Playing the kids is the way to go for Canucks next season

Aug 24 2016, 5:42 pm

The Canucks officially lost out on the Jiri Hudler sweepstakes (stop laughing) on Wednesday after he signed a one-year deal worth $2 million with the Dallas Stars.

Hudler, who is just one year removed from a 76-point season, had a disappointing year last year, but still notched 46 points in 72 games. If you look at his career statistics, the 76-point season is an outlier, but at just 32 years-old he probably still has some gas left in the tank.

Hudler, at the money and term he signed with Dallas, would have been a positive signing for Vancouver in the short-term. But deals like that are usually reserved for Cup contenders, just like the Canucks used to get – Raffi Torres comes to mind – back in the 2011 glory days.

So as fans search for the next best available free agent winger, the question on many people’s minds is “now what?”

Jim Benning has admitted that he wants to add a second line winger to take the pressure off Sven Baertschi. But second line wingers don’t grow on trees, and with Baertschi, Jake Virtanen, Anton Rodin, and Emerson Etem, the Canucks don’t have a shortage of young wingers with varying degrees of upside. Are they ready to be legit second liners? There’s no way to know that yet, but it makes sense to find out.

The Canucks could sign a free agent to plug what they perceive is a hole. Brandon Pirri is available. He had 53 points in 110 games over the last two seasons. But is he really better than what they already have?

How about Cody Hodgson… Seriously, stop laughing. Do you like Tomas Fleischmann? How about another tour of duty with Steve Bernier?

You get the point. There’s not a lot left in the bargain bin in late August.

Benning could trade for a winger, but at what cost? They can’t get rid of anymore young assets, and they don’t have enough depth on defence to give up anything of value there either.

The best course of action is also the most boring. Stand pat. Be patient, and let your young players blossom.

Bringing in a Jiri Hudler takes away time from young players that need playing time.

Look no further than Baertschi as an example of how that can have negative consequences for your team.

Baertschi saw his ice time drop from 14:45 in the first game of the season to 9:09 in the fourth game, and healthy scratched in game #5. He put up one point and received zero minutes on the power play in those four games.

I’m not advocating gifting young players prime ice time no matter what, but you don’t know what you got in a young player until you give them a chance to play. Eventually, due to injury, the Canucks found out Baertschi could play and he became a fixture in the lineup.

If you give a coach a reliable veteran, he’ll lean towards playing him nine times out of ten.

The Canucks have some question marks coming into the season, but because they’re not Cup contenders, they need to embrace that.

We know that the Sedins and Loui Eriksson will be top-six forwards for this group next season. After that? All bets are off.

Jake Virtanen could be on second, third, or fourth line in the NHL, or even on the top line in Utica. Bo Horvat is pencilled in as the team’s third line centre, but there’s no reason why he can’t take the next step this season and prove that he’s a legit #2 man.

Even Jannik Hansen, who is coming off an excellent season, should be considered somewhat of a question mark given that he has been a third liner for most of his career.

Anton Rodin is 25 years-old and coming off an MVP season in the Swedish Hockey League. Is he a top-six winger? I don’t know, but I know he’ll get a better chance to prove it without a Chris Higgins-type security blanket around for Willie Desjardins to deploy.

At this stage in the progression of the franchise, the Canucks need to continue to preach patience and have the long game in mind.