Let’s not kid ourselves here: the Canucks have been one of the worst teams in the NHL over the last 3 seasons. That’s not conjecture or hyperbole, but a proven fact. And while they’ve been making some very intriguing draft picks, players who have the potential to become NHL stars, this gigantic tire fire still burns bright, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves as we look forward to this team’s return to being a contender, hmm?
There’s still a number of glaring issues that have to be fixed before they can claw their way out of the Western Conference basement, and not all of them are things they can even control.
OFFENCE: It can be a challenge for teams to replace a player who provided a big chunk of the scoring for a team in the previous season. Imagine having to do that with three of your top scorers. Trying to ask a team that was so hard pressed to find goals to not only improve upon their outputs from last season, but also make up for the production of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Thomas Vanek seems like a Herculean task for Travis Green’s crew.
Sure, a healthy Brock Boeser should pick up where he left off, and they’ll continue to get a solid output from Bo Horvat, but when you look down this lineup, do you see a lot of 20 goal scorers here?
Markus Granlund *
Yan Pavel Laplante
Not exactly a murderer’s row. And when you consider that Elias Pettersson isn’t written in stone into the lineup for opening night. And apart from the draft, the new faces in this lineup aren’t going to suddenly become guys challenging Bo & The Flow for the team scoring lead.
DEFENCE: One of the hardest things about being a fan of this team right now, is how hard they make it to give them credit for things they do right. They’re really doing a great job with scouting and drafting, and we’re likely going to see the fruits of that labour in this year’s version of the Utica Comets. But for every good draft pick, and trades like the deal that saw them snag Jonathan Dahlen from Ottawa for Alexandre Burrows, there’s the stagnation on the back end that should have you screaming at the skies.
This team’s defence was utterly porous last season, leaving Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson hung out to dry many a night. And barring a solid camp from Olli Juolevi (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility), we’re likely to see the same Dmen that stunk the joint up last season. The inevitable wave of injuries that will begin (looks at his watch...) any moment now will mean Juolevi and guys like Jalen Chatfield, Evan McEneny and Ashton Sautner should get a look. Still, until Quinn Hughes arrives, this defence isn’t instilling fear into any of their Pacific Division opponents.
GOALTENDING: Is it Demko Time? That’s probably one of the biggest questions heading into this season. Credit where it’s due: the Canucks have been very patient bringing Thatcher Demko along, and given his performance in the AHL for the Comets last season, it points to a guy who could be ready to take that next step. Are they going to make the move, and try to either deal Anders Nilsson or risk losing him on waivers moving him down to Utica is the real question here. Jacob Markstrom is still likely to be the number 1, but admit it: wouldn’t you love to see a good ol’ fashioned #CanucksGoaltendingControversy with Demko pushing for that number 1 slot?
INJURIES: To say that the Canucks have suffered mightily from injuries to key players over the last few seasons is an understatement. Sure, all teams have to endure some level of this, but it’s your ability to fill in those gaps with competent replacements that can determine how you survive it, and that’s where the Canucks have failed. Whether it was the inability to replace Brock Boeser’s scoring last season when he went down with that scary looking back injury, or finding someone who could play Chris Tanev’s minutes as effectively as the Tan Man, the Canucks have lacked depth for a while now. It’s starting to change, but it won’t be fast enough to help this season should they once again go through a parade of dumb luck injuries like they’ve endured the last two years.
THE PACIFIC DIVISION: And then we get to one of the things that the Canucks can’t control, the other teams in their division and the changes they’ve made. Let’s start with the San Jose Sharks. Nothing like dealing away some mid-level prospects, roster players and picks for a generational talent on defence (as though they didn’t already have a strong enough back line, right?). Or how about Vegas, picking up Max Pacioretty for next to nothing? Then we have Calgary, winners of the Noah Hanifin sweepstakes, and they’ve done a pretty great job of shedding some of the older players that were on that team last season. The Kings brought in Ilya Kovalchuk, and he should have an impact, but that’s a team whose window is starting to close. And this doesn’t even look at the Central Division (and let’s just not, because nearly every team there is absolutely frightening). The Canucks, Oilers and to a lesser extent, the Coyotes (though they’re going to also slowly be improving) are still gonna get pounded by divisional opponents this season. Accept this as fact heading into this season.
I know this comes off as a wet blanket approach, and that’s not really the intent. There’s going to be moments that we’re really going to enjoy this year. Boeser picking up where he left off. Bo Horvat developing into the leader of this team. Elias Pettersson’s arrival. And hopefully Thatcher Demko continuing his development into an elite NHL goaltender. But these moments are going to be peppered rather liberally with long nights, beatdowns and much of the same we’ve endured the last little while.