Jacob Markstrom

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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.

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.

Crawford, Grabner, Lehner among 2019 Masterton Trophy nominees

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The 31 nominees for the 2019 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy have been announced. The award, which is given to the players “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey,” will be handed out at the NHL awards show in June in Las Vegas.

The 31 nominees are selected by each Professional Hockey Writers Association chapter.

Anaheim Ducks: Patrick Eaves
Arizona Coyotes: Michael Grabner
Boston Bruins: Zdeno Chara
Buffalo Sabres: Jason Pominville
Calgary Flames: Mark Giordano
Carolina Hurricanes: Curtis McElhinney
Chicago Blackhawks: Corey Crawford
Colorado Avalanche: Carl Soderberg
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nick Foligno
Dallas Stars: Taylor Fedun
Detroit Red Wings: Niklas Kronwall
Edmonton Oilers: Andrej Sekera
Florida Panthers: Derek MacKenzie
Los Angeles Kings: Jack Campbell
Minnesota Wild: Ryan Suter
Montreal Canadiens: Andrew Shaw
Nashville Predators: Rocco Grimaldi
New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider
New York Islanders: Robin Lehner
New York Rangers: Brendan Smith
Ottawa Senators: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Philadelphia Flyers: Brian Elliott
Pittsburgh Penguins: Matt Cullen
St. Louis Blues: Jay Bouwmeester
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton
Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan Callahan
Toronto Maple Leafs: Tyler Ennis
Vancouver Canucks: Jacob Markstrom
Vegas Golden Knights: Ryan Carpenter
Washington Capitals: Brooks Orpik
Winnipeg Jets: Dmitry Kulikov

Brian Boyle, then of the New Jersey Devils, won the award last season after his battle with chronic myeloid leukemia.

All very good choices, and it’ll be tough to narrow it down to three finalists. You have to believe Lehner will be one of the three considering his season and what he’s overcome. After that? Crawford, Grabner, Foligno, and Campbell could also find themselves heading to Las Vegas in late June.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stone scores first for Golden Knights in goal-fest first period

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Alright, Vegas. You can breathe now.

Mark Stone had six goals in his final six games with the Ottawa Senators prior to his departure to Vegas on trade deadline day.

But heading into Saturday night, he had nothing but a couple of assists in his first five games with his new club, one he will be with for quite some time after signing and eight-year deal to stay with the team.

The goal drought ended early in the first period against the Vancouver Canucks, however, as Stone cleaned up the trash in front of the opposing goal to grab his first market in the black and gold threads.

By the time the period was through, the Golden Knight had fired five past Jacob Markstrom, who was chased at the 14:17 mark of the frame. Stone picked up an assist on Paul Stastny‘s goal for his first multipoint game.

Vegas hasn’t seemed to need Stone scoring lately — they’ve won five straight and are well on their way to No. 6. But with $76 million invested in him now for a long time to come, it’s good to see him get back in the scoring column.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Markstrom backstops Canucks to big win; Schneider continues resurgence

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Three stars

1. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks needed a good effort from everyone involved if they were going to gain some ground in the log jam that is the Western Conference wildcard race.

Step up Jacob Markstrom, who made 29 saves for his first shutout of the season.

Markstrom’s solid performance came as the Canucks entered the day six points back of the Minnesota Wild for the second wildcard. The Canucks got two goals from Bo Horvat in the win and are now just four points out.

2. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils

It’s been a minute since Schneider has played this good for a decent stretch, but it appears the old Schneider is back between the pipes.

The 32-year-old picked up his fourth win in his past five games after making 34 saves in a 2-1 win for the Devils against the Montreal Canadiens. Schneider was 0-17-4 in 24 regular-season games prior to getting his first win since Dec. 27, 2017, earlier this month.

Schneider appears to be getting back into the groove now, with a shutout sprinkled into two games with an identical .971 save percentage in each and another game where he stopped 15 shots in relief and the Devils rallied from a 4-1 deficit to the Minnesota Wild to win 5-4 in overtime.

The Devils felt good enough about it all to trade Keith Kinkaid at the deadline on Monday.

3. Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto Maple Leafs

Nothing sucks the will out of a team quite like a shorthanded goal.

Kapanen provided that marker — the insurance goal — in the third period for the Maple Leafs in a 5-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres looked deflated after that one.

Kapanen provided the primary assist on Auston Matthews goal, which ended up being a Kapanen shot that was bobbled by Carter Hutton, then a defender and then potted home by Matthews.

The 22-year-old had six shots in the game.

Highlights of the night

Dirty move:

Beauty pass:

Vasilevskiy doing his thing:

Factoids

Scores

Maple Leafs 5, Sabres 3
Devils 2, Canadiens 1
Lightning 4, Kings 3 (SO)
Predators 3, Oilers 2 (SO)
Panthers 4, Avalanche 3 (OT)
Canucks 4, Ducks 0


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck