Vancouver Canucks 2015-2016 Season Preview
A wise man once told me that change was good because without change you can’t buy gumballs. Given the amount of change that happened in Vancouver this offseason, it looks like the Canucks are going to be chewing gum for a long time. Here’s a look at what changed during the off-season and what to expect this season.
GM Jim Benning had a difficult decision to make this offseason, with three NHL-caliber goaltenders and obviously only two spots. Benning revealed that he had legitimate offers for Ryan Miller but chose instead to deal fan favourite Eddie Lack, which did not sit well with the fan base. The return for Eddie Lack – a 2015 3rd rounder and 2016 7th round pick were lackluster at best; especially after seeing other promising young goaltenders Martin Jones and Robin Lehner return 2015 1st round picks.
After the dust settled, the Canucks were still left with two very good goaltenders in veteran Ryan Miller and up and comer Jacob Markstrom. Benning and team president Trevor Linden are convinced that this team will follow up its surprise 101 point season with another playoff berth. They also believe that Miller gives them the best opportunity to make it back there – it’s tough to disagree with them. In his first season in royal blue and Kelly green, the 34 year-old netminder posted starter quality numbers. In 45 games, the East Lansing native finished the season 29-15-1 with a .911 SV %, a 2.53 GAA and 6 SOs, good for 4th in the NHL.
In Markstrom, the Canucks have a goaltender that is ready to be in the NHL full time. The 25 year old had a sensational season in the AHL last year going 22-7-2 with a .934 SV % and 1.88 GAA in 32 starts during the regular season. Markstrom stepped it up in the playoffs leading the Utica Comets to the Calder Cup Final almost single-handedly. Markstrom has been patient biding his time in the AHL, honing his craft and the Canucks have rewarded his hard work and patience.
Going into the season the Canucks are in good hands. Ryan Miller should provide rock solid goaltending while Jacob Markstrom should capably fill in if Miller gets bitten by the injury bug.
The Canucks had some hard decisions to make across the board this offseason. Trading lifetime and back end fixture Kevin Bieksa was one of those tough decisions, but it was the right one. After three consecutive down seasons, the Canucks did well to acquire a 2nd round pick in 2016 for the 34 year-old. Moving Bieksa opens up room in the top six for Frankie Corrado. After making his Canucks debut during a 4 game stint during the 2013 playoffs, Corrado has had a couple cups of coffee during the 2014 and 2015 seasons but has spent most of him time in the minors. The 22 year-old is ready for a top six role and he will be depended on to play a lot on the PK.
The rest of the top six brings back familiar faces. Alex Edler will lead the charge playing on the top PK, PP and even strength units. The rest of the d corps will be rounded out by Dan Hamhuis, Chris Tanev, Luca Sbisa, and Yannick Weber.
The Canucks have a solid but definitely not spectacular top six; injuries will be problematic if they hit the back end as the Canucks have very little depth behind the top six. Look for the Canucks to take a look on waivers as they did when picking up Ryan Stanton from the Chicago Blackhawks a couple years ago.
The Canucks group of attackers also saw an overhaul this offseason. GM Jim Benning was looking to add proven playoff hockey players and jettisoned out some young potential in the process. Perennial bust Zach Kassian was shipped to the Canadiens for playoff stud Brandon Prust. Nick Bonino and Adam Clendening were packaged to the Pittsburgh Penguins to acquire Brandon Sutter. Prust and Sutter are both big fast playoff type hockey players who use their size and speed to their advantage.
It’s safe to say that most Canucks fans are looking forward to seeing sophomore forward Bo Horvat and where he lines up this season. Horvat started the season playing sparingly on the fourth line. By the end of the playoffs Horvat was seeing power play and penalty kill time and was relied upon to take crucial defensive zone face-offs. The addition of Brandon Sutter muddles Horvat’s spot in the top six but Horvat’s two way game should translate well to either the second or third line.
The Sedins and Radim Vrbata enter their age 34 seasons and their window to win is rapidly creeping shut. All three players should still produce at a near elite level and help the Canucks battle for a playoff spot. The first line should be comprised of the Sedins and one of Alex Burrows and Vrbata. A case can be made for either Brandon Sutter or Bo Horvat to start the season as the second line center but look for the veteran Sutter to get the nod to skate between Vrbata/Burrow and newly promoted Sven Baertschi. Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins, Derek Dorsett, Linden Vey, and Brandon Prust round out the bottom six.
What to Expect
The Canucks have enough talent throughout the roster to fight for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, they have not improved enough from last season’s squad that got embarrassed by the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs. Look for the Canucks to suffer a similar fate this season, losing in the first round of the playoffs and further frustrating the fan base once again.