It’s been a busy couple of weeks of player movement for the Vancouver Canucks.
Jim Benning set out this offseason to find a top-six forward and a top-four defenceman, and it appears he’s done just that.
JT Miller was acquired from Tampa Bay at the draft and promises to help the Canucks offensively – something they needed after finishing 26th out of 31 teams in goal-scoring last season.
- Canucks lose Granlund, Pouliot, Schenn, Gaunce in free agency
- Canucks sign free agent Tyler Myers to 5-year, $30 million contract
- Canucks sign free agent Jordie Benn to 2-year, $4 million contract
The team now appears ready to at least compete for a playoff spot – something they haven’t been able to do since 2015. And they’d better, as the Canucks will surrender a first-round pick to the Lightning in either 2020 or 2021 as part of the Miller deal.
Vancouver has also said goodbye to a few players, with Markus Granlund, Derrick Pouliot, Luke Schenn, and Brendan Gaunce signing with other teams on July 1. Ben Hutton is likely to move on too after the team didn’t qualify him, while Ryan Spooner’s contract was bought out.
While the Canucks may not be done making moves this offseason, the emergence of some young players coupled with the additions has improved their ability to compete.
For a refresher on that, here’s how they lined up to begin the 2018-19 season:
Lines for the #Canucks in warmup:
Markstrom starts. 7pm puck drop on @Sportsnet650
— Brendan Batchelor (@BatchHockey) October 4, 2018
Here’s what the team could look like when they face off against the Edmonton Oilers on opening night on October 2.
A bolstered blue line
The Canucks began last season by returning the same eight defencemen as the year before.
It was the definition of insanity.
That won’t be the case next season, as the Canucks have improved their defence. Instead of having to find creative ways to hide the likes of Michael Del Zotto, Derrick Pouliot, and Erik Gudbranson, head coach Travis Green should be able to roll three defence pairs with confidence.
You can quibble with who belongs on what pairing on the right side, and that’s kind of the point. Is Troy Stecher a third-pairing defenceman? Probably not, but does Myers and his $6 million salary belong there? We’ll see if Father Time has caught up to Chris Tanev, who has been the Canucks’ most reliable defenceman when healthy.
Jordie Benn slots onto the left side, but has experience playing the right.
Quinn Hughes is pencilled onto the second pair, which is a lot of pressure for a rookie – but that’s how much potential he has.
Newcomer Oscar Fantenberg will likely battle it out with Alex Biega for the last spot.
Olli Juolevi could find his way onto the big club during the season, but after being limited to just 18 AHL games last year due to injury, expect the team to take their time with him.
Gaudette the key in the bottom-six
Next season is a big one for Adam Gaudette.
Though he’s only played 61 NHL games in his career, the clock is already ticking on the Baintree, Massachusetts native.
Gaudette turns 23 in October, which is an age where you’d like to see a young player establish himself as an NHL regular.
For Gaudette, the natural transition would be as the team’s No. 3 centre. If he can do that, it would give the Canucks three scoring threats and take the pressure off Brandon Sutter, who is ill-suited for an offensive role.
My opening night lineup is minus Antoine Roussel, who is expected to be on injured reserve to start the season, as well as Tim Schaller, who I have in Utica.
Miller has the ability to play in the middle, which is good insurance should an injury occur, though he was clearly brought in to play with either Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat.
Horvat will get more talent on his wings than last season, and has found chemistry with both Tanner Pearson and Sven Baertschi in the past.
Gaudette could be flanked with a pair of big two-way wingers with some goal-scoring ability in Josh Leivo and Jake Virtanen.
Loui Eriksson is still on the books for $6 million per season, so I’ve gifted him a spot on the most expensive fourth line in hockey with Jay Beagle ($3 million) and Brandon Sutter ($4.375 milllion). Each one of them should also be depended on to kill penalties – so they’ll earn a bit more of their paycheques than these lines would suggest.
Markstrom needs to do it again
The big question in goal concerns Jacob Markstrom.
After a career-year – one that was capped off with a team MVP award – the big Swede needs to prove he can do it again. If he can, how Thatcher Demko fares in likely 20 to 25 games in his first full NHL season could make-or-break their chances at securing a playoff spot.