The Vancouver Canucks are entering one of their most important offseasons in franchise history. With a comfortable amount of cap space and an emerging young core, now is the time for the to make impactful moves.
One of the best aspects about this season was the emergence of players like Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat. While many had them penciled in as the Canucks #1 and #2 centres for years to come, this was the year where they both proved that was possible.
Brock Boeser also bounced back from a nasty back injury, and played some of his best hockey towards the end of the season. Nineteen-year-old defenceman Quinn Hughes also made the jump to the NHL, and was arguably Vancouver’s best defenceman over the team’s last five games.
Those guys are all important players moving forward, but they aren’t the problem.
The problem is, the rest of the team just isn’t very good.
Jim Benning began the roster exile earlier this season, parting with pricey veterans in Anders Nilsson, Michael Del Zotto, Sam Gagner and Erik Gudbranson. It’s a great start, but more work is needed to get this roster playoff ready for next season.
I’ve already theorized ways in which the Canucks could ship the oft-injured Brandon Sutter and the oft-ineffective Loui Eriksson out of town. They are the last two veterans that could cause a real cap crunch, but there are other replacement-level players that Benning should look at moving for just about anything.
So you traded Sam Gagner? That’s great! Except for the fact that the Canucks are virtually stuck with the same (albeit younger) player in Ryan Spooner.
At 27-years-old and on his fourth team in 14 months, Spooner’s NHL career is in jeopardy. There’s a chance that motivates him coming into camp in September, and he carves out a role with the Canucks.
That seems overly optimistic as the Canucks are currently constructed. Spooner isn’t sliding into this team’s top six, but perhaps he could carve out a role on a fourth line that can score. Say, with Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen? That’s also a pipe dream with Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle around.
What Spooner does well: Spooner is a playmaker, first and foremost. Despite a rough season, he averaged more than two points per 60 minutes at evens in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2017-18. That’s a borderline 1st line forward rate.
There’s a chance he could recapture that magic if put with the right players. With Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci in Boston, the trio was scoring two goals for every goal against at evens.
The Devils jump to the forefront here. They created the fewest scoring chances in hockey last season, and finished the year with a roster chock full of AHL players. Spooner could get a chance to play with guys such as Nico Hishier, Jack Hughes or Pavel Zacha. To varying degrees, any of them could benefit from Spooner’s playmaking ability, if he were to find it again.
He did finish with four assists in 11 games with the Canucks, after posting just two helpers in 41 games with the Rangers and Oilers. If he’s in play at the draft, Benning could probably get a fifth-rounder for him.
Realistically, the Canucks won’t be in a cap crunch until Pettersson and Hughes’ new contracts start in 2021-22. That would be the last year of Beagle’s deal. Will he still be a Canuck by then?
What Beagle does well: Face-offs and killing penalties. Both of these things are in Beagle’s wheelhouse. Washington didn’t miss him up with the offensive outburst from former Canuck legend Nic Dowd, except for the fact that their face-off percentage was one of the worst in the league.
Beagle was also a factor in the Canucks strong penalty kill. With Beagle out of the lineup, the Canucks penalty kill was third-worst in the league (73.6%). When Beagle returned from a broken arm (from December 4th onwards), Vancouver’s penalty kill was clicking at 84.2%, 6th best in the NHL.
These are all teams that missed the playoffs, have cap space, and were bad on the penalty kill last season. The Rangers might be the best fit here though. They don’t have a forward over 27 years old, and could benefit by having some Stanley Cup experience in their lineup.
As much as the Canucks should look at shipping out one of Beagle or Sutter, Benning had good things to say about Beagle during his end of season comments. He’s unlikely to move now after just signing a contract. However, another season where his line gets slaughtered at even-strength, and Benning (or whoever else is in charge) might be forced to try and move him.
If you’re the Canucks and you anticipate that happening, why not move him now?
Ooooh boy. When Tim Schaller was signed on July 1st last summer, this was a signing that wasn’t widely criticized. Schaller was coming off of a 12-goal season in Boston where he was a 4th line staple. However, in Vancouver he’s been nothing but a press box regular, missing 35 games as a healthy scratch.
What Schaller does well: Um, he scores against the Dallas Stars? That means Schaller must find a home in Texas.
Possible Destination: Dallas Stars
Why not trade him to the team he annihilated late in the season? Just don’t show the Stars any other game tape of Schaller, and ship him to Dallas for a second-rounder.
Again, Benning stated in his end of season comments that Schaller has “found a spot” on the Canucks moving forward. That doesn’t sound like a player who will be traded, even if he doesn’t deserve a spot in the top-12 moving forward. However, if he could be moved for a 7th rounder at the draft, Benning needs to do that in a heartbeat. A fresh opportunity for Schaller (in Dallas) could serve him well.
Which player would you most like to see traded?
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