Last season, the Canucks finished 35-36-11, 5th in the Pacific Division and ahead of the LA Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers, 12th in the Western Conference and 23rd overall in the NHL. There was much reason for optimism and hope heading into the big 50th anniversary celebrations this season. Elias Petterson dazzled the NHL in his rookie campaign scoring 66 points (28G 38A) and winning the Calder trophy as the NHL’s top rookie over Blues Goalie Jordan Binnington and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Starting goalie Jacob Markstrom had a great year too, save for November when the team was decimated by injuries. Markstrom finished with a 28-23 record with a 2.77GAA and .912 save% in 60 starts. His expected backup Thatcher Demko looked solid in his NHL debut too, going 4-3 with a 2.81GAA and .913save% in 9 games (8 starts). Quinn Hughes, who is expected to be in the running for this season’s Calder trophy. He had 3 assists in the 5 games he played at the end of last season. Defensively, Hughes made strong decisions with the puck and looked elite in his breakouts. Bo Horvat achieved another level in his play last year, finishing with 61 points (27G 34A) and winning 53.67% of the draws he took. Brock Boeser (who has yet to re-sign) followed up his 55 point (29G 26A) rookie campaign with a 56 point (26G 30A) season over 69 games. He and Petterson showed some great chemistry on the ice. Here’s my 2019-20 Vancouver Canucks season preview.
Departing from YVR
As former GM Brian Burke put it, the following players were driven to the airport, some perhaps literally.
- D Ben Hutton This one wasn’t a huge surprise, but rather signaled that the Canucks weren’t willing to pay Hutton what he would have likely gotten in an arbitration case. Drafted in the 5th round (147th overall) of the 2012 NHL entry draft, Hutton made his NHL debut October 7, 2015 and played 75 games that year as part of the Canucks 3rd pairing. He would remain on the 3rd pairing for the most part, moving up to the 1st or 2nd pairing when injuries necessitated. He came into training camp last year with lots to prove as his 2017-18 season was marked with lots of healthy scratches and heavy criticism from coach Travis Green. Hutton took full advantage of a blank slate and a new year, earning the coach’s trust to where he was playing 25+ minutes most nights and in every situation. Nevertheless, Hutton did not do enough to warrant the substantial raise he would have been due. For one thing, the 2nd PP unit, which Hutton was a defender on, was largely ineffective in large part because Hutton couldn’t hold the puck in the offensive zone on a consistent basis. Hutton was also bad defensively (he was -23 last season and finish his time as a Canuck an abysmal -75). In 275 games as a Canuck, Hutton scored 70 points (11G 59A) over 4 seasons. He remains unsigned, although he’ll likely accept a tryout soon.
- D Derrick Pouliot If there was ever a defenseman that made coaches tear their hair out and fans scream Pouliot was it. The most frustrating thing about Pouliot was how he reacted when under pressure. It was almost as if he didn’t want to get hit. When under pressure, Pouliot would panic and blindly throw the puck around the boards, more often than not onto an opponents stick and to an easy goal against. Eventually Pouliot was benched after these needless errors and was a healthy scratch. He actually was -1 for the season last year despite the tendency to make poor choices under pressure. Pouliot scored 34 points (6G 28A) in 133 games over 2 seasons with the Canucks. He signed a 1-year $700,000 contract July 1st with the St. Louis Blues, just $50,000 the league minimum.
- F Markus Granlund Acquired in a February 22, 2016 trade with the Calgary Flames that sent Hunter Shinkaruk to southern Alberta, Markus Granlund spent his time in Vancouver bouncing between the minors and Utica. For the most part, he played on the Canucks bottom two lines and saw time on the penalty killing unit. The 26-year-old Finn was not offered a qualifying contract and thus became an unrestricted free agent and signed a 1-year one-way deal with the Edmonton Oilers where he’ll join ex-Canuck Sam Gagner. Granlund had 69 points (41G 28A) in 215 games over parts of 3 seasons with the Canucks. Adam Gaudette essentially passed Granlund on the depth chart
- F Ryan Spooner Acquired in the February 16 trade this calendar year that sent Gagner back to the city where his career began (Edmonton), Ryan Spooner did little to impress the Canucks brass. It’s a bit of a red flag when you’re playing for your third team in the same season. In 11 games, the 27-year-old had 4 assists and was -1. He was virtually invisible on the ice. JT Miller and Michael Ferland are both upgrades over the Ottawa native. Spooner signed with Lugano of the Swiss league
- G Marek Mazanec Acquired as a desperate move in January for a late round pick from the Rangers, Marek Mazanec had a three week stint. The Canucks started the year with a tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson. However, Nilsson struggled mightily in 2018-19, losing 9 straight games between October 18 and New Year’s eve. Nilsson would be traded, along with Darren Archibald to the Ottawa Senators for their backup goalie Mike McKenna, who was claimed off waivers two days later by the Philadelphia Flyers, who were having major injury issues with their goalies. Thatcher Demko was recalled with the intention of finishing the year backing up Markstrom. However, Demko injured his knee just after the all-star break and would miss 3 weeks and withRichard Bachman injured and unavailable and forced the emergency recall of Junior goalie Michael Dipietro. The then 19-year old was pressed into action February 11 when Markstrom was unable to play. After Dipietro was shellacked by a potent SJ Sharks team for 7 goals on 24 shots, the Canucks quickly moved to acquire Mazanec so Dipietro could go back to the OHL where he should have been in the 1st place. Mazanec did not get into a game, but served as the backup to Markstrom for 5 games. With the Canucks having a bevy of goalies (Markstrom and Demko in Vancouver, Bachman, free agent signing Zane McIntyre, college free agent signing Jake Kielly and Dipietro.) There could be at least one more goalie released before training camp ends. Mazanec signed with Montfield HK of the Czech Extralgia (ELH)
- F Brendan Gaunce Drafted in the 1st round (26th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry draft, Gaunce spent most of his four seasons in Vancouver in the minors with recalls when injuries occurred. In 117 games over parts of 4 seasons with the Canucks, Gaunce had 15 points (6G 9A). He signed with the Boston Bruins on July 1st.
- Luke Schenn Finally, there’s 29-year old Luke Schenn, who was acquired January 17, 2019 for Michael Del Zotto. Schenn got into 18 games as a Canuck and formed a playing partnership with Quinn Hughes, who he actually met during his own NHL debut as Hughes’ father was a development coach for the Maple Leafs at the time. In 18 games for the Canucks, Schenn used his big body a lot, delivering 81 hits and often leading the team in that category. Schenn also had 2 assists and was -2. He signed a one-year contract with the Lightning July 1st.
New in town
- D Jordie Benn Hailing from Victoria, BC, Jordie Benn was a very smart signing by the Canucks. While he’s not a big point getter, he delivers a ton of hits and blocks a ton of shots. He’s very durable and played 81 games last season. Benn will likely pair up with one of Quinn Hughes or Olli Joulevi. Expect Benn to be prominent on the penalty killing unit, which killed off 81.1% of the penalties they took, good for 11th in the NHL last season. He probably won’t get much PP time with Edler and Myers getting the bulk of the time. The term is also good (2 years @ $2 million/year). I can’t wait to see him in action!
- D Tyler Myers This was the big acquisition and target by the Canucks in free agency. Defense was a big reason why the Canucks missed the playoffs and Jim Benning and co. recognized that. The big American defenseman knows all about the importance of depth. Myers’ first experience in the NHL came when his Buffalo Sabres were missing several key defensemen back in October 2009. Myers is expected to anchor the Canucks PP and with his big shot, there should be some more goals coming on special teams. He’ll definitely be in the top four pairing with either Alex Edler or Hughes. Myers is another durable defender who played 80 games last year. He’s also not afraid of getting physical and laying his body on the line, dishing out 97 hits and blocking 99 shots last season. He score 31 point (9G 22A) last season. He would have been second in D scoring last year, right behind Edler, who scored 34 points (10G 24A). He would have been tied for 6th in team scoring with Antoine Roussel, who also managed 31 points (9G 22A). Myers is signed through the next 5 seasons
- D Oscar Fatenberg This signing I’m not so sure about. First, Fatenberg will turn 28 on October 7th. Second, for every time he forces a turnover, he coughs up the puck twice.. He has all of 12 points (4G 8A). On the plus side, it’s not a huge finanicial commitment ($850,000 for 1 year). I can see him getting a few benchings and healthy scratches.
- F JT Miller Acquired at this year’s draft for Mazanec, the Canucks 3rd round pick in this year’s draft and a conditional 1st round pick next year, Miller represents an immediate upgrade over Gaunce, Spooner and Granlund. He’ll fill the void while Roussel rehabs his knee injury, playing with Bo Horvat and Troy Pearson. If that line doesn’t gel, he and Ferland might swap lines. One minor concern about Miller is he only managed 13 goals playing on the high octane TB Lightning squad where every line was a scoring threat. Miller is another durable player and played in 73 games last season. He also plays a physical game (115 hits in 2018-19). He is signed through the 2022-23 season.
- F Michael Ferland This was a player I was hoping the Canucks would target in free agency. Ferland is like Gino Odjick (though less of a fighter), Alex Burrows, Donald Brashear and Raffi Torres. He’ll be a pit bull on a line with Elias Pettersson to discourage incidents like this and this. It’s important to give Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, the top Canucks forwards protection against cheap shots. Last season, Ferland scored 40 points (17G 23A) in 71 games and was +13. Ferland is signed through the 2022-23 season.
Some key dates
Besides these theme nights largely celebrating the various teams there are a couple of other key dates. On November 10 vs. the NJ Devils, it will be Hockey fights cancer night with an homage to cancer survivors and those who have lost the battle to cancer. The Canucks will wear special pink jerseys during warm up. November 14 vs. the Dallas Stars, the Canucks will be honoring the Canadian armed forces. They will wear green military colored jerseys in warm up. December 14 vs the Carolina Hurricanes, the team will honor the First Nations community. No doubt Gino Odjick will be on hand for this one. January 16th vs. the Arizona Coyotes is the annual hockey talks game that raises awareness about mental health. March 8 vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Canucks will honor the volunteers and recognize the grassroots programs that allow the youth to play hockey. March 10 vs. the NY Islanders is the annual Canucks for kids telethon. March 25 vs. the San Jose Sharks, the Canucks will recognize the LGBT community and wear rainbow colored jerseys in warm-up. March 28 vs. the Anaheim Ducks is autism awareness night. I went to the one last year and the Canucks did an amazing job, letting selected youth sing the national anthem, work the sound system and play the traditional 1st intermission game of shinny.
- October 2 @ Edmonton Oliers – Regular season opener. The Canucks open their 50th season in the NHL on October 2nd against the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton essentially swapped starting goalies with Calgary, signing Mike Smith while Calgary inked ex-Oilers starter Cam Talbot. The Flames and Oilers also traded struggling forwards with James Neal heading North to Edmonton and Milan Lucic going south to Calgary. Last season, the Canucks took 5 of 8 possible points with a 2-1-1 record against the northen Alberta rivals. The two teams each won a game on the road and at home. Boeser had a pair of goals and 4 assists in the 4 season series games. Pettersson scored twice and had three assists. Markstrom was in goal for 3 of the 4 games, including both wins.
- October 9 vs. LA Kings – Regular season home opener The Canucks open the home portion of their schedule against the LA Kings, the first opponent the Canucks faced in their inaugural season back on October 9, 1970. Like the Canucks, the Kings are in the midst of a rebuild. The Canucks won three of the 4 meetings between the two squads last season, taking 7 out of a possible 8 points. Pettersson had 2 goals and 2 assists against the Kings and Markstrom started 3 of the 4 games, winning twice. Demko got the other win after a lengthy shootout.
- October 25 vs. Washington Capitals – Diwali celebration Vancouver has a rich history with multiculturalism and a major component of the greater Vancouver population is compromised of people from India and Southeast Asia. Diwali is the festival of lights, which is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists every autumn in the northern hemisphere (spring in southern hemisphere). This game is also a good test against a team that is still one of the stronger teams in the NHL. It could also be the second to last chance for fans to see future hall-of-famer Alex Ovechkin whose contract is up in 2 year and he could decide to retire and move back to Russia. The Capitals won both games of the season series last year.
- November 5 vs. St. Louis Blues – 1970s teams honored As part of the 50-year celebration, the Canucks are celebrating each decade worth of teams starting with the inaugural 1970s. The first 4 seasons were, as expected rough and resulted in playoff missed. The Canucks made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and had a bye as Smythe Division champs. They were subsequently eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens. They also made the playoffs the following season and in 1978-79 and were eliminated in the preliminary round both years. Notable players from that decade: Pat Quinn (1970-72), Orland Kurtenbach (original captain; 1970-74), Dunc Wilson (1970-73; 1978-79), Andre Boudrais (led inaugural team in scoring with 66 points; 1970-76), Wayne Maki (1970-73), Dale Tallon (1970-73); Gary Smith (goalie the 1st 2 years the Canucks made the playoffs) and Don Lever (1972-80). The Canucks won 2 of 3 games against the Blues last season. The first 2 games took place before the Blues went on a historic hot streak that ended with them winning the Stanley Cup.
- December 3 vs. Ottawa Senators- Alex Burrows inducted into ring of honor Perennial pest Alex Burrows is being inducted into the ring of honor December 3rd. It’s fitting that the Canucks chose this game because he played his final season and a quarter in our nation’s capital. Signed as an undrafted free agent November 8, 2005, Burrows spent 12 years on the Canucks, many of those games as the other winger with the Sedins. Burrows played a style of game where he was constantly getting under the skin of opponents. He scored 384 regular season points (193G 191A) as a Canuck. He was at his best in the 2010-11 playoffs, including this huge goal to eliminate the Blackhawks in the 1st round. The Canucks swept the season series over the Senators, outscoring Ottawa 11-7
- December 7 vs. Buffalo Sabres – 1980s teams honored The next big celebration on the schedule occurs 4 days later, honoring the teams of the 1980s, including the 1981-82 team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals where they were swept by a superior NY Islanders team. The season prior they were knocked out the preliminary rounds and the two seasons after the Stanley Cup final run, they were eliminated in the divisional semi-finals. They also made the playoffs 1985-86 and 1988-89, losing in the divisional semi-finals both years. Key players from that decade: Stan Smyl (first to have jersey retired; is 3rd in franchise scoring; 1978-1991); Tiger Williams (had infamous riding the stick goal celebration took a ton of penalties; 1979-1984), Richard Brodeur (1980-88); John Garrett (1982-85). The Canucks and Sabres both entered the league in the same season and both have pretty similar results. Neither team has won the Stanley Cup, but the Canucks appear in a better position currently. The two teams split the season series with the home team winning both games.
- January 4 vs. NY Rangers- 1990s teams honored This is the decade where I really got into watching hockey. The Canucks have been my team right from the get-go. This decade had one of the Canucks highest moments (making the Stanley Cup finals and coming within a goal post of sending game 7 to OT) and one of the franchise’s lowest moments caused by a regrettable (and ironic) signing of Mark Messier, who tore the team apart, literally and figuratively. Check out this video to see why he’s perhaps the most hated Canuck ever. The last major moment of this decade was the drafting of the Sedins in 1999, the 2 greatest Canucks in franchise history. Key players from this decade: Pavel Bure (scored this huge goal to eliminate the Flames in 1994; one of the most prolific goal scorers in franchise history including back-to-back 60 goal seasons; torn ACL derailed career; 1991-98); Trevor Linden (arguably most popular captain; is the heart and soul of the Canucks; was drafted 1st round 2nd overall in the 1988 NHL entry draft; 1988-98 and 2001-08), Kirk McLean (made huge save in game 7 of 1994 to keep the Canucks season alive; 2nd best goalie in franchise history behind Luongo; 1987-98); Dave Babych (1992-98). The Canucks and Rangers split the season series last year with the home team winning both games. The Canucks will wear their retro skate jersey that night.
- January 18 vs. San Jose Sharks- Lunar New Year Chinese new year is another big celebration in Vancouver with a large portion of the population from China. You’ll see traditional Chinese dances on the ice, Fin will work the crowd in traditional Chinese dress and the Canucks will do their warm up in special red jerseys. The San Jose Sharks took the season series 3-1 and outscored the Canucks 16-8 last season.
- February 10 vs. Nashville Predators, February 12 vs. Chicago Blackhawks and February 16 vs. the Anaheim Ducks- Sedins week. Of course for the greatest Canucks in franchise history, you have to have a week long celebration. Drafted 2nd and 3rd overall in the 1999 NHL entry draft, it became clear early on that Daniel and Henrik Sedin would be special players. Their seeming telepathic ability to know where the other brother was on the ice drove defenders crazy. This video is a bit lengthy, but you’ll get an idea of their sheer dominance. Henrik was predominantly a passer and Daniel had more of a tendency to shoot first. Both Sedins finished their illustrious 17-year careers with over 100 points each. The team captain, Henrik, had 1070 points (240G 830A) and twin brother Daniel finished with 1041 points (393G 648A). The brothers each won the Art Ross trophy for scoring the most points in the league in back-to-back years (Henrik won in 2009-10 with 112 points (29G, 83A) capped off by 4 assists on the final day of the regular season to edge Ovechkin and Daniel won the following season with 104 points (41G 63A). This will be a fun week. The Canucks took 2 of 3 in the season series Chicago, winning once at home and once on the road. Nashville edged the Canucks 2-1 in the season series last year. Both teams scored 10 goals. Anaheim won 3 of 4 against the Canucks last year, but the Canucks outscored the Ducks 11-10
- March 6th vs. Colorado Avalanche – 2000s teams honored This was arguably the most successful decade thus far for the Canucks with the team making the playoffs in 8 of the 10 years. The first half of the decade, the team was run by the West Coast express line of captain Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison. Jovocop and Matthias Ohlund patrolled the blue line. The Canucks also had pests like Raffi Torres and Matt Cooke, who drove the opposition up the wall. In one of the biggest trades in franchise history, the Canucks acquired goalie Roberto Luongo from the Florida Panthers in a blockbuster trade that was a big piece of the greatest team in franchise history. Key players from this decade: Todd Bertuzzi (1997-06; was a prolific power forward up until this infamous hit that changed the course of the franchise), Naslund (1995-2008), Brendan Morrison (1999-08), Mattias Ohlund (1997-2009), Ed Jovanovski (1998-2006), Willie Mitchell (2006-10); Roberto Luongo (2006-14), Dan Cloutier (2001-06), Matt Cooke (1998-2008), Daniel and Henrik Sedin (2001-17), Trent Klatt (1998-03). The Canucks won 2 of 3 games in the season series last year over Colorado and outscored the Avs 14-10
- March 15 vs Winnipeg Jets – Next Generation day This game will recognize the next generation — that is the youth currently playing hockey. There will be many kids in the crowd for this one. The Jets swept the Canucks in the season series, outscoring the Canucks 11-4
- April 4 vs. Vegas Golden Knights – Fan appreciation night/final regular season game The Canucks will either be preparing for their first playoff game in 5 years, trying to win to make the playoffs or playing out the last game of the season for six months. They will also hand out the annual team awards that night for unsung hero, top defenseman and team MVP. The Canucks will also hand 22 lucky fans their game worn jerseys after the game ends. The Golden Knights won 3 of the 4 meetings between the two teams last year and outscored the Canucks 15-8.
Three key questions
- Do the Canucks have enough depth for when inevitable injuries occur? Injuries are an inevitable part of hockey, it being such a physical sport. Before the season even begins, the Canucks know that Antoine Roussel will not be ready until around Christmas as he continues to rehab a torn ACL. Chris Tanev, Brandon Sutter and Alex Edler have proven to be prone to injuries. The Canucks did quite a bit to improve and upgrade their defense with the off-season signings of Fatenberg, Benn and Myers. Within the organization, Olli Joulevi will almost certainly make his NHL debut, but the Canucks will exercise the utmost precaution with him as he recovers from season-ending knee surgery mid-December 2018. The team may even want him to start in Utica where he’ll get more playing time and play in all situations. Hughes, who is expected to be in contention for the Calder trophy as rookie of the year, should be pretty good as well. Jett Woo is another defender to keep an eye on. Adam Gaudette may make the team at the outset, but he’ll be a viable option if he starts in the minors. If injuries get really bad, Reid Boucher may be recalled, although he’s pretty far down on the depth chart. I think this year, the Canucks will be able to withstand the inevitable injuries better than last year without a huge drop in team fortune.
- Who makes the team? Most of the roster spots are accounted for. The goalies are set with Demko backing up Markstrom (the Canucks do need to sort out their minor league goalies). On defense, there are 1 or 2 roster spots up for grabs. Will one (or more) of the rookies (Olli Joulevi, Jett Woo or Quinn Hughes) make the team over a veteran like Fatenberg? Hughes probably has the best shot of making the team. However, the Canucks know they must get off to a good start if they want to make the playoffs, so Travis Green and co. may opt to play the veterans. There will be an audition at forward to temporarily replace Roussel, who isn’t expected back until Christmas. Could the Canucks look for cap relief by burying Loui Eriksson in the minors? He seemed motivated at the annual golf tournament to open training camp. The health of Brandon Sutter is a big question mark, having undergone his second hernia surgery so Adam Gaudette best be ready to jump in. With 5 new players added in the off-season, much of the preseason games will be geared to figuring out defensive pairings and forward lines. Jim Benning might not be done wheeling and dealing as the Canucks are pretty close to the cap ceiling and they have too many goalies. Other teams may become interested in acquiring one of the Canucks on the trading block depending how their training camp goes.
- Will the Canucks make the playoffs? The Canucks finished 9 points shy of the 2nd WC spot last season with three teams (Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild) between them and the 8th place Colorado Avalanche. They finished 12 points behind the 3rd place Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division and the final guaranteed divisional playoff spot. On paper, the Canucks improved greatly through free agency and the draft trade that brought Miller to the Canucks from the Lightning. With 5 new players, there may be early bumps in the road as the team figures out who plays well together and gels as a team. The schedule isn’t quite as brutal as last season, where the Canucks had 2 lengthy 6 game road trips early in the season and a third 6-game trip after the Xmas break. The Canucks play back-to-back games 9 times. Their longest road trip is 6 games in the last 2 weeks of November. The longest home stand is 6 games (February 8-22). The Canucks will definitely be playing meaningful games into March. While they won’t get one of the 3 guaranteed divisional playoff spots, the Canucks will get one of the two wild card spots. We all saw what the wild card teams did in last years playoffs with all 4 WC teams making the second round and the Carolina Hurricanes making it to the Eastern Conference final before getting swept by the Boston Bruins.
Stay tuned for my game recaps, which will commence with the first preseason game September 16, and my weekly random thoughts posts, which will be released every Monday morning starting September 23.