Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.
Three big questions for the 2019-20 Vancouver Canucks.
1. Seriously, what is the plan here?
There is really no other way to ask it. I spent five minutes looking at this roster and this is the only question that kept entering my head.
Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are dynamite. Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller are pretty good. Quinn Hughes has the potential to be a cornerstone player on defense. But then what? What else is happening here that should make Canucks fans feel good about the direction of the team for this season and beyond?
Jim Benning is entering his sixth season running this ship as the team’s general manager and after a playoff appearance in year one is in danger of giving the Canucks the first ever five-year playoff drought in franchise history. Outside of the five players mentioned above, the roster is full of veteran depth players that aren’t difference-makers and are for some reason signed to long-term contracts (bad idea!).
For all of this, the Canucks just rewarded Benning with a three-year contract extension earlier this month.
Given the moves over the past two offseasons (long-term contracts for Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Micheal Ferland, Tyler Myers; trading a first-round pick for Miller) it almost looks like Benning and the front office is simply in a job-saving mode and trying to luck their way into a playoff spot instead of putting together a coherent long-term plan that can result in sustained success.
The result instead is a team that is not anywhere near good enough to make the playoffs and not anywhere near bad enough to get the best draft lottery odds. That is a brutal cycle to try and get out of.
2. Brock Boeser’s contract
This is kind of related to the first question, but the Canucks are one of the many teams in the league dealing with a big-time restricted free agent that remains unsigned.
The problem is the Canucks, as currently situated against the cap, probably do not have enough salary cap space to actually sign him at the moment.
Because they have so much money invested in depth players on long-term deals they are now in a position where they have just a little more than $5 million in salary cap space remaining and will probably have to do one of two things to get him under contract for this season. Either play hardball and attempt to short-change their second best player, or try to make a desperation trade to create a little more salary cap space to sign him.
Boeser averaged more than .42 goals per game so far in his career (35 goals per 82 games) and is almost certainly deserving of a contract worth more than $5 million per season.
3. Will any other young players make an impact?
Other than Pettersson and Boeser there really isn’t a lot to be excited about up front in the short-term (2019 top pick Vasily Podkolzin is probably two years away from making his NHL debut), so that leaves the blue line where the Canucks have top prospect Quinn Hughes and 2016 first-round pick (No. 5 overall) Olli Juolevi. Hughes seems to be a lock for the roster, while Juolevi, coming off an injury-shortened and losing out on a numbers game on the depth chart will probably have to start the season in the American Hockey League.
The other intriguing player is goalie Thatcher Demko. Jacob Markstrom has been solid, but is probably only a stop-gap solution for right now. Demko only appeared in nine NHL games this past season but handled himself well and has a strong track record of performing at both the NCAA and AHL levels. He is still only 23 years old and should be considered a strong prospect with a chance to eventually take over the position.