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.
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Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.