This is the latest in THN.com’s ongoing series of breakdowns of each NHL team`s off-season. Today, we're looking at the Vancouver Canucks..
2021-22 Record: 40-30-12
Finish In The Pacific Division: 5th
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $0 ($2,751,667 over cap ceiling)
What Vancouver Has: A well-coached, solid group of young players, including Elias Pettersson, Thatcher Demko, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Conor Garland, Nils Hoglander and Vasily Podkolzin; veteran talents in forwards J.T. Miller and Tanner Pearson, and defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers; new additions up front in former Maple Leafs winger Ilya Mikheyev and former Bruins center Curtis Lazar.
What Vancouver Needs: Breathing room on the salary cap front; improvement on the fourth line of forwards and third pairing of D-men; a longer-term game plan to sustained success; better luck health-wise among their bottom six forwards.
What’s Realistic For Vancouver Next Season: After blowing up real good out of the gate last season, the Canucks rebounded under new coaching/management, and made a serious push for a playoff spot before ultimately running out of time and falling short. That made it two playoff misses in a row, and no post-season hockey in Vancouver for six of the past seven years. You can understand, then, why Canucks fans are testy at best these days, and expect tangible positive results sooner than later.
New(ish) GM Patrik Alvin and head coach Bruce Boudreau are going to push their lineup to continue the way it played late last year, and to help them out, they added a valuable new piece at forward in Mikheyev, and a decent-enough depth piece in Lazar. Otherwise, they are essentially the same group they were last season, and any regression back to their early-season form last year is bound to turn into some major moves by Alvin.
One of those moves could be the trading of star forward J.T. Miller, who is in the final season of his $5.25-million-per-season contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. The Canucks currently have more than $60.8 million in cap space tied up among 13 players, so there may technically be room for Miller to stay, but it will take Miller accepting less than he could land on the open UFA market, and there will be no shortage of suitors willing to go above and beyond what Vancouver can afford. The Canucks could use more young players and draft picks as they replenish their talent base over the long haul, and any trading of Miller certainly would help them in that regard.
The Canucks are fortunate they play in the relatively weak Pacific Division, and once again should be in the mix to secure a lower playoff berth this coming season. As for the Stanley Cup? Well, that’s almost assuredly a bridge too far for Vancouver at this point, Baby steps will have to be taken, and there may be some lateral moves overall, but there’s too much young skill in this lineup, and too many experienced veterans to call for a full teardown and start-over.
Is there a lot to like for the Canucks? There is. Are they even in the same room as a Colorado Avalanche or a Tampa Bay Lightning? Not at all. The good news is it appears Vancouver ownership has the right management structure in place, but even the best collection of NHL minds need time and patience for their championship vision to develop. That’s where the Canucks are now, and that’s not likely to change in the big picture this season.