Last season, fans were cheering for the Canucks to make the playoffs.
This year, we should be cheering for the season to be over.
Call this a quasi-recap, if you will. Because, let’s be honest, last night’s game was a predictably forgettable performance for the Canucks. They lost 5-0 to the Winnipeg Jets, and were completely outplayed aside from a short stretch early in the second period.
Although there’s a glooming caveat when you judge this team right now, Canucks management has to be seriously evaluating the performances from every player.
And right now...things aren’t looking so good.
Power of positivity
Let’s try talking about the good.
- Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson dragged Matthew Highmore along to respectability. Horvat had a couple of scoring chances, which was better than most of the team.
- Jack Rathbone and Nils Hoglander played with some jump.
Sorry, that’s all I got.
What about the rest?
The rest of the team sucked. The Sea of Granlunds came crashing down with a barrage of forgettable performances from Highmore, Vesey, Boyd, Michaelis, Hawyrluk, and MacEwen.
Tyler Graovac was noticeable after a hit on Andrew Copp and a couple of shots on net. However, he was on the ice for three goals against, and you can tell that his lack of foot speed is a factor in defending.
I think the real question is, how many of these guys will be back with the Canucks next season?
I could see MacEwen and Highmore back as the 13th and 14th forwards. Hawryluk is also a viable option as a cheap, fourth-line winger.
Vesey, Boyd are good as gone, and Michaelis isn’t in the NHL next season. Graovac is the biggest wild card, but I could see him re-signing in Vancouver based on the team’s lack of forward depth.
The bottom line is, there’s a good chance that none of these forwards are in the Canucks top-12 to start next season.
How much change can occur?
The list of current Canucks players who might not factor into the top-12 next season grows longer.
Antoine Roussel, Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle and Jake Virtanen are another four players who could be exiled from the team.
If that happens, here are some of the openings that could be available among Canucks forwards. The bolded players are in need of new contracts, so their predicted cap hit is below.
JT Miller ($5.25M) — Elias Pettersson ($7M) — Brock Boeser ($5.875M)
Tanner Pearson ($3.25M) — Bo Horvat ($5.5M) — Nils Hoglander ($891,667)
Tyler Motte ($1.2M) — Guy — Vasily Podkolzin ($925K)
Jayce Hawryluk ($850K) — Guy — Guy
Extras: Zack MacEwen ($825K), Matthew Highmore ($725K)
Buried: Loui Eriksson ($4.875M), Antoine Roussel ($1.875M), Jake Virtanen ($1.425M)
LTIR: Micheal Ferland, Jay Beagle
Jim Benning will have to get creative to fill out their bottom-six efficiently, and I’ve already lost hope just from typing that sentence...
In all seriousness, the good news here is that the Canucks already have their top-six set. You could quibble about Pearson’s worth as a second-line winger, but most of the building blocks are there up front.
One intriguing 3LC option...
Filling in that third-line centre spot will be the biggest issue for the Canucks next year. We’ll dive into that over the coming weeks, but one name I’ll be keeping my eye on is current UFA Alex Wennberg.
The 26-year-old Swede signed with Florida in the offseason on a one-year, $2.25 million deal after being bought out by Columbus. He’s had a big bounce-back season with the Panthers, registering 17 goals and 29 points in 56 games. Wennberg has also been Florida’s top penalty killing forward.
He’ll probably fetch a multi-year deal in the $4 million dollar range. While the Canucks don’t have a ton of cap space, they could afford Wennberg if that’s the one “splashy” move they make.
I do think there’s a good chance that he remains in Florida. He’s fit in seamlessly with an organization that’s exceeded expectations this year. If he does hit unrestricted free agency, the Canucks have to make a push to sign him.
Could Canucks defence look any different in 2021-22?
While there’s likely to be some type of overhaul up front, there is a chance that the Canucks return with the exact same defence that they have right now.
Quinn Hughes, Nate Schmidt and Tyler Myers are absolute locks for this team next year. You can pretty much put Jack Rathbone in that category as well with the way he’s played. Olli Juolevi likely returns on a cheap, one-year deal as the seventh defenceman.
Travis Hamonic has been okay, although there are some red flags. He’s posted a career-worst 43% goals-for percentage and a 40% scoring-chances for total. Hamonic also has a butt-ugly 31.1% shot-attempt differential in 110 even-strength minutes without Hughes.
I do think management likes the fit with Hughes though. They just can’t break the bank on Hamonic. If he wants anything more than $2 million per season, they should strongly consider just walking away.
That really just leaves the longest-tenured Canuck, Alex Edler.
You have to think it’s either retirement or another season in Vancouver for Edler. However, I see a hard time imagining the fit financially.
Unless he’s willing to go the Zdeno Chara route and sign a cheap, one-year deal, the Canucks have to consider walking away. He’s no more than a third-pairing defenceman at this point in his career, despite the fact that the Canucks continue to play him like a top-four guy.
Whether you think Edler and Hamonic return or not, there’s certainly a chance that the Canucks defence looks like this next season.
Quinn Hughes ($7M) — Travis Hamonic ($2M)
Alex Edler ($2M) — Nate Schmidt ($5.9M)
Jack Rathbone ($925K) — Tyler Myers ($6M)
Extras: Olli Juolevi ($800K)
With these projected contracts and including the goalies, here’s what the Canucks cap situation would look like heading into next season
Roster size: 20
Cap Hit: $77,501,879
Cap Remaining: $3,998,121
So, how are we feeling about the Canucks returning with the same defence next season?
Why can’t the Canucks defend?
This is something that’s plagued the Canucks for the entirety of the Travis Green era. He has to shoulder some of the blame for this, but here are three reasons why I think this team struggles to defend.
- Aggressive forechecking leaves them vulnerable. This hasn’t been the case as much lately, but this team has continually been one of the worst in the league in giving up odd-man rushes.
- The defence lacks foot speed. Aside from Hughes and Rathbone, this is an old, slow defence.
- The forwards are often caught puck-watching. This was something I noticed constantly last night, as the Sea of Granlunds brought flashbacks of the 2016-17 season.
The solution to problem one would be to find a new coach. Problems two and three could be solved by tinkering with the roster during the offseason.
Whether they tinker or choose to bring back the same mediocre group is another story. Time will tell.