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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Pacific Preview: The Canucks are trudging through their dark rebuild years

This is one part of a multi-part series profiling the teams of the Pacific Division from an Oilers perspective. 

The Vancouver Canucks are entering their post-Sedin years. While that might be a tough pill for their fanbase to swallow, it might be the push they need to fall deep enough into the standings to get themselves the No. 1 overall pick their rebuild desperately covets.

What did they do last season?

  • 31-40-11 – 73 points (7th in Pacific) 
  • 218 goals for (26th in the NHL)
  • 264 goals against (26th in NHL)

I don’t know if anybody actually expected the Canucks to be competitive last season, but they made an honest effort in the off-season to make it seem like they thought they could be. Vancouver added middling free agents Sam Gagner, Michael Del Zotto, and Anders Nilsson to multi-year deals to boost the team, but it didn’t work. They missed the playoffs for the third-straight season, their longest drought since the late 1990s.

The Canucks actually got off to a pretty good start last season but the wheels fell off quickly when Bo Horvat went down with a foot injury. They owned a respectable 14-10-4 record when Horvat got hurt and then promptly lost 13 of their next 15 games to essentially end their season. After that, it was a race to the bottom for the Canucks as they ended up finishing 26th in the league. That’s fitting because they finished 26th in goals for and 26th in goals against.

On the bright side, the Canucks completely falling off a cliff without Horvat showed his value to the team. Horvat finished the season with 22 goals and 44 points in 64 games, making him one of two major bright spots for the Canucks. The other bright spot was rookie Brock Boeser, who scored 29 goals and 55 points in 62 games, leading the team in both categories. Also, though he wasn’t on the team, Elias Pettersson, Vancouver’s first pick from the 2017 draft, was also a bright spot as he set an all-time U-20 record in the SHL.

Otherwise, it was a pretty painful season in Vancouver. After a generation of being good and competing for the Stanley Cup, the team has regressed into purgatory. They aren’t anywhere near good enough to compete for the playoffs but they also aren’t quite bad enough to finish the best draft lottery odds.

What did they do in the off-season?

  • Notable additions: Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Tim Schaller.
  • Notable subtractions: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Jussi Jokinen, Nic Dowd.

Horvat and Boeser will have an opportunity to take a leadership role on the Canucks next season as Henrik and Daniel Sedin announced their retirement prior to the end of the season. Vancouver will roll into a season without the Canucks for the first time since the 2000-01 season, so it’ll certainly be a big change.

The Sedins were the only major subtractions for the Canucks this off-season. Otherwise, it’ll be largely the same team this year as it was last year. They made a few more minor free agent additions, signing Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and Tim Schaller in free agency. None of those players bring much offence, but the goal in adding them is to add to the physical and defensive dimension of the team.

What’s going to happen this season?

The Canucks are going to have another rough year, though it’ll be a little more interesting than last due to a continued influx of young players. Horvat and Boeser, like I said earlier, will have a chance to prove that they can be the key players on the team without the Sedins gone and Pettersson will have to show he can translate his tremendous success in Europe to the NHL game. Jake Virtanen, the team’s first pick from the 2014 draft, will get a bigger role on the team, as will top prospect Jonathan Dahlin. There’s also an outside chance that Vancouver’s first pick from the 2018 draft, shifty offensive defenceman Quinn Hughes, could crack the team, but that’s pretty unlikely.

Speaking of the Sedins, I think it’s being understated how much worse the Canucks will look without them consistently in the lineup. Even in their final season when they were shells of their former selves, Daniel and Henrik scored 55 and 50 points respectively, good for second and third on the team. Still, they acted as buffers for the rest of the forwards as they would attract the other team’s top defenders.

While the Canucks have been too good to finish in the basement of the Western Conference over the past few years, the post-Sedin Canucks might just be bad enough for Vancouver to get themselves those elusive top lottery odds at next year’s draft.