Offseason Analysis: VANCOUVER CANUCKS

canucks

VANCOUVER CANUCKS: 2014-2015 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 48-29-5-101
Home Record: 24-15-2
Away Record: 24-14-3
Shootout Record: 6-2
Playoff Result: Eliminated by Calgary in Western Conference Quarterfinal (series: 4-2 CGY)
Standings: Pacific Division: 2, Western Conference: 5, League: 8
Goals For: 238 (NHL rank: 8)
Goals Against: 220 (NHL rank: 12)
Power Play Percentage: 19.3 percent (NHL rank: 9)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 85.7 percent (NHL rank: 2)
Leading Scorer: Daniel Sedin (20-56-76)
 

2015-2016 Outlook:

The Vancouver Canucks quietly and somewhat surprisingly put together quite an impressive season last year, finishing with 101 points (the eighth highest points total in the NHL). The team made major offseason changes last summer, which included firing head coach John Tortorella, trading second-line center Ryan Kesler to the Ducks, signing goaltender Ryan Miller and bringing in first-line right winger Radim Vrbata. After a disastrous multi-year goalie controversy and PR nightmare, the Canucks finally parted ways with Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, replacing them with Miller and popular backup goaltender Eddie Lack. Miller missed a significant portion of the season but Lack stepped in and the Canucks continued to surge in the Pacific Division. Miller finished the year with 29 wins, a .911 save percentage and a 2.53 GAA in 45 games. Lack, alternatively, finished the year with 18 wins, a .921 save percentage and a 2.45 GAA in 41 games. Both goalies played in the Conference Quarterfinal series against Calgary, which the Canucks lost 4-2. This offseason, the Canucks have made multiple head-scratching trades, including the Brandon Sutter trade, the Eddie Lack trade and the Zack Kassian trade, all of which are analyzed in more detail below. Even if Miller remains healthy and has a solid season this year, it seems that Vancouver’s offseason moves may have rendered the team incapable of repeating the 101-point effort and earning a playoff spot this season.
 

Training Camp Information: Vancouver Canucks
 

Offseason Overview

Trades:

  • G Eddie Lack to Carolina for 2015 3rd-round pick and 2016 7th-round pick
  • D Kevin Bieksa to Anaheim for 2016 2nd-round pick
  • F Zack Kassian and 2016 5th-round pick to Montreal for F Brandon Prust
  • D Patrick McNally to San Jose for 2015 7th-round pick (210)
  • F Nick Bonino, D Adam Clendening and 2016 2nd-round pick to Pittsburgh for F Brandon Sutter, conditional 3rd-round pick

Re-Signed:

  • D Yannick Weber (1-year contract at $1.5 million)
  • D Adam Clendening (1-year contract at $761,250; subsequently traded to Pittsburgh)
  • D Frank Corrado (1-year contract at $632,500)
  • F Alexandre Grenier (1-year contract at $585,000)
  • F Sven Baertschi (1-year contract at $900,000)
  • D Jordan Subban (3-year ELC with AAV* of $755,000)
  • G Joe Cannata (1-year contract at $600,000)
  • G Jacob Markstrom (2-year deal with AAV* of $1.55 million)
  • F Linden Vey (1-year contract at $1 million)
  • F Ronalds Kenins (1-year contract at $600,000)
  • F Alex Friesen (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • D Alex Biega (1-year contract at $600,000)

Free Agents Signed:

  • D Matt Bartkowski (1-year contract at $1.75 million)
  • G Richard Bachman (2-year deal with AAV* of $575,000)
  • D Taylor Fedun (1-year contract at $600,000)
  • F Adam Cracknell (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • F Blair Jones (1-year contract at $575,000)

Draft Recap:

  • Round 1 (23) RW Brock Boeser
  • Round 3 (66) D Guillaume Brisebois
  • Round 4 (114) C Dmitry Zhukenov
  • Round 5 (144) D Carl Neill
  • Round 5 (149) C Adam Gaudette
  • Round 6 (174) RW Lukas Jasek
  • Round 7 (210) D Tate Olson

Notable Extensions:
Brandon Sutter (5-year deal with AAV* of $4.375 million starting next season)

Free Agents Lost:

  • F Brad Richardson–Arizona
  • F Shawn Matthias–Toronto
  • F Brandon DeFazio–Boston
  • D Ryan Stanton–Washington
  • G Joacim Eriksson–Dinamo Riga (KHL-Russia)
  • F Mike Zalewski–UFA
  • F Brandon McMillan–UFA
  • F Cory Conacher–UFA
  • F Cal O’Reilly–Buffalo
  • D Peter Andersson–UFA
  • F Darren Archibald–UFA
  • F Tom Sestito–PTO (Pittsburgh)
  • D Bobby Sanguinetti–Buffalo
  • F Will Acton–UFA
  • F Colin Stewart–retired

Buyouts:
None

Organizational Changes:

  • Fired assistant general manager Laurence Gilman
  • Fired assistant general manager Lorne Henning
  • Fired director of player personnel Eric Crawford
  • Named John Weisbrod assistant general manager
  • Named Chris Gear vice president and general counsel of Canucks Sports & Entertainment
  • Named Judd Brackett director of amateur scouting
  • Named Ryan Johnson assistant director of player development
  • Named Mike Addesa amateur scout

 
 
*AAV=Average Annual Value (cap hit)
 

Significant Moves

The Canucks have made a lot of “interesting” moves this offseason. Here are a few of the most significant ones, and how they will affect this upcoming season:

  1. Trading Kevin Bieksa:
  2. Bieksa

    Ben Nelms-Reuters


    The Canucks were involved in draft-day rumors regarding trading defenseman Kevin Bieksa to San Jose. Those talks fell apart, but the Canucks were able to complete a trade for Bieksa by sending him to Anaheim for a second-round pick. This was a solid move for the Canucks, perhaps the most sensible and beneficial move the team made this offseason. While Bieksa is still a talented defenseman, he is not the defenseman he was a few years ago. He had a very difficult season this past year with injuries, poor skating and diminished play. One of the storylines of the 2014-2015 Vancouver Canucks was the unexpected presence of defensive depth. Even while multiple starting defensemen were out with injuries, Vancouver’s call-ups and extra defensemen stepped in and played extremely well, certainly exceeding expectations. Therefore, acquiring a second-round pick by getting rid of the last year of Bieksa’s hefty contract cleared cap space for the team, which is always beneficial in a cap-controlled world.
     

  3. The Sutter/Bonino Trade:
  4. sutter

    Brandon Sutter: Kathy Willens-AP Photo


    bonino

    Nick Bonino: Jeff Vinnick-Getty Images


    The Canucks traded center Nick Bonino, defensive prospect Adam Clendening and the 2nd-round pick the team acquired from Anaheim in the Kevin Bieksa trade to Pittsburgh in exchange for the Penguins’ third-line center Brandon Sutter and a conditional 3rd-round pick. This may be the most bizarre trade of them all. On one hand, Brandon Sutter is a solid two-way center with a strong wrist shot and excellent hockey sense. He has been buried in Pittsburgh’s lineup as the third-line center behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but he has still contributed decent numbers and is an excellent penalty killer. However, when it comes down to it, putting Clendening and the draft pick aside, Bonino’s numbers and salary situation alone are better than Sutter’s, so it’s unclear why Canucks general manager Jim Benning went ahead with this deal.

    In the past two seasons, Bonino has scored 49 and 39 points with the Anaheim Ducks and Canucks, respectively. He scored 22 goals in 2013-2014 with Anaheim and 15 last season with Vancouver. Bonino was primarily a second-line center and played on the 2nd power-play unit for the Canucks last season; he had six game-winning goals. Over the past two seasons with the Penguins, Sutter has scored 26 and 33 points, tying his career-high record with 21 goals in the 2014-2015 season. Sutter primarily played as a third-line center and got some time on the Penguins’ second power-play unit. Sutter reached the 40-point plateau once in his career (in the 2009-2010 season with the Carolina Hurricanes). He has 185 points in 495 career games; Bonino has 121 points in 264 career games. Bonino definitely has stronger numbers in his career and over the past few years. He and Sutter are very close in age (Bonino is 27, Sutter is 26). Sutter has a more expensive cap hit ($3.3 million) this season than Bonino ($1.9 million), and Sutter’s contract was headed into its final year at the time of the trade; the Canucks have since re-signed Sutter to a five-year extension, but it doesn’t make sense why Vancouver would want to take on a player with a higher cap hit who would need an extension and who would need a pay raise. Bonino’s $1.9 million cap hit is good until the end of next season, which would have given the Canucks more cap flexibility. With Clendening nearing an NHL debut and a valuable draft pick, along with Bonino, the Pittsburgh Penguins certainly made out like bandits in this trade; it doesn’t seem to add up why the Canucks made this trade. Sutter is certainly not a bad player, but Vancouver gave up a lot to get him, including a player who has out-performed him and has a more favorable contract as well as a solid prospect and draft pick. Canucks fans are hoping Benning has some type of plan.
     

  5. Trading Eddie Lack/Giving Eddie Lack away for basically nothing:
  6. lack

    Jeff Vinnick-Getty Images


    It is debatable, but the Eddie Lack trade could be the most baffling move the Vancouver Canucks have made this offseason. In what was most likely an attempt to prevent further goalie controversy in Vancouver, Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning traded Eddie Lack to Carolina this summer. Lack has been the strongest and most consistent goaltender in Vancouver in recent years, especially considering all of the controversy surrounding the goalie crease involving Luongo, Schneider, Miller and others. It doesn’t fully make sense why the Canucks traded Lack instead of Miller, considering Miller has a high cap hit for the next two years ($6 million), hasn’t been as effective as the Canucks hoped he would be and didn’t out-perform Lack last season. Miller was hurt on and off last year, but Lack stepped in and played very well. Lack is still relatively young for a goalie (he will turn 28 in January) and is much more inexpensive than Miller; the trade yielded only a 3rd-round pick and a 7th-round pick. Lack is beloved in Vancouver, and Benning didn’t get fair or equal value in return, which has many ‘Nucks fans very upset.
     

  7. Trading Kassian+ for Brandon Prust:
  8. kassian

    Zack Kassian: Elise Amendola-AP Photo


    Prust

    Brandon Prust: via canadiens.nhl.com


    The Canucks acquired Zack Kassian from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Cody Hodgson in 2012. Kassian never hit it off in Vancouver, but his numbers improved in the 2013-2014 season to 29 points in 73 games. Brandon Prust is not a bad hockey player, and while fighting and instigating are less relevant in today’s NHL it can still be helpful to have a little extra grit in the locker room, which Prust brings, but this was a terrible move for the Canucks for at least five reasons (but probably more): 1. Zack Kassian has been a more productive hockey player than Brandon Prust. If you look at last year’s stats, Kassian finished with 10 goals and 6 assists in 42 games, whereas Prust finished with four goals and 14 assists in 82 games. Kassian was able to score almost as many points as Price in half the number of games. 2. Kassian is a cheaper option. Brandon Prust has one year left on a deal with a cap hit of $2.5 million, whereas Kassian has one year left on a deal of $1.75 million. 3. Kassian will be a restricted free agent at the end of the seaosn; Prust will be an unrestricted free agent. 4. Kassian is younger. Kassian is 24 years old and will be 25 in January. Brandon Prust is 31 years old and will be 32 in March. 5. Kassian has far more upside than Prust. Though Kassian has been inconsistent in his career, Canucks fans were anxiously and optimistically awaiting a strong effort in 2015-2016 from Kassian. Kassian would most likely have been a top-six forward this year, whereas Prust is definitely a bottom-six forward, who truly belongs on the fourth line. The trade makes very little sense any way you look at it.
     

  9. Not trading Vrbata (yet):
  10. vrbata

    Jeff Vinnick-Getty Images


    This is one of the positive moves (or non-moves) of the offseason for the Canucks. Rumors were circulating that Vrbata might be on the move since Vancouver is in an awkward transitional stage (somewhere between having veteran players with a closing window to win and a complete rebuild). However, it is wise that Vancouver is holding on to Vrbata (at least for the time being). Vrbata is a 30-goal scorer with tremendous scoring prowess and power-play skills; he is also great in the shootout. He has 527 points (246 goals, 281 assists) in 871 career games for the Canucks, Coyotes, Lightning, Blackhawks, Hurricanes and Avalanche. for He can play on the top line with the Sedin’s or can play with Sutter and help him get used to life as a top-six forward. Even if Vancouver decides to move him at the deadline, the team will get a better return for him then when he would be an incredible deadline boost for any team than he would in the offseason when teams are hesitant about taking on any cap, even on a short-term deal. Vancouver should move Vrbata at the deadline if the organization is ready for a rebuild; if the organization believes the team can somehow make a deep playoff run with the Sedin’s in the next few years, then Vrbata needs to be a part of that.

 

Possible Line Combinations

With the Prust/Kassian “swap,” which is effectively synonymous with getting rid of a top-six forward for a bottom-six forward who most likely belongs on the fourth line, the acquisition of Sven Baertschi and the handful of talented prospects in the Canucks’ system, it is unclear at this time how the lines will shape up after training camp and the preseason. Since Baertschi rejected his qualifying offer from the Canucks and eventually signed a one-way one-year contract for $900,000, he will most likely be with the big club this year. It’s possible he will start out on the left side of the second line, unless Chris Higgins occupies that spot. If talented prospect Jake Virtanen makes the team, he could also slot in on the left side on the second line, which makes things complicated. Another complication is that the Canucks have several bottom-six forwards signed for more than $2.5 million for at least this year, if not longer, which makes predicting the lines especially difficult. The organization may let the prospects develop for another year because of the surplus in expensive bottom-six contracts, but anything can happen with a great performance in training camp. It’s also hard to know if Corrado will be the seventh defenseman to start the year. All of that being said, here is one possible set of line combinations for the Canucks in 2015-2016:
 

Forwards
D.Sedin-H.Sedin-Vrbata
Baertschi-Sutter-Burrows
Higgins-Horvat-Hansen
Prust-Vey-Dorsett

Defensemen
Edler-Tanev
Hamhuis-Sbisa
Bartkowski-Weber

Goalies
Miller
Markstrom
 

Disagree?

Explain in the comments below!
 

Final Thoughts

The Vancouver Canucks have had a bizarre offseason. The good news is that the team has drafted very well over the past few seasons, and prospects Brendan Gaunce, Hunter Shinkaruk, Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and others promise a bright future in Vancouver. The Canucks have a very difficult cap situation to manage over the next few years, with many bottom-six forwards and 30+-year-old players on contracts for more than $2.5 million a year. It will be difficult to balance these contracts with transitioning young talent into the lineup, and the Canucks are in an awkward state between possibly being a relevant playoff team and entering a total rebuild. The Canucks were expected to be terrible in 2014-2015 but managed to put together a very impressive campaign, so it’s not over until it’s over. However, the moves made this summer as well as the amount of dead weight on the roster will make it incredibly challenging for Vancouver to solidify an identity and find success.
 

Stay tuned for offseason overviews of all 30 NHL teams.
 
 
Featured image via canucks.nhl.com