It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Vancouver Canucks
How they did last season: 31-38-13 (75 points); 6th in the Pacific Division; 13th in the Western Conference. Missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Notable acquisitions: LW Loui Eriksson, D Erik Gudbranson, D Philip Larsen, LW Anton Rodin and C Jayson Megna.
Notable departures: D Dan Hamhuis, D Yannick Weber, RW Radim Vrbata, C Jared McCann and RW Linden Vey.
When they will play the Caps: Oct. 29 in Vancouver; Dec. 11 in Washington.
Analysis: The Canucks endured a very difficult 2015-16, missing the playoffs by 12 points and finishing a lowly 28th in the league.
And while a number of deficiencies contributed to a season that began with such promise only to go completely off the rails in February and March, there was one consistent theme throughout the injury-plagued campaign: the Canucks couldn’t score, at least with any regularity.
In fact, their 186 goals were the league’s second worst total (and 62 fewer than the Capitals’ second-best mark).The power play was equally unproductive, connecting just 15.8-percent of the time (27th). Their goal differential? An NHL-worst minus-52.
That’s where the addition of Eriksson comes in. Assuming he plays on the right side of the first line with countrymen Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the 31-year-old gives the Canucks one of the most skilled trios in the game. He should also provide the scuffling power play with a boost.
The acquisition of Gudbranson, meantime, should help solidify the Canucks’ top-4 defensemen. The 6 foot 5, 216-pounder figures to skate alongside Ben Hutton on the second pairing. If nothing else, the blue line figures to be big and physical, and that should help reduce the ridiculous number of Grade-A scoring chances 36-year-old Ryan Miller seemed to face on a nightly basis.
There are, however, a few significant question marks facing the team as training camp approaches. For one, I wonder if GM Jim Benning did enough to address the scoring issue. Eriksson is a good start. But it seems to me that Benning might be expecting too much from Rodin, a 25-year-old Swedish League star who is coming off a knee injury. It also appears that Benning’s plan relies—a lot—on youngsters like Bo Horvat (40 points), Sven Baertschi (28 points) and Jake Virtanen (7 goals) upping their game.
I frankly think there’s still too much uncertainty—particular among the forwards not named Eriksson or Sedin—to pencil the Canucks in as playoff contenders next season.
Will they score enough? Will the power play show meaningful improvement? Can the defense do more to help Miller? Can Miller be more consistent?
Any and/or all of that might happen. But as I look at the current roster, I’m having difficulty answering, ‘Yes’ to any of those questions…with any conviction, at least. If they end up missing the postseason for a second straight year (something that hasn't happened since 2000), it might force the franchise to (finally) embrace the need to rebuild.
Other team previews:
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming Aug. 30)