We’re now less than two weeks away from the start of the 2016-17 regular season. PHR continues with our season preview series, moving on to the Vancouver Canucks.
Last Season: 31 – 38 – 13 (75 points); finished sixth in the Pacific Division and missed the playoffs.
Cap Space Remaining: $2.771MM, via Cap Friendly.
Player(s) To Watch: Bo Horvat and Ryan Miller: Horvat represents a key building block for the future whereas Miller can help the Canucks compete for a playoff spot and/or become a valuable trade deadline chip.
Horvat may have already established himself as the team’s second best center after Henrik Sedin following a 40-point sophomore season and depending on how Brandon Sutter rebounds from an injury-filled 2015-16 season. While 40 points is strong production for a 20-year-old, second-year player but Horvat still needs to work on his overall game. This past season he finished with a -30 plus-minus rating and he also struggled in the puck possession department ranking 212th out of 234 forwards who played at least 800 minutes at 5v5 in Corsi For % with a 45.8%.
The third-year pivot will not only be a key contributor for the Canucks in 2016-17 campaign but his further development is an instrumental part of the organization’s roster retooling. With many of the team’s best players nearing the end of their careers – either with Vancouver or in the NHL – Horvat will be counted on to help lead the next wave of stars and to help guide the team back to the postseason.
Miller has long been regarded as one of the better goalies in the league, even if his average numbers don’t necessarily concur with that reputation. Of the 28 netminders who have seen 5,000 5v5 minutes combined over the last three seasons, Miller ranks just 22nd in Save % at 92.2%. He rated better when facing high danger chances at same strength situations, placing 15th with a HDSv% of 81.05%.
Regardless, excellent goaltending can help overcome a roster devoid of prime talent and if Miller turns in one of his better career performances in 2016-17, he may be able to keep the Canucks playoff chances alive late into the campaign.
It’s also quite likely that the team will shop Miller, who is entering the final year of his contract, ahead of the trade deadline in an effort to add futures to help speed up the rebuild. Even if no playoff contenders are in dire need of a starting goalie, an experienced option like Miller would still carry value as a backup. Since the Canucks probably would have little interest in re-signing the 13-year veteran, they might consider trading him – even for a second-round pick or less – a better option than losing him for nothing after the season.
Key Storyline: Will the Canucks fully buy in to a rebuild or continue to pretend they can be a playoff team at the same time they inject youth into the lineup? The harsh reality is the Canucks would need too many things to go right for them to make the postseason in 2016-17. Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom would have to provide top-notch play between the pipes. The Sedin twins will have to continue to stave off Father Time and perform at an elite level. Several of the team’s younger players – like Horvat – will need to improve further. And even if all of that goes their way it still probably wouldn’t be enough in a division that sent three teams to the postseason in 2015-16 and saw every other non-playoff squad make significant moves to improve their rosters.
Vancouver probably should have embraced the rebuild last year when they potentially could have moved some veteran assets for futures. But they shouldn’t be afraid to do so now, particularly if they don’t get off to a hot start to the season. It’s important that the organization adopts and implements a strategy that’s going to ensure on-ice success for the organization in the future as opposed to simply treading in the waters of mediocrity as they seem to be doing now.