Friday, May 30, 2014

Pool Outlook for Vancouver

The 2014 season for the Vancouver Canucks was nothing short of a disaster.  The Canucks are only three years separated from their last visit to the Stanley Cup Finals and only two years separated from their second of back-to-back President's Trophies for being the best team in the regular season and they have ended up near the bottom of the NHL standings, finishing 25th overall and missing the playoffs completely.

The appointment of head coach John Tortorella in the 2013 off-season was the tipping point to disaster, as the team was swept out of the playoffs the year before by the San Jose Sharks, which cost Alain Vigneault his job.  Under Tortorella, the offense dried up, the defensive systems that made Vancouver so successful disappeared and there were more questions than there were answers.  General manager Mike Gillis elected to move Cory Schneider at last year's draft, thus ending the goaltending drama that plagued them in 2013, but created more buzz in the crease when he dealt Roberto Luongo to Florida at the trade deadline.

These issues cost both men their jobs and the Canucks are now to start a new, now under the new management of former Bruins assistant GM, Jim Benning.

After seven years of both brothers being in the top 50 of pool scoring at the same time, neither Henrik Sedin or his brother, Daniel, could even crack the top 100, in one of the big disappointing factors of the Canucks 2014 regular season.  Despite missing 12 games, captain Henrik finished as the team leader in pool points, scoring 11 goals and 39 assists for only 50 points in 70 games.  Super-low totals from a former Art Ross Trophy winner.

Brother Daniel didn't fare much better, picking up 47 points in 73 games for the Canucks, meaning that one of the main jobs for the new staff that are about to come in, will be getting the two best players back up to NHL elite status again.  There will also be some decisions needed to be made about Ryan Kesler, who finished with 43 points in 77 games, as he was in the middle of much trade speculation.  There were a couple of reasonable bright spots in the line-up, as Christopher Higgins had 39 points in 78 games and newcomer Mike Santorelli made some noise before getting injured, finishing with 28 points in 49 games.

The blueline for the Canucks couldn't muster up a great deal of offense, even though they did get off to a good start to the year.  They fell off the map before the end of the year, leaving it with some sub-par numbers.  Jason Garrison led the way with 33 points in 81 games, while Kevin Bieksa finished with 24 points in 76 games.

In what was likely the biggest ring of the circus in Vancouver was the crease, where management gave the reins to Eddie Lack at the Heritage Classic, only days before the team was able to deal Roberto Luongo to Florida.  Lack finished with 16 wins and 4 shutouts for 40 points, which was good enough for 30th in scoring among goalies in the hockey pool.

2015 Pool Outlook

The outlook for the 2015 season is awfully cloudy, because there are so many arguments that could send the team in either a positive or negative direction, which could make hockey pool selections awfully difficult.  If you were looking at 2014's numbers, the Canucks do not have a projected 1st round pick, let alone possibly having two in the twins.  There will be lots of work to be done in getting this team, which wasn't terrible a couple of seasons ago, back to where they were, but it will rely heavily on the new coach, as the team is already locked in, contract-wise, and if the new management is going to make any changes, it will be via trade.

As of today, I wouldn't be bumping up any Canucks in my rankings, but I would always keep my eye on them, especially when we get closer to the hockey pool drafts, because by then, we'll have a better idea on the coaching staff and how they'll play.  You may get some bargains out of Vancouver, but I wouldn't say that you're going to get any locks for dominating players.

If you're looking for some young players to decorate your hockey pool team with, the Canucks may not be the best team to pick from, as they are not holding a lot of spots for young players to thrive in at the moment.  Nicklas Jensen, Brandon Gaunce and Bo Horvat may get looks for some spots, but the top six already has the feel of being locked in at the moment, which doesn't bode well for these youngsters.  Frank Corrado will get a long look on the blueline, but may not see the minutes that will get him the points though.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Unrestricted free agency won't play a huge part in the Canucks off-season, as there are not many players scheduled to be free on July 1st, with only Mike Santorelli and Andrew Alberts as the only players that have played a part in this team recently that are heading that way.

The list of RFA's for the Canucks is a little bit more interesting, as Zack Kassian and Chris Tanev heads the list, which also includes Yannick Weber and Jordan Schroeder.  These four should be locks for their qualifying offers, but that does leave a small list of players eligible for new deals, which management will have to sort through.

Out of the potential 23-man roster, I currently have the Canucks with 17 players already locked in to a spot, trying not to give too many spots away.  There are 10 forwards, five defensemen and both goalies already signed on for a cap hit of $58.8 million, which includes some retained salary for Luongo in Florida.  The Canucks have six spaces left on their projected roster and they have about $12.3 million left to spend.

At the Entry Draft in Philadelphia, the new management for the Vancouver Canucks will get their chance to make an immediate impact with who they decide to select with the number six pick.  With such disappointment in the goal scoring department in the 2014 season, there should be a move made to take the best available goal scorer, someone of that natural talent, trying to produce along side the twins or making up a new line in the team's top six.  Despite going in for some off-season shoulder surgery, possibly the best fit for the Canucks may be Jake Virtanen, who played with the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL.  He is highly regarded as a goal scorer with plenty of grit, a couple of things that could do the Canucks some good things.  Virtanen may not be available to the team right away in the 2015 season, if selected, but he sounds like a blue-chip prospect for years to come.

For me, being a Canucks fan, the appointment of John Tortorella was a sign that the 2014 season was going to be pretty poor, a point that I had made clear at the start of the season and it wasn't exactly fulfilling to know that I was right in the end.  The worst part of the whole thing is that there is some belief, even though Tortorella is gone, is that it could still happen again, if management doesn't get it right immediately.  The Canucks have talent in spots, but when they were successful, they played a good team game, which they got away from in the end.

My prediction for the team is somewhat pessimistic, as re-tooling, which is what we'll call this, is not going to be easy and for any new coach coming in at this point, will have a tough time.  The team is running with more questions than answers, like where will Kesler play in 2015 and will the goaltending they have step up and be NHL-worthy before too long.  The Canucks should be aiming for a Wild Card playoff spot in the 2015 season, but I would be far from surprised if they finished outside of the playoffs, only slightly improving on their poor 2014 season.  Things could improve for the team before the puck drops in September, but based on the situation of where they are today, I stand by my prediction about right now.

No comments: