What if the Vancouver Canucks had kept Cory Schneider? Part 2
Photo credit:© Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
By Bill Huan11 months ago
Welcome to part two of our “What if?” series on Cory Schneider! Last week, we concluded at the end of the 2016-17 season and we’ll continue on to the present day now.
Since the Avalanche and Canucks remain last and second-last in the standings, respectively, the draft order stays the same. Naturally, Elias Pettersson is picked fifth overall, which makes the Canucks feel a lot better about their future centre depth with him, Clayton Keller, and Jared McCann in the fold.
The club has around $15.5 million in cap space at the start of free agency due to a number of deals expiring, and in classic Benning fashion, he splurges on a couple of players. First, Benning inks Martin Hanzal to a three-year, $15 million (5 million AAV) deal hoping that he can be a short-term stopgap at 2C, then he rewards Kevin Shattenkirk with a four-year, $27.2 million deal ($6.8 million AAV) to give the team a powerplay quarterback.
2017-18 regular season
The major storyline coming into training camp is the Canucks’ young dynamic duo in Clayton Keller and Brock Boeser. Both make the big club and the original plan is to have Keller centre the third line while being flanked by Boeser, but the former proves too small to play down the middle so he’s converted to the wing.
The two super rookies provide plenty of excitement in Vancouver and both get nominated for the Calder Trophy but lose out to Mathew Barzal, which somewhat overshadows the team’s poor on-ice performance. Shattenkirk and Hanzal turn out to be huge disappointments, but the most alarming thing is Schneider’s play; the former Vezina nominee’s injury woes continue to worsen, resulting in the Canucks accumulating a whopping eight fewer points and ending up 30th in the league.
|IN: 1.9 WAR||OUT: 5.9 WAR|
|Cory Schneider (0.8 WAR)||Anders Nilsson (-1 WAR)|
|Clayton Keller (1.2 WAR)||Erik Gudbranson (-0.2 WAR)|
|Martin Hanzal (0.1 WAR)||Brandon Sutter (1.8 WAR)|
|Eddie Lack (-0.2 WAR)||Jacob Markstrom (1.5 WAR)|
|Jared McCann (0.7 WAR)||Bo Horvat (2.7 WAR)|
|Kevin Shattenkirk (-0.7 WAR)||Loui Eriksson (1.1 WAR)|
Finishing second last in the standings means that the Canucks picks fourth in the 2018 draft, with the selection process playing out like this:
- Buffalo: Rasmus Dahlin
- Carolina: Andrei Svechnikov
- Montreal: Jesperi Kotkaniemi
- Vancouver: Quinn Hughes
- Ottawa: Brady Tkachuk
- Detroit: Filip Zadina
- Arizona: Barrett Hayton
Ultimately, every team still gets the player they chose in real life, just in a slightly different order. There’s no hindsight bias with Hughes being picked fourth either since the Canucks actually had him ranked third going into the draft.
In free agency, Jim Benning now has close to $18 million to spend following the Sedins’ retirements. His biggest priorities are to sign a goalie who can share the starting load alongside Schneider and another top-six centre after Hanzal’s struggles the year before. As a result, the Canucks ink Paul Stastny to a three-year, $20.25 million deal ($6.75 million AAV) and gives Jaroslav Halak a two-year, $6 million contract ($3 million AAV) as well.
Unfortunately, the Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel signings take place too; Canucks fans just can’t escape either player even in the multiverse.
2018-19 regular season
Just like in real life, Pettersson takes the league by storm and runs away with the Calder Trophy. Flanked by Boeser and Keller, the young trio forms a dynamic line that’s set to dominate opponents for years to come. Statsny provides some decent secondary scoring and McCann begins to come into his own as well, but the Canucks largely get outplayed whenever the Pettersson line isn’t on the ice.
In net, Halak takes a big load off of Schneider’s shoulders and provides the team with some stable netminding. His addition plays a huge role in the team adding three points to their total, and the Canucks are actually within shouting distance of a playoff spot by season’s end by finishing 21st in the league with 84 points.
|IN: 5.4 WAR||OUT: 4.1 WAR|
|Cory Schneider (0.2 WAR)||Anders Nilsson (0.2 WAR)|
|Clayton Keller (0.5 WAR)||Erik Gudbranson (-0.9 WAR)|
|Martin Hanzal (-0.2 WAR)||Brandon Sutter (-0.6 WAR)|
|Jaroslav Halak (3.5 WAR)||Jacob Markstrom (4.1 WAR)|
|Jared McCann (0.8 WAR)||Bo Horvat (1.8 WAR)|
|Kevin Shattenkirk (0 WAR)||Loui Eriksson (-0.7 WAR)|
|Paul Stastny (0.6 WAR)||Tanner Pearson (0.2 WAR)|
Having moved up a few spots in the standings, the Canucks land the 12th pick in the 2019 draft and select Matthew Boldy. The team then shocks the entire hockey world by buying out Schneider’s contract and using the extra cap space to trade for J.T. Miller. Benning knows that he’ll lose his job if the club doesn’t make the playoffs in the upcoming season and executes a buyout that’ll add over $2 million to the Canucks’ dead cap until the 2024-25 campaign.
Having already spent to the upper limit, Benning isn’t able to sign Micheal Ferland or Tyler Myers in free agency, and the team enters the season with a single goal in mind: make the playoffs.
2019-20 regular season
Nobody expects much from the Canucks going into the season and not many picked them to make the playoffs. Shockingly, the team adds 10 points to their actual total and finishes as a top seven(!!) team in the entire league. Much of their surprising run comes from career seasons from Halak and Shattenkirk and also the breakout of McCann, who doesn’t put up huge point totals but becomes a play-driving two-way force.
A lot of that success is attributed to Hughes’ historic rookie season, as he once again finishes second in Calder Trophy voting behind Cale Makar. In this mad universe, Benning even gets nominated for GM of the Year, and he surprisingly shows some patience at the trade deadline by standing pat as his team enters the playoffs as the third seed in the Western Conference.
|IN: 8.4 WAR||OUT: 3.2 WAR|
|Paul Stastny (1 WAR)||Tanner Pearson (-0.6 WAR)|
|Clayton Keller (0.6 WAR)||Tyler Myers (-0.3 WAR)|
|Kevin Shattenkirk (2.1 WAR)||Brandon Sutter (0.7 WAR)|
|Jaroslav Halak (2.4 WAR)||Jacob Markstrom (2.5 WAR)|
|Jared McCann (2.3 WAR)||Bo Horvat (0.1 WAR)|
|Loui Eriksson (0.2 WAR)|
|Tyler Toffoli (0.6 WAR)|
The Canucks are matched up with the Flames in round one of the playoffs and manage to defeat them in six tightly contested games. Pettersson and Hughes dazzle in their postseason debuts and put the entire hockey world on notice while Halak continues to be a brick wall in net.
In the second round, the Canucks face off against the Avalanche and get promptly outplayed in five games. Colorado’s firepower is just too much for the Canucks to handle, and the Avs make it all the way to the Cup Finals before losing to Tampa Bay. Even so, the Canucks managed to exceed even the wildest expectations and go into the offseason on a high note.
Having traded away their first round pick by acquiring Miller, the Canucks instead turn their attention to re-signing Keller, who has become an RFA. The dynamic winger has shown flashes of high-end skill especially during his rookie season but was coming off a relatively disappointing campaign, resulting in a three-year, $16.5 million bridge deal ($5.5 million AAV).
Due to the team’s lack of cap flexibility, Benning decides to trade Stastny for a 2022 third-round pick and uses the freed up money to re-sign McCann to a two-year, $6 million deal ($3 million AAV). Chris Tanev (four-year, $17 million, $4.25 million AAV) and Troy Stecher (two-year, $3 million, $1.5 million AAV) are also brought back on team-friendly contracts, but Halak is replaced by a cheaper option in Michael Hutchinson (two-year, $1.5 million, $750,000 AAV) as the club believes that Thatcher Demko is ready to be a full-time starter.
2020-21 regular season
If you weren’t shocked by the previous season’s results, then you’ll surely be now. In this alternate reality, the Canucks finish with a whopping 68 points in the regular season, which already accounts for Pettersson missing almost the entire year due to injury.
To put that into perspective, the team only finished with 50 points in real life and was last in the entire Canadian Division. Now, they’re third in Canada and preparing to face Edmonton in the playoffs, which is mostly fueled by a bounceback campaign from Tanev and breakouts from both Keller and McCann.
|IN: 8.3 WAR||OUT: -0.5 WAR|
|Michael Hutchinson (0 WAR)||Tanner Pearson (0 WAR)|
|Clayton Keller (1.8 WAR)||Tyler Myers (-0.3 WAR)|
|Kevin Shattenkirk (0.4 WAR)||Brandon Sutter (0.2 WAR)|
|Chris Tanev (2.1 WAR)||Nate Schmidt (-0.3 WAR)|
|Jared McCann (3.2 WAR)||Bo Horvat (0.9 WAR)|
|Troy Stecher (0.8 WAR)||Loui Eriksson (-0.3 WAR)|
|Travis Hamonic (-0.2 WAR)|
|Braden Holtby (-0.5 WAR)|
The entire storyline going into the postseason is how the Canucks will shutdown Connor McDavid and he scored a video-game like 105 points in just 56 games. Luckily for the Canucks, they got away with grabbing and interfering with him on virtually every possession and managed to defeat a frustrated Oilers team in six games.
That wasn’t the biggest news in Canada, however, as the Leafs finally managed to get past the first round by getting past Winnipeg. With the monkey finally off their backs, Toronto rides its momentum into the Canadian Division finals by eliminating the Canucks in six games before falling to the Golden Knights in round three. The Lightning still manages to emerge victorious against Vegas in the Cup Finals, but the entire postseason changed with the runs that both the Canucks and Leafs went on.
Following back to back trips to the second round of the playoffs, the Canucks are now seen as a legitimate rising team in the Western Conference. Difficult decisions await them in the 2021 offseason though, as both Pettersson and Hughes are up for huge raises.
Coming off a year in which he only played in 26 games, Pettersson signs for the same three-year, $22.05 million contract ($7.35 million AAV). Hughes, however, inks a six-year, $49.5 million deal ($8.25 million AAV) since his defensive play doesn’t suffer with Tanev still alongside him.
In order to fit both contracts under the cap, the Canucks are forced to trade Roussel along with the 2022 third-round pick that they received in return for Stastny to shed some salary. The club also brings back Alex Edler on a team friendly one-year deal worth $2.75 million, which means that the massive Oliver-Ekman Larsson trade doesn’t happen.
2021-22 regular season
Expectations are sky-high for the Canucks coming into the year but a disappointing season from Pettersson has resulted in the team on the outside of the playoff picture. Still, they’ve managed to accumulate three more points than in real life and has a slightly better shot at making the postseason with the trade deadline still over a month away.
The bigger change, however, is that neither Benning nor Travis Green gets let go. Both of them have been largely praised for the job they did in the previous two years and have been given a much longer runway to run the club, and decisions on their futures will only come at season’s end if the team fails to qualify for the playoffs.
|IN: 4.9 WAR||OUT: 3.5 WAR|
|Michael Hutchinson (0 WAR)||Tanner Pearson (0.9 WAR)|
|Clayton Keller (0.8 WAR)||Tyler Myers (-0.1 WAR)|
|Alex Edler (0.6 WAR)||Tucker Poolman (0.1 WAR)|
|Chris Tanev (1.8 WAR)||Jaroslav Halak (-0.2 WAR)|
|Jared McCann (0.8 WAR)||Bo Horvat (0.7 WAR)|
|Troy Stecher (0.2 WAR)||Oliver-Ekman Larsson (0.3 WAR)|
|Jay Beagle (-0.5 WAR)||Conor Garland (1.9 WAR)|
|Matthew Boldy (1.2 WAR)||Jason Dickinson (-0.5 WAR)|
|Vasili Podkolzin (0.4 WAR)|
This “what if?” scenario definitely took a wild turn at the end, especially during the 2020-21 season. I don’t think many people expected the team to perform significantly better had the Canucks decided to hold on to Schneider instead of Horvat, but the positive results seem to have been influenced more by the moves that the team didn’t make rather than the ones they did.
For example, keeping McCann and not trading for Gudbranson added multiple wins to each subsequent season, and choosing to keep Tanev rather than acquiring Schmidt was one of the main reasons why the team made the playoffs in 2021.
It sure seems like one lesson to take away from this is that the moves that aren’t made can often be just as impactful, if not more, than the ones that actually happen.
All stats courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.
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