Tag: Shawn Matthias

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.”

Maple Leafs ’15-16 Outlook

Joffrey Lupul

After finishing with a 30-44-8 record last season, the Maple Leafs have undergone substantial changes, but none of the decisions made were about getting back into the playoffs in the short-term. When the Maple Leafs dealt Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh, it was a clear sign that they were embracing a rebuild and its 2015-16 roster will reflects the early stages of that transition.

Toronto isn’t likely to enter the season with a lot of promising youngsters on its squad, but that will come later. For now, the Maple Leafs have signed veterans that can serve as placeholders like Shawn Matthias and P.A. Parenteau to give the top prospects time to develop properly. Matthias and Parenteau are only inked for one season and both might be traded at the deadline for picks or prospects to continue the Maple Leafs’ long-term goals.

Other veterans like Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, and Tyler Bozak might also end up being dealt either before the season or at the deadline. In addition to providing the Maple Leafs with more assets, moving them would also increase Toronto’s chances of ending up with projected 2016 top pick Auston Matthews.

Meanwhile, Toronto has undergone a massive transformation on the management side as president Brendan Shanahan is now supported by GM Lou Lamoriello and coach Mike Babcock, which provides the franchise with the experience to see this rebuild through to the end. That’s a new thing for Toronto because while the franchise has barely seen any playoff actions since the start of the salary cap era, that hasn’t previously led to the Maple Leafs fully embracing a long-term rebuilding effort.

In fact, trading Kessel is the perfect symbol of the philosophical shift, not just because of what he represented now, but also due to the context of his acquisition. When Toronto got him back in 2009 for two first-round draft picks, it was a sign that then GM Brian Burke wanted to move forward without a traditional rebuild. That didn’t work, so now a new group is trying a different, more patient approach.

It’s Toronto Maple Leafs Day at PHT

Mike Babcock, Brendan Shanahan

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Toronto Maple Leafs.

Going into the 2014-15 campaign, the Maple Leafs were trying to end a disturbing trend of late season collapses and…in a way they succeeded.

Toronto got off to a 19-9-3 start, but there were already warning signs of what was to come as the Maple Leafs had suffered two embarrassing blowout losses to the Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators earlier in the season. On top of that, the Maple Leafs were struggling from a puck possession perspective even at their height as they had the fourth-worst five-on-five Corsi in the league (45.5%) through Dec. 17.

It seemed like it would only be a matter of time before the other shoe dropped, but the degree to which they collapsed was still stunning. It started with a three-game losing streak from Dec. 18-21 where they were outscored 15-5. By Jan. 6, Toronto had lost seven of its last nine games, prompting the Leafs to fire head coach Randy Carlyle.

At the time, new bench boss Peter Horachek was inheriting a team that still seemed salvageable as it had a 21-16-3 record, but the Maple Leafs only won nine of 42 games under him. During his tenure, they scored just 79 goals, putting them behind every team in the league except Arizona over that span.

The Maple Leafs finished with a 30-44-8 record, their worst of the salary cap era, which says a lot given their lack of success since the system started. But still, the collapse started on Dec. 18, so it wasn’t late season. So there’s that.

Off-season recap

After that disastrous season, team president Brendan Shanahan set out to change the culture of this team. Leafs GM Dave Nonis was fired along with Horachek and replaced with Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock respectively.

Toronto also pushed its rebuild forward by trading Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, and a conditional second-round draft pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for prospects Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, as well as a conditional first rounder, a third round pick, and Nick Spaling.

On the free agent front, the Maple Leafs added a slew of veterans to short-term contracts including Shawn Matthias, Mark Arcobello, and P.A. Parenteau to help fill out the roster during the transitional period.