A nightmarish 2020-21 season for the Canucks led straight into a crucial offseason. They experienced a massive COVID outbreak and also had arguably their two best players enter restricted free agency. They may not have been good last year, but the Canucks are still in salary cap hell. It did not help that they are now committed to a declining player until the end of time.
Offseason additions: F Conor Garland, D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, F Jason Dickinson, G Jaroslav Halak, D Tucker Poolman, D Luke Schenn, D Brad Hunt, F Phillip Di Giuseppe, F Alex Chiasson (PTO), F Juho Lammikko, D Noah Juulsen.
Offseason subtractions: D Nate Schmidt, D Alex Edler, G Braden Holtby, F Jay Beagle, F Antoine Roussel, F Jake Virtanen, D Olli Juolevi, F Loui Eriksson, F Jimmy Vesey, F Jonah Gadjovich, F Kole Lind.
After a season where he was limited to just 26 games, Elias Pettersson received a three-year extension. The Swedish center has become one of the league’s best players at the position, and is the on-ice leader of this Canucks team. He scored 10 goals with 11 assists last year, on the back of a 27 goal, 66 point season in 68 games. In Pettersson’s absence, Brock Boeser led the team with 23 goals and 49 points. The sniper could easily score 30 goals, although he is actually yet to do that in a single season. He came close in his rookie year, scoring 29 times in 62 games. As expected, JT Miller did not continue on from his surprise point-per-game 2019-20. That is not to say that he was a bad player. He still had 46 points in 53 games, with 15 of them goals. He has that flexibility to center and play on the wing. For the first time since 2015-16, Bo Horvat missed out on 20 goals, although it is tough to criticize his 19 without missing a game in a shortened season. The captain had 39 points while winning 52.9 percent of his face-offs. Coming in from Arizona is Conor Garland, who the Canucks got right as he became the Coyotes’ best forward. He only scored 12 times in 49 games last year, but also had 27 assists for 39 points, which was third on the team. His shooting percentage was only 8.9 percent last season, which explains the low goal total. Former second-rounder Nils Hoglander was one of the league’s most underrated rookies last season, as he finished eighth in Calder voting without missing a game. The 20-year-old scored 13 times with 14 assists for 27 points. Drafted tenth overall in 2019, exactly 30 picks before Hoglander, Vasily Podkolzin posses a bunch of talent as he coming to the NHL. In 35 games for the KHL’s St. Petersburg, Podkolzin scored five goals with six assists. He kicked things up for the playoffs, scoring six times in 16 games. Tanner Pearson was a great find for the Canucks over the two prior seasons, scoring 30 goals in 88 games. But he was a completely different player last season, in a bad way. In 51 games, Pearson scored just ten times with eight assists. Shooting percentage is not the only thing to chalk it up to, as the difference between last year and his 21-goal 2019-20 was by less than four percent. Vancouver brought in Jason Dickinson from Dallas right before the expansion draft, as they had an available protection spot and the Stars did not. Dickinson is a very good defensive player, although his offense is more for the fourth line. He scored seven goals with eight assists in his final season with his old club. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, Tyler Motte only needed 24 games to get to 100 hits. He was not a total black hole offensively either, scoring six goals with three assists. He may be a bottom-six winger, but Motte averaged over 16 minutes on ice a night in the games that he did play in. Matthew Highmore was a depth forward without much substance for the Blackhawks, but he was pretty decent after coming over at the trade deadline. He scored three times in 18 games, which was a career-high on his own. Veteran Brandon Sutter returns for his 14th NHL season, with this being his seventh for Vancouver. He scored nine goals on 65 shots last year, blocking 28 shots. Journeyman Phillip Di Giuseppe played in 38 games for the Rangers last season, with eight points. He showed his physicality in limited ice time, finishing 78 checks. After scoring four goals in 44 games for Florida last season, Juho Lammikko is looking to establish himself with a new team.
Now signed long-term, Quinn Hughes is not in his final stage of development yet. While he has put up points, the 21-year-old’s defense was pretty rough last season. He did lead the team in assists, with 38 apples along with three goals in 56 games. Hughes allowed the most high danger chances per 60 among the team’s defenders. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is now a Canuck, as he has reached the age of 30 and has rapidly declined. Once a consistent 15-20 goals, 40-50 point defenseman, Ekman-Larsson scored just three times with 21 assists for Arizona last season. As he now has a $7.26 million cap hit until 2026-27, the pressure is on for Ekman-Larsson to retain his old self. Tyler Myers is the definition of a player who completely defies the eye-test. Myers had 21 points with 74 blocks and 61 hits in 55 games last year. He had a rough 43.22 xGF% last season. After Tucker Poolman struggled to stay as a third-pairing guy in Winnipeg, the Canucks gave him a four-year, $10 million contract. That is awful for a 28-year-old with just 120 career games. In 39 contests last season, Poolman had just an assist with 49 blocked shots and 69 hits. It was a shock to see him receive that much money in free agency. Former fourth round pick Jack Rathbone tore it up at Harvard, and last season was his first professionally. He had nine points, seven of which were assists, in eight AHL games. In an equal amount of NHL games, Rathbone had three points. Luke Schenn has been a solid fill-in player for the Lightning over their last two Stanley Cup runs. He had four points in 38 games with 99 hits. Schenn returns to the Canucks, who he played in 18 games for at the end of 2018-19. Veteran Travis Hamonic should be with the team at some point, although he is away from the team with personal matters for the reason. Hamonic had ten points in 38 games last year. Brad Hunt was a good power play guy for the Wild in 2019-20, but he was mostly on the bench last season, playing in just 12 games. Ten of his 19 points from the season prior were on the man advantage. Former first rounder Noah Juulsen comes in right after a trade with Florida.
The Canucks officially have their goaltender of the future, as Thatcher Demko signed a five-year extension worth $25 million during the season. The 25-year-old had a .915 save percentage and an 8.2 GSAA in 35 games last year. Braden Holtby could not carry the load last year, but the hope is that Jaroslav Halak can. He had a .905 save percentage in 19 outings last season. Halak was a great backup in 2019-20, with a .919 percentage and a 2.39 GAA.
JT Miller – Elias Pettersson – Brock Boeser
Nils Hoglander – Bo Horvat – Conor Garland
Tanner Pearson – Jason Dickinson – Vasily Podkolzin
Tyler Motte – Brandon Sutter – Matthew Highmore
Extras: Phillip Di Giuseppe, Juho Lammikko
Quinn Hughes – Tyler Myers
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Tucker Poolman
Jack Rathbone – Luke Schenn
Extras: Noah Juulsen, Brad Hunt
The Canucks are not a very good team. Their depth and defense is a major issue. However, the Pacific Division is very weak. It may be my hottest take of the season, but I can see this team making the postseason in the third spot.