If there’s one takeaway from the Vancouver Canucks’ offseason moves, it’s this: they are going for it.
After four straight seasons where they’ve missed the playoffs, Jim Benning isn’t going down without a fight.
Heading into the last year of his contract, his job is probably on the line, and it shows.
Veteran defenceman Alex Edler was re-signed, with Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn, and Oscar Fantenberg joining the back end as free agent signings. Add in Quinn Hughes and maybe Olli Juolevi at some point, and the Canucks’ defence is unquestionably better than last season.
Benning’s team is better up front as well, with the additions of J.T. Miller and Micheal Ferland, to go with a full season from Tanner Pearson and a healthy Sven Baertschi.
Did Benning give up too much to get Miller and overcommit money and term to Myers? Perhaps, but that’s another topic for another day.
In the here and now, the Canucks are better. They may even be a playoff team.
With apologies to Markus Granlund and Derrick Pouliot, the only significant subtraction from their lineup is Ben Hutton, who is still unsigned and won’t be back.
Certainly, they’re a playoff contender, after missing out on the postseason by nine points in a down year in the Western Conference last season.
The Colorado Avalanche made the playoffs with just 90 points last season, which is below the average total usually needed.
Since the new playoff system was adopted in 2014, the fewest points required to make the postseason was 87, with the most being 99. The average point total for the second wild card team is 92.6.
All this is to say that the Canucks may need more than a nine-point improvement in the standings to end their playoff drought.
While the newcomers draw the headlines, they’re still expected to be support players. Much of the Canucks’ hopes rest on the existing young players in their lineup.
Can Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser take the next steps in their career and be even better next season? Same goes for Bo Horvat, who will likely carry the responsibility of being the Canucks’ captain at age 24.
How good can 19-year-old defenceman Quinn Hughes be in his first full NHL season? Is Adam Gaudette an NHL regular at this stage of his career or will the Canucks’ third line be an offensive black hole with the likes of Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle centring it?
Is Jacob Markstrom the reliable No. 1 goalie that we saw last season, or closer to the up-and-down netminder we saw the season prior?
That’s an enormous question mark for the Canucks, given how unpredictable goaltending can be in the National Hockey League.
Also of importance will be the play of Thatcher Demko in his first full season as Markstrom’s backup.
The Canucks earned just 16 of a possible 44 points in the 22 games that Markstrom didn’t start last season.
The Canucks began last season with Michael Del Zotto on their second defence pairing, and the terrible twosome of Derrick Pouliot and Erik Gudbranson on their third pair.
There was only one way to go, and that was up.
Despite being paid like one, the analytics say Myers isn’t a top pairing defenceman but he’s certainly a massive upgrade over Gudbranson. Vancouver also added Hughes and Jordie Benn, which gives them six strong defencemen to work with.
It’s not an elite blue line by any means, but Travis Green shouldn’t have to overplay Edler and Chris Tanev like he has in the past.
Their third pairing, no matter who starts on it, is the best we’ve seen in the Benning era. That sets them up well to begin the season, but also means that a couple of key injuries won’t result in replacement-level players being elevated into top-four roles.
This lineup won’t win a Stanley Cup, but it might just make the playoffs.
|Micheal Ferland||Elias Pettersson||Brock Boeser|
|Tanner Pearson||Bo Horvat||J.T. Miller|
|Sven Baertschi||Adam Gaudette||Jake Virtanen|
|Antoine Roussel||Jay Beagle||Josh Leivo|
|Alex Edler||Chris Tanev|
|Quinn Hughes||Tyler Myers|
|Jordie Benn||Troy Stecher|
Three teams missed the playoffs in 2019 that made the postseason the year prior. Four new teams made the playoffs in 2018 compared to 2017.
Who are the candidates to drop out of the top eight next season?
Perhaps it’ll be the Winnipeg Jets, who lost Jacob Trouba and Myers from their defence, and who have a number of key players getting up in age (Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, and Dustin Byfuglien are all on the wrong side of 30).
Are the Dallas Stars for real? What about Calgary, who won the West during the regular season but flamed out in the playoffs?
What do we make of the San Jose Sharks, an ageing team who lost Joe Pavelski in free agency that has also yet to re-sign Joe Thornton?
The Canucks will have their most competitive season in years next season, though that’s not exactly saying much.
Will it result in a playoff spot?
It’s possible, though they’ll need a lot to go right. Their young players, their new acquisitions, their goaltending — they have to hit in all three areas — because making the playoffs is hard to do.