norris Trophy votes for 2022/23.
It’s hard to overstate just how much of a difference swapping out Dickinson for Dunn might have made for the Canucks.
Do-Over #8: Don’t Do the OEL/Garland Trade At All
This is our easiest piece of hindsight, because there were plenty of folks employing foresight at the time to call it what it was right away: one of the worst trades in franchise history.
In our hypothetical timeline, the math is even easier. With Dunn and Toffoli in place, there’s no organizational need for either of Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Conor Garland (if there ever was in the first place).
The Canucks instead let the contracts of Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel run out, they keep their 9th overall pick, and they draft Dylan Guenther (or Cory Sillinger or Wyatt Johnston) and walk away a much richer and deeper hockey team.
Do-Over #9: Don’t Sign Tucker Poolman
This one’s easy, too. With Tanev still around, and Ethan Bear still presumably on the way (and then Filip Hronek, too?), there’s really no room or need for Tucker Poolman, not that there ever really was.
A contract that was questionable the second it was signed is instead not signed, and suddenly the Canucks have an extra $2.5 million in cap space to play with for four years running.
Do-Over #10: Use Extra Draft Capital for Deadline Rentals
Honestly, we could call it there and turn in our assignment with a do-over to spare. Instead, we’ll use this last slot to mention the possibility of using some of the extra draft capital we picked up in this exercise to acquire some key rentals at the 2022 Trade Deadline.
The Canucks should have some picks on hand here from trading away Pearson and Virtanen, as well as a couple extra seconds that they will have not traded in the OEL and Dickinson deals.
That’s plenty to supplement the rest of the roster for a lengthy playoff run.
The Final 2022/23 Alternate Roster: Cup-Worthy?
Note: You will probably notice that we did not do-over the Bo Horvat trade or the Filip Hronek trade that followed, and we are intentionally still leaving them on the books, as is.
Thus, our ten-part thought experiment leaves us with the following 2022/23 alternate roster:
Is that a better roster than what the Canucks actually finished 2022/23 with?
Is it a good enough roster to make the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Without a doubt.
Is it worthy of facing off with the Florida Panthers in the Finals?
That’s probably a longer debate. But there’s a debate to be had, and that’s not a bad result for the ten-part refurbishment of a franchise that finished with the 11th-worst record in the league in real life.
Look, like we said at the outset, this is all for fun, and we know that things would never line up this simply in the real world. The butterfly effect alone ensures us that making this many changes would result in countless spiralling consequences that would change the Canucks’ fate in entirely unpredictable ways.
But the real lesson here is not in looking back, but in looking forward. If we can get the Canucks on track to theoretical contention with just ten transactional do-overs, then can the Canucks be all that many moves away from non-theoretical contention in their own actual future?
It all comes down to making sure the moves made are the right ones…and making them on the first time around.
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