Tag: Alex Edler

Vancouver Canucks ’15-16 Outlook


It was another eventful offseason in Vancouver, the second under GM Jim Benning, and it left both fans and media asking the same question:

What exactly are the Canucks doing?

To hear Benning explain it, the plan is simple in theory, yet difficult to execute — rebuild while staying competitive, giving young players a winning environment in which to grow.

“From the time I took the job (14 months ago) until 10 days ago, I went at it hard,” Benning explained, per the Vancouver Sun. “It hasn’t been easy. I’ll admit it — it’s been hard. I’ve had to make hard decisions to try to remain competitive while building for the future. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

“But for the most part, we’ve been able to accomplish that this summer.”

Some will argue with that last remark.

This summer, Benning took heat for a variety of his moves, most notably his trade of popular (and relatively successful) backup goalie Eddie Lack to Carolina for a third-round pick, which many saw as a middling return. After tiring of the Zack Kassian experiment, the Canucks cut bait and got what they could in exchange — 31-year-old Habs tough guy Brandon Prust — then paid a tidy sum to acquire third-line Pittsburgh center Brandon Sutter, paying him an even tidier sum to be their second-line center ($21.875 million over five years, specifically).

In the end, it’s tough to say the Canucks got any better this summer. It’s tough to say they stayed even. Most say they got worse.

And that makes next year’s outlook kinda bleak.

Sure, the same old suspects remain — the Sedins, Alex Burrows, Radim Vrbata, Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler — but they’re all a year older, and now surrounded by kids. Bo Horvat, 20, projects to be the No. 3 center while winger Sven Baertschi, 22, will get a shot at the top-six. Former first-round pick Jake Virtanen (18) figures to get a long look in training camp, and Frank Corrado (22) will likely be in on defense. Other prospects like Hunter Shinkaruk, Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce and Jared McCann could all get looks, too.

Which makes for an odd dynamic, especially since the Canucks were competitive last year, registering 101 points and a playoff spot. But their opening-round loss to Calgary only confirmed what most suspected — Vancouver was a flawed team, nowhere close to contending.

Now, the club heads into this season minus the services of veteran contributors like Kevin Bieksa, Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson — jobs that will be filled by (the aforementioned) inexperienced players. And should injuries strike the team’s aging core, it could be grim; at no position is this more concerning than in goal, where 35-year-old Ryan Miller, who missed extensive time with a knee injury last season, is backed up by a total wildcard in Jacob Markstrom.

Oh, and lest we forget, the Canucks play in a tough Pacific Division in which the Ducks, Kings, Flames and Oilers all made significant upgrades this summer.

If you believe Benning, though, his moves weren’t designed to make the Canucks less competitive.

The way he sees it, the club is more versatile than ever.

“What we’re trying to do is build a team that can play whatever style the game dictates,” he explained. “So we’ve made some changes this summer. I thought maybe in the playoffs we didn’t play with the intensity and emotion to step up in a playoff series and win.

“We’ve got some good, young, skill players coming up. But we want to surround them with players who fit.”

Canucks pick up Bartkowski

Buffalo Sabres v Boston Bruins

Not long after announcing they’d re-signed Yannick Weber, the Vancouver Canucks announced they’d signed d-man Matt Bartkowski (one year, $1.75 million), too.

Bartkowski, 27, played 131 games for the Bruins from 2011-15, scoring no goals with 24 assists. For much of that time, Canucks GM Jim Benning was with the Boston organization, so there’s some familiarity there.

The addition of Bartkowski gives the Canucks six NHL d-men under contract for 2015-16, plus Frank Corrado and Adam Clendening are expected to push for spots on the roster.

Alex Edler — Chris Tanev
Dan Hamhuis — Yannick Weber
Luca Sbisa — Frank Corrado
Matt Bartkowski — Adam Clendening

Related: Canucks have a puzzle to solve on the blue line

Canucks have a puzzle to solve on the blue line

Edmonton Oilers v Vancouver Canucks

Jim Benning learned something in his first year as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks.

You can never have enough defensemen.

As such, he plans to start next season with eight blue-liners, not just seven, like he did this past season. And he wants even more options down on the farm, in case of injury.

“We’ll start with eight defensemen, but we want to have 11 D capable of playing in the NHL,” Benning told The Province. “That’s something I learned this year from being in the West. The travel wears the team down a bit and it seems to take a toll on your defense.”

Currently, if you had to pick a group of eight Canucks defenders, it might look something like this:

Alex Edler-Chris Tanev
Dan Hamhuis-Yannick Weber
Luca Sbisa-Kevin Bieksa
Ryan Stanton-Adam Clendening

But there’s also young, right-shooting Frank Corrado. The 22-year-old is arguably ready for the NHL. Hence, the speculation Vancouver may try and trade Bieksa.

Of course, trading Bieksa would mean one less defenseman, on a team that wants to have lots of them.

The challenge for Benning is a dearth of waivers-exempt, NHL-capable blue-liners. All nine that have been mentioned above require waivers to be sent to the AHL.

There’s also the mix to consider. The current group, as a whole, failed to create enough offense, and in the playoffs had trouble beating Calgary’s aggressive forecheck.

At the very least, Benning has time to figure out a solution.

“The season doesn’t start for four months,” he said. “If we want to add a certain type of player by trade, it’s something we’d look at. Like, say, a better transition defenseman.”

Related: Despite ‘step in the right direction,’ do Canucks need to alter core?

Hartley not worried about big ice times — ‘I’m not coaching a nursing home’

Vancouver Canucks v Calgary Flames - Game Three

Dennis Wideman has averaged 27:15.

T.J. Brodie has only logged a bit less, at 26:43.

Ditto for Kris Russell, at 26:37.

And there hasn’t even been overtime.

So, is Bob Hartley worried he’s tiring out his three top defensemen?

Of course not.

“We’re coaching elite athletes — I’m not coaching a nursing home,” the Flames coach said yesterday, per the Calgary Herald. “Those guys are well-conditioned athletes. Our total team game and our conditioning allow us to play those guys. I really believe those minutes are blown way out of proportion.

“You know, we’re getting so many stats right now. Pretty soon the manager of the arena is going to come and tell me how many cases of beer were sold after the first, second, third periods. It has to stop.”

Hartley’s player deployment stands in stark contrast to that of Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins, whose biggest workhorse has been defenseman Alex Edler (23:36) and who’s taken all sorts of heat for not playing the Sedins enough.

If the Flames can defeat (and eliminate) the Canucks tonight in Vancouver, Hartley’s troops will get a good rest before the start of the second round.

“We’re in the business to win games,” he said. “My mindset, my philosophy? If I have to play five guys the full 60 minutes to win the game, I will do it.”

Desjardins defends limited ice time for Sedins

Calgary Flames v Vancouver Canucks - Game One

Vancouverites woke up this morning, turned on the radio, and heard all about how Canucks coach Willie Desjardins got out-coached in last night’s 2-1 loss to the Calgary Flames.

Many listeners did not disagree.

In particular, people wanted to know — why did Daniel Sedin, a top-10 scorer in the NHL during the regular season, only play 16:14 while forwards like Nick Bonino (16:24) and Chris Higgins (16:53) played more? The former was the best Canuck, Corsi-wise, in the game; the latter two were the worst. So it’s not like the coach could say he was just rewarding the guys who were playing well.

Desjardins was asked about it following this morning’s practice.

“We play our best when we’re fresh,” he said. “Maybe [the Sedins] should have had a couple more minutes, probably wouldn’t have hurt. But … there’s no sense burning them out one game. They’re going to be fresh for the next game, and maybe in the end that’ll pay off.”

This storyline is, of course, an extension from last year when then-coach John Tortorella was accused of overplaying the Sedins. Ever since taking over, Desjardins has preached a four-line mantra, a philosophy that paid off in a return to form for the twins and a playoff berth for the team.

Still, just 16:14 for Daniel? And only 4:45 in the third period when the game was on the line? That’s going to get people talking.

Desjardins is apparently taking the long view here. The most any Canuck played in Game 1 was 22:11, logged by defenseman Alex Edler. Radim Vrbata led the forwards at 17:50; Henrik Sedin played just 17:29.

In stark contrast, Flames coach Bob Hartley rode his top players, with three d-men — Dennis Wideman (30:03), Kris Russell (29:07), and T.J. Brodie (26:05) — playing big minutes. Sean Monahan led the forwards with 20:09.

We’ll see how it pays off for each coach. Desjardins will be hoping it’s a long series and that his rested players can eventually take over from the theoretically fatigued Flames. Hartley will be hoping for a short one, with time to rest up for the second round.

Game 2 goes tomorrow in Vancouver.