Christopher Tanev

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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.

Canucks end five-game skid, extend Flames’ drop to eight

At least the Calgary Flames finally got a point. It didn’t look like they would even be able to do that much early in tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, but it’s hard for the Flames to be happy with their 3-2 overtime loss given that it extended their slump to eight games.

The Flames started the contest on a rough note as a botched passing attempt on a delayed penalty led to them scoring on their own net.

“Right now, every time we make a mistake, the puck is in our net,” Flames bench boss Bob Hartley said, per PHT’s Jason Brough.

Vancouver got its first earned goal 9:24 minutes into the contest courtesy of Radim Vrbata:

The Canucks held the lead for most of this contest, but David Jones put the Flames within one in the second period and rookie Johnny Gaudreau scored at 7:05 of the third period to send this one to overtime.

Christopher Tanev, who turned 25 on Saturday, made it a memorable birthday by scoring the overtime winner. It was his fourth career game-winning goal. With that, Vancouver ended its own slump at five games.

“We handled the pressure today when they came back, we played our system,” Henrik Sedin said, per the Cancuks’ Twitter feed. “It wasn’t creative but it’s a win.”

Calgary is now three points behind in the battle for a Wild Card spot with a 17-15-3 record.

Vanquished: Isles stun Canucks with seven-goal third period

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Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis might need to send out another letter to embattled fans after the latest bit of soul-crushing drama for this team.

The Canucks took a 3-0 lead into a third period with things looking up – hey, Henrik Sedin finally scored! – yet that all came crumbling down as the Isles out-scored the Canucks 7-1 in a third period that almost seems like it could only happen to this Vancouver team.

Keep in mind this is an Islanders team that no longer boasts John Tavares (injury) or Thomas Vanek (trade).

Of note: the Islanders tied a franchise record with three power-play goals while the Canucks tied a dubious franchise record by allowing seven goals in a single period.

A closer look at that meltdown

For the sake of space and slower Internet connections, let’s throw out video of the lone Canucks goal (Christopher Tanev, which briefly tied things up) and the seventh Islanders goal (because it was an empty-netter) and glance at the six Islanders goals of note.

First, here are the three goals that tied things up.

Josh Bailey began the turnaround 1:13 into the third:

The three-minute mark was perhaps the ugliest. Ryan Strome scored at the 3:14 mark and then Calvin de Haan briefly tied things up 22 seconds later:

At the 6:22 mark, Frans Nielsen scored his 20th goal of the season to give the Islanders a 4-3 lead that lasted about three and a half minutes:

Again, Tanev made it 4-4, but Matt Martin scored the game-winner just 10 seconds later (10:04 into the third):

Anders Lee made it 6-4 not that much later (11:45 into the final frame, to be exact):

And then Clutterbuck scored that empty-netter.

So, beyond those franchise record-tying stats mentioned earlier, here are a couple other quick notes from that mind-numbing third period:

  • The Islanders scored four goals to make it 4-3 in less than five and a half minutes
  • The Canucks tied it … for 10 seconds.
  • New York’s game-winning and insurance goals came about a minute and a half apart.
  • Lack allowed six goals on 15 shots.

***

After a recent loss, Kevin Bieksa wondered “if this isn’t rock bottom, I don’t know what is.” That answer is pretty clear after this loss.

(At least they hope so.)

After seventh straight loss, Tortorella takes the blame

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TORONTO — Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella wants you to point the finger at him when it comes to the team’s losing ways of late.

The Canucks lost their seventh straight game after dropping a 3-1 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. Following the game, Tortorella owned up to the team’s recent slide and put the losses squarely on his and the coaching staff’s shoulders.

“It’s pretty obvious the coaching staff here has not done a good job teaching details of situational play,” Tortorella said. “Third period, wall play, underneath the puck – we just have not done a good enough job because our guys are just not consistent at it. It’s going to be a huge focus as we get through this break and get ready to play again.”

The Canucks went into the third period holding a 1-0 lead over the Leafs, but goals from Mason Raymond, Phil Kessel, and James van Riemsdyk put Toronto over the top.

“It’s the way it’s going but we can’t be in that situation,” Tortorella said. “We can’t let the momentum change in that third period the way it did. And that’s details. I need to take full responsibility for that. Obviously I have not taught that well enough because we continue to make the same mistakes in crucial times of the game. You guys may not see the little things that happen before goals, we do. That’s situational play and we have not been consistent enough with it.”

The Olympic break comes at an ideal time for the Canucks. Not only are they mired in a losing streak, but they’re without five regular players. Forwards Henrik Sedin and Mike Santorelli and defensemen Kevin Bieksa, Christopher Tanev, and Yannick Weber.

“Mentally and physically hopefully we’ll get some bodies back also,” Tortorella said about the Olympic break. “It was a dog’s breakfast as far as the [road] trip, three in a row losing them all. We’re in a spiral so it couldn’t come for a better time mentally and getting guys back also.”

Hamhuis to return to Canucks lineup against Toronto

Dan Hamhuis will be back in the Vancouver Canucks lineup as they hope to snap their six-game losing streak against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Hamhuis has missed the past three games, but skated at practice today in Toronto and said he’s ready to play as Luke Fox of Sportsnet shares.

“I felt good today. I was just being cautious to make sure everything was 100 percent. I didn’t want anything to regress and go backwards,” Hamhuis said. “With the slump we’re going through, it’s tough not to play in those games. And with the Olympics coming up, I want to make sure my body’s healthy. I’m really happy that the injury has come around quickly.”

Hamhuis was one of five defensemen the Canucks have battling injuries. Kevin Bieksa, Christopher Tanev, Yannick Weber, and Andrew Alberts are all on injured reserve with various ailments.

After playing the Maple Leafs on Saturday, Hamhuis is headed to Sochi as part of Team Canada.