When the Vancouver Canucks staggered out of the gate to a 6-14-2 record, they cleaned house on the management end, dismissing head coach Travis Green and GM Jim Benning, and replacing them respectively with Bruce Boudreau and Jim Rutherford. Since then, they’ve gone 28-14-8, and climbed up the Pacific Division standings to the fringes of the NHL’s wild-card race.
However, with 10 games left in their regular season, the Canucks are still six points out of the final wild-card berth, currently held by Dallas – and the Stars have two games in hand on Vancouver. That means, absent some major collapse by Dallas (or the Nashville Predators, who are eight points ahead of the Canucks, with two games in hand on Vancouver), the Canucks are going to end up on the outside of the playoff picture after Game No . 82.
In some regards, Canucks fans should be happy – while not being the only difference in the mix, the change in management has proven there more on Vancouver’s shelves than that start-of-season slump might’ve let on. But it’s also tempting to read too much into the Canucks’ final three-quarters of the year, and expect they’re only a couple of players away from being a true Stanley Cup frontrunner.
The truth is probably somewhere in between those two polarities. The Canucks may well be a playoff team next season. But a full-on, Grade-A Cup contender on par with, say, a Colorado or a Florida? That’s probably wishful thinking. This Vancouver team still has some structural issues that are going to require major roster moves before they’re truly an elite group.
The good news is the Canucks have important pieces already in place, starting with No. 1 goaltender Thatcher Demko. The 26-year-old Demko has a healthy .917 save percentage in 57 games this year, and at a salary cap hit of $ 5 million, he’ll be giving them good value for the four years that remain on his contract.
They’ve also got top young defenseman Quinn Hughes locked up for the next five years, at a very manageable $ 7.85 million per year. Hughes is just 22, and his best years are ahead. And up front, they’ve got forward Elias Pettersson signed for another two years at a $ 7.35 million annual cap hit, as well as center JT Miller (at a $ 5.25 million cap hit) and center and captain Bo Horvat signed through next season at $ 5.875 million. In all areas of the ice, they have difference-makers at the top.
The not-so-good news is they’ve got 15 players signed next season, and (per CapFriendly.com) only $ 13.3 million to fill out the rest of their lineup. If they’re even thinking of bringing back winger Brock Boeser (who’ll be a restricted free agent this summer), that amount of cap space will be more or less cut in half. That’s not going to be nearly enough for Vancouver to keep up with the Jonses in the Western Conference for a full season.
That said, if new Canucks GM Patrik Allvin decides to move on from Boeser, he’ll be able to get a solid return for the 25-year-old. And if Allvin finds a new home for veteran blueliner Tyler Myers, he’ll have opened up more than $ 11,875 million in cap space. That kind of flexibility will allow Vancouver to pick their spots more than they can at the moment. There’s no rule that they have to use all that cap space in the off-season; perhaps they wait until midway through the year, or until the trade deadline, to make more consequential, long-term moves.
The Canucks’ fan base has been on a huge roller-coaster ride this season. Their highest of highs and lowest of lows aside, they’ve got a core worth adding to. But they may need to take a lateral step in the short term in order to make a truly meaningful step toward Cup contention. Patience is always a virtue, but in this case, it’s probably a necessity, too