Ryan Spooner

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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.

Sam Gagner headed back to Oilers after trade with Canucks

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The Edmonton Oilers continued shaking up their roster by shipping Ryan Spooner to the Vancouver Canucks for Sam Gagner.

A day after moving Cam Talbot to the Philadelphia Flyers for Anthony Stolarz, the Oilers made the one-for-one swap hoping  the 29-year-old Gagner can rekindle his scoring touch from his early days in Edmonton.

Gagner spent the first seven seasons of his NHL with the Oilers where he posted five consecutive 40-point seasons to start his career and was a big contributor on the power play. He did hit 18 goals and 50 points two years ago in Columbus, but was slowly phased out after moving on to th Canucks last season. He’s only played seven games in Vancouver this season, spending most of his time on loan to the AHL Toronto Marlies where he scored 12 goals and recorded 37 points in 45 games. The team is hoping to get him to Brooklyn in time for Saturday night’s game against the Islanders.

Spooner’s travels continue as he’s now joins his third NHL team of the season. After signing a two-year deal with the New York Rangers in the summer, they then shipped him to the Oilers for Ryan Strome in November. (The Rangers retained $900K of Spooner’s salary in the deal.)

It’s one of those “change of scenery” deals we see often in the NHL. In this case, the scenery is familar for Gagner and the Oilers are hoping he can be a beneficial presence as they try to salvage the mess that is this season.

MORE: PHT NHL Trade Tracker

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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.

Trading Ryans: Rangers get Strome, Oilers nab Spooner

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Perhaps mid-November is the time for lateral trades and troubling injuries?

Oilers fans probably tense up whenever their team makes a trade, yet this one is more of a shoulder shrug than a forehead-slapper: Edmonton receives Ryan Spooner, while the New York Rangers get Ryan Strome.

(Hey, stop yawning.)

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Rangers retained $900K of Spooner’s salary (for each of the next seasons) to make the trade work; each forward now carries a $3.1 million cap hit in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

You really need to crane your neck to see the differences between Strome, 25, and Spooner, 26. Reactions have gone both ways as far as which team “won” the trade, as you might expect from a move that more or less merely shakes things up.

Plenty of people are, instead, merely enjoying just how negligible the difference is between the two forwards:

… Or using this as another opportunity to ridicule bumbling Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, who acquired Strome in that ill-fated Jordan Eberle trade before the 2017-18 season.

As PHT’s Adam Gretz notes, this trade is mainly a reminder of past mistakes:

Chiarelli drafted Spooner during his days with the Boston Bruins, so that likely explains why he targeted the forward.

At least, that explains it beyond making a trade for the sake of making a trade.

While I’d argue that the Penguins edged the Kings by landing Tanner Pearson for Carl Hagelin, it’s most likely to be a small victory. The difference, on paper, might be even less obvious here, unless a change of scenery truly sparks one or the other. Strome’s possession stats have been better and their production has been comparable over the years. Maybe Spooner could find chemistry with Connor McDavid in a way that would allow Leon Draisaitl to play on his own line? From here, this is a marginal trade, but there’s always a chance it might be a little more fruitful than expected.

If nothing else, it could serve as a wakeup call. That sure beats the Oilers’ unfortunate tradition of trades being a kick in the gut.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Poll: Has the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window closed?

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Back in 2013, the last time the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final, their leading playoff scorers were, in order, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchard, Jaromir Jagr, Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, and Johnny Boychuk.

Of those 10 players, only four — Krejci, Bergeron, Chara and Marchand — remain on the roster. And Chara is 38 years old now.

Add to the fact Dougie Hamilton is gone too, plus the fact the Bruins missed the playoffs last year, and it’s no surprise that many feel their Cup window has closed.

But you won’t hear new GM Don Sweeney say that. Not with youngsters like Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, and Alex Khokhlachev up front. And not after picking up 27-year-old Matt Beleskey in free agency.

Remember that the NHL is a young man’s league. Teams that aren’t constantly refreshing their lineups are teams that get into trouble.

“I don’t think it’s a rebuild. We didn’t strip this down,” Sweeney said in June, per NHL.com. “We have a tremendous core group of guys that are going to obviously carry an even heavier load here in the short term while these other kids can come in and start to take footing.”

OK, time to vote:

Related: Zach Trotman is looking to make the leap

NHL on NBCSN: Fighting for playoffs spot, Bruins hope third time’s the charm vs. Caps

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign tonight with a doubleheader. The first of the two contests will feature the Washington Capitals hosting the Boston Bruins, with the puck scheduled to drop at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

Boston has won five straight games to keep itself in the playoff race, but with the Ottawa Senators’ surge continuing, it hasn’t been enough to secure a postseason berth for the Bruins.

A loss against the Washington Capitals tonight won’t push the Bruins out of the playoff picture, but it would make the margin of error for Boston significantly smaller in its final two contests against Florida and Tampa Bay. Maintaining the winning streak will be tough for the Bruins against the similarly hot Capitals, but Boston at least caught a bit of a break during Tuesday’s practice.

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Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was back on the ice after being held off on Monday. He had been labeled as day-to-day, but Bruins coach Claude Julien now seems optimistic about Chara’s chances of being available for tonight’s game.

That would certainly be a boost, although it might not be enough. Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has already earned two shutouts against Boston this season. Washington forward Nicklas Backstrom has also been a thorn in the Bruins’ side with four points over those two games.

“We’re not here certainly feeling overconfident,” said Julien, per the team’s website. “Because we still haven’t scored on them yet in two games, so we need to be better there tomorrow and find a way to get past their goaltender.”

Perhaps Ryan Spooner will ultimately be the one to solve Washington. Since being called up on Feb. 21, Spooner has been a key forward for Boston with eight goals and 18 points in 21 games. If not for his efforts, Boston might not be in a playoff position going into today’s action.

“We talk about bringing some young legs in, we talk about speed, we talk about skill — (Spooner’s) been able to bring that,” Julien said. “When he was here the first few times, he just brought portions of that. Now, he’s brought it all, and it’s made a big difference in his game. It’s made a big difference in our game.”

Washington has already secured a postseason berth, but the Capitals still need these two points. As things currently stand, it looks like they’ll be in for a tough battle against the New York Islanders in the first round. What remains to be seen is which team will have the home-ice advantage in that series and a win tonight would certainly help Washington as it tries to clinch the second seed in the Metropolitan Division.