Despite missing the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, the Vancouver Canucks did subtly improve. They surpassed the 80-point plateau for the first time since 2014-15.
Time to raise a banner? Nah, I prefer this one.
As the quote roughly outlines, the Canucks were a decisively better team when it came to putting the puck in the net (Thank you, Elias Pettersson). In December, Vancouver was shockingly a top-ten team in goals scored. While that dropped later in the season, it wasn’t the team’s largest issue.
That rested on the shoulders of the defence.
Jacob Markstrom did all he could to keep the Canucks in games. He had the best season of his career and played out of his mind in a number of contests.
While Markstrom did his part, the defence did not.
"Defence is not a position of strength for the Canucks...They can address the defence in free agency but I got a sense talking to him & the vibe he was putting out, that he knows that he's got to make a significant trade & his trade record hasn't been very good."— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) May 30, 2019
At even-strength, the Canucks had the worst scoring chance differential of any team in the NHL. Even after trading Erik Gudbranson, there wasn’t much improvement.
The good news for fans who want to see the Canucks completely revamp this defence, is that Jim Benning is in a position to do so. Right now, Quinn Hughes is the only defenceman under contract past the 2019-20 season. That should change soon once Alex Edler is extended — unless you’re of the belief that the Canucks will move on.
That would be a bold move, and would fall under the definition of a face lift. However, is that actually what the Canucks will do with this defence?
Who’s safe on this defence?
There’s really only one untouchable on the Canucks defence, and that’s super-rookie Quinn Hughes.
For the rest of the defenceman on this roster, there are varying degrees in which their spot is safe.
Fan-favourite Troy Stecher can call his spot on the Canucks blueline about as safe as wearing a condom....it would be a shock it he was traded, but never say never. If the right deal is on the table to acquire a high-end player, Stecher is one of the Canucks most valuable assets.
Everyone also assumes that Alex Edler will be back. You hope the Canucks don’t throw him a monster contract, although he is fresh off of a statistically superb season.
Ironically enough, the safest Canucks blueliner might be Chris Tanev...if only for one more season at least. The time to trade Tanev was probably two seasons ago. Now? He’s oft-injured and coming off one of his least productive seasons. Since he wouldn’t fetch much on the trade market, it’s hard to see him leaving.
If there is a face lift on defence, who goes?
There was only one regular on the Canucks blueline who wasn’t mentioned in the last section.
And no...I’m not talking about Luke Schenn people.
One of the most interesting names to watch this summer will be Ben Hutton. His “kind-of-a-bounce-back-season-which-wasn’t-all-that-great” has been well documented. Despite a rebound, he was a disaster in his own end. Only Brent Seabrook and Trevor Daley were on the ice for more scoring chances against than Hutton at even-strength.
A large part of that was certainly due to playing with Erik Gudbranson, and he was decisively better without his Ottawa-area counterpart.
However, there’s still one glaring issue with Hutton — and it’s the money he might command.
Hutton made $2.8 million last year but based on his usage (average time on ice of 22:21), why wouldn’t he command $4 million or more per season in these upcoming contract negotiations? Especially when the Canucks dished out that amount to Gudbranson less than 16 months ago?
Trading Hutton and signing a cheaper replacement is one avenue to consider going down, but that doesn’t necessarily constitute a face lift.
A real face lift would transpire if the Canucks moved on from one or both of the vets in Edler or Tanev.
If Tanev has a bounce-back season (a big if considering his health history), then he could be a guy the Canucks look at moving at the deadline next year. Again, there’s probably not a long list of suitors for a guy who has an injury index longer than a stoner’s shopping list.
Then, there’s Edler. My Nucks Misconduct colleague Westy already advocated for moving on from the longest-tenured Canuck. It would be a bold move, and one that’s only worth executing if there is a suitable replacement. It would also be a little tough to move on from both Edler and Hutton in one offseason. Tough, but not impossible.
Despite the stellar season, Edler is getting up there in age, and his injury history isn’t much shorter than Tanev’s. This is a league where speed on the blueline is becoming more of a factor (see: Colorado with Tyson Barrie, Samuel Girard & Cale Makar). Edler doesn’t have that in spades, and it’s something the Canucks need to think about moving forward.
As of writing, the Canucks have the ability to completely revamp their blueline, if that’s an avenue they choose to go down. When you’re a team that’s missed the playoffs for four straight years and a team that’s fresh off of allowing the most chances per game, it’s something that seriously needs to be considered.