The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the Vancouver Canucks.
Stanley Cup odds: 100-1
Key additions: Sam Gagner, RW; Thomas Vanek, LW; Alexander Burmistrov, C; Michael Del Zotto, D; Patrick Wiercioch, D
Key departures: Ryan Miller, G; Luca Sbisa, D
Will the Sedin twins be willing to go to a contender at the trade deadline as rental players and, if so, would there be a market for them?
This is based on the assumption, one that we at THN.com hold, that the Canucks will be well out of the playoff race by the Feb. 27 trade deadline. Both Daniel and Henrik Sedin will be 37 by the time the season starts and have rebuffed any Canuck attempts to trade them, but perhaps the lure of one last opportunity with a contending team could be enough to make them finally change their minds. But even if they do agree to finish their NHL careers elsewhere, will there be a dance partner willing to take a chance on them? Even if the duo is traded on the last day of the deadline, the team acquiring them would be on the hook for almost $3 million in cap space just to have them for the rest of the season. It would obviously help if they gave the Canucks permission to split them up, but the chance of them agreeing to both a trade and to being split up are less than remote.
Both players are coming off one of the worst seasons of their careers. Both have earned the right to stay in Vancouver if that’s what they choose. But if they’re reasonably productive this season, they could certainly aid the Canucks’ rebuild if they agreed to move on in exchange for prospects and draft picks.
Maybe new coach Travis Green can find the magic that Willie Desjardins couldn’t. A lot of goals and assists have come off the sticks of the Sedin twins as well as Loui Eriksson over the past decade, and maybe there are still a few more in reserve. The Canucks plan on icing three lines capable of generating offense, with the key new faces being rookie winger Brock Boeser and UFA signees Thomas Vanek and Sam Gagner. If the middle-six forwards can deflect some of the checking load off the 37-year-old Sedins, perhaps the twins will be able to enjoy their final season under contract.
Canucks GM Jim Benning has been reluctant to bring in the wrecking ball and do a conventional tear-down-and-rebuild in Vancouver. He has kept his cornerstones and gone about adding two or three young players every year. Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher have proven to be keepers on the blueline, and they’ll be working to prevent goals in front of new netminder Anders Nilsson. Both Nilsson and incumbent Jacob Markstrom are 27, and while a platoon may work, the hope is that one of them steals the No. 1 job and becomes the talk of town.
Neither Markstrom nor Nilsson has proven he can be a No. 1 goalie. Heck, neither has started more than 30 games in an NHL season so far. So what if the probable happens and both goalies play just OK, like the capable backups their track record says they are? What if one or both of them fold under the pressure? With a lineup of forwards featuring young and old, Green has to find the balance between letting the veterans lead the way and allowing the next wave of Canucks to learn on the fly. And because he’s new to the NHL bench himself, maybe the learning curve for Green is long and gradual. Problem is, there’s not much runway left for the Sedins to make things work.
A dismal season in Vancouver will make for a dark winter on the West Coast, but things will get brighter next June when the Canucks are in the running for either Andrei Svechnikov or Rasmus Dahlin very early in the 2018 draft. And if Vancouver doesn’t do well at the lottery leading up to the draft, there’s always Joe Veleno or Filip Zadina to consider in the top four. All of them are projected as difference-makers down the road.
THN’s PREDICTION: 7th in the Pacific. It’s hard to imagine the Canucks and their attempts to build on the fly will make them a contender in a very tough division. The reality is the Canucks are closer to winning the draft lottery than they are to making the playoffs.