This is part of our series of season previews for the seven Canadian-based NHL teams.
2016-17 record: 30-43-9 (69 points), 7th of 7 in Pacific Division, missed playoffs
Key off-season additions: F Thomas Vanek, F Sam Gagner, F Alexander Burmistrov, D Michael Del Zotto, D Patrick Wiercioch, G Anders Nilsson
Key off-season subtractions: G Ryan Miller
Probability of winning the Cup*: 0.66%
Probability of making the playoffs*: 13.33%
*derived from betting odds posted by Bodog
Last season’s story
Just a few years ago, the world was a much different place for the Canucks. In 2014-15, the club topped the century mark in points and finished fifth in the Western Conference. But since then, Vancouver has hovered near the basement of the league standings, plummeting to 69 points and a 29th-place finish in 2016-17.
The outside observer saw a team experiencing an identity crisis, unable to let go of the “win now” mentality, but with the urgency of developing the next wave of talent becoming the elephant in the room.
Franchise icons Henrik and Daniel Sedin appeared in all 82 games, logged big minutes and were among the team leaders in points with 50 and 44, respectively. Only Bo Horvat had more with 52.
Coupled with the supporting cast, there was simply not enough offence as the Canucks scored 178 goals, well below the league average of 227.
Vancouver closed out the season with eight consecutive losses and waited less than 24 hours to fire head coach Willie Desjardins, finally sending the message it was time to look to the future.
In a stroke of bad luck, the Canucks fell to fifth in the draft, despite having the second-best odds of winning.
The Canucks wasted little time in promoting head coach Travis Green from the team’s AHL affiliate, with an eye towards developing the next wave of players.
When the free agent market opened, Ryan Miller decided to take his talents to Anaheim, leaving Jacob Markstrom and newcomer Anders Nilsson (2 years, $ 5M US) to patrol the crease.
The roster was filled in with a host of veteran players, highlighted by a three-year, $ 9.45 million US pact shelled out to Sam Gagner following a career-high 50-point season with Columbus.
I’m very excited to become part of the @Canucks. It’s a great hockey city and my family can’t wait to be back in Canada! 🇨🇦
For help on the blue line, Vancouver turned to free agents Michael Del Zotto and Patrick Wiercioch up front, as the calendar turned to September, forward Thomas Vanek was signed for one season.
The Canucks took the last step in turning the page on the 2016-17 season a couple weeks ago when they finally removed Miller’s banner from Rogers Arena.
With very little chance of making the playoffs, Vancouver’s success this season should not be measured by wins and losses.
Recent first-rounders Brock Boeser, who led all Canucks in the pre-season with seven points, and Jake Virtanen, second with six points, would be full-timers with the NHL club, play big minutes, and provide an offensive spark, as would Horvat.
Beset by offensive struggles and a knee injury, a bounce-back season from Loui Eriksson would also help make the team a tough opponent.
Travis Green comments on his team’s performance and says tough decisions will be made very shortly. pic.twitter.com/VI4P2wLTXe
Vancouver and its fans will hold a season-long farewell party for the Sedin twins (who are unlikely to be traded), but with the hope that they don’t eat up too many of the minutes that rightfully belong to the youngsters at this point.
If the tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Nilsson can maintain or improve upon the team’s league-average save percentage of .913 from last season, the Canucks could find themselves in a lot of close games.
Veterans such as Vanek and Del Zotto will perform well enough to garner interest at the trade deadline, allowing Vancouver to use the second half of the season as a means to developing talent for next summer, when a proper rebuild can begin.
The fate of the 37-year-old Sedin twins is bound to be a big talking point in Vancouver this season. Both forwards are playing out the final year of their contracts and neither has expressed a desire to be traded to a contender.
Given their stature with the franchise and a lack of other options, Daniel and Henrik will continue to log big minutes and be relied upon to provide offence.
Even if the Sedins agreed to go to another market, there is little to suggest their value would yield little more than addition by subtraction.
As it stands, the Sedins along with the Canucks other veteran players will likely aim for respectability in the standings, while the organization bides its time for another year before fully committing to a rebuild.
Another season of losing hockey with an odd mix of youth and experience just doesn’t seem all that palatable, especially if the Canucks get hosed in the draft lottery again.