Write off the Vancouver Canucks at your peril in 2020-21.
It was somewhat of a strange offseason for the Vancouver Canucks, who are a mystery wrapped into an enigma heading into the new year.
Despite signing former Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby to a two-year, $8,600,000 contract in Free Agency, the Canucks were dealt a number of crushing frustrations along the way leaving some to question whether they had taken a massive step backwards.
After all, they are coming off a hugely successful 2019-20 season, a breakout year in many ways for what is a very young and dynamic core.
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Having not made the postseason since the 2014-15 season, the Canucks, spearheaded by their swathe of explosive talent, reached the Second Round and pushed a built-to-win now Vegas Golden Knights team to Game 7.
Thatcher Demko emerged as a real stud in the postseason, making 48 saves in Game 6 against the Golden Knights, while the very future of this franchise in Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes showed that the Canucks are in very good hands going forward.
However, after taking 10 giant strides forward, it almost seemed as if Vancouver took a big five steps back this offseason after allowing franchise goaltender Jacob Markstrom, defensemen Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher and forward Tyler Toffoli all walk in Free Agency.
The loss of Toffoli was perhaps the most crushing blow given that the Canucks front office had given up an absolute boatload for the scoring winger at the Trade Deadline, giving up forward Tim Schaller, high-end prospect Tyler Madden, a Second Round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and a conditional selection in the 2022 Draft.
So, effectively, the Canucks gave up a huge bounty for a player who ended up recording 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 10 regular season games and four points (two goals, two assists) in seven postseason contests.
That’s a tough one to swallow.
And, to add insult to injury, Vancouver also missed out on the opportunity to acquire a high-end top four defenseman in Arizona Coyotes Captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who set a deadline for his future which both the Canucks and the Boston Bruins missed.
But, despite losing some key pieces in Free Agency, it isn’t all doom and gloom for this Vancouver Canucks team.
Actually, the future looks incredibly bright for this current vintage and you can make a strong argument that they will continue to trend in the right direction in 2020-21.
For starters, while Jacob Markstrom did sign a big six-year, $36 million ticket with the Calgary Flames, the Canucks bolstered their goaltending by signing former Washington Capitals netminder and Stanley Cup winner Braden Holtby to a two-year, $8,600,000 contract.
While you can make a fair argument that Holtby is perhaps not quite at the peak of his powers anymore, he’s still a high-end goalie in the NHL and he can still come up clutch in key moments during the biggest games, which will be huge for this young Canucks team especially in the postseason.
Also, Holtby will act as a fine mentor for Thatcher Demko and will impart some wisdom on his young protege, while the latter perfectly illustrated during the postseason that he has both the potential and the intangibles needed to morph into a franchise goaltender for the Canucks.
That’s just the tip of a very talented iceberg too.
In what was one of the most compelling and captivating storylines throughout the 2019-20 season, uber-talented defenseman Quinn Hughes slugged it out with Colorado Avalanche star Cale Makar for the Calder Trophy, with the latter eventually coming out on top.
Despite not collecting the hardware, Hughes cemented his reputation as a prospect that has the ceiling to become an elite offensive blueliner in the NHL, putting up eight goals and 45 assists for 53 points in 68 regular season games in his rookie year, while he also enjoyed a stellar debut postseason with 16 points (2 G, 14 A) in 17 games.
There is no doubt that Hughes will be the face and the leader of this blueline for years to come, while the trade for Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt should help spread some talent throughout the top-four pairings.
Then there is the talent-laden and explosive offense that can kill teams in many different ways, able to crush their opponent at will and with ease when they are firing on all cylinders.
There’s a reason the Canucks had the eighth-ranked offense in the NHL during the 2019-20 regular season, averaging 3.25 Goals For Per Game.
Spearheaded by an uber-elite talent in Elias Pettersson, who has recorded back-to-back 66 point campaigns in his first two NHL seasons, and supported by a star-studded ensemble featuring Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller, who carved out a hell of a career-year with 72 points (27 G, 45 A) in 69 regular season games, Vancouver now boasts a top 10 offense in the NHL that can fire them towards better days.
Granted, there are a few holes on this roster that need to be filled, including on defense following the offseason losses, while the Canucks could also do with replacing Tyler Toffoli – could Free Agent Anthony Duclair be an option?
The Vancouver Canucks will also face significant cap trouble down the road given that both Pettersson and Hughes will both demand huge paydays, while it doesn’t help that the team have $12 million locked up in Loui Eriksson and $3 million for the next two years in veteran Jay Beagle.
However, those team-building problems and dilemmas aside, this is still a very talented Canucks roster and there is also one caveat that you have to keep in mind when projecting their fortunes in 2020-21.
With Division Realignment all but certain for this year due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Canucks will end up in an All-Canadian Division.
Granted, while they will have to contend with the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens, they won’t have the juggernaut that is the Vegas Golden Knights in the same division, and that could really help this young Vancouver team to do some damage and keep this current momentum going.
That factor, coupled with a very good goaltending tandem, a stud on the backend in Quinn Hughes and a loaded offense should ensure that the Vancouver Canucks remain a force in 2020-21, and pity anyone who underestimates them.
And, if they can make further moves to improve this roster prior to Training Camp then they could even go on a deeper postseason run than they did last year.
Only time will tell, but the Vancouver Canucks shouldn’t be written off heading into the new NHL season, whenever it may start.