When you’ve missed the playoffs for a fourth straight year, chances are you have at least four glaring problems with your team.
That’s the predicament the Canucks find themselves in. Travis Green did get his team past the 80-point mark this season, something the Canucks hadn’t accomplished since 2014-15.
The last time the Canucks were this bad was between 1995-99. They even made the playoffs once during that four-year stretch, in 1995-96, despite just a 79-point record.
Despite the subtle improvements, there are still some glaring issues with the Canucks’ organization. Here’s a look at the four issues that stand out the most:
1. Lack of high-end defensive talent
The arrival of Quinn Hughes has brought a new wave of hope to Vancouver. He provides something that’s been seldom seen from a defenceman in Canucks history: high-end offence from the back-end.
While the arrival of Hughes is a boon, the Canucks still need another impact defenceman, particularly on the right side.
Alex Edler has been a good soldier for many years, but even if he re-signs with the team, he’s getting long in the tooth. Same goes for Chris Tanev, who had a down year in what is looking like the down side of his career.
Troy Stecher had an impressive season, but he’s likely a second pairing defenceman. Same thing with Ben Hutton, who is probably a third-pairing blueliner on a good team.
Pending unrestricted free agent Erik Karlsson would solve a lot of problems, but he’s unlikely to choose a team like the Canucks on July 1.
If not Karlsson, then who? The free agent market for right-shot defencemen is bare, so it comes down to the draft or a trade.
On the trade market, Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen is a name that’s been tossed around, though he won’t come cheap – perhaps Jake Virtanen and a high draft pick.
2. Too few quality wingers
Brock Boeser is clearly the Canucks best winger, but who’s next after him?
Sven Baertschi, who’s played all but 26 games this year? How about recently acquired players such as Josh Leivo and Tanner Pearson?
Regardless of who you think it is, there’s a steep drop-off after Boeser. There’s also a glut of middle six wingers, and you can throw guys like Jake Virtanen and Loui Eriksson into the mix as well.
It’s always a fools’ errand to chase free agents, and Jim Benning has a fairly awful track record of doing so. However, there are some interesting names on the market this year in Jordan Eberle, Jeff Skinner, Gustav Nyquist, and Mats Zuccarello.
The easy “fix” would just be to blindly hope that Baertschi comes back in full health and plays to his potential next year. Many are writing him off, but Sidney Crosby made a similar comeback in his career, around the same age as Baertschi is now.
Pearson was also a fit with Horvat, so you could hope that they carry their chemistry over into next season. Might not be a great solution, but it’s the easy one.
3. Poorly constructed bottom-six
When Jim Benning officially signed Jay Beagle to a four-year extension last summer, he was going against the grain of most NHL teams.
While the league was shifting away from two checking lines, Benning was going all in with Brandon Sutter and Beagle as his bottom-six centres.
Predictably, it backfired. Jay Beagle’s Corsi-for of 40.4% and goals-for percentage 37.7% were both worst on the team. Sutter’s Corsi-for of 41.2% was bad, but his goals-for percentage of 27.6% was one of the worst totals in the league among all centres.
Of 222 centres to play more than 250 minutes at even-strength, Sutter’s goals-for percentage was 219. That doesn’t seem good.
Even though injuries hampered Sutter’s season dramatically, the idea that the Canucks needed two checking lines was outdated. All over the NHL, teams are icing three lines that can produce offence. In Tampa Bay, their three most-commonly used centres include Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Anthony Cirelli, with Cedric Paquette as a more traditional checking centre.
One automatic improvement would be to ship out Brandon Sutter or Jay Beagle, and have Adam Gaudette slide into a third-line role next year. While Gaudette didn’t light the world on fire with offence, he was at least more productive in terms of getting shots to the net.
The 22-year-old is also a candidate to take a big step forward next season, but it’s hard to see that happening with both Sutter and Beagle around.
4. Mediocrity in Utica
Last summer, some said the Canucks had one of the best prospect pools in the league. That was largely led by guys like Elias Pettersson, Hughes, Thatcher Demko, and Gaudette.
All of those guys are in the NHL now, and most of the next wave of prospects struggled this season.
Take your pick.
Kole Line and Jonah Gadjvoich struggled mightily in Utica. Petrus Palmu was so seldom used that he bolted back to Finland. Jonathan Dahlen was unhappy with his playing time and subsequently got shipped out of town.
Olli Juolevi might have been one of the lone bright spots, but his season ended prematurely in November.
When Pettersson and Hughes start signing for big money, the Canucks will likely need reliable young players to come up from Utica and play on the cheap. There’s still hope for most of these guys, but nothing that transpired in Utica inspired much confidence.
The Canucks need to take a long, hard look at their prospects on the farm, and the way in which the team is being run in Utica. This team still has holes to fill, and the easiest way of filling holes would be to develop solid contributors in the AHL.
One change would be to overhaul the coaching staff in Utica. This organization needs someone in charge who thinks like Brad Treliving does in Calgary.
Treliving talking about his philosophy on how to run an AHL team.
“I don’t care if you guys go 0-72, as long as guys develop.” pic.twitter.com/b0qHt7pjg6
— Taj (@taj1944) April 12, 2019
The young players in Utica were used in bottom-six roles all year long. Perhaps if the coaching staff had more faith in the Canucks prospects, there would be been different results.