The dream of the Canucks making the playoffs nearly over and the focus has shifted to next year. Because of this, it’s time for the Canucks to ask themselves two questions.
1) Where is this team in its development stage?
2) What needs to happen to make the team better?
Over the past couple of weeks, hoards of armchair GMs have given their takes on where this team is at. Some seem to think it is time to do a full-scale rebuild because the team is five to eight years away from contention. Others seem to think a few small moves may suffice.
In this two-part series, I will present to you why the Canucks are a few right moves away from contention (Part 1) and what type of moves I think they need to make to get there (Part 2).
Explaining the “Seven-Player Model”
My whole argument for why the Canucks are closer than many people think hinges on a roster-building model called the seven-player model.
In 2011, hockey reporter Alan Strachan wrote a book called “Why the Leafs Still Suck And How They Can Be Fixed”. In the fixing Leafs portion of the book, he identified the seven-player model. This is a model for roster building he dubbed as “what the most progressive hockey people consider to be the best blueprint for building a team in today's hockey”.
As the name entails, the roster model involves finding seven top players (ideally 1 goalie, 2 defencemen and 4 forwards). These seven players should cost a maximum of 60% of the salary cap, though the number can fluctuate.
This is a blueprint that has been used to build the three main dynasties in the salary cap era. Chicago best exemplifies the model as they used the core of Niemi and Crawford; Seabrook and Keith; Hossa, Kane, Toews and a rotating fourth forward to win 3 cups. The Penguins tweaked the model a bit by not using two defencemen. They had Fleury and Murray; Letang; Crosby and his winger (Kunitz and then Guentzel); Malkin; Staal or Bonino; and a winger (early on Guerin and then Kessel) for all three cup runs.
LA was another strong example of the model. They had Quick; Doughty and Voynov; Kopitar, Carter, Williams and Richards to win 2 cups.
With the exception of the first Penguins, Blackhawks and Kings teams, each team’s seven players cost between 50-60% of the cap. Since 2010, only the Kings (in 2012) have won a cup with their seven players costing under 50% of total cap space.
This model is also applicable for the three other teams who have had the most sustained success in the cap era without a plethora of cups (Boston, San Jose and Tampa Bay). Boston had Thomas or Rask; Chara and a rotating second defenceman; Marchand, Bergeron and rotating last two wingers (Lucic and Horton early on then Pastrnak and Kreijci later on).
The Sharks tweaked the model a bit by de-emphasizing the goalie. For them it was Vlasic, Burns, Thornton, Marleau, Couture, Pavelski and a rotating seventh player. Tampa Bay also tweaked the model by turning it into six players plus lots of depth. They used Bishop (now Vasilevskiy), Hedman, Stamkos, Point, Kucherov, and Johnson/now Point.
The seven-player model has quite clearly propelled teams to sustained success in the salary cap era. Obviously, there are other elements needed, such as a team filled with depth. You could have seven amazing players but if the rest of the team sucks then you will only go so far.
Strachan himself acknowledges that nothing is “foolproof.” In his book, he outlined other things the Leafs needed to do such as hire more scouts and exercise their financial might in areas they could. However, for him, the seven-player model was part of a formula that “is as close to a formula for success as there is in today’s game”. I believe it is a framework that is the gold standard for roster building and an excellent starting point to measure where your favourite team is at.
The Canucks and the seven-player model
Using the seven-player model, I think it is clear the Canucks are not very far away. Although I have called Demko overrated in a moment of pure emotion, when I think in a non-emotional manner, I believe he is a bonafide number one goalie in the making. At worst, you have a promising option behind him as well in DiPietro.
The Canucks clearly have a bona fide number one defenceman in the making through Quinn Hughes. Although there is not a clear second defenceman here, Jack Rathbone could become that guy. You could also try and acquire that player (see part 2 which will be out in a couple of days) or you could tweak the model and go forward heavy. The point being, not having a number two defenceman right now as part of your seven players is not a deal-breaker.
With respect to forwards, it is quite clear that Pettersson, Horvat and Boeser qualify. You could make the argument for Miller, though ideally you might want a younger player that fits with the core. In that case, you could make the argument that one or two of Podkolzin and Hoglander should get there in the next two years. I also think that is a safe bet.
At worst, the Canucks have 4 bonafide players to form the seven (if you do not believe in Demko, Miller, Hoglander or Podkolzin). Realistically, they probably have five within a year and could add another player or two to the seven through the development of Hoglander and Podkolzin within two years.
This is to say the Canucks are close to having their seven players to build the team around. To me, getting the seven players gets you to the starting point for building a perennial contender and the Canucks are almost there. Obviously, much work is still left to be done but by getting the seven players you have done 55% to 60% of the work.
You do not gut a team or go full-on rebuild when you have five or six young players to build the team around. If you go full-on rebuild, you are wasting the years of your young core and essentially destroying all the valuable work you have already done. However, you can not also just make neutral moves or only focus on complementary pieces because, at this point, the Canucks have not reached the starting point needed to become a contender. Although Demko, Podkolzin and Hoglander should get there, it is not a certainty. As a result, the Canucks need to get proactive and ensure they have other players that can fill the void just in case the aforementioned names don’t hit. They also need to start building depth which is the second key ingredient for a contender.
The next cap hit for the core four has been a massive question amongst fans for the last few weeks. Specifically, “how can you win when all of the core four has new contracts due within the next 2 years”. Although the negotiations will get difficult, the situation is still very manageable. Recall, Strachan says teams should not dedicate more than 60% of their cap space to the seven players which is still a large number ($48 million this year). In this context, paying Hughes and Pettersson $8 million to $10 million a year is not a massive problem. That’s especially true when Demko signs around the $4 million or $5 million a year mark, and Horvat’s next contract expectedly comes in at less than $8 million a year.
If you have been convinced by this argument or are mildly intrigued, then the next question becomes how do you find other players that could become the sixth or seventh piece as well as the surrounding pieces?
I will answer that through my game plan for improving the Canucks or what I otherwise call Project Expansion Draft. I will post this article two days from when this piece is posted.
Author’s note: This is my first article for Nucks Misconduct in five years and I will be posting frequently moving forward. Please feel free to leave any feedback as I get back into writing. I welcome all feedback and criticism. I may not agree with it but I want to hear it so I can at the very least think about it and become the best I can possibly be at this.