Led by rookie-of-the-year Elias Pettersson, the Canucks did better than anyone expected last season, improving by eight points and losing Game 82 to finish one win below .500.
The team made a handful of key off-season acquisitions and has a legitimate chance to challenge for its first playoff spot in five seasons as the franchise celebrates 50 years in the National Hockey League.
Current cap space: $4.16 million (25 players)
GM: Jim Benning
Head coach: Travis Green
Assistants: Nolan Baumgartner, Newell Brown, Manny Malhotra, Ian Clark
Unsigned players: Brock Boeser, RW
Is there a place for Loui Eriksson – and his $6-million cap hit?
Benning’s biggest mistake as GM was signing Eriksson to a six-year, $36-million contract three seasons ago. But only now, as Benning’s Canucks face a cap crunch for the first time, is the contract potentially debilitating. Green healthy-scratched his most expensive player for one game last season, and Eriksson told the Swedish media at the world championships in May that he and his coach don’t get along 100 per cent.
If Benning could trade Eriksson, he would have. The veteran’s contract is buyout proof, so it’s up to Green to find a place in his lineup for the 34-year-old or convince Benning it’s worth sending Eriksson to the minors to save $1.075-million against the cap.
Where art thou Brock?
In his first two-plus NHL seasons, Boeser has scored 59 times in 140 games, despite some serious injuries, and is already the Canucks’ best finisher. But he is part of the NHL’s great unsigned RFA class of 2019. Given Vancouver’s needs and Boeser’s desire to return to an ascending team rebuilt around players his age, the 22-year-old is still expected to agree to a lucrative new deal with the Canucks.
But what if he doesn’t? And how does Benning do the salary-cap limbo if Boeser does sign? Until the sniper returns, everyone who takes a turn on Pettersson’s right wing is auditioning to fill Boeser’s spot.
Where do the new guys fit?
Benning’s busy summer included acquiring power wingers J.T. Miller and Micheal Ferland, both potential 20-goal scorers, and signing defencemen Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn. The blue line will also feature super-prospect Quinn Hughes, who could follow Pettersson to the Calder Trophy winner’s circle.
There are a pile of defence and forward combinations for Green to sort out, as well as a lot of new options for the power play. With 14 forwards on one-way NHL contracts, plus Pettersson and (we think) Boeser, there are going to be some losers by the end of training camp. Let the competition begin.