Alex Edler

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Canucks’ biggest question: What exactly is the plan here?

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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!).

The highest paid players on the team are a 34-year-old Loui Eriksson, a 33-year-old Alex Edler, and Tyler Myers.

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.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

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.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Tyler Myers needs to live up to big free-agent contract

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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.

As last season progressed, it became more and more clear that the Canucks needed a lot of help on their blue line. Not only was the overall talent level not good enough, they also couldn’t stay healthy.

Believe it or not, Vancouver had just one defenseman play more than 70 games last season and that was Troy Stecher, who skated in 78 contests. Ben Hutton (69 games), Derrick Pouliot (62 games), Erik Gudbranson (57 games but was traded to Pittsburgh), Alex Edler (56 games), Chris Tanev (55 games) and Alex Biega (41 games) all missed time for various reasons.

Clearly, that’s not a recipe for success. It wasn’t surprising to see that general manager Jim Benning wanted to make changes to his defense this summer.

Hutton and Pouliot weren’t given a qualifying offers and Gudbranson was traded at last season’s trade deadline. Hutton averaged over 22 minutes of ice time per game last year, while Gudbranson and Pouliot were both over 17 minutes per game. That’s a lot of minutes to replace in one offseason.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Three Questions | X-Factor]

So, what did Benning do? He went shopping!

He re-signed Edler to a two-year, $12 million deal. He brought depth defender and hometown boy Jordie Benn into the fold with a two-year deal and he signed Tyler Myers to a huge five-year, $30 million contract.

If top prospect Quinn Hughes can make the leap straight to the NHL, he’ll add another explosive dimension to the Canucks blue line, but that isn’t a given at this point. So a lot of the improvements the defense makes will fall on Myers’ shoulders.

“In Myers, you’re adding a guy who has played a while in this league, a big guy with a lot of range,” head coach Travis Green said, per Sportsnet. “You’re adding a top-four defencemen, which are hard to find. And I think in Benn you have a veteran guy who understands the value of defending. And I think he’s got some sneaky offensive parts to his game that people don’t think about: his shot, moving the puck out of his zone.”

At $6 million per year, the Canucks will need Myers to replace Hutton’s minutes and he’ll have to do it at a much higher level. Is Myers still capable of playing at that level? In Winnipeg, he was just one of the guys on a very good team. In Vancouver, he’ll need to be a top-four defender night-in and night-out.

During his final season with the Jets, the 29-year-old had nine goals and 31 points while averaging 20:21 of ice time per game over 80 contests. One of the reasons Myers played so much last year was because Josh Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien both missed time. Had they been healthy, he probably wouldn’t have averaged 20-plus minutes. Since his trade to Winnipeg, Myers saw his average ice time drop every year (he went from 23:49 in 2014-15 to 20:21 last year).

Myers has good offensive instincts, as he posted back-to-back 30-point seasons over the last two years, but his defensive play lacks consistency. Can he be the veteran blue liner the Canucks need him to be and are paying him to be?

Yes, Benning just got an extension from the organization, but you can’t help but feel like this is a signing people will look back on and criticize him for if it doesn’t work out the way he expects.

There’s a lot of pressure on Benning, Myers and the Canucks. It’s time for them to show some significant improvement. Last year, expectations were low, but now they have a good group of young forwards and they’ve spent money to improve an average defense.

Did they spend wisely? We’re about to find out.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s Vancouver Canucks Day at PHT

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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.

2018-19
35-36-11, 81 points (5th in the Pacific Division, 12th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
J.T. Miller
Jordie Benn
Oscar Fantenberg
Tyler Myers
Micheal Ferland

OUT:
Ryan Spooner
Luke Schenn
Markus Granlund
Ben Hutton

RE-SIGNED:
Thatcher Demko
Alex Edler

2018-19 Summary

The expectations for the Canucks heading into last season weren’t very high. After all, this was/is a team made up of young players that clearly wouldn’t figure into the playoff picture. As expected, they missed the postseason, but in some way, they were probably a lot more competitive than many observers expected.

The fact that they finished with 81 points (nine out of a playoff spot) and exceeded some people’s expectations tells you a lot about where this franchise was coming into the season. The good news for Vancouver is that they seem to have found a couple of all-star forwards during their rebuild.

Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser have become must-see TV. In his first NHL season, Pettersson put up an impressive 28 goals and 66 points in only 71 games. Once the 20-year-old fills out a little more, he should be able to get those numbers even higher.

“I feel like at the end of the season a lot of teams were making a push to make the playoffs, so definitely they were tougher games at the end of the season,” Pettersson told Sportsnet earlier this month. “And also for myself, I felt like I didn’t have 100 per cent energy coming into every game, so that’s been a big thing for me. That I have better conditioning, I have more strength and power in my legs, and just trying to get stronger and faster.

“It was my first year in the league and you just learn from it. Always have it back in your head that you want to play good even when you have a tough day.”

Just having an older and stronger Pettersson will make the Canucks better this season.

[MORE: Pressure’s on Tyler Myers | Three Questions | X-Factor]

As for Boeser, getting him back to full strength will also help the organization on the ice. The 22-year-old has yet to play in 80-plus games per year during his first two seasons in the NHL, but he’s been as productive as anybody on the roster. Last season, he had 26 goals and 56 points in 69 contests.

The key to Vancouver’s success will be to get these guys healthy. They both helped the organization take a step forward last year, but now it’s all about making progress.

Despite acquiring players like Miller, Benn, Myers and Ferland this summer, the Canucks still have some holes on their roster.

Will the goaltending hold up? At what point does Demko overtake Jacob Markstrom?

Markstrom played in 60 games last year and had some good showings, but he’s probably not the future in goal for the organization. The 29-year-old had a respectable 28-23-9 record with a 2.77 goals-against-average and a .912 save percentage last season. As for Demko, he only got nine games last season.

The reason the Canucks added to their blue line is because they felt that was an area they needed to get better in a hurry. Last year, they were led by Edler, Troy Stecher, Hutton, Derrick Pouliot, Chris Tanev and Erik Gudbranson and Alex Biega.

Their blue line was underwhelming enough in 2018-19 that they decided not to bring back Hutton, Pouliot, Gudbranson (he was traded at the deadline). They did sign Edler to a new two-year deal, but clearly they’re banking on their newcomers delivering better performances. Also, top-10 draft pick Quinn Hughes should help them transport the puck from the back end.

Overall, we should see a more exciting Canucks team this season. Will it be enough to get them into the playoffs though?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Playoff-desperate Canucks sign Micheal Ferland

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In a vacuum, the Vancouver Canucks signing brawny-yet-reasonably-skilled forward Micheal Ferland is perfectly sensible, as TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that the four-year deal carries a $3.5 million cap hit (so it would total $14M). As with most free agent signings, Ferland carries risks, but those worries are soothed by a manageable price and term.

Unfortunately, when you examine the overall contents of this Canucks’ roster and offseason, it looks like GM Jim Benning is making a real mess. Will Ferland be enough to freshen this group up for a truly credible playoff run? The bigger picture is fuzzy, at best.

***

When you consider some of the worst gambles in NHL free agency, it’s crucial to realize that the people making the moves aren’t thinking about how those contracts will look in a few years. The teams they’re running are probably lucky if they’re even thinking about tomorrow.

So far, this offseason continues the Canucks’ baffling pattern of mostly-shrewd work in drafts, followed by reckless free agent spending sprees that light a lot of that draft-weekend goodwill on fire.

During the 2018 offseason, Jim Benning spent as if the Canucks were a team on the cusp of a playoff push, and even then, it was tough to defend a combined $6M cap hit for marginal veterans Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel. If you saw even a portion of the Canucks’ 2018-19 season, you’ll recall that they were quite far from the cusp, let alone a Stanley Cup.

And, while Ferland’s a respectable (if imperfect) investment, the bigger picture of the 2019 offseason is that Benning isn’t really learning lessons. Or, perhaps even worse, Benning just doesn’t care, because he’s panicking with his job on the line. The Canucks’ buddies in Edmonton can tell them all about how difficult it is to clean up after a GM who’s just sort of throwing money at everything, sometimes seemingly blindfolded.

The Tyler Myers contract smells so much like the defensive version of the Loui Eriksson debacle, it even shares the same frightening $6M AAV.

It’s questionable enough handing a $6M cap hit to Alex Edler for a mere two years, but Myers received five. If the Canucks are wrong in rolling their eyes at the many people warning that Myers simply isn’t very good, then they’re stuck with another Eriksson-type contract.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Benning’s strange calls mean that the Canucks are stuck with Myers, Beagle, and Roussel for a combined $12M, and for a troubling stretch of time. Again, those contracts don’t just look bad down the line; it’s doubtful that trio is worth anywhere near $12M in 2019-20 alone. Not good.

To reiterate: the Ferland bet is one of the most reasonable risks Benning’s taken in free agency, but there is some risk involved. Injuries were an issue for him during the Carolina Hurricanes’ push through the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and may have factored in him lingering on the free agent market until July 10. It’s also fair to bring up just how great his linemates have been, likely inflating his value:

But that affordable $3.5M cap hit does lower the stakes quite a bit.

If you must add “heavy hockey” to your mix, at least Ferland fits that bill while actually possessing some skill. Ferland is coming off of consecutive 40-point seasons, and hit 21 goals in 2017-18. There are certain analytics markers that indicate that he can at least keep up somewhat well in the modern game, despite being a big body, such as CJ Turtoro’s visualizations of Corey Sznajder’s zone entry and exit data:

Personally, I’d rather target quicker players to keep up with the increasingly speedy modern game, or perhaps even see if Jake Gardiner could be had at a cheaper rate, but there are far worse bets than Ferland.

Sadly for Canucks fans, Benning has made plenty of bad bets, and with Boeser still in need of a new contract as an RFA, Benning still has some crucial calls to make during this summer.

Here’s a sobering question: when you scan the Canucks’ Cap Friendly page and other roster outlooks, do the Canucks strike you as a playoff team? Were they really a Ferland away from giving themselves a strong chance to make it into the postseason, and have a credible opportunity to make waves if they got that far?

From Benning’s perspective, the goal seems to be to survive. If enough of these moves go sideways, the Canucks might not have the greatest odds to thrive, though.

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

Edler inks two-year extension with Canucks

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Scratch another potential name off the unrestricted free agent list.

On Thursday morning, the Vancouver Canucks announced that they had signed veteran defenseman Alex Edler to a two-year contract extension. The deal comes with an annual average value of $6 million. Edler and fellow Swede Loui Eriksson are tied for the highest cap hit on the team.

This deal appears to make sense for both sides, as Edler will be fairly compensated financially and the Canucks didn’t have to give a 33-year-old player with a long injury history a third year on his new contract.

According to Sportsnet’s Rick Dhaliwal, this deal might include a no-trade claude but the Canucks could still opt to leave him exposed in the expansion draft.

“Alex is important to our team and has played as the cornerstone of our defence throughout his career,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said in a release. “He’s a leader with tremendous experience, plays important minutes and contributes to every part of our team game. We’re very pleased for Alex and his family that he’ll continue his career as a Vancouver Canuck.”

Edler had 10 goals and 34 points in just 56 games with Vancouver last season. Although he’s always been effective, he’s missed at least eight games in each of the last six seasons. He hasn’t suited up in all 82 games since the 2011-12 season. But it’s easy to see why Benning wanted to keep him in the fold.

Besides the fact that he’s still a good player, he’s also one of the key veterans on a team that features many young players like Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and others. Having that veteran presence around the ice and in the locker room can only help the Canucks going forward.

You know who must be thrilled about this news? Jake Gardiner. The Maple Leafs defenseman is set to become a free agent on July 1st, and with Erik Karlsson and Edler off the board any team looking for a puck-moving defenseman will have to open up the vault for Gardiner’s services. Sure, Gardiner was going to get paid no matter what, but the fact that there’s one less defender on the market won’t hurt his case.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.