Last season was one the Vancouver Canucks would like to forget. Just about everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong for them and they failed to reach the playoffs. Now, with a new coach, front office and some roster turnover, what will the Canucks be in 2014-15?
Acquisitions: Dustin Jeffrey, Radim Vrbata, Ryan Miller, Bobby Sanguinetti, Linden Vey, Derek Dorsett, Luca Sbisa, Nick Bonino
Departures: David Booth, Jeremy Welsh, Benn Ferriero, Zac Dalpe, Jordan Schroeder, Mike Santorelli, Ryan Kesler, Jason Garrison
Top five fantasy players: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Radim Vrbata, Nick Bonino, Chris Higgins.
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Ask a critic what “boom” should mean in Vancouver and they’ll tell you that’s the sound that comes after they blow up the Canucks roster. But new GM Jim Benning has no intention of doing that. It’s not rebuild or reload. Best word to use is “refinement.”
The additions of difference-makers Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata are evidence the Canucks are in it for keeps this season. True, Ryan Kesler is gone, but the return they got in Nick Bonino and Luca Sbisa deepens a roster that was looking top-heavy. With the Sedin twins set to rebound from sub-par seasons, Vancouver is expecting to make the playoffs with its new resources.
If Miller can regain his all-star form after a disappointing playoffs with St. Louis and the Sedins produce more after a down year, there’s no reason to think the Canucks can’t finish closer to the top five contenders in the West than the seventh and eighth playoff seeds.
Bust: Disappointing seasons for the Sedins, Miller and the likes of Alexandre Burrows, Kevin Bieksa and others can be viewed as both an aberration and a harbinger. All have performed much better in previous seasons and are bound to return closer to their well-established norm.
Having said that, all of the above players are now into their mid-30s, which is when a lot of careers experience drop-offs. It’s rare for veterans to have career seasons at the age of 33 or 34. There’s a good chance the decline we’re seeing in these veterans is real. If it continues, the Canucks will struggle both offensively and defensively again and lose battles with Minnesota, Dallas and Colorado for the projected final three playoff spots in the West.
Vancouver has been hamstrung by a lack of blue-chip talent coming through the system. They picked up a few high-end prospects in the 2014 draft, but the closest thing they have to a top NHL-ready prospect is Bo Horvat.
Bottom Line: If nothing else, you can expect fun hockey to return to Vancouver. The John Tortorella regime was short and bitter. The outlook with well-credentialed Willie Desjardins behind the bench is fresh and positive. The Canucks will be the tweeners in the Pacific – a big step behind their three coastal cousins from California, but solidly ahead of Arizona, Calgary and Edmonton. But the Canucks will get scuppered by the fifth playoff seed in the Central.
Prospect To Watch: Drafted ninth overall in 2013, Horvat is what the Canucks got out of the Cory Schneider trade, so the pressure is big. There were some rumblings Horvat was good enough to take a run at the NHL roster last season, but instead he went back to junior and scored 74 points in 54 games for the London Knights. What makes Horvat stand out from other rookies who are trying to crack the roster (Hunter Shinkaruk, Brendan Gaunce), is that he’s still junior eligible, so it’s either the big leagues or junior again – and he may be too good for a fourth year of junior. Horvat has top-two line potential, but if he makes the Canucks out of the gate in 2014-15, it’ll likely be in a more shutdown role.
THN’s Prediction: Fourth in Pacific Division. *Non-playoff team
Contributors: Brian Costello, Rory Boylen