To say the next couple of years are important for the Canucks would be an understatement. It’s huge. Making the change at the coaching position and slowly dismantling the old regime were important to show the fans, not everything that Trevor Linden and Jim Benning said was a complete lie. The fans and media alike, have been told many different things over the course of the “retool on the fly” era and for the most part, it failed.
The inconsistent message that has been preached outwards has just confused the process for the fans, media and I would guess the players as well. Not knowing the direction the Canucks are headed can’t be easy when the players can’t even see where the team is headed. Linden needs, to be honest, and officially call this a rebuild.
How this team was able to be so fantastically deconstructed in such a short amount of time is truly amazing. What the Canucks failed to do was to have a succession plan or the very least passable options when moves were made. That is starting to happen now but it came at a fairly high cost. Giving up on players like Gustav Forsling, Zack Kassian, Nick Bonino and shipping off high draft picks at the same time just muddied the state the team was in.
I get it, those moves all had different situations attached to them but looking at each of them, it feels like Vancouver didn’t give them a true chance. Management has stuck by Luca Sbisa, Brandon Sutter and given an aging Loui Eriksson a hefty, long-term deal. If the Canucks are rebuilding, all of these moves feel like they were poorly thought out. There is no room to take on smaller contracts and the small contracts they HAVE taken on could have been avoided.
But fear not, this is not all doom and gloom, there is hope still to be found but don’t expect to see it next season or the season after. Providing a few things go the Canucks way, and one of those things is the placement in this year’s NHL Entry draft, the Canucks might be able to put a realistic timetable on the changes that are coming.
It’s no secret that picks #1 and #2 hold a lot of value and can slightly speed up the process of the Canucks rebuild. Having a centre that can instantly be inserted into the lineup to take the 3rd line pivot job can force Benning to look at moving Sutter. If Sutter is claimed in the expansion draft, that is all moot anyway and the #ExposeSutter movement will have succeeded.
Looking at point production, there is optimism, not much but a bit. Henrik finished with 50 points and it could be argued Daniel probably could have been there too! Bo Horvat led the team with 52 points and again, had Sven Baertschi had a healthy season he could have challenged for a 45ish point campaign.
Injuries crushed the Canucks this season which hampered the point production and a failure to adapt on the power play when it hit all-time lows as well as not allowing late game heroics due to poor line deployment absolutely cost the team both points on the scoreboard and in the standings. How that changes in October has yet to be seen.
So, having four potential 50 point players makes the Canucks a little more believable as a rebuilding team on the rise but don’t expect the same type of production after the season they had. Teams have figured the Canucks out and it will take a complete overhaul of their current structure to make the team competitive again. New look power play units, emphasis on available speed and holding on to the puck instead of the ever-predictable dump and chase.
There are players in the lineup that can make some of this happen and a few new ones as well. Ollie Juolevi looks ready to take on the NHL game and Jake Virtanen seems to have cut weight and sculpted his frame to fit in as well. I have no clue if they even make the opening night roster but with an offseason of opportunity, both players know they can earn a spot.
How about the late additions?
Even though we’ve only been given a small sample of Nikolay Goldobin and Brock Boeser, the talent these two possess has been noticed. Boeser made an immediate impact notching four goals and an assist in nine games to finish the year. Goldobin put up three goals in his first 12 with the Canucks. It wasn’t just the production on the scoresheet but the ability to use their linemates effectively and trust the talent they have. These guys know they’re good and with a new coach, their chances to succeed may be higher than when Willie Desjardins was at the helm.
The youth movement will be a lot more visible come the 2017/18 season, which is what many have asked for. I doubt there will be much change in the standings and Vancouver realistically may fall even further before they climb back up the ranks. Seeing an entire line of players under 24 years of age that are leading the Canucks is something worth noting.
Bo Horvat, Boeser and Sven Baertschi seem to present the future of the franchise while the Sedins may get the opportunity to bring a player like Goldobin along and groom him for his future reign in the NHL. I think it would be a great idea to potentially split the Sedins up on both power play units.
Not an original idea, I know. What I’d love to see would be Daniel on the first unit and Henrik on the second. Putting Horvat/Daniel/Baertschi up front to start and maybe Troy Stecher and Olli Juolevi on the back end would be my choice. Assuming they don’t score right away ( a safe assumption), bring on Henrik as the lines transition and allow the Sedins to potentially capitalize on the shift.
They have been beyond predictable for the last few seasons and this change would allow a small hybrid of ice time before putting Henrik out with potentially Eriksson and maybe Boeser or Goldobin. You may all think this is crazy talk but I’d say there is some merit there. This could also be applied to the regular 5-on-5 lines but trying it on the power play would be a good start.
Keeping the Sedins in the fold as productive 2nd and eventually, 3rd line players put them right back where their careers took off when they were alongside Trevor Linden. A depth pair of players that can be counted on to keep the lines moving and keeps the focus on the top two lines which in turn creates more scoring chances, probably not goals, but chances.
The focus on faceoffs was once again taken seriously in 2016. Manny Malhotra was brought on and the team climbed back up to finish 9th in the league with a 51.1% success rate. It was a bit less than the famed 2011 season at 54.9% but even then, this year’s position would have been good for 10th in 2011. It’s like they focused on something to be good at and it WORKED!
Jake Virtanen could use some of that love. The Canucks finally played the patience card with Virtanen this season and decided not to rush him back into the lineup. His numbers weren’t other-worldly by any means but it looks like he learned how to be a pro. Does he become the power forward Canucks fans have longed for since Todd Bertuzzi, probably not; but he could end up being a valuable part of the team’s transition.
Alex Edler is another point of interest or disinterest depending on who you ask. Edler isn’t leaving the Canucks and even if he’s asked it can be assumed he doesn’t want to leave Vancouver. He’s starting to show wear and please, please, please change the flex on that stick. He still has a booming shot but he just doesn’t get the chances anymore to let it go like he used to. If Juolevi makes the team, putting him with Edler might be a smart idea and it would allow Stecher to play with Chris Tanev.
Much of this is assumptive and all of this could change by June.
Which brings me to the goaltending situation and where Thatcher Demko fits into all of this. When Demko was drafted in 2014, Roberto Luongo had just been dealt and Eddie Lack along with Jacob Markstrom looked to be the immediate future of the Canuck’s net protection. That didn’t last long. Ryan Miller was eventually brought in through free agency, Lack was shipped to Carolina and Jacob Markstrom still hasn’t seen this cup of coffee everyone keeps talking about.
Demko finally went pro this past year and had a tough go to start his career but down the stretch, he was unbeatable for the most part.
Thatcher Demko took the tough loss Sunday.
In his last 17 starts, Demko at a glance:
1 GA in last 2 starts
— Ben Birnell (@OD_Birnell) April 9, 2017
Cory Schneider took the same route as Demko when he was drafted by the Canucks in 2004, he finally made his debut with the Canucks in the 2008/09 season but only played in 8 games when Roberto Luongo was injured. Schneider eventually made his full time, well full-time backup, start in the famous 2010/11 year.
Luongo and Schneider went neck and neck the whole season and it was at that point that Schneider had truly arrived, six years after being drafted. Demko most likely won’t have to wait that long but giving him time to fully mature can only help the Canucks in the long term. Ideally, if he followed the same lineage as Schneider and taking into account the current net situation and the numbers he’s put up, Demko would be the bonafide starter in 2018/19 or at the latest 2020.
There are a lot of similarities between both former college netminders but given the current state of affairs in Vancouver, Ryan Miller (hopefully) will have kept the net warm when it becomes available. By 2020, the Canucks should have a good portion of the building done, if not all of it, and the pieces being developed now will be reaching their primes.
By 2020, the Canucks should have a good portion of the building done, if not all of it, and the pieces being developed now will be reaching their primes. It’s time to look at the Oilers and Leafs rebuilds and understand that the process takes time.
Seeing Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier in a Canucks jersey makes the process easier to swallow but neither of them will be the answer to the rest of the problems the team still faces.
One year at a time.