With the Sedin twins finally out the door, the Vancouver Canucks can now admit that they are 100 percent a rebuilding team, and act accordingly.
That doesn’t mean that their season will be a predictable ride, though. There could still be plenty of surprises in store, both positive and negative.
Here’s what their best and worst seasons look like:
It has to start with Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi. Whether the trio plays together five-on-five full-time or just on the power play, these three need to be top-liners in terms of production not just ice time. Boeser is by far the most dangerous of the group and if he really takes off he can drag the whole line with him.
Elias Pettersson not only wins the Calder Trophy, but immediately establishes himself as a top-flight centre at the highest level. Since Horvat is probably a better second pivot long-term, the Swede puts himself in position to be the club’s top horse in the middle going forward.
The added veteran grit of Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel offer the kind of reliability that the Canucks were looking for when they prioritized signing them to long-term deals. Sam Gagner is the best version of Sam Gagner as opposed to the more commonly disappointing version of Sam Gagner.
Chris Tanev gets his skeleton reinforced with adamantium, which very excitingly, turns out to exist. Alex Edler keeps plugging away, doing his often-underrated things. Michael Del Zotto proves to be the ultimate post-hype sleeper and plays like it’s 2011-12 again. Erik Gudbranson isn’t overtly terrible.
Jacob Markstrom figures out that he’s big enough to more or less fill the net and all of this moving around he’s been doing is a waste. That minor adjustment takes him from average to elite and puts the team on a new level.
What results is one of those feel-good, nothing-to-lose playoff appearances where no one minds when the team is unceremoniously booted in the first round.
Boeser shows that his 16.2 shooting percentage to date is more of an aberration than a sustainable clip, making him more of a complementary scorer than lethal weapon. Pettersson isn’t physically ready for the rigours of the NHL and suddenly the Canucks’ present and future top two weapons fall flat. With Boeser slipping, Horvat and a long-in-the-tooth Loui Eriksson can’t produce anything like a first line.
The bottom-six grit signings look as foolish as they appeared the day they were inked and the club looks to be a couple of lines short of a contender.
On defence, Tanev gets some combination of mumps, hand-foot-and-mouth disease and osteoporosis, which makes him neither a contributor nor a useful piece of trade bait. Father Time catches up to Edler, Ben Hutton proves to be just a guy, and Gudbranson is disastrous beyond the Canucks’ wildest dreams.
In goal, the team is saddled with two 1B types, neither of whom is able to capitalize on their size and supposed potential. They fight for the job all season adding another level of instability to proceedings.
Not only does Vancouver flounder in the standings, but its road to respectability seems farther and farther away and the decision to put off its rebuild seems less and less wise with each passing loss. The Canucks come out of the year as a team that’s far away but has some pieces, which is precisely how they began the season.