Lottery loss makes Canucks’ climb to competitiveness more difficult

The Canucks had the second-highest odds to win the NHL Draft Lottery but fell to fifth, and their fans were more than miffed.

Despite their best efforts to improve their odds of winning the lottery, which included a spirited 2-13-2 dash to the finish line, the Vancouver Canucks will now enter the NHL Draft with the fifth overall pick for the second straight year.

Even though their landing spot was, technically, the second-most statistically likely outcome for them, you can officially add ‘2017 Draft Lottery’ to the growing list of reasons Canucks fans have to be disgruntled these days.

While they will have their pick of the litter from a number of intriguing prospects in the fifth spot on June 23, the likelihood that player will turn out to be the type of franchise cornerstone they so desperately crave seems too faint for this to be considered anything but a disappointment.

Unlike, say, the fabled 2014 draft where there were a number of different impact players for them to choose from at sixth overall, the 2017 draft is universally considered to be a two-player race at the top between Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick. Preparing for what’ll come after those two go off the board looks like something of a fool’s errand, considering the crop of talent that’ll follow remains largely an unknown with a number of differing opinions in the scouting community in regards to how it will and/or should shake out.

How the Canucks choose to wade through those treacherously uncertain waters will be telling of whether the encouraging signs they showed at the trade deadline were a signal of a legitimate philosophical change or just a blip in the radar. Much like they did when they acquired Nikolay Goldobin and Jonathan Dahlen via trade, they’d do well to continue prioritizing dynamic offensive players with the type of high-end skill that syncs up with the direction the league is moving.

How they decide to proceed will also be a good indicator of whether they’ve learned from mistakes that have plagued them in the past, which played a role in getting them into this position. Like when they chose to pass up on the likes of Nikolaj Ehlers and William Nylander in that aforementioned fateful 2014 draft despite all signs pointing to them being the best players available, misguidedly opting for local product Jake Virtanen instead.

What the Canucks sorely need as a franchise right now beyond all else is something for fans to attach their hopes to, and a reason to be excited. Even if the wins don’t immediately follow, being able to sell promise and a tangible vision of what they have to look forward to in the years to come is something that manifests itself through the draft. That’s the only real avenue for teams like the Canucks to rebuild properly from the ground up, accumulating the type of youthful talent it’ll need in abundance to eventually compete.

Based on the current financial landscape and pay structure in the NHL (to go along with our understanding of how aging curves work and when peak years actually arrive), teams are highly incentivized to find young players who can immediately step into the lineup and contribute while they’re affordable.

Take the Edmonton Oilers for example, who have been lauded for the various contributing factors to their newfound success: From Adam Larsson’s arrival stabilizing their blue line, to the coaching job Todd McLellan has done, to Cam Talbot’s masterful impression of a brick wall between the pipes. And while all of that is certainly true to some degree, at the end of the day the main reason they have won as many games as they have is because they enjoy the luxury of two of the most productive players in the league on a per dollar basis right now:

Player Contract Type $/Point
Connor McDavid ELC 9,250
Viktor Arvidsson ELC 10,355
Artemi Panarin ELC 10,980
Leon Draisaitl ELC 12,013
Conor Sheary ELC 12,594
Sam Gagner Standard 13,000
David Pastrnak ELC 13,214
Auston Matthews ELC 13,406
Nikolaj Ehlers ELC 13,971
Patrik Laine ELC 14,453
William Nylander ELC 14,658
Mitch Marner ELC 14,658
Jonathan Marchessault Standard 14,706
Alex Wennberg ELC 15,678
Jack Eichel ELC 16,228
Jonathan Drouin ELC 16,871

Yet as was the case with the Oilers, the path towards becoming a successful team requires a certain combination of patience and luck. While you’d like to believe it won’t take that long for the Canucks to similarly get back to the top of the mountain, the reality is that it’ll be a grueling process – one that continues in late June, with whichever player they wind up choosing fifth overall.