Vancouver Canucks: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

Vancouver Canucks
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The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Vancouver Canucks.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 23-29-4 (50 points), finished seventh in North.
• Postseason: Missed playoffs, traded first-round draft pick
• Offensive leaders: Brock Boeser (23 goals, 26 assists for 49 points in 56 games).

• Free Agent Additions: Conor Garland (trade from Coyotes), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (trade from Coyotes). Jason Dickinson (trade from Stars), Jaroslav Halak, Brad Hunt, Phillip Di Giuseppe, Justin Dowling, Tucker Poolman, Luke Schenn
• Free Agent Subtractions: Nate Schmidt (traded to Jets), Alex Edler (Kings), Braden Holtby (Stars), Kole Lind (Kraken expansion draft), Jalen Chatfield (Hurricanes), Antoine Roussel (traded to Coyotes), Loui Eriksson (traded to Coyotes), Jay Beagle (traded to Coyotes).

Biggest question for Canucks

• Can they play some defense — or at least overcome that weakness?

To some extent, the Canucks’ bold offseason feels a lot like a desperate quarterback lobbing a last-second Hail Mary pass. And Jim Benning is no Aaron Rodgers.

When most people picture the Canucks succeeding (in 2021-22, and generally), it’s largely based on a combination of explosive offense and hot goaltending. That formula fails more often than it works in the modern NHL, though. For the 2021-22 Canucks to succeed, they at least need to improve on defense.

As promising as Thatcher Demko‘s breakthrough was, they need to rely less on him in 2021-22.

[PHT’s offseason trade tracker]

For many of us, Conor Garland is the most exciting part of the Canucks’ big trade with the Coyotes. Even so, the Oliver Ekman-Larsson gamble is still the most important part of that deal for the 2021-22 Canucks.

This isn’t the first time the Canucks rolled the dice with a defenseman. It didn’t work out with Tyler Myers, and the Nate Schmidt experiment was short-lived. OEL ranks as the biggest gamble yet, and it sure feels all-or-nothing.

At some point, Travis Green needs to find some answers, though, right? No, Benning isn’t providing perfect ingredients for a gourmet meal. Still, the NHL’s brightest coaches resemble especially spry cooks on “Chopped.” At some point, you need to show that you can make the best of less-than-ideal situations.

The 2021-22 Canucks either need to make fewer mistakes than recent Vancouver teams, or create so many solutions on offense that it all works out. It’s all possible, but is it plausible?

What’s the salary cap situation?

For better and mostly worse, Jim Benning doesn’t just sit idly by. Every offseason, it feels like the salary cap should leave the Canucks stuck. Instead, they tend to make splashy moves, even if it mostly translates to treading water.

On the (very) bright side, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes signed for about $15 million combined. Those are promising deals, even if the 2021-22 versions of those two look a lot like last year’s players who were letdowns for the Canucks.

Would it be more comforting if Pettersson was locked down for more than three years? Sure. Did it feel like Benning’s salary cap mismanagement opened the door for these bargains, making Benning feel like hockey’s Mr. Magoo? Maybe a bit.

In the salary cap era, don’t blame the Canucks for just taking a W or two.

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

Especially when you look at recent L’s, and how history could repeat itself.

If things go sour, the Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade could combine the mistakes of Benning’s past (Beagle, Roussel, Eriksson) with gaffes of the present. Even with Garland being a nice find, the Canucks are taking a massive swing at OEL turning his career around at age 30.

Overall, the Canucks’ salary cap outlook reeks of sloppiness. You won’t see many team buying out a player who only signed a two-year contract, but Vancouver did that with Braden Holtby.

Should the 2021-22 Canucks really scrape the salary cap ceiling? Heading into 2022-23, Cap Friendly estimates the Canucks spending $65.8 million on just 14 roster spots. About $13.3 million in projected cap space goes fast; could that force Brock Boeser out next offseason? What about Bo Horvat (26, $5.5 million) after the 2022-23 season?

Maybe the Canucks keep those players. After all, the Canucks wiggled out of salary cap jams before … at least in the short term. Big-picture-wise, they’ve stacked mistakes on top of mistakes. Perhaps those errors won’t force top players out. It might clog things up enough that the Canucks simply can’t surround Pettersson, Hughes, and other top talents with enough talent to actually contend, though.

Breakout Candidate

Nils Hoglander

Along with Boeser, Pettersson, and Hughes, Nils Hoglander exemplifies one thing the Canucks frequently did right under Benning: drafting. (Is it possible that’s over after Judd Bracket left town? Maybe.)

Hoglander already showed promise last season, collecting 27 points in 56 games. That should just be the tip of the iceberg.

Ideally, the 2021-22 Canucks will boost Hoglander from last season’s 15:27 TOI average. Even if that’s largely unchanged, Hoglander’s likely to spend that ice time with superior players. Most likely, Hoglander will line up with Bo Horvat and Conor Garland. There’s a chance he’ll get some reps with Pettersson and Boeser, though, and that’s where business could really pick up.

Either way, the skill’s there for a breakthrough.

If you think Hoglander already broke through, there’s also Vasily Podkolzin.

Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Canucks

Getting out of Arizona unlocks Norris-era Ekman-Larsson. Pettersson knocks on the door for the Hart, while Demko earns serious Vezina consideration. A dazzling, talented team makes up for any mistakes — and more. Benning’s vindicated with a deep playoff run.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Canucks

It turns out Ekman-Larsson’s just never going to return to that prior elite form. Demko caves under intense pressure from a garbage defense. Pettersson and Hughes absorb the blame that should go to Benning and Green. The 2021-22 Canucks end up just as bad as last year’s debacle of a team.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Blue Jackets’ Patrik Laine out 2-4 weeks with triceps injury

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine is out 2-4 weeks after straining a triceps muscle in practice, yet another blow to the last-place team in the NHL that has been hampered by injuries all season.

    The Blue Jackets announced Laine’s absence before their home game against the New York Islanders.

    They already have 454 man-games lost to injury, one of the highest numbers in the league, and have a record of 22-41-7.

    Laine missed two separate stints with elbow and ankle injuries in the fall. The 24-year-old Finn is the team’s second-leading scorer with 52 points in 55 games.

    Columbus has been top defenseman Zach Werenski since November because of a torn labrum and separated shoulder. Forward Sean Kuraly recently went on injured reserve with a strained left oblique muscle but is set to return Friday.

    Tortorella earns 700th career win, Flyers top Wild 5-4

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    PHILADELPHIA — John Tortorella needed one word to sum up if 700 career wins meant anything to the Flyers coach.


    OK, then. Good thing the brusque Stanley Cup winner isn’t paid by the word.

    James van Riemsdyk scored the only goal in a shootout, and Philadelphia beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 on Thursday night for Tortorella’s 700th victory.

    Tortorella is 700-573-181 in 1,454 games as an NHL head coach. His 700 wins rank 12th in NHL history and his career games rank ninth in NHL history. He led Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup in 2004. In his first season coaching the Flyers, Tortorella joined Peter Laviolette as the second American-born coach to win 700 games.

    “I think the culture’s kind of changed around here,” Flyers forward Joel Farabee said. “I think he’s done a really good job of keeping the group together.”

    Farabee, Scott Laughton, Rasmus Ristolainen and Tyson Foerster scored for Philadelphia. The Flyers have two straight games for the first time since Jan. 9-14 when they won three straight. Yeah, it’s been that kind of season.

    “Farabee’s starting to pop, he’s looking real good. Tyson is looking real good,” Flyers defenseman Tony DeAngelo said. “This is all about laying the foundation for next year but we get a lot of money to do this job. It’s something we love, so we’re gonna go out and give it our best every night.”

    Matt Boldy had two goals for the Wild, and Oskar Sundqvist and Marcus Foligno also scored.

    “We weren’t very good. They were good,” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “We knew they were playing well, they played well tonight. We were loose. We were not firm, turnovers, it didn’t look like our hockey club.”

    The Flyers and Wild were tied 1-all at the end of the first period, 3-3 at the end of the second and 4-4 headed into OT.

    The rebuilding Flyers have been plucky of late. They had won two of three coming into the game, with the lone loss in overtime. They showed some of that grit in the final two periods, scoring late tying goals.

    “It’s a credit to their group, to their coaching staff, that they’ve got them playing the right way,” Evason said.

    Boldy poked a backhander past Carter Hart with 6:28 left for a 4-3 lead. The Flyers, playing more for the No. 1 pick and for pride, tied the game on Foerster’s second goal of the season.

    Farabee tipped in Cam York’s shot early in the second for a 2-1 lead.

    The Wild got going when Boldy ripped one top shelf past Hart for his 24th goal of the season that tied the game 2-all. Foligno scored his seventh goal for the 3-2 lead.

    Ristolainen buried a hard slapper from the blue line on the power play for the tying goal with 23 seconds left in the second.

    “I think it’s good to try to lay this foundation, kind of get ready for next year. You see guys getting confidence,” DeAngelo said.

    The Flyers only played ahead in the first period.

    Laughton scored off the rush for his 17th goal of the season and a 1-0 lead. Sundqvist celebrated his birthday with a deflection for the tying goal with 3:24 left in the period.

    The Flyers had been one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL until the start of this seven-game homestand (3-2 so far). They have scored at least three goals in every game and at least four in the last four.

    “We have definitely gotten to the net better,” Tortorella said. “We have spent a lot of time on the ice and with tape as far as getting to that area.”


    Wild: Host Chicago on Saturday.

    Flyers: Host Detroit on Saturday.

    Crosby reaches 30-goal mark, Penguins knock off Avalanche 5-2

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    DENVER – Sidney Crosby wasn’t even aware of reaching yet another milestone. He’s simply locked in on helping the Pittsburgh Penguins make a 17th straight postseason appearance.

    Jeff Carter had a pair of goals, Crosby scored on a nifty backhand shot in the second period to reach the 30-goal mark for an 11th season and the Penguins beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-2.

    Crosby moved into a tie with Hall-of-Fame center Mario Lemieux for the most 30-goal seasons in Penguins history. Another milestone reached – it came as news to him.

    “I think the most important thing for me is just try to be consistent and if that reflects that great,” said Crosby, who turns 36 in August.

    Even more, Crosby’s the first player in league history to post a 30-goal campaign at 18 years old and again when he was 35-plus, according to NHL Stats.

    “It means I’ve been in the league for a while,” Crosby cracked. “That’s been the thing that’s driven me since since I got into the league – in your first year, you want to prove that you belong. Even at 35, I still think you want to prove you belong, because it is a younger league.”

    Jake Guentzel also scored and Bryan Rust added an empty-net goal for the Penguins, who snapped a four-game slide and moved back into a wild-card spot in the East.

    “It’s definitely a big one for us, for sure,” Guentzel said. “Defending champs, coming to their building, you know how good they are. Top to bottom, we defended hard and that’s what we have to do at this time of the year.”

    Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry stopped 28 shots in improving to 11-4 this season against teams from the Western Conference.

    J.T. Compher and Devon Toews had goals for the Avalanche, whose six-game winning streak was halted. Nathan MacKinnon had an assist to extend his home points streak to 18 games.

    It was a missed opportunity for Colorado, which could’ve pulled into a three-way tie with Dallas and Minnesota in the Central Division with a victory.

    “We knew they were going to play with urgency,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “But I didn’t feel like there was any reason why we couldn’t, either. … We didn’t get it done. Hopefully we get another one.”

    Alexandar Georgiev made 40 saves, including several critical ones in a second period controlled by the Penguins, who outshot the Avalanche by a 21-9 margin. It could’ve been more than a 3-1 deficit heading into the third period.

    Toews’ power-play goal made it 3-2 with 9:32 remaining. But Carter wrapped up the win with his first multigoal game in the regular season since Jan. 11, 2022.

    “I’m thrilled for him. We’re all thrilled,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Carter. “He cares about the Penguins. He wants to win, and he wants to contribute in helping us win so we couldn’t be happier for him.”


    Bednar was appreciative of the three-year extension he signed Tuesday that goes through the 2026-27 season. In his seventh season, he’s the third-longest tenured coach in the NHL behind Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper (March 2013) and Sullivan (December 2015).

    “It’s not a forgiving league or sport, for the most part, but obviously that’s part of the reason why I’m so grateful and thankful,” Bednar said. “Because there were times over my tenure that got a little hairy and management could have made another decision. But obviously they didn’t.”


    Avalanche D Cale Makar missed a second straight game with a lower body injury. “I still have him as day-to-day,” Bednar said. … F Darren Helm returned after missing 64 of 69 games this season with a lower-body injury. … Penguins D Jeff Petry (upper body) skated in the morning but sat out his third straight game. … The Penguins are 11-1 against the Central Division this season. … Penguins standout Evgeni Malkin assisted on Guentzel’s goal to reach the 50-assist mark for a seventh time in his career.


    Penguins: At Dallas on Thursday night.

    Avalanche: Host Arizona on Friday night.

    Report: Blackhawks will not wear Pride-themed jerseys

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

    CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks will not wear Pride-themed warmup jerseys before Sunday’s Pride Night game against Vancouver because of security concerns involving a Russian law that expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ rights in the country.

    The decision was made by the NHL organization following discussions with security officials within and outside the franchise, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke to the AP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the move.

    The Blackhawks have worn Pride warmup jerseys previously and donned special warmup jerseys on some other themed nights this season. There had been ongoing conversations about a Pride jersey with the players, according to the person who talked to the AP, but the organization made the decision to hold Pride Night without the jerseys this year.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law in December that significantly expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ rights in the country. Chicago defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is a Moscow native, and there are other players with family in Russia or other connections to the country.

    The decision by the Blackhawks comes after San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys. The New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

    Russians Nikolai Knyzhov and Alexander Barabanov wore the Pride-themed jerseys for the Sharks on Saturday.

    While Chicago will go without Pride warmup jerseys this year, the team has planned a variety of activities in conjunction with Sunday’s game. DJs from the LGBTQ community will play before the game and during an intermission, and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus also is slated to perform. There also are plans to highlight a couple of area businesses with ties to the LGBTQ community.