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.
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.
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.
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 HartTrophy 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.
Roundtable: Playing out rest of NHL season; 2019-20 memories
Should the NHL return to playing games in a timely matter — a very big unknown at the moment — how would you play out the rest of regular season and/or the playoffs?
SEAN: A unique situation calls for a unique solution. Even if regular season games are able to be played, there may not be time for a typical two-month playoff schedule — unless you’re keen on things potentially going deep into the summer.
Depending how the league resumes its schedule, let’s take the top 10 teams in points or points percentage in each conference. The bottom four teams would play in a one-game play-in playoff game with the winners playing the two best teams in the conference. From there, we’re back into brackets with re-seeding happening in Round 2.
The change here is that series lengths would be shortened. The opening two rounds are best-of-three with a 1-2 format and the final two games of the series played on back-to-back days. The conference final is best-of-five in a 2-3 format — again, back-to-backs and a day off before a potential Game 5 — and the Stanley Cup Final remains a best-of-seven with a 2-3-2 format. (All dependent on arena availabilities, of course.)
Let’s just play hockey soon, please!
JAMES: To avoid bleeding out too much of 2020-21, jump straight to the playoffs … well, after a quick, attention-grabbing detour.
To avoid being far too kind to teams who finished in the wild-card positions when the game of musical chairs got cut short abruptly by a record scratch, I think a “play-in” situation would be fairest.
Basically, if you look at each conference, there are the two wild-card teams, at least two bubble teams right there with them, and two other teams somewhere floating in the distance. You could form an interesting little NFL-like elimination tournament with byes. Let me explain.
Collect those six teams per conference to create two elimination bubble tournaments for two wild card spots in each conference.
The top two wild cards from each conference get a “bye” to the second round in separate brackets.
Top wild cards could be who finished in the WC positions at the time of the pause. That said, it might be more fair if the top seeds were based on points percentage. Either way, determine two byes for each conference. (Let’s assume that business would be mostly as usual otherwise, aka that teams are traveling to different cities for games. One could imagine a scenario where the league would instead want to limit travel even more … but let’s just assume business close to usual.)
Round 1: third I bubble team hosts the sixth bubble team, while the fourth hosts the fifth.
Round 2: winner of third/sixth bubble team travels to face first bubble team, winner of fourth/fifth goes on the road against second.
Playoffs begin with two wild cards per conference who seem to have “earned it,” while also providing grab-your-popcorn made for TV drama. Also, the teams who did the painstaking work of getting one of their division’s top three seeds get to shake off the rust and avoid injuries.
This isn’t perfect, mind you. Chicago and especially Montreal would be extraordinarily lucky for this break. One might instead lean toward, say, having four bubble teams face off for the two spots (basically boiling it down from two elimination rounds to one). That’s “cleaner,” but wouldn’t be fair to, say, the Panthers or Rangers.
ADAM: The longer this goes on the harder it is going to be to fit in more regular season games, play a full postseason, and then have anything that even resembles a normal offseason to give players a proper rest before starting another 82-game season next fall.
To me, there are only a couple of options here.
The first one is that, assuming we can get started again in a timely manner, you just scrap the regular season. You take the normal playoff teams (top three teams in each division plus the two wild cards) based on points percentage, give them a week or two to practice and get back closer to game shape, and you begin the playoffs. That is unfair to the bubble teams, yes, but if we are being realistic here the standings are probably not going to change that much in the regular season games that were remaining.
The other option is that if you insist on playing more regular season games to make it fair for everyone in the playoff race, you adjust the playoff schedule, maybe taking the first (and maybe even second) rounds from a best-of-seven, to a best-of five. Or maybe make the first-round a best-of-three. Not ideal for anyone, and certainly not something I want to see full-time in the future, but this is a rare circumstance that no one saw happening.
JOEY: I just don’t see how you can miss two months of action, come back, have training camp and then play out the rest of the regular season. I don’t think the league has enough time to do that. Come in, play an exhibition game or two and then you jump right into the playoffs (if they’re insistent on having a champion this year). Instead of having a regular season and shortening each playoff series, just jump into the playoffs.
How would you go about deciding who gets in and who doesn’t? Either go with points percentage or make sure the top 12 teams in each conference have a shot at a playoff spot. Technically, the top 12 teams still had at least a small percentage of making the playoffs. Start the postseason with play-in games and then jump right into it when you get down to eight teams in each conference.
My suggested playoff format would work like this:
12th seed vs. 9th seed
11th seed vs. 10th seed.
Lowest seed remaining vs. 7th seed
Highest seed remaining vs. 8th seed.
The winner of those two matchups get to qualify as the Wild Card teams.
I realize that giving teams like Montreal and Chicago a shot at making the playoffs isn’t fair or ideal, but you have to make the numbers work somehow, and having 12 teams makes sense. Neither of the current Wild Card teams in each conference were guaranteed to make the playoffs, so it’s not like they’re being totally robbed by this format I’m proposing.
Once the “play-in round” is over, then you have the playoffs like you would normally have them.
SCOTT: Based on the latest CDC recommendations, we are at least two months away from returning to action. There will be a severe time crunch to get games in without impacting the 2020-21 season too severely. In addition, there needs to be time for the offseason activities such as the NHL Draft and free agency.
There are five teams in each conference that are above 82 points.
In the East, there should be a play-in game/series between the Penguins and Flyers. In the West, the Oilers should host the Stars. This could be a best of three series if time permits, with the other teams skating in exhibition games to get warmed up.
After the opening-round series are decided, the four teams remaining in each conference will participate in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It is tough to imagine a scenario where we will be able to witness a postseason that lasts two-plus months, but this concept allows the NHL to generate playoff revenue and award the Stanley Cup.
What’s your favorite memory so far of the 2019-20 NHL season?
SEAN: I’m a sucker for a feel-good story and we could certainly use some of those at the moment. Two that stood out to me this season happened a few weeks apart in February.
First, Stephen Johns missed 22 months dealing with post-traumatic headaches. He returned Feb. 3 and scored in his first game back. Making the moment all the more sweeter was that his parents were in attendance for that Stars win at Madison Square Garden.
Then you had the emotional Ottawa return for Bobby Ryan on Feb. 27. It was only his second game back since completing the NHL/NHL Players’ Association assistance program for alcohol addiction. That’s enough of a feel-good moment right there, but the Senators forward had other ideas.
During a 5-2 win over the Canucks, Ryan recorded a hat trick, with two of the three goals coming in the final 2:08 of the game.
I’m not necessarily the most blood-and-guts hockey fan. The danger of the sport has its place, but to me, it really just heightens the incredible skill involved. The Connor McDavids of the world soar down the ice and make balletic magic happen while walking a tightrope of injury. That’s more thrilling than sloppy fights between two people who might be damaging their brains.
But the Kassian – Tkachuk feud was so much more than Kassian grotesquely rag-dolling Tkachuk around.
There were the Tkachuk hits, and the dopey machismo of him telling Kassian to get off the tracks if he didn’t like it.
It’s all amplified by the Battle of Alberta, and two division rivals fighting over relevant playoff positioning.
The trash talking was absolutely glorious, from Tkachuk’s barbs to Kassian’s ominous threats. Let’s not forget that Tkachuk is a legit two-way All-Star, and while Kassian isn’t in Tkachuk’s league, he can still play enough to flirt with keeping up with Tkachuk on a night where Kassian’s puck luck is booming.
Critics will say it is not that complicated of a move and that any NHL player can pull it off. That may very well be true. But no one ever had the courage to actually do it. Then he did it again.
JOEY: It has to be Alex Ovechkin’s chase for 700 goals. There’s no guarantee that we’ll see anyone else hit that number and if they do, it won’t happen anytime soon. It was a great story line. Everyone across the hockey world was checking in, paying special attention to Ovechkin and the Capitals. His run has also sparked a debate about whether Wayne Gretzky is the greatest goal scorer of all-time. I’ve also caught myself trying to do the math when it comes to Ovechkin possibly being the first to 900 goals. It was a great story and I’m glad to see he managed to reach the milestone before the NHL went on its pause.
SCOTT: The race between Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes for the Calder Trophy has been fascinating to watch this season. Traditionally, defensemen need more time to round out their game and adjust to the level of competition in the NHL. Both Makar and Hughes have each tallied 50 or more points and have had enormous impacts on their respective NHL clubs.
Adam Fox is also another young blueliner playing big minutes for the New York Rangers. He would be in the rookie-of-the-year conversation, but Makar and Hughes have been a clear step above.
All three skaters played hockey at the collegiate level prior to this season and have begun to pave the way for more NCAA athletes to get opportunities to jump right to the professional level.
The NHL could potentially get even younger if teenage defenseman are able to influence the game as much as Makar, Hughes and Fox have during their inaugural seasons.