Welcome back to the newest file in THN.com’s continuing Burning Questions series, where we ask three crucial questions about each NHL franchise. In this file, we’re posing three burning questions about the Vancouver Canucks:
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS FOR THE CANUCKS IN 2022-23:
1. Can the Canucks win under great pressure, or was their performance in the second half of last season a mirage, played with no real expectation they could get out of their hole and into a playoff spot?
After the Canucks cleaned house on the management side early last season, the team rebounded well and nearly made it into the post-season before falling five points short of the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. The question now is whether or not Vancouver can replicate that late-season success out of the gate this year. The Pacific Division they play in has six teams that could qualify for the post-season, so even if the Canucks improve, it may not be enough to push them past teams like Los Angeles, Anaheim, and Vegas to lock up a lower playoff berth.
There’s lots to like about Vancouver’s core of talent. They’ve got legit young stars at forward (in the form of center Elias Pettersson and defenseman Quinn Hughes). They’ve got the experience of a number of veterans (forwards Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Tanner Pearson, and Brock Boeser, and D-men Tyler Myers and Oliver Ekman-Larsson). They’ve got an upper-tier goaltender in Thatcher Demko. And they made a couple of off-season additions – former Leafs' winger Ilya Mikheyev and journeyman forward Curtis Lazar – that improve their depth up front. But it’s about consistency for all of them now, as they nip at the heels of top Pacific teams in Calgary and Edmonton.
The Vancouver market has been desperate for a winning team for a good long while now. Every move GM Patrik Allvin and head coach Bruce Boudreau makes this season. That pressure is only going to increase if the Canucks stall early on. The way to lessen the heat of the spotlight is by winning games right away, and Vancouver has sufficient talent to do so.
2. Will Vancouver’s thin defense corps be their downfall?
The Canucks are essentially salary-capped-out, and won’t be able to add talent to their roster without taking away talent at the same time (or finding a trade partner who would assume a portion of a contract coming Vancouver’s way). That’s a problem, specifically for the Canucks’ defense corps, which is relatively ancient – three of their projected top-four blueliners will be between 31 and 33 years old this season – and lacks depth. No offense to the young man, but when Luke Schenn is in your top-four group of D-men, you do not have an above-average collection of defensemen.
Allvin did bring in greybeard Danny DeKeyser and fringe NHLer Christian Wolanin on a tryout and entry-level deals, respectively. But neither one of them will be the answer to Vancouver’s potential woes on the back end. Demko will need to bail out the Canucks’ porous defense the way he did last year, but it could be worse – they could have a lesser talent in net to cover off the ‘D’’s mistakes.
3. Can Allvin find a way to keep star center Bo Horvat beyond this season?
When Allvin agreed with first-line center Miller on a long-term contract extension, the concern of Vancouver’s salary cap issues turned to fellow star Horvat. The 27-year-old is in the final year of his current contract, and he’ll be a UFA at season’s end. The writing appears to be on the wall for him in Vancouver.
Indeed, it’s tough to see how Allvin will be able to fit a new deal for Horvat into the Canucks’ cap, absent some hometown haircut for Horvat, who is in his prime and coming off a 31-goal season, it’s most likely Horvat gets moved prior to the NHL’s trade deadline. The cap just doesn’t allow you to stockpile talent without eventually taking a hit. And that hit in Vancouver is probably coming with Horvat’s departure.