2016-17 NHL Preview: Vancouver Canucks Looking To Improve On Disappointing Year
It’s now August and hockey is again just a month away, with the World Cup of Hockey in September, which means — yes — it is that time of the year again! This month we will be previewing each team’s 2016-17 season. Tonight, it’s the Vancouver Canucks.
Additions: Erik Gudbranson, Loui Eriksson, Philip Larsen, Jayson Megna, Olli Juolevi, Anton Rodin
Subtractions: Radim Vrbata, Jared McCann, Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber, Chris Higgins
Another preview, another Canadian team hoping to bounce back into contention. After being punted from the 2015 Playoffs in the First Round by the upstart Calgary Flames, the Canucks slumped to their worst point-total in a (non-lockout shortened) season since 1998-99 with 75, ahead of only the lowly Edmonton Oilers in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. They were 29th in the entire league with just 186 goals for, while allowing the 8th most goals in the league with 239. Their shot differentials weren’t much better, allowing the second most shots per game in the league while firing the third least on net.
They entered the 2016 offseason deadset on plugging the holes in their lineup. Among the first of the NHL’s major offseason moves was the Canucks’ trade for tough blueliner Erik Gudbranson from Florida. A former 3rd Overall Pick, Gudbranson perhaps hasn’t (yet) lived up to his billing as a stud two-way defender, proving instead to be an old-school hard-nosed defensive presence. Opinions on Gudbranson are divided, some believing him to be a bonafide top-4 d-man, others who view him as a third-pairing talent playing higher than his talent-level dictates due to his draft pedigree. Either way, the Canucks will find out this season as they look to fill the hole left vacant after long-time top-pairing defender Dan Hamhuis left for pastures new.
While Gudbranson makes their defence younger, GM Jim Benning added a veteran forward in 30-year old Loui Eriksson on a long (6 years) expensive ($6M AAV) deal. Eriksson could potentially post some crooked numbers on a line with the Sedins, but this deal could prove a hindrance after 2-3 years, although Eriksson does provide value on the defensive side of things also. The team also added supremely talented defender Olli Juolevi at the Entry Draft, though it is likely he will spend another year or two honing his craft in junior.
For returning skaters, the Sedin twins clearly still lead the way even if they are not the same elite-level talents they were 2 or 3 years ago. Daniel scored 61 points and Henrik 55 in 2015-16; it would seem reasonable to expect similar levels of production this year playing alongside Eriksson. Bo Horvat continued to make strides in his development, posting 40 points, while Jannik Hanssen was one of the team’s more consistent middle-six forwards last year. Sven Baertschi also flashed his talent a few times. After that however, the team’s forward ranks appear to drop off – Alex Burrows is a shadow of his former self, while the team saw goal-scoring threat Vrbata leave via free agency after a disappointing year, and talented youngster Jared McCann flew East in the Gudbranson trade. Having a healthy Brandon Sutter may help things, but it’s not hard to see why the Canucks have trouble scoring goals, and I can’t see much of an improvement happening this year.
On the backend, the team added Gudbranson along with Danish blueliner Philip Larsen who returns to the NHL from a successful KHL stint; he may add some flair to the attack – if he can stick in the lineup. Chris Tanev is underappreciated for his contributions, and while Gudbranson may get the press, it will likely be Tanev who is the real rock back there. Ben Hutton is also starting to make a name for himself, leading all Vancouver d-men with 25 points last year in his rookie season. Hopefully the addition of Gudbranson is enough to shore up what was a leaky group last year.
In net, the tandem of Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom appeared solid enough last year, posting only slightly below average numbers despite the porous defence in front of them. That said, they will need to be far better if they hope to drag their team to the playoffs in 2016/17.
The Canucks may well have improved overall, with Benning bringing in some bona-fide NHL talent at both ends of the ice, while their young crop of players continue to grow. That said, there is little true star power here anymore, and I cannot see this group being good enough to make the show in spite of that. In a devastatingly tough Western Conference, where even teams like the Oilers and Flames could start to make up ground (particularly with their parades of young star players combined with some savvy off-season moves), the Canucks’ probably just haven’t done enough.
Prediction: Vancouver improves to 83 points, but falls well short of the last wild card spot.
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