46
Photo Credit: © Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Because It’s The Cap: Vancouver Canucks Offseason Preview

This article is part of a 30-team series based at NHLNumbers.com. Each Nation Network team page will have articles posted relevant to the team’s respective division. 

29th in the league in goals for, 24th in goals against, and 29th in points, the Vancouver Canucks just plain sucked in 2016-2017. Let’s take a closer look at their roster, their salary cap situation, and the offseason that lies ahead to get a better idea how this team can correct course not so much in the short term, but in the long term. After all, with a largely veteran core and a team that isn’t anywhere remotely close to contending for a Stanley Cup, there might not be a single team in the NHL that more desperately needs a full-scale rebuild.

ROSTER ANALYSIS

Let’s break this thing down into three categories: forwards, defensemen, and goalies. But first, to get us acclimated, here’s a rough depth chart of the 2016-2017 Canucks through the lens of the catch-all statistic Game Score:

Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 5.48.42 PM

Up front, the Canucks have some serviceable pieces, but not enough in the way of elite talent to make the group any good, and not enough in the way of depth to overcome the lack of elite talent. On a basic level, the team only had three forwards surpass 35 points — the Sedin twins and Bo Horvat. Obviously, that’s a major problem given the Sedins turn 37 just ahead of next season. And it doesn’t help that Loui Eriksson, signed to a six-year deal and turning 32 this July, had just 24 points on the year. Looking down the lineup, players like Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, and Brandon Sutter are useful, but no more than third-liners, save for perhaps Baertschi as he continues to develop. And after that, with little else of offensive consequence, the Vancouver forward core just isn’t good enough.

On defence, the team was dreadful — earning the 22nd-best xGA60 at 2.59. While Troy Stecher was a nice surprise for the team, there was little else to write home about. 31-year-old Alex Edler’s best days are behind him, Nikita Tryamkin is heading back to Russia, Chris Tanev may be on the move, and the rest of the group is filled out by bottom-pairing players. In other words, the group lacks in both talent and depth.

In net, the team was just okay, which isn’t good enough. Wiley veteran Ryan Miller posted a .914 save percentage and Jacob Markstrom had a .910. On a team with a high-flying offence or a smothering defence those numbers might be enough to keep you high in the standings, but given the lack of talent throughout the roster that we’ve already examined, the mediocre goaltending only accelerated the Canucks’ fall down the standings.

Conclusion: Such as you’d expect from a 29th placed team, the Canucks’ roster doesn’t boast much to write home about. 

CAP SITUATION

Now we’ll take another look at the team’s forwards, defensemen, and goalies, as well as the players they still owe money to not even on the roster anymore.

Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 5.51.43 PM

Up front, the salary situation is mostly okay. The Sedins having one year left on their deals means management will have to make a tough decision with them sometime in the next year, but that doesn’t have to be an immediate problem. Bo Horvat needs a new contract, which would ideally be long-term and in the $5M cap hit range. Problematic though are the contract to Loui Eriksson and to a lesser extent Brandon Sutter. Sutter’s never going to fully live up to that contract so that’s one you stomach as much as you can and move on. Eriksson on the other hand needs to be better, otherwise that deal could really hurt the team moving forward.

On defence the team has no real blemishes. Alex Edler is overpaid given his current level of play, but with just two years left, and on a team in no need of salary cap room, the team will be fine. Tanev’s three years left means if the team elects to trade him, his value should still be nice and high. And as far as Erik Gudbranson goes, hopefully the team doesn’t do a long-term deal.

In net Markstrom’s contract is fair and Miller, even if he re-signs, won’t be hurting the team’s long-term future. Nothing to see here.

The team also carries a $1.633M cap hit on a buyout to Chris Higgins and retained salary from the Roberto Luongo trade. But with over $20 million in salary cap space, the team doesn’t need to worry about that, especially with Higgins’ cap hit coming off the books after next year.

Conclusion: The Canucks only have four players on their roster locked up for more than two years, giving them a lot of flexibility moving forward, ideal for a rebuilding team. 

OFFSEASON PLAN

Okay, arbitrary exercise time. Let’s note every player of relative consequence on the Canucks, that’s also under 30 years of age, and ask ourselves this one simple question: is this player, or will this player one day become, a legitimate top-six forward, top-four defenceman, or starting goalie? In other ways, will they be an impact player?

Here’s what I came up with:

Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 5.43.13 PM

You may disagree on some of my takes, but in general, here’s what we have: four yeses. That’s four players in the entire organization that most likely figure to be legitimate impact players.

That right their is why the team is bad, and why they’re in such bad need of a rebuild.

So forget all the little details about this team for a minute. Forget a potential Tanev trade. Forget if the team will re-sign Ryan Miller. Forget about if the team will qualify Joseph Cramarossa. Forget the band-aids that might be signed in free agency. This team needs to worry about the long-term. This team needs to ask itself one simple question heading into this offseason: what do we need to do to put ourselves in a better position to one day be perennial Stanley Cup contenders?

The answer: acquire good, young talent.

That’s all the Canucks need to really worry about here. Yes there’s next season to worry about. Yes they have some organizational housekeeping to do. But in the end Michael Chaput’s cap hit next year doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. This team needs to acquire young talent with the potential to make a meaningful impact on the team. They need to acquire, or put themselves in the position to acquire, top notch young hockey players. Players with the potential to be top-six forwards, top-four defensemen, or starting goalies. Players that can be All-Stars. Players that can win awards. Players that can lead the team to a Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup is your guiding principle. Never forget that.

So specifically, the main way the team can put themselves in good position moving forward is via the draft and via trade. The team has the 5th overall pick, which offers tremendous potential to add another great young player to the organization. After that they have just five more draft picks though, so they could stand to add some more. Or they could simply stand to add more quality prospects. The way to do either or both of those things is via trade. So they should explore not only a Tanev trade but a trade involving the likes of the Sedin twins, as long as they have a willingness to play elsewhere. So the draft and the trade market need to be the real centres of the Canucks’ offseason.

In terms of the expansion draft, the team has little to worry about. They aren’t in a position to lose an important forward or goalie. They may well lose a veteran on defence though, which is actually okay — having a player like Erik Gudbranson taken off their hands may actually be for the best.

And then there’s free agency. The best approach would be to trade who you can for premium assets, and fill any remaining roster holes with productive players on one- or two-year deals, offering the potential to later jettison those players off for more draft picks and prospects. Again, they need to do everything they can to acquire blue chip or borderline-blue chip prospects and young players.

And that’s really it. If Jim Benning makes the future the priority this summer, the team will be doing themselves a favour. If he makes rash decisions as he has in the past and prioritizes veterans and depth, there’s no telling how long it may take for the team to finally be good again.

But no matter what, it’s going to be fun watching it all play out.

Conclusion: Please, please, Canucks, rebuild this roster. There’s virtually no way to build on this group through trade or free agency at this point. 

Previously in this series…

30. Colorado Avalanche 

  • Bud Poile

    Granlund and Baertschi were both on pace for 20+ goal seasons and Stetcher scored 24 points as a rookie.
    Evan Mac won’t make it and Guddy will be lost to expansion.
    The author doesn’t watch or follow Canucks hockey closely enough,if at all.

    • Finnish Oiler fan in Edmonton89

      Ugh. Typical Canuck fan.

      Just admit it, your team is awful and has nothing in terms of a future

      “B-b but Granlund and b- baertschi”

      No.

      Your team sucks. Just stop.

      • Locust

        Anyone with any connection to the Edmonton oilers saying another team sucks is just too funny. Having ten years of experience at ‘massive sucking’ does give you experience though … at sucking.

      • Blort

        Edmonton has one post-season run in a decade and this guy crawls out of the mire to throw shade. Your team has been such a bungling freak show over that span that even I was feeling sorry for you guys.

      • I am Ted

        Well, I think a Coilers fan would know when a team sucks. The Coil have been a hot mess for the better part of the last 20 years. They’re the reason the draft was changed and just the butt of so many jokes that no one could keep track. Anyway, so, yes you would know when a team sucks.

        Yes, the Canucks suck and Benning can make some key moves this summer to accelerate the rebuild. The draft alone isn’t the way to go. Let’s not be like the Coilers and pray on flukes and circumstance to make us relevant again. The Canucks have been a very good franchise for a while and Gillis did nothing to stock the talent pool so it’s no shock the Canucks are sucking now. There will be more pain but what can ya do… 🙂

      • Neil B

        Hey Finnish, welcome! With an attitude like that towards management, you’ll be a Canucks fan in no time at all.

        Of course, both you and the writer of the article are grossly mistaken about one thing–you still think that second-line players put up solid 45point+ numbers on an average season. And you know, in today’s NHL, that’s honestly just not true.

        The top end production in 2015 for 2W (based on ice time/game) was roughly 40 points; the top-end production for a 2C is about 55 points. Baertschi has averaged 32 points, the low end for 2W; his pace is 38 points per 82 GP. That makes him already a bog-standard NHL 2LW, and he has shown he still has potential to grow. Granlund is a hair behind (.41 points per game, or a 34 point pace) over the past 2 seasons as well; his pace last season was the same as Sven’s. Nothing to write home about, it’s true; but they both fully qualify as NHL 2W.

        Stecher could be a middle-pairing guy, on an average team; so could Hutton. Again, not something to scream about. But they are average, and do still have the potential for some growth. Will they win us a round or two of playoffs? No. But an average second pairing shouldn’t be expected to do that.

        Now, if the goal is to be an elite unit at all levels, then yes we have many holes. And yes, that should be the goal, ultimately. But that’s not how this exercise was framed.

      • Despite being a perennial Presidents Cup contender and having Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals still haven’t won the Cup. Edmonton is poised to be in the same situation. Edmonton is lucky to have McDavid but unfortunately, McDavid is not so lucky to be stuck in Edmonton. Structurally, your team has major problems. Impending cap crunch problems due to overpayments to RNH, Eberle, Lucic, Sekera (just wait for Draisaitl and McDavid’s next contracts plus Caggiula and Nurse), you still don’t have Top 2 defencemen, and your starting goaltender is just a really good back-up. McDavid is propping up a very poorly constructed team, Chiarelli didn’t make things better. But if you want to keep thinking that it’s all rosy, good on you because a lot of other more balanced teams are going to surpass you.

      • Oilerchild77

        Honestly it’s just fun to give it back to Canucks fans a bit after you guys have piled on us for the last 10+ years. So I say what Finnish says: Your team sucks!!

    • Fred-65

      My name is Shawn Reis.  I’m a former blogger at the now-defunct Leafs HQ and I currently run my own little blog at hellohockey.blogspot.com.  I love long walks on the beach, writing, and the Leafs.
      STEVE SAYS: Shawn had actually been trying to get our attention to write for us for some time. When I read his application, I felt dumb for not listening to him sooner. Shawn included a ridiculously thorough chart about goalies’ save percentages, shots per game, and goals against. Another item of his we really enjoyed was his speculation as to who could be the next CEO of MLSE.

      Out of touch with Vcr….just a place on the map for Shawn. No great depth, little understanding trying to hide behind doubtful stats…. stats can say any thing

  • Killer Marmot

    Looking down the lineup, players like Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, and Brandon Sutter are useful, but no more than third-liners, save for perhaps Baertschi as he continues to develop.

    Baertschi was 36th in goals among left wingers, and 45th in total points. That’s solidly in 2nd-line territory.

    Granlund is listed as a centre but plays the wing more often. Considered as a winger, his numbers were also 2nd-line caliber last year, especially with 19 goals in 69 games.

  • Pat Quinn Way

    What many fans and bloggers seem to forget is that in this age of cap parity, with the right management team in place, teams can quickly go from last to the playoffs – Toronto and Edmonton are prime examples of this and both delivered and will now compete in the playoffs for years to come.
    Unfortunately this current Caucks regime are clueless about building a winner, as the standings and dreadful rosters under LinBenning have proven. Surely you can see that when your GM is lauding the likes of Gudbranson and Sutter as ‘foundational players’ you must know you are in serious trouble.

    As a further example of Canucks ineptness, did any of you see how Nashville and Anaheim (a hated divisional rival) smashed the cr*p out of each other… how do you think lightweights like Granlund, Baertschi, Goldolbin, Sutter, Stetcher and little Subban too name a few are going to take that kind of punishment in a playoff series… c’mon guys, wake up and smell the coffee. A complete change of management and direction is needed asap!

    • Fred-65

      I recommend you don’t use the Oilers or Leafs as an example. The fact is without McDavid and Matthews neither team is substantially better than the other middle of the pack teams. There are not franchise type players available every draft, they’re rare events. Generally that’s luck more than any thing Both franchises have been inept for decade until these two came long

    • LTFan

      I would agree that Toronto and Edmonton have improved significantly. Being able to draft players like Matthews and McDavid certainly helped them. What the Canucks need is to be able to find a player later in the draft that blossoms after 1 or 2 years. Good scouting and some luck is necessary. At the moment the Canucks haven’t done well in either department.

      • Pat Quinn Way

        Ahh yes, the old McDavid/Matthews chestnut (yawn). Utter drivel… whilst those type of players (Stamkos/Tavares/Eichel etc) are the cherry on the cake for their clubs, it’s a total ‘team’ game and once they hired the right management/coach, both franchises have done a fantastic job in just two/three years in going from bottom of the league to playoffs contenders, which is all that matters to me. We should be so lucky.

        Speaking of the playoffs, McDavid had zero points in a 7-nothing Oilers playoff win against Anaheim and was all but nullified in the series by the great Ryan Kesler. As Nashville gave proven, it’s a total team effort. End of.

        Some of you guys need to stop sucking on sour grapes and admit the truth – great management with clear vision and astute hockey sense is everything, and the Vancouver Canucks simply do not have it!

  • TheRealPB

    It’s hard to take an exercise like this seriously when you cherry-pick so much and provide no justification for some of your assumptions. Vancouver was never going to be a good team last season or this due to the decline of its star players. But to discuss it’s league-bottom results without even mentioning the huge number of man-games lost in veterans due to injuries is misleading at best. And you need to provide at least some rationale as to why some of the players make your yes/no list while others do not. There is not nearly enough of a body of work to dismiss Virtanen, Stecher and Hutton so quickly, nor to assume that Boeser and Juolevi will make a positive impact. By your logic, we should have dismissed the Sedins and Kesler in the same manner as Baertschi and Granlund at this point in their careers.

    If your argument is that the Canucks are a rebuilding team with a lot of cap space, that will likely finish bottom ten in the league next year, that…is not original.

    • Donald's Hat Trick

      The 100+ combined man games lost by Dorsett and Gudbranson really hurt the team, is that what you’re saying?

      Speaking of injuries, isn’t it odd the number of Benning’s big signings that have missed significant time due to injury right after they have been signed? Dorsett, Gudbranson, Sutter, even Miller in his first season, you’d think management would pay attention to pre-existing conditions.

      • TheRealPB

        No, what I’m saying is that the next closest team to Vancouver in man-games lost was Winnipeg and we still were 70+ more than them. The Canucks have barely any depth and that became abundantly clear when for about half the season we iced a pretty poor AHL lineup plus some banged up vets and some over-there-head youngsters. Of those vets who were injured, some were hard to predict (Sutter had been pretty much an ironman before he came here). Injuries will happen and it’s dumb to blame that too on management. You’re not really contradicting any of my points…

        • Donald's Hat Trick

          Right, so the Nucks lost 70 more man games to injury than anyone else (total of about 387). Rodin, Dorsett and Gudby together account for more than half of those games, plus Markstrom and Miller add another 20-25, so you can’t claim that the team’s performance was hurt by injuries. Some basement blogger at USA Today basically nailed the team’s point total at the start of the season and I’m sure he didn’t know Dorsett was going to miss 70+ games.

      • Braindead Benning

        The dont pay attention to pre-existing conditions and they give the wrong messages to players such as JV & JM on off-season training requirements…
        And proceed to not follow up on their progress… however, Gudbranslug actually helped the team in a big way being injured for the better half of the season.

    • I am Ted

      How would you know? Exactly. You don’t. You’re just some sh!t stain kid who thinks he knows WTF this draft will yield. Honestly, most are calling it a lesser draft but if it yields you a 2nd line centre or a #2 or #3 D man then so be it.

      • kormega

        Sh*t stain kid? I’m not Cannots fan, sorry.

        And with your draft luck Nucks will spend 5th pick on a 2nd line AHL center. Remember, you chose Virtanen ahead of Nylander, Ehlers and Pastrnak, lol.

        • I am Ted

          I follow my team and am loyal to them? Who do you follow? The Coilers? Next to the Laffs, they’ve been one of the league’s biggest jokes. If anyone can mess up McDickhead, it’s the Coilers.

  • I question the author’s assessment that Hutton and Stecher are no better than third pairing defensemen. Highly unlikely to be Top 2 but I could see them as solid Top 4 (mid-pairing) defensemen that fit the modern archetype of mobile, offensive-minded defensemen. Something that’s highly coveted in the league now.

  • Jamie E

    One can quibble about the details (I would quibble about Beartschi and Granlund), but the overall assessment that the Canucks need lot’s of young talent everywhere except goal is true. With that said, I don’t say that as a condemnation of management. They assumed a veteran, stale team and have essentially cleaned house. Now they have to renovate the house and that will take time. Having bad luck and falling back in every draft lottery doesn’t help, not does it make the architects in Toronto and Edmonton geniuses, although Toronto has had a number of strong drafts in a row and deserves credit for that.

    If the Canucks can convert either Edler or Tanev into another first round pick, I would like that. I would also counsell Benning to pick a D at #5 and keep building from the net out. You puck moving D are worth their weight in gold. Forwards can be found elsewhere. If the Canucks could pull off a trade that say them coming out of the draft with any two of Cale Makar/Miro Heiskanen/Timothy Liljegren I would be pleased.

  • Anton CP

    At least that Canucks will never running out of prospects in net. Thatcher Demko is going to be a solid future starter in NHL. However that everywhere else looks bad on Canucks roster. The forward core is aging that only Bo Horvat is the bright spot for the near future. Jake Virtanen has been a disappointment thus far. Jonathan Dahlen has lots of potential but he maybe rushed a bit to start NHL sooner than expected. Sedins have one more year left and no matter what that next year will be the end of the era for them in Vancity. Still, with all that being said, nothing wrong to tank next year because with 3 great prospects coming in 2018 draft and a very deep talent pool that they will get some future star in return. Andrei Svechnikov, Rasmus Dahlin, and Joe Valeno are all will be the next big wave coming into NHL soon.

  • acg5151

    Baertschi, Granlund, and Stecher were all really solid this season and I would argue that you are wrong that they won’t be impact players. Ben Hutton had an off year but the year before he was good, I don’t see how he doesn’t rate at least a “maybe”. And both Virtanen and Subban are still young, they could end up being impact players – I think it’s too early to write them off.

    Other than that yes, we do need to make trades because we still aren’t good enough. It will be very difficult to get good players in Free Agency to sign one or two year deals unless they’ve got serious question marks which yeah, maybe we should take flyers on players like that because some of them will pan out. Yes, we have the 5th round pick and we need to make it count, that’s obvious. All in all I think there’s not much to see here in this article that we don’t already know. But thanks for the insights.

  • Bobaner

    And who is Shawn Reis? He’s nobody. If you google his name you get professional fighters. Not professional journalists posting absurd articles on an absurd website.

  • Walker

    I realize this has been covered – but, really? This is what passes for analysis on the Nation Network? This guy’s “relative consequence” list is just simply inane. He just arbitrarily goes through players list and deems – based on what – who will have consequence? He claims that players who already playing top 6 / top 4 roles won’t be able to achieve that level but that rookies who’ve never played an NHL game will? Based on what? Why?

    Maybe you guys posted this so that it would generate heat?

    • I am Ted

      This network has always had their bloggers come on and try to generate controversy etc to get hits. Sadly, I just think this is a poor article with little research done on the topic.