Tag: Dan Hamhuis

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’ biggest question: Where’s the upside?

Slovakia v Canada - Semifinal - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship

Not long after Trevor Linden was named the Canucks’ president of hockey operations in 2014, he bemoaned the lack of young players making an impact for the team.

“I like the people we have in [our] core positions, but they need support from the bottom,” Linden said. “There’s a gap between the core players and what’s coming from below them. There hasn’t been a real push from the bottom and that’s created issues.”

That narrative still applies a year later. Even if 20-year-old center Bo Horvat can build on his impressive rookie season, the Canucks will likely need more from their youngsters in order to remain a playoff team.

Jacob Markstrom is one player that could make a significant impact. The 25-year-old goalie, coming off a stellar season in the AHL, will be Ryan Miller’s backup in 2015-16. For a bubble team like Vancouver, goaltending could very well be the difference between making and missing the postseason.

There’s also Jake Virtanen, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft. The Canucks are hoping the 18-year-old winger can be the power forward they once hoped Zack Kassian could be for them.

“[Virtanen] can play the skill game and the physical game,” said director of player personnel Stan Smyl, per the Times Colonist. “He can go through people. He can hit people, and he doesn’t care who he hits.”

Virtanen still has to make the team, but he should be given every opportunity to do so. Otherwise, it’s back to junior.

Then there’s Frank Corrado, the 22-year-old, right-shot defenseman who will try to help replace Kevin Bieksa.

And Sven Baertschi, the 22-year-old winger who’s shown promising signs since being traded to the Canucks from Calgary.

And Linden Vey, the 24-year-old forward who conceded that his “preparation last summer wasn’t what it needed to be.”

Ronalds Kenins, Hunter Shinkaruk, Brendan Gaunce, Nicklas Jensen, Jared McCann, Cole Cassels, and Alexandre Grenier are among the other prospects to watch.

It’s no secret that the Canucks have an aging core. The Sedin twins are 34. So are Alex Burrows and Radim Vrbata. Dan Hamhuis and Chris Higgins are 32. Miller is 35.

It’s also no secret that the Canucks did not draft well for a number of years. From 2006 to 2012, the only players they selected that have played in the NHL and remain in the organization are Corrado and Jensen.

Hence, Vancouver’s failure to remain an elite team, and hence, the need to become better at identifying and developing talent.

Related: Vote on whether the Canucks will make the playoffs

Hamhuis, Vrbata will not sign extensions this summer

Columbus Blue Jackets v Vancouver Canucks

With many predicting the Vancouver Canucks will be hard-pressed to get back to the playoffs next season, will defenseman Dan Hamhuis and winger Radim Vrbata be up for grabs at the 2016 trade deadline?

As of today, it’s certainly possible. GM Jim Benning has confirmed that both veterans — the former a 2014 Olympic gold-medal winner with Team Canada, the latter an NHL all-star last year — will enter next season as pending unrestricted free agents.

“We’re going to go into the season and see how it goes,” Benning said, per The Province. “We’ve touched base with their agents a little, but we’ll see how it plays out.”

The Canucks have other pending UFAs — Yannick Weber, Brandon Prust, and Matt Bartkowski — that could fetch them draft picks or prospects at the deadline. Alex Burrows, Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, and Nick Bonino could all theoretically be moved too. Such is the outlook in Vancouver that some are wondering if the Sedins should be traded.

As Benning said, it will all depend on “how it plays out.”

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?