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When will the Canucks be good again?

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A quick analysis of the current roster shows how many holes there currently are.

NHL: MAR 24 Jets at Canucks
Vancouver Canucks Defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) on ice against the Winnipeg Jets during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on March 24, 2021 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Devin Manky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After losing three straight prior to their week off, it should be crystal clear that the Canucks need to be sellers before the trade deadline.

The real question moving forward though, is how many more changes does this team need to make before they’re a legitimate Stanley Cup contender?

According to Jim Benning, the Canucks are another two years away from seriously competing. You’d think a statement like that would mean he has a plan, but comments such as “we live day to day, like we’re in today’s world” suggest otherwise.

The Canucks have flashed glimpses of a team that could be plucky and annoying. Their victory against St. Louis in last year’s playoffs was evidence of that. However, plucky and annoying doesn’t scream “perennial Stanley Cup contender.”

Before we can analyze how much further the Canucks need to go before they’re competitive again, let’s look at where some of their players would realistically slot in the line-up on a winning team. I’ve included players who could be a part of the long-term solution, and not players who should be traded...like Tanner Pearson.

Forwards

JT Miller — Elias Pettersson — Brock Boeser

Guy — Bo Horvat — Guy

GuyGuy — Nils Hoglander

Jayce Hawryluk — Adam Gaudette — Tyler Motte

Not listed: Zack MacEwen, Jake Virtanen, Tanner Pearson, Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Jimmy Vesey, Travis Boyd

The good news is that the Canucks have a bonafide top line along with one of the best 1-2 punches at centre in hockey.

After that, they got problems.

One of the main problems with the Canucks this season is that too many players are playing too high up in the line-up.

As good as Nils Hoglander has been, he’s better suited to play an energy role in the bottom six. You also wouldn’t find Tanner Pearson in the top six on a winning team.

Simply put, the above lines show that the Canucks might be four players away icing a dangerous forward group. Unfortunately, most of their current wingers are replacement-level players.

Before looking at trade targets that make sense, you might want to consider plugging Vasily Podkolzin into the line-up for next season. If you believe he’s ready, here’s what next season’s lineup might look like.

JT Miller — Elias Pettersson — Brock Boeser

Guy — Bo Horvat — Nils Hoglander

Guy GuyVasily Podkolzin

Jayce Hawryluk — Adam Gaudette — Tyler Motte

With both Hoglander and Podkolzin listed as right-wingers, one of them will certainly be gifted a top-six spot to begin next season. Hoglander is a natural fit there since he’s already had success with Horvat, but it further exemplifies just how badly the Canucks need another legimitate top-six left-winger.

If the above is your blueprint for a successful team, then it’s easy to see that the Canucks need to start selling off the rest of their “assets” prior to the deadline.

If Tanner Pearson can be dealt, deal him.

Brandon Sutter? Call up any hockey exec older than age 55 and offload him for a mid-round pick.

Does anybody want Zack MacEwen? Jake Virtanen? Hell, even Adam Gaudette should be on the block, even if the idea of Hawryluk, Gaudette and Motte is intriguing for a fourth line.

Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel are likely stuck in Vancouver until their contracts expire, but perhaps a suitor for Beagle can be found in the offseason once he’s down to a year remaining on his deal. Jimmy Vesey and Travis Boyd could be traded, but this management group doesn’t seem proactive enough to offload players they just acquired.

Based on the above depth chart, the verdict heading forward isn’t dire. However, it does show that the Canucks are likely three more players away from adeptly filling out their forward core.

And, they’re only three players away if Podkolzin is NHL ready, and if one of Hoglander or Podkolzin can properly step-up into a top-six role.

Defence

Quinn Hughes — Guy

Guy — Nate Schmidt

Guy — Tyler Myers

Not listed: Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty, Alex Edler, Jordie Benn, Travis Hamonic

One of the biggest problems with the Canucks defence is that they need a top-pairing, right shot defenceman. Unfortunately, so do 20+ teams other teams from around the NHL.

Hughes and Hamonic have been fine, but based on where the Canucks are in the standings, the team needs to look at seeing if Hamonic will move his no-movement clause to play elsewhere.

They should do the same with Edler...but we’ve all been down that road before.

However, if the Canucks aren’t planning on re-signing Edler (and maybe they shouldn’t if they think Olli Juolevi and Jack Rathbone are NHLers) then perhaps it’s a different story this year.

Jordie Benn is another player who needs to be traded. And if you think it’s not worth trading players just to collect mid-round picks, remember these two things.

  • With the expansion draft coming up, there’s an urgent need to collect as many assets as possible, especially if you’re the Canucks, and you’re in a position to trade for useful players that other teams are unable to protect. Thomas Drance and Harman Dayal did some good work outlining this for The Athletic recently, but the point is that teams like Carolina, Pittsburgh and St. Louis are going to be in a position where they leave useful players unprotected. The Canucks are in a position of strength to trade with those teams if they’re diligent and proactive in acquiring as many assets as possible.

Unfortunately, we’re living day to day...

  • Another reason why the Canucks need to try and collect assets now is because the 2021 NHL draft could be an absolute crapshoot. With many prospects lacking playing time, player evaluation have become increasingly tough. This could lead to more first-round busts and late-round stars compared to the average draft.

With Jack Rathbone projecting to be NHL ready as early as next season, here’s a look at the blueline that includes him.

Quinn Hughes — Guy

Guy — Nate Schmidt

Jack Rathbone — Tyler Myers

If Rathbone makes the team, that’s good news for him (and for the entertainment value of the Canucks). It also showcases that the Canucks are still two top-four defencemen away from truly being competitive...yes, even though Tyler Myers will be playing top-four minutes for the Canucks next season.

The last point here regards Juolevi and Rafferty. If the Canucks don’t plan on playing them, they need to consider what their trade value is on the market if they aren’t going to be a part of the team long-term. Unfortunately, they’ve done themselves no favours by keeping both players on the sidelines for the majority of the 2021 campaign.

Whether Juolevi and Rafferty are part of the solution or not, the Canucks are still likely two top-four defenders, two middle-six wingers and a third-line centre away from being a legitimate contender.

So, when will the Canucks be good again?

It could be next year. It could also be five years or more from now if they fail to be proactive.

While you might like the prospect pool that Jim Benning has built up, that doesn’t excuse him from past miscues, and it certainly isn’t an excuse to stand pat during this trade deadline.

The above outlines the holes that need to be filled. The big question now is, what’s next?