Canucks face crucial challenges as playoffs appear attainable

Mark Spector joined Jesse Fuchs to discuss the cap issues of the Vancouver Canucks and whether the Calgary Flames are in for a long negotiation with Matthew Tkachuk plus much more.

VANCOUVER – The two 20-goal scorers the Vancouver Canucks added to their lineup the last couple of weeks come with bonuses: size and power.

Free-agent acquisition Micheal Ferland is 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, and J.T. Miller, obtained in a trade with Tampa Bay, is 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds. Both can skate. Ferland is expected to play next season with Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson, while Miller probably lines up alongside two-way centre Bo Horvat.

Horvat’s other winger is likely to be power forward Tanner Pearson, acquired last February from Pittsburgh. The third line could include 6-foot-2 Josh Leivo, who arrived in December from Toronto, and combative 2018 free-agent find Antoine Roussel.

The big addition to the defence, physically and figuratively, is six-foot-eight Tyler Myers.

There is an unmistakable pattern here. The Canucks are being rebranded.

General manager Jim Benning has not only built a team capable of returning to the NHL playoffs next season, he has added enough physical heft and grit to make his team a handful if it gets into the Stanley Cup tournament.

Few incidents sparked more fiery debate on the West Coast the last two seasons than defenceman Mike Matheson’s body-slam of Pettersson and Trevor Lewis’ hit-from-behind on Brock Boeser, a runnerup for the Calder Trophy in 2018 before he became Pettersson’s linemate last season.

But the question whether the Canucks were tough enough wasn’t as refined as it needed to be.

Tough enough for what?

The Canucks weren’t good enough that opponents needed to attack Vancouver’s best players. Superior teams just had to show up, be professional and, well, allow their superiority to win games.

Then Vancouver became competitive. And now the Canucks are trying to be more. They’ve certainly spent enough money on players this off-season to be more.

It’s not only the names on the roster that have changed dramatically from two years ago, but the size and nature of the team. Its identity. Yes, Pettersson, Boeser and Horvat drive the attack with their skill, but the Canucks will be physically harder to play against.

Benning targeted Ferland this summer for the same reason he targeted Roussel last year: because his tool kit contains a hammer.

“One of the things we wanted to do was bring in bigger, stronger players. And I think we were able to accomplish that this summer,” Benning said in a conference call with reporters Thursday, one day after signing Ferland away from Carolina with a four-year, $14-million contract. “The way (coach) Travis (Green) wants to play, he wants to play fast and he wants to get pucks behind the other team’s defencemen and get in on the forecheck, recover pucks and get to the net.

“The last couple of years, I think that’s been a bit of a problem.”

The Canucks aren’t going to intimidate anyone. The scariest thing for opponents will still be Pettersson on the puck with time and space. But this is a different Vancouver team than we’ve seen in many years.

Of course, it still has to win. And before that, Benning still has to make his payroll work within the $81.5-million salary cap.

Also for the first time in a long time, the Canucks’ hockey operations staff is going to be tested administratively.

Vancouver will be $2-3 million over the upper limit when an anticipated extension for Boeser, a restricted free agent whose salary projects in the $7-8-million range, gets negotiated sometime later this summer. And that’s before management tries to build a buffer to accommodate bonuses for Pettersson and rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes so that that the Canucks’ cap space isn’t further reduced next season.

Benning has accomplished more than most GMs this off-season. But there’s a lot of fiddly work needed before the Canucks open their season in Edmonton on Oct. 2.

“I know that everybody looks at our cap situation as of today, but we have three months until the season starts,” Benning said. “I’m having lots of conversations with other teams. Whether we move money… we have a plan in place to get Brock in and be part of our group. He’s a building block for us, a core player, so we’re doing to get that figured out.

“If we can move players, it makes it easier. But if we can’t move players… we’ve got a bunch of different plans in place to make sure we have a enough (cap) room.”

The best salary-cap solution for the Canucks is also the most difficult: finding another team willing to take on Loui Eriksson’s $6-million cap hit for the next three seasons.

Benning finally spoke this week to Eriksson about comments the winger made in Swedish at the world championships that he and Green “don’t really get on 100 per cent.” Benning said it was a positive conversation and he doesn’t think Eriksson’s remarks were as egregious as some people think.

“We’ll continue to talk and work things out,” Benning said. “We’ll continue to look at our options and see if something makes sense for us, and talk to Loui and see where he’s at and kind of just go from there.”


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