Brock Boeser

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Long-term outlook for Vancouver Canucks

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Vancouver Canucks.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Canucks must lock down some key players (and make important decisions) soon.

Most importantly, both Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes see their entry-level contracts expire after 2020-21. The Canucks’ long-term flexibility may hinge on how much each player costs. It will be interesting to monitor those situations. Could Vancouver convince either of them to sign extensions as early as the 2020 offseason? Either way, how much of the salary cap will each rising star take up?

While the Canucks have Brock Boeser signed to a team-friendly deal, that will also be up after 2021-22.

So, while there are core pieces in place, we haven’t fully understood the cost of many pieces.

There are some players locked down to medium term, however. Both Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller are signed through 2022-23, and quite affordable at a combined AAV of $10.75M. Tyler Myers ($6M AAV through 2023-24) seems like less of a positive, but for better or worse, he’s slated to be a part of the core.

Myers presents a neat transition to the bad news: Vancouver has some flab on its salary structure. There’s dead money devoted to the Roberto Luongo salary recapture, Ryan Spooner buyout, and to some extent, Sven Baertschi.

Yet, the brighter side is that the Canucks can transition shaky money to rising stars. Brandon Sutter‘s $4.375M AAV can be put toward Pettersson and Hughes after 2020-21. A whopping $12M (Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel) comes off the books in time to re-up Brock Boeser … and so on.

So, it’s pretty easy to see a solid situation getting better.

[PHT Power Rankings: Where do Canucks rank among best and worst long-term outlooks?]

Long-term needs for Canucks

That said, it’s crucial for GM Jim Benning to have more success in free agency — even if it means simply abstaining from spending.

Will the Canucks feel the urge to break the bank to make Tyler Toffoli more than a rental? Will they give 30-year-old defenseman Christopher Tanev a risky contract?

In particular, key decisions await in net. Jacob Markstrom is a pending UFA, while intriguing 24-year-old goalie Thatcher Demko is only covered through 2020-21. Should the Canucks keep one or both around?

It will be crucial to surround Pettersson, Hughes, and Boeser with supporting talent. So far, it seems more likely that Benning will find some help in the draft and via trades than in free agent spending.

Whether things worked out (Miller) or didn’t (Myers), it seems like Benning was impatient when it came to pushing this team along its winning curve. The Canucks will be without either their 2020 or 2021 first-rounder, and also don’t have their second-rounder for 2020.

The Canucks need a lot of help on defense, and are also pretty top-heavy on offense. Addressing those needs will be key to take the right step. In that regard, Benning’s mixed leaps with stumbles.

Long-term strengths for Canucks

Trading away Tyler Madden in the Toffoli deal hurts the Canucks’ prospect depth, but there’s some definite intrigue, particularly in Nils Hoglander and Vasili Podkolzin.

If any of those prospects really blossom — Olli Juolevi, anytime now — then the Canucks could really be onto something.

That’s because they already boast an enviable assortment of young talent. Elias Pettersson keeps setting the bar higher, and he’s only 21. Quinn Hughes is tantalizing at 20. Boeser (23) and Bo Horvat (25) both stand in the meat of their prime years. Miller isn’t ancient by any means, either, at 27.

We’ve seen a Canucks offense that can be explosive at times, and Markstrom’s hovered around elite quite a bit.

If you want to be a downer, you might focus on the Oilers boasting an even better top end with young stars in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Beyond that, though, the Canucks also seem likely to be a fixture in a Pacific Division that could feature some rough teams at the bottom.

There’s a lot to like with the Canucks. We’ll see if Benning can push the right buttons to bring them up yet another level.

MORE ON THE CANUCKS:

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.

Biggest Vancouver Canucks surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Vancouver Canucks.

“Even better than expected” surprises for the Canucks

With the Canucks, good players often turned out very good in 2019-20. Delightfully very good players sure looked truly great.

Take, for instance, J.T. Miller leading the Canucks in scoring with 72 points. Many of us believed that Miller was a very, very nice winger with the Rangers and Lightning, but he exceeded just about all expectations.

Quinn Hughes managed similar feats. If you want to start a weird fight on Twitter, argue about Hughes vs. Cale Makar for the Calder Trophy. Simply put, though, Hughes being this good this fast was a pleasant surprise. Yes, we were expecting big things, but Hughes escalated that conversation.

Pettersson deserves his own section

Most of all, Elias Pettersson isn’t just a star. It’s fair to call him a superstar. You might not get that right away from good-but-not-top-level scoring this season (66 points in 68 games), but he’s a huge catalyst for Canucks success.

Take, for instance, the gap between Pettersson and every other Canuck on this xGAR chart from Evolving Hockey:

But, this isn’t about damning with faint praise, because Pettersson ranks among the best in the NHL if you look at the league overall by that same metric:

Impressive stuff, especially since Pettersson ranks second overall if you look at GAR, instead of its expected counterpart. Translation: he’s fantastic, and worthy of at least some Hart Trophy rumblings.

Pettersson wasn’t the only Canucks player who played a huge role in keeping the team in playoff contention, even with a flawed roster, and Brock Boeser missing time with injuries. Jacob Markstrom‘s .918 save percentage only tells part of the story about his value as the Canucks’ last line of defense.

But from propelling teammates such as Miller and powering a potent power play, Pettersson’s further ascent ranked as the most pleasant surprise for the Canucks.

Canucks disappointments revolve around free agency

Over time, Jim Benning’s looked like a more capable GM than we first realized. Certainly more than funny facial expressions and early memes suggested.

Really, it makes you wonder where the Canucks would be if they hid the checkbook from Benning around July.

Scroll back up to that first chart, and you’ll see plenty of regrettable signings ranked toward the bottom. Signing Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel ranked as perplexing to many of us when the moves happened, and those decisions don’t seem much wiser today. It sure doesn’t look like Tyler Myers was worth the big money, either.

(And making more than a passing mention of Loui Eriksson just feels cruel.)

With Markstrom headed for a raise as a UFA, and that unfair $3M+ per year Roberto Luongo recapture penalty on the books through 2021-22, it’s fair to wonder how much year-to-year room the Canucks will enjoy to make a solid team something truly outstanding.

Pettersson and others are so good that they can create more Canucks surprises, but it would be better if they had more help.

MORE ON THE CANUCKS:
2019-20 season summary
Long-term outlook

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Vancouver Canucks

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks. 

Record: 36-27-6 (69 games), fourth in the Pacific Division, ninth in the Western Conference.
Leading Scorer: J.T. Miller – 72 points – (27 goals, 45 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

• Acquired David Pope from Red Wings for Alex Biega
• Traded Tyler Toffoli to Kings for Tyler Madden, Tim Schaller, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2022 conditional fourth-round pick.
• Acquired Louis Domingue from Devils for Zane McIntyre.

Season Overview

The Canucks ended last season with the question of general manager Jim Benning’s future unanswered. But the pressure was taken off when he was given a three-year extension in August. That allowed the focus to be on the young core of the team taking a big step forward.

Captain Bo Horvat has his fourth straight 20-goal season. Brock Boeser has battled injury but is in striking range of a third-straight 20 goal, 50-point campaign. “ShotgunJake Virtanen has career highs in goals (18) and points (36). Adam Gaudette has double digit goals and 33 points in his second full NHL season. Elias Pettersson has followed up his Calder Trophy winning season with 27 goals and 66 points in 68 games. And Quinn Hughes‘ play (8 goals, 53 points, 21:53 TOI) is making it appear as if the franchise will add another rookie of the year to the trophy case.

Benning has brought in three veterans since last summer to bolster his roster. Miller, acquired from Tampa in a draft day deal, has been phenomenal, leading the team in goals and points. Tyler Myers, who signed a five-year, $30 million contract in free agency, has been a steady, veteran presence on the blue line. Even trade deadline pickup Tyler Toffoli has transitioned nicely with 10 points in 10 games with the Canucks.

One of Vancouver’s biggest bright spots, and a huge reason they’ve flirted with a playoff spot all season, has been goaltender Jacob Markstrom. This is a massive season for the 30-year-old, who can become an unrestricted free agent whenever free agency takes place. He’s posted a .925 even strength save percentage, a 6.66 goals saved above average, and an 84.61 expected goals against, via Natural Stat Trick. He’s not only been the Canucks’ MVP, but you could make an argument for him to not only be in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy, but also on a long list of Hart Trophy candidates.

Markstrom said last week his focus is staying in Vancouver and he has no plans on leaving. That’s good news for this team if both sides can make the numbers work.

The Canucks have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once since 2013, and the fanbase was getting restless for some time and Benning’s job was certainly on the line. But the 2019-20 season has shown there’s reason for optimism.

Benning’s next big challenge will be keeping the main pieces together. Markstrom can be a UFA this off-season and Pettersson and Hughes will be restricted free agents in the summer of 2022 (Hughes will not be eligible for an offer sheet) and if the salary cap ceiling stays flat or does not increase by a large amount, the GM will have to get creative.

For now, the Canucks sit on 68 points and tied with the Predators for the last Western Conference wild card spot but also one point behind the Flames for third in the Pacific Division. Should the NHL choose points percentage as a way to decide the 2020 playoff format, that’s good news for them. At .565, that would put them in the second spot in the division and a Round 1 matchup with the Oilers.

Highlight of the Season

Kevin Bieksa used his time during the Sedins’ number retirement ceremony to wonderfully roast just about everyone.

As for a game highlight? Here’s Petey just being Petey:

MORE CANUCKS:
Biggest surprises, disappointments
Long-term outlook

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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.

A best on best mythical tournament: Players that missed the cut

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament. The first teams created were a 23-and-under, players in their prime and players 30-and-older.

While the other teams in this mythical competition secured the best players from each age bracket, there were still plenty of high-impact players available to form another super team. This roster was able to take a unique combination of characteristics from players of all ages and create a team that is very well-balanced. They have the star power to skate stride for stride with the other teams in the tournament, and the depth to not only survive a long series but potentially thrive.

Line Combinations

First line: J.T. MillerSteven StamkosVladimir Tarasenko

Thoughts: It was surprising to slide Miller onto the top line, but he has finally lived up to his potential playing with elite talent on the Vancouver Canucks. He is 17th in the league with 72 points this season and skating alongside two highly skilled players should only increase his offensive production. Tarasenko has missed most of the season with a shoulder injury but his body of work speaks for itself.

Second line: Anders LeeJohn TavaresPhil Kessel

Thoughts: Lee had his only 40-goal season playing alongside John Tavares two years ago with the New York Islanders and has remained one of the league’s best net-front presences since No. 91 signed with Toronto. Patrick Kane echoed Mathew Barzal’s suggestion that Lee was one of the best puck tippers in the entire NHL. Kessel should also add an element of speed and an ability to score to balance out this dangerous trio.

Third line: Elias PetterssonAleksander BarkovWilliam Nylander

Thoughts: All three of these players are on the cusp of being superstars and each one should have a sizeable chip on his shoulder. This tournament would be a perfect opportunity for these players to elevate their status from up-and-coming players to established stars. Barkov has the entire skillset to bring out the best in each of his linemates on both ends of the ice.

Fourth line: Ondrej PalatSean CouturierTom Wilson

Thoughts: Wilson was an interesting player to include in this tournament, but he has proven in the past that he possesses the offensive skill to go along with his tough style of play. Couturier has become one of the top shutdown centers in the league and will be a contender for the Selke trophy for years to come. All three individuals understand the commitment it takes to be sharp in their own end of the ice without diminishing their offensive abilities.

First D pairing: Quinn HughesShea Weber

Second D pairing: Ivan ProvorovErik Karlsson

Third D pairing: Miro HeiskanenBrent Burns

Thoughts: There is not much else you need on a blueline but the biggest question facing this collection of defensemen: is Hughes is ready to handle top line minutes against the high-scoring lines from the opposition? If not, Provorov and Heiskanen are more than capable of sliding up the lineup and the group has more than enough talent to compete against any combination of forwards.

Starting Goalie: Carey Price

Backup Goalie: John Gibson

Just Missed (again): Nicklas Backstrom, Brock Boeser, Tyler Seguin, Ryan Suter, Jonathan Toews

Captain: Shea Weber

Alternate captains: John Tavares, Steven Stamkos

Coach: We have not had this category for our other teams, but is there a better coach in the league to motivate players passed over than John Tortorella? He didn’t have much success with Team USA in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, but his performance behind the Blue Jackets’ bench this season has been superb after the departure of several key stars.

Analysis

Even though these players missed the cut for the initial rosters, this group of misfits is still a formidable team that could stand its ground against the competition. Whether its firepower, depth, size, speed, skill, toughness or any other critical characteristic a team needs to compete, this group of players is not lacking in any department. Without the restrictions of players fitting into a certain age bracket, this team has a strong mix of diverse skillsets.

One characteristic that stands out amongst this group is their size. Each line has a strong net-front presence and the ability to pin a team in their own zone for long stretches of time.

Despite the collection of prolific talent there are a few questions up front. Was Miller a one-hit wonder in Vancouver playing on the top line or can he replicate his production from this past season alongside Stamkos and Tarasenko? Will Tavares and Lee instantly find their chemistry?

Similarly to the 30-and-over team, can the third line win matchups against the top lines from the opposition? In addition, can the veterans on the blueline bring out the best in the three young lefties in the defensive group?

Even though there are plenty of questions and these players were pushed aside from the original rosters, this group has a legitimate shot to win the tournament.

Surprising omissions

Brock Boeser: It was a close call between him and Nylander for the third-line right-winger position, but the Canucks forward has not established himself as an elite winger just yet. In a few years this could be a very different discussion but at the current time, Nylander has been the more dynamic player.

Ryan Suter: A solid minutes-eating defenseman is an ingredient any roster could use during this tournament, but the other three left-handed shot defensemen were harder to omit. Suter’s veteran presence will be missed but Hughes, Provorov, and Heiskanen have developed into elite defenseman faster than anticipated.

Jonathan Toews: The captain of the Chicago Blackhawks has justifiably developed a reputation as one of the top two-way centermen in the NHL. He was within striking distance of crossing the 70-point mark for the second consecutive season. Toews was a very tough player to leave off the roster, but Couturier and Barkov are just a cut above.


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

PHT Morning Skate: Puppies for players during NHL pause; 68-game rollback?

Puppies NHL players Boeser PHT Morning Skate
via Brock Boeser's Instagram account
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

NHL players add puppies during the pause

• Emily Kaplan dives deep on doggos. OK, to be more specific, Kaplan takes a look at how NHL players are bringing in puppies and/or dogs during the coronavirus pause. Whether they’re fostering the furballs or making full-time additions to their families, it’s adorable stuff. (ESPN)

Say what you will about Tom Wilson, but this dog rules. And I’m not just saying it because the dog looks like a rounder version of my own doggo. (This post’s main image is of Brock Boeser‘s beast, sadly not named Bark Boeser, or Bark Pupper. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.)

(Would pause for the paws have been a better headline?)

Other hockey headlines

• TSN’s Frank Seravalli pitches the NHL dialing back all teams’ games played to 68 games to determine playoff seeding. Interestingly, such a format would include the same 16 playoff teams as would a system based on points percentage. Seravalli also points out that a 68-game setup would lead to fun matchups like a Battle of Alberta, Crosby’s Penguins vs. Ovechkin’s Capitals, and the Predators vs. Golden Knights. Interesting stuff, and it seems at least reasonably fair. (TSN)

• One question the NHL needs to answer is: how will conditional picks from trades be handled when this all plays out? Oilers Nation points out that GM Ken Holland told TSN’s Ryan Rishaug that he doesn’t believe Edmonton will receive the conditional pick involved in the James NealMilan Lucic trade. If not, it would miss the mark by a tiny margin. (Oilers Nation)

• Whether there are more regular season games or the NHL jumps to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers are in a good position. As long as there’s more hockey to be played. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff discusses how the pause affects prospect scouting and other parts of his job. For the most part, he’s comfortable with his front office’s preparation, even though the pause halted normal operations. (Winnipeg Free-Press)

• If the salary cap rises close to $84 million, Danny Webster argues that the Golden Knights could enjoy pretty nice space. Frankly, NHL teams might be happy if they get a slight bump from $81.5M, but the larger point about Vegas being in a better situation than expected remains interesting. (Knights on Ice)

• Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas went on Sportsnet’s Tim & Sid to add insight about signing Alexander Barabanov. In Dubas’ view, the KHL import can “play in June,” as in when the league’s … usually deep in the playoffs. Hockey DB includes some stats on the 25-year-old, by the way. (Sportsnet)

• The Avalanche reportedly rank among the teams aiming to sign free agent goalie Alexei Melnichuk. Mile High Hockey’s Tom Hunter wonders if the Avs could unearth another Pavel Francouz. Granted, there are some big differences, including age; Melnichuk is 21, while Francouz came over from the KHL at 27. (Mile High Hockey)

• Five potential destinations for pending UFA Torey Krug. Yes, the Bruins rank among those five destinations, even though it will be a challenge to retain Krug. (The Hockey News)

• Sean McIndoe (aka Down Goes Brown) goes over some of the NHL’s “one-hit wonders.” Not only do we recall the exploits of Jim Carey The Goalie and Chris Kontos’ four-goal game, but McIndoe also picks a musical one-hit wonder for each instance. My only critique is that no fake album cover included an “explicit lyrics” label. (The Athletic [sub required])

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.