Canucks offseason look
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
It’s been a rough season for Vancouver’s ice-based sport’s team. As of printing the Canucks are near the bottom of the standings. They finished with the worst point total in more than 10 seasons. It has finally become evident that the reign of the Western Canadian giant is over.
Perhaps it has finally come for the team to commit to a full rebuild. General Manager Jim Benning and President Trevor Linden have long avoided using the term to avoid season ticket sale repercussions, but it has been hard to deny that the team has be restructuring for a long-time now. This season has just been the last piece of the mounting evidence that the team needs to focus on the future more and more.
Management can look to this offseason as a starting point. It will all start at the NHL Rookie Draft. With the Canucks performing as poorly as they have, the team is headed towards a fairly high pick. With the newer format of the draft, every team, including the ailing Canucks team, has a shot of being able to pick first. Should that occur, they will likely pick up the gem of this draft, Auston Matthews. Matthews could transition to a wing for the Canucks, who already have depth galore down the centre. Or he could be a huge bargaining chip in a blockbuster move.
However, following that, comes free agency. While the draft is important for the deep future of the team, the rush that is free agency is essential to how the team performs next year.
The goaltending tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Ryan Miller backstopped the Canucks to their worst finish in more than 10 years. Miller has proven the critics correct this season with his less-than-stellar play. Those who had correlated his age to his deteriorating performance will now have a solid case with strong evidence. However, he is still signed for one more season, with a fairly heavy $6-million cap hit. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames come to mind as buyers for Miller. Don’t expect him to go for much, his prime in the pro leagues has long passed.
But Miller could still serve his purpose as a mentor. Markstrom has been shaky this season, but has had moments of brilliance. There could be a future for the young goalie, as a starter, or a backup until prospect Thatcher Demko is deemed ready by management. Having once been one of the best at the job in the league, Miller could move to a more of a backup-mentor role for the younger talent.
The team could also make a grab for some of the more premium goalie talent on the market. Calgary Flames starter Jonas Hiller enters the free agency market with a rather low price tag. While his performance in the past has been award worthy, his play in the last couple of seasons have severely lowered his value. In terms of cheap temporary talent, Hiller is as premium as they get.
Defensively, the Canucks cannot argue the fact that they have been awful. While this can be attributed to some injury problems on the backline, the team has a big hole that they need to patch, and rather quickly. One of the big dramatic spectacles that featured the Canucks was their failure to move D man Dan Hamhuis at the trade deadline. With his contract ending this season, he has failed to impress fans and management. While it sucks to let him walk for nothing, that will probably happen this offseason.
The team has plenty of talent to fill the hole that Hamhuis will leave. Matt Bartkowski and Yannick Weber are in need of a new contract as well. Look for the team to lock down Bartkowski with a multi-year deal and walk away from Weber, or sign him to a short-term deal if the price is right. The free agency market has got several juicy defensemen on list, including but not limited to Kris Russell and Keith Yandle. Either elite D-man would be a strong replacement for Hamshuis and a big improvement from Weber.
In terms of prospects, Anton Cederholm and Jordan Subban have had excellent seasons with their respective minor clubs. Look for them to challenge for a third-pairing roster spot.
The forwards of this free-agency are the real meat and will be the story of this summer. Elite sharpshooter and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is looking like he is going to try the free market. While rumours place him with the Toronto Maple Leafs, look for the Canucks to try their luck.
The Vancouver squad is likely to drop Radim Vrbata after his disappointing season saw him fall from playing on the first line to the third line. With his production now gone, the team is looking to add another big second line or potential first line scorer. It was thought earlier in the season that Jake Virtanen would be that addition, but the young gun has struggled in his first season with the team. Sven Baertschi has played well in every role for the team, and will likely get a pay raise not too long into the summer. Linden Vey and Emerson Etem are bigger questions for the team, as they could both be off of the team before the summer ends. With the free agency coming up, that will likely be the case.
Both Kyle Okposo and Milan Lucic are entering the free agent market this summer. Okposo is a talented playmaker who can easily chip in 20 goals a season if he remains on the ice. Look for Canucks management to drive hard to acquire his services. Milan Lucic is not a likely pickup as he has expressed his desire to play for the Kings for the rest of his career, but if he does become available, the Vancouver native could be a fan favourite and a reliable 20 goals per season player.
In terms of prospects, Brock Boeser and Ludwig Blomstrand look NHL-ready. Boeser could come in as a third or fourth-line centre, or play on the wing for the Canucks if he makes the final cut. He’s coming off of a big college season where he had well over a point a game. Blomstrand is looking to be a talented all-around talent, and is coming off a big season with nearly a point a game. A big winger with the game sense to boot, he could make the final roster as a third or fourth-line winger.