NHL 2022 Offseason Guide: The Vancouver Canucks
The 2021-22 season was a disappointing one for the Vancouver Canucks. With a chance to make the playoffs in a weak Pacific Division, their poor start proved insurmountable despite new head coach Bruce Boudreau’s best efforts.
Before hiring Boudreau, the Canucks were last in the Pacific. They mustered only eight wins in their 25 games through Dec. 5. After hiring the former Minnesota Wild bench boss, they improved to 32-15-10. If they had been performing at that level for the entire season, they would have finished second in the division. Boudreau is one of the top coaches in the history of the league. He sits among the top-20 in points percentage, and among that group, he and Scotty Bowman are the only two who have coached over 1,000 games. He may struggle in the playoffs, but Canucks management was wise to bring him back for next season.
The Canucks have a very strong core with Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes, as well as an outstanding goalie in Thatcher Demko. The problems in Vancouver are with their depth and the cap. General manager Patrik Allvin will need to make some moves this offseason to shore up the bottom half of the lineup, as well as get some breathing room from the salary cap ceiling.
The Vancouver Canucks have a core of players in place that will be great for many years. Hughes, probably the best among them, had an amazing year after his notably worse sophomore season. He tied his career-high in goals, and set new highs in assists and points.
The Canucks also have one of the best groups of centers in the NHL. They were the first team to have three centers each score 30+ goals since the San Jose Sharks in 2011-12. Pettersson, Horvat, and J.T. Miller are an elite trio down the middle. Unfortunately, due to cap constraints, it is looking likely that Miller will be on the move. His 99 points this season led the team by a 31-point margin. Losing him will hurt the roster but trading him could bring back a treasure trove in return.
After letting Jacob Markström leave in the 2020 offseason, and buying out Braden Holtby in the 2021 offseason, Demko was given full control of the net in 2021-22. He showed that he is a top goalie in the league. His .915 save percentage was 12th best in the league while facing the 3rd most shots against this season. With Demko locked up until 2026, and Spencer Martin playing great in a backup role, the Canucks are set in net.
Vasily Podkolzin played very well as a rookie this year. He totaled 26 points in 79 games and used his size and strength to out-muscle opponents and win puck battles. At only 21 years old, he is an incredibly hard worker, something Boudreau has spoken about to the media. The power forward looks to be a fixture in the Canucks’ top-six this coming season.
The Vancouver Canucks also won the Andrei Kuzmenko sweepstakes just two weeks ago. The highly coveted winger out of the KHL should provide speed and skill to this roster, given he can adjust to the change in the style of play. Vancouver’s front office is hoping Kuzmenko can fit in similarly to Radulov or Dadonov in their returns to the NHL, and chip in 40-60 points. But he could also go the way of Vadim Shipachyov, never quite getting a handle on the league and only lasting a few games. Only time will tell.
Another notable story on the roster this season was Nils Höglander. Looking at his goal and assist totals, it would appear that he had a bad year; however, his underlying statistics actually improved from last season. The only number that was worse was his shooting percentage, falling from 11% to 7.6%. With a bit more puck luck, he could be due for a bounce-back next year.
What this roster lacks is depth, both in the bottom-six and on defense. Players like Jason Dickinson, Juho Lammikko, Alex Chiasson, Kyle Burroughs, and Brad Hunt are not getting it done for the Canucks. These players can be decent stopgaps to fill in for injuries. But ideally, the team needs to look for more reliable options to fill out the bottom half of their roster.
The most glaring hole on the Canucks roster after the 2021-22 season is their defense. The only true top-pair defenseman on the team is the aforementioned Hughes. After him, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tyler Myers, and Travis Dermott performed admirably. But they are more suited to second or third pair duties, where they can play safe, sheltered minutes.
However, there are not very many notable defensemen available in free agency this offseason. One free agent who could be interesting for the Canucks is John Klingberg. Another aging Swedish defenseman is probably the last thing Vancouver fans want to hear about, but he would immediately become their best defenseman on the right side. He has been on pace for close to 50 points in every season he has played. The only thing holding the Canucks back is the price tag. He is turning 30 this year and could get over $7 million with term.
Vancouver’s best option to improve their blue line is likely through trade. With a J.T. Miller trade becoming increasingly more likely, the Canucks could use this opportunity to get some much-needed cap flexibility and one or more good, young players. A trade with the Rangers that fell through on the Trade Deadline included Nils Lundkvist, Filip Chytil, and a first-round pick. The Canucks turned this down on March 21, but with more time to iron out details could it be revisited before or during the Draft? This trade ticks a lot of boxes for Vancouver: a top-four right-shot defenseman, a third-line center, and breathing room from the salary cap. If the Rangers are willing to add just a little more to the deal, there could be a J.T. Miller homecoming in the future.
The cap sheet in the Canucks’ front office does not look very pretty right now. This is mostly due to the trade that brought Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to the team. They also have to deal with the inconvenience of Holtby’s buyout as well as a cap overage from last season due to Jaroslav Halak’s performance bonus. Currently, they have just over $9.5 million in space under the cap ceiling. But with Brock Boeser requiring a new contract, most of that money will be gone. And they will still have to sign restricted free agents such as Lammikko and Jack Rathbone.
If Vancouver hopes to make any additions to this roster, this offseason and next, they will need to find a way to create space. The aforementioned Miller trade is one way they could accomplish that. Myers could be another player the Canucks would look to move. His defensive play has been solid, but his $6 million cap hit is cumbersome. They might have to retain salary to move him but shedding even half his contract is better than nothing.
This draft could be important for the Vancouver Canucks. If they make their pick at 15th overall, it would be the first time they have made a first-round selection since 2019. Frank Nazar, a 5’10”, 175-pound forward is a player they could be eyeing. His size makes him divisive amongst draft experts, with rankings ranging from 5th to 21st. His speed is excellent, using it to get in on the forecheck and drive the net when he has the puck. He’s also a great passer and can fool goalies with his deceptive wrist shot. Many teams have passed on highly skilled, but small players in the past (Cole Caufield). Will Nazar be able to prove those doubters wrong?
This Vancouver Canucks team is in a strange place currently. The best path forward for Patrik Allvin might be one that involves taking a step back this coming season to progress forward in the future. Trading J.T. Miller is a difficult, but seemingly necessary, pill to swallow. With shrewd moves to clear cap space and add young talent, they could be back in the playoffs as soon as 2024. One thing is clear though, the all-in decisions made by Jim Benning got the team into a tough situation with nothing to show for it. Allvin must have a clear plan if he hopes to right the wrongs of his predecessor.
All Salary Cap Information via CapFriendly
All Statistics via Hockey-Reference