The Vancouver Canucks made the playoffs last season and managed to get past the Minnesota Wild before losing to the Vegas Golden Knights. They even managed to come back from three games to one down to force a game seven in the series thanks to some unbelievable goaltending from backup Thatcher Demko. So going into the Vancouver Canucks season preview there would rightly be a lot of optimism. However, don’t be surprised if the Canucks are a surprise for all the wrong reasons.
While there is no denying their high-end talent like Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson the depth could be a problem. Playing in an all Canadian Division means they won’t have bottom feeders like the Anaheim Ducks and LA Kings to take points off. Luckily they will still have the Ottawa Senators, but with teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs added it makes their task a bit harder.
They also have the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets to deal with. Add it all together and it looks like a much bigger task than coming out of the regular Pacific Division for the Canucks. It is one that is plausible though if everything goes right for the Travis Green coached team.
One of the reasons it’s achievable is the fantastic acquisition of Nate Schmidt from the Vegas Golden Knights. Schmidt was the unfortunate sacrifice needed when the Golden Knights entered and won the Alex Pietrangelo sweepstakes. Their loss is the Canucks gain though.
Schmidt had 30 plus point seasons in each of his three years in Vegas and became a dependable top-line defenseman. He also had a positive plus/minus making the third-round pick he was traded for seem a bargain. His experience will also benefit Rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes who had a stellar first campaign.
The other big-name signing was goaltender Braden Holtby. This ultimately allowed Jacob Markstrom to walk to free agency and sign with the Calgary Flames. Holtby is coming off his worse ever career year which is not ideal, but has won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018 hence the demand.
Holtby will need to do better than his .897 save percentage (SV%) from last year if the Canucks are to succeed. Markstrom posted a .918 during the regular season, yet the Canucks defensive record was still only better than the Anaheim Ducks and the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific. If Holtby continues to struggle then it could be a long season.
When Jacob Markstrom signed for the Calgary Flames on a 6 year $6 million AAV it became obvious why the Canucks decided against re-signing the goaltender. They are battling the Salary Cap as it is and will continue to do so in the upcoming years as Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes get huge increases on their Entry Level Contracts. The form of Thatcher Demko during his brief cameo in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs also would have confirmed where their future lies.
Tyler Toffoli’s stay in Vancouver was always likely to be short after being traded by the LA Kings at the trade deadline during the 2019/20 regular season. Like I mentioned in the Edmonton Oiler preview about Andreas Athanasiou though it was still surprising. The Canucks decided to play it safe given what they’ll have to do next year, which could ultimately hinder their Stanley Cup hopes this year.
FORWARD PROJECTED LINES:
|JT Miller||Elias Pettersson||Brock Boeser|
|Tanner Pearson||Bo Horvat||Jake Virtanen|
|Loui Eriksson||Jay Beagle||Brandon Sutter|
|Tyler Motte||Adam Gaudette||Antoine Roussel|
DEFENSE PROJECTED LINES:
|Quinn Hughes||Nate Schmidt|
|Alexander Edler||Tyler Myers|
|Jack Rathbone||Jordie Benn|
The Canadian Division is probably the most interesting to me. Bar the Ottawa Senators, who will continue to grow and get better without really threatening the four qualifying spots, any of the other six teams should believe they can be in the postseason. That is why I worry about the Vancouver Canucks.
There’s no doubt the high-end talent is there, but the drop off is big once you get past that top-six forwards and top-four defensemen. It feels a lot like the Toronto Maple Leafs in that aspect. I’m sure they’ll be near the top four in their division come the end of the season, but I also would happily take the bet they didn’t make the playoffs at all.
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