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5 Questions Facing the Canucks Before the Start of the 2020-21 Season

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These five questions loom large over the Vancouver Canucks before the 2020-21 season.

Vancouver Canucks v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Seven Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The current Vancouver Canucks core is at an exciting point along their timeline as they just showed off their talent in the playoffs, and are now looking to take that next step to become bonafide contenders. This is a crucial crossroads for GM Jim Benning and team as they attempt to place their key pieces in the best situations to succeed. Unfortunately, this process has been hampered by many bloated, veteran contracts that the team carries which have reduced their options.

Before the 2020-21 season begins, the Canucks must think of these five questions as they relate to their team building and attempt to find the best solutions:

Will Jake Virtanen take that next step?

Controversial winger Jake Virtanen took a step forward last year as he increased his goals from 15 to 18, and points from 25 to 36, all while playing one less game. This year Virtanen will likely get an opportunity to play alongside Elias Pettersson and JT Miller on the top line, something he did for 123:36 at 5-on-5 last season.

Vegas Golden Knights v Vancouver Canucks - Game Six
Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates his goal against the Vegas Golden Knights with teammates during the first period of Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on September 03, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta.
Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

During that small sample the trio did experience success, controlling 69.23 % of high danger scoring chances and scoring 75 % of the goals. Still, Virtanen will have to prove that he can keep up with the other two crafty players and continue that success over a larger sample size. He’s going to need to be smarter with the puck on his stick and more responsible in his own zone.

What happens if there are injuries among the defensemen?

The Canucks cap situation has forced them to head into the season with a couple unproven defensemen shouldering regular roles. One of Olli Juolevi, Jack Rathbone, or Brogan Rafferty will probably be in the opening night lineup, though most likely in a small role.

While the team probably feels comfortable with one of those guys in the lineup, a condensed offseason leading into a busy schedule could result in more injuries than usual across the league. If the team were to suffer any injuries to their top-4 than all of a sudden there are going to be a lot of new faces that are going to have to step in and perform with no NHL experience.

The defence group was already having to be bailed out by Jacob Markstrom last season, with a new goaltending duo and young defensemen this team could be dangerously shaky in their own zone.

How will the goalie starts be split?

The plan was always for Thatcher Demko to be the starting goalie for this team and although it was tough to see Jacob Markstrom leave (to a division rival no less), it made a lot of sense. Veteran and Stanley Cup Champion Braden Holtby was brought it on a two-year deal to help Demko have an easier transition to a full workload.

Vancouver Canucks v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Seven
Thatcher Demko #35 of the Vancouver Canucks reacts after allowing a goal to Shea Theodore (not pictured) of the Vegas Golden Knights during the third period in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on September 04, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

How the games get split up will remain up to coach Travis Green but expect that in another shortened season both will get plenty of reps. Demko had an all-time run against the Las Vegas Golden Knights to end the playoffs but whether he can repeat that is yet to be seen. Holtby offers some insurance in the short term and a great mentor to help Demko take that next step.

How is the team going to fit under the cap?

As it stands right now the Canucks sit about $1.5 million above the cap. They could get under in a variety of different ways whether it involves putting Michael Ferland on the LTIR, trading Brandon Sutter, or finding a way to get out of the Loui Eriksson contract.

Moving Sven Baertschi could be another option if the Canucks could find a willing trade partner, something that seems unlikely considering he previously cleared waivers. Whatever happens, the team will need to dump some money somewhere so look for Benning to remain active in the trade market.

Did this team just take a step back?

The question that looms ominously over this team is if they just took a step back? The young core should only progress over time, but in the short term the loss of some big names in free agency could really hurt this team.

It’s time for the youth to shine and they are finally being given the opportunity that fans have been clamouring for. The opportunities are there, it’s now time for the young guns to go grab them.