How the Canucks can clear clutter, improve depth as they take next step

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning breaks down what the Canucks have planned for the future and what he thinks of the 10th overall pick.

VANCOUVER — An old hockey writer changed condos in the same building, but discovered on moving day that his new home couldn’t quite accommodate the volume of stuff he’d accumulated over many years in the old one.

Faced with a storage crisis, he filled his car in the parkade with the excess clutter. He realized after a few days that an undriveable car made no sense, and solved his problem by taking the road insurance off his vehicle so it could serve as a four-door storage locker indefinitely.

No, the writer was not Larry David, although this true story would have made a great Seinfeld episode.

Clutter can make you crazy, and the Vancouver Canucks have accumulated a fair bit of it.

It’s counter-intuitive that a team that still needs to add key pieces and plans to be aggressive in free agency has too many players. But Vancouver has 11 forwards under contract for next season and another five who are restricted free agents expected to receive qualifying offers.

For the Canucks to move ahead, here are the candidates to move out:

LW/RW Tim Schaller, 28

47 GP, 3-7-10 Pts., 10:39 TOI

No Canuck forward was scratched as often as Schaller, a free-agent bust who provided little of the physicality, intensity and depth scoring the Canucks had hoped for when general manager Jim Benning signed him last July to a two-year deal worth $1.9 million annually. He was eclipsed by Tyler Motte and others, and didn’t score his first goal for the Canucks until March 17.

Outlook: With no trade value, even with retained salary, Schaller is a buyout candidate. Barring a miraculous summer transformation, he will likely end up getting his NHL pay in the minors if he makes it to training camp.

LW/RW Ryan Spooner, 27

52 GP (3 teams), 3-6-9 Pts., 11:25 TOI

The Canucks traded mistakes with the Oilers when they rescued Spooner from Edmonton’s minor-league team in February in exchange for Sam Gagner. There was no financial risk to the Canucks by taking on Spooner, but the experiment failed. Despite occasional flashes, Spooner had just four assists in 11 games with Vancouver. He doesn’t look good enough to fill a top-nine role and isn’t the kind of player who’s going to provide energy from the fourth line.

Outlook: Spooner had one goal in 16 games with the Rangers, two in 25 for the Oilers, and none in 11 with the Canucks. At a salary of $4 million ($900,000 retained by New York), Spooner has no trade value and will probably end up back in the minors for the final year of his NHL deal if he’s not bought out.

RW Nikolay Goldobin, 23

63 GP, 7-20-27 Pts., 14:59 TOI

Acquired for Jannik Hansen’s expiring contract at the deadline in 2017, Goldobin has failed to seize the opportunity given to him by Canucks coach Travis Green. Despite being centred either by Bo Horvat or Elias Pettersson for most of the season and averaging 2:33 of nightly power-play time, Goldobin scored only twice in his final 32 games and was removed from the lineup by Green seven times.

Goldobin still has age and skill on his side, but Green’s frustration with him reached a critical mass in March. The Russian can play only an offensive role, and the Canucks are looking for better players on which to bestow that privilege.

Outlook: If the Canucks could have traded Goldobin, they probably would have. The Russian is a restricted free agent who may simply sign in the Kontinental Hockey League.

C/RW Markus Granlund, 26

77 GP, 12-10-22 Pts., 15:02 TOI

It looked like Granlund had broken through to a higher level when he scored 19 goals in 69 games two years ago before a wrist injury ended his campaign. But he scored only eight times last season while missing another chunk of games, before rebounding slightly this season to 12 goals.

Granlund has been mostly a middle-six forward on a poor team, and as the Canucks improve he is getting pushed farther down the lineup. He was scratched for five games this season and is in danger of being pushed off the roster.

Outlook: Granlund is another player where, if a market existed for him, the Canucks probably would have traded him by now. Instead, in the absence of better players coming in and a couple of guys ahead of him in the clutter cleanout, Granlund is expected to receive a qualifying offer in June.

LW/RW Loui Eriksson, 33

81 GP, 11-18-29 Pts., 14:03 TOI

The forward has been a colossal disappointment since Benning signed him three years ago to a six-season, $36-million contract. Eriksson has become a 32-goal scorer for the Canucks, but it took him three seasons to amass that total. Green finally healthy-scratched Eriksson for one game in March.

Clearly, he can’t play in the top six and Eriksson will face increasing competition for a role near the bottom of the forward group. His signing-bonus-heavy contract calls for another payment of $4 million on July 1, which will leave only $9 million owed to Eriksson over the final three seasons. Eriksson has a full NTC but not a no-movement clause, which means he’ll have to listen if the Canucks unearth a trade suitor.

Outlook: Benning is expected to see this summer if there’s a trading partner for Eriksson, who may actually interest a few teams if Vancouver retains salary for the Swede’s reduced-earning years to come. A trade, however, still seems a longshot and Eriksson’s deal is essentially buyout-proof the way it is structured. The minors are a possibility next season if he performs poorly.

LW Tyler Motte, 24

74 GP, 9-7-16 Pts., 12:46 TOI

Nobody expected Motte to even make the Canucks last fall, but once in the lineup he became a coach’s favourite due to his relentless work rate, skating and hitting on the fourth line. Motte’s 2.7 hits per game ranked 18th among 390 NHL forwards who played at least 41 games, and yet he took only five minor penalties. That said, he’s the kind of player who will constantly be under pressure to keep his job. Of course, so were Hansen and Alex Burrows when they started with the Canucks.

Outlook: The Canucks could probably get something modest for Motte in a trade. But until somebody better comes along and takes his job — minor-leaguer Zack MacEwen? — the winger is consistent and reliable. After just one full NHL season, Motte is also still young enough to get better.

C Brandon Sutter, 30

26 GP, 4-2-6 Pts., 17:28 TOI

The checking centre missed most of the season with a separated shoulder and sports hernia, his second in four seasons since GM Benning acquired Sutter from the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015 and predicted he would become a “foundational” player. Sutter hasn’t, although his health has been the worst thing about him. He has missed 140 of 328 games in Vancouver.

Free agent Jay Beagle was signed last summer and can do what Sutter does defensively, while 22-year-old Adam Gaudette got the chance to play 56 games in Sutter’s absence and improved during his audition, although the rookie finished with just 12 points. Sutter has two years remaining on his contract at an unappealing $4.375 million. On July 1, his full no-trade clause is modified to a 15-team no-trade list.

Outlook: With retained salary and Sutter’s experience, character and defensive specialties, he is tradeable. But the Canucks would be selling low, and coach Green still likes Sutter’s dependability and leadership. If Sutter stays healthy next season and Gaudette improves, the Canucks may be in a stronger position to trade the veteran at the deadline.

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