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Vancouver Canucks' keys heading into '18 offseason

Pro Hockey Rumors logo Pro Hockey Rumors 5/12/2019 Brian La Rose, Pro Hockey Rumors
a baseball player holding a bat on a field © Dom Gagne-USA TODAY Sports

While the playoffs are well underway, many teams have already started their offseason planning.  What storylines lie ahead around the league in what is shaping up to be a likely busy NHL offseason?  Next up in our Offseason Keys series is a look at the Vancouver Canucks.

The Vancouver Canucks entered the season with hopes of making some progress in their path back to playoff contention.  They improved on their 2017-18 performance by eight points despite a lengthy list of injuries. Elias Pettersson had a Calder-worthy year, and the Canucks now have a strong one-two punch down the middle with him and Bo Horvat.  However, they were still on the outside looking in, so general manager Jim Benning will have a lot of work to do this summer.  Here are some of the items he needs to get accomplished.

Add defensive help

While a full season from Quinn Hughes and the hopeful return to health for Olli Juolevi provide some optimism for their future back end, the Canucks' current defense corps isn’t good enough to contend.  That was the case this past season when they had Alexander Edler, a pending unrestricted free agent, in the fold.

Edler missed 26 games due to injury and still had one of the better seasons of his career while logging a career-best 24:34 per night.  It’s a weak defensive free agent market on the left side, so if he becomes available, there will be competition for his services.  However, he is loyal to Vancouver and wants to stay, which is cause for some optimism.  However, a no-move clause that would protect him from Seattle two years from now for expansion appears to be a sticking point.

Even if they get a deal completed, though, work still needs to be done.  Chris Tanev is a useful stay-at-home defender but can’t stay healthy, while Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher are capable two-way players, though they aren't full-fledged top-four options at this point in time.  Hughes has plenty of upside, but it will take some time for him to reach it.

Benning should be on the lookout for someone who, at the very least, can hold down a spot in the top four and bolster the team's ability to play defense by committee where a better third pairing can help offset lacking the top options.  However, as much as he has stated that he doesn’t expect to be shopping at the top of the market, landing a top-pairing player would fill a long-standing hole for this team, so that’s one area that he needs to make an exception for.

Deal for Brock Boeser

There is a bumper crop of high-end players who are coming off their entry-level deals and will be due for significant raises in the coming months.  The Canucks have one of those players in Brock Boeser. Although, his case is slightly different than the others.

With the Canucks' willingness to sign players after the college season has ended, they’re allowing players to get to restricted free agency a year earlier.  That’s the case with Boeser, whose rookie season wound up consisting of just nine games.  Between that and some injuries along the way over the past two years, he has played in just 140 career NHL regular-season contests.  In other words, he doesn’t even have two seasons of NHL experience under his belt, while most of the other prominent RFAs have three.

As a result, he’s not going to get the top money compared to some of the others on the market.  That said, his deal could be one that other agents refer to as somewhat of a precedent-setter; if Boeser gets X-amount with basically two years of NHL experience, their client is worth a couple of million more than that.  After the season, the 22-year-old’s agent indicated that he’s open to any type of deal, be it a bridge pact, a max-term contract or anything in between.  While many expect some of the RFA discussions to drag out closer to training camp, this one should get done well before then.

Add a top-six winger

While their top two centers are set in place for several years, the situation isn’t as rosy when it comes to the wings beyond Boeser.  Most of the others in place are either underachievers or young players with some upside but have several question marks as well.  Most of that group is either already signed for next season or under team control as a restricted free agent, so there isn’t going to be much turnover as things stand.

Given Benning’s hesitance to spend big in free agency, it’s likely that he’ll target players who require shorter commitments.  Unfortunately for them, that’s not going to move the needle very much either.  Players like that would represent a small upgrade on some of their current options, but it won’t provide a significant boost to an attack that finished 25th overall in 2018-19.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Canucks turn to the trade market to try to help fill this vacancy.  In particular, finding someone in a similar age group to their young core would be ideal.  That player would also be cost-controlled, which is important given the big-ticket deals that are going to be on the horizon over the next couple of years.  The Canucks have plenty of depth on the wing, but at some point, it’s going to need to be consolidated.  That time may very well be this offseason.

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