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NHL free-agency review: How Canucks stack up in Pacific Division

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NHL free-agency review: How Canucks stack up in Pacific Division

Editor’s note: NHL free agency was fast and furious, and the moves that teams did (and did not) make set the tone for next season. All week, we’ll examine the Sharks’ Pacific Division rivals, and whether their free-agency approach put them in better, worse or the same position. Today, we dive into the Vancouver Canucks.

Suffice to say, the Canucks aren't the Western Conference powerhouse they used to be. 

To be fair, Vancouver has a couple of solid young guns in Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. (More on Boeser in just a bit.) And heck, they ended the 2018-19 regular season in the middle of the pack as opposed to dead last.

Nevertheless, they aren't the threat the Sharks used to face. It's no wonder San Jose bested them 3-1-0 during the regular season.

The rebuild in the post-Sedin Era continues as Vancouver has added some new pieces to the puzzle at the start of free agency.

Here's a look at what they've done so far, and how it may impact their standing in the division next season.

Players who signed

Canucks general manager Jim Benning was busy beefing up the team's blue line on the first day of free agency, signing defensemen Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantendberg.

The Myers' signing may worry some fans since it's a five-year deal, but the other two d-men have a lot of upside. Benn, who signed a two-year contract, will add more physicality and ended last season with the Canadiens with a plus-15. Fantenberg, on a one-year contract, adds further depth to the Canucks' d-corps and can help chew up big minutes.

The Canucks re-signed forwards Tyler Motte and Josh Leivo, both are two-way players with room to grow as part of Vancouver's forward assault, as well as defenseman Alexander Edler who was fourth on the team in points last season.

[RELATED: Free Agency Review -- Calgary Flames]

Players who left

The Canucks saw two departures on their blue line at the opening of free agency with Derrick Pouliot going to the Blues and Luke Schenn going to the Lightning -- although with the additions they've already made on defense, those exits likely won't hurt them much.

As for remaining restricted free agents, the Canucks still have Boeser, Nikolay Goldobin and Josh Teves on the docket. (Defenseman Ben Hutton would have been a restricted free agent but was not issued a qualifying offer.) Getting Boeser locked into a deal is likely one of the Canucks' top priorities at the moment, though that's going to be tricky since they only have $5,569,296 left in cap space.

After watching San Jose's Timo Meier sign a four-year deal on the first day of free agency, Boeser's likely looking for a deal that would eat up the rest of that cash.

Vancouver is probably due for another trade or two before the end of the summer to free up some breathing room and get Boeser inked to a deal. Whether that means Vancouver somehow finding a way to move Loui Eriksson is a story for another day.

[RELATED: Free Agency Review -- Arizona Coyotes]

Better, worse, or the same?

After just a week of the free-agent market being open, it looks like the Canucks have made some moves that make them better. But even with the additions Vancouver has made on defense so far, the d-corps hasn't been tested out against the offensive firepower of the Sharks or the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Whether the changes they have made thus far make them a playoff contender still remains to be seen.

Why Sharks believe they're turning things around after win over Oilers

Why Sharks believe they're turning things around after win over Oilers

SAN JOSE -- Suffice to say, the Sharks don't look like the same team that started a six-game homestand on Nov. 1 with one of the worst records in the NHL.

With a 6-3 win over the Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, the Sharks have won four in a row and appear to be climbing out of the hole they dug themselves in the first month of the season.

Not to jump the gun or anything, The Sharks aren't out of the woods yet. But after the past six games, it looks like they're finally turning the corner and playing the way they expect to.

"Every game, I feel like we're more comfortable," said Tomas Hertl, who scored a goal Tuesday. "Everybody plays better. So now we have to just keep going."

The Sharks spent a good chunk of the first month of the season looking out of sync -- offensively, defensively, you name it. The culprit? Focusing too much on individual play and not working together as a unit.

"We weren't playing our system," Marc-Edouard Vlasic summarized Tuesday. "We were freelancing. We were doing our own thing. And it's funny when you stick to it, to what you do best, the results follow."

Erik Karlsson, Vlasic's defensive partner, agreed.

"We lost ourselves a little bit," said Karlsson, who had three assists Tuesday. "But right now we're working hard for each other and getting ourselves in good spots out there."

Sticking to that system yielded positive production on Tuesday against the Oilers. The Sharks scored six goals, and largely contained Oilers superstars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. 

"We had a big task in stopping one of the best lines in hockey and I think we did a good job of that," Karlsson said. "I think everyone contributed offensively and defensively. I think we played the right way for 60 minutes even though they scored three goals. But I think we stuck with it."

"They're at the top of the division and I thought we did a good job of defending McDavid and Draisaitl as a group tonight," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer added. "I thought we had some individuals who did a really good job, but I thought everyone on the ice with those guys was aware."

Of course, getting the jump on the Oilers fewer than five minutes into the game didn't hurt, either. 

"We got the first goal, which took a little bit of the pressure off," DeBoer said. "We got to play out in front most of the night. Those kinds of things make a difference."

[RELATED: Sharks' Baker shares mental health journey in HEADSTRONG]

Now, as Hertl mentioned, the Sharks have to keep going. With an 8-10-1 record, San Jose is still under .500.

That's not good enough for a team accustomed to playing in the postseason. 

"If you're under (.500) you're not in the playoffs," Hertl said. "We're trying the best and over the last four games, we actually look like the Sharks."

If they keep looking like the Sharks that Hertl is talking about, the outlook on the season gets a little brighter.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 win over Pacific-best Oilers

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 win over Pacific-best Oilers

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- If there was a high note for the Sharks to end their six-game homestand on, they hit it against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.

The Sharks offensively overpowered the Pacific Division-leading Oilers at SAP Center. Logan Couture and Erik Karlsson had multi-point nights and Barclay Goodrow registered a Gordie Howe hat trick as San Jose skated to a 6-3 victory. 

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' fourth-straight win.

Coming alive 5-on-5

As fans are probably all too aware, the Sharks had a ton of trouble scoring goals at even strength at the start of the homestand. But as they have improved over this six-game span, their 5-on-5 game has come alive. San Jose scored five even-strength goals in the first 40 minutes Tuesday, the team's most impressive 5-on-5 performance of the season. 

To make things better, the Sharks got scoring from their bottom six in Tuesday's game courtesy of third-liner Patrick Marleau's first-period goal. If San Jose can start getting production from the fourth line as well, the Sharks' offense will be in really good shape going forward.


Playing more than 20 minutes

The Sharks went into the first intermission with a 3-0 lead but had a feisty Oilers' team pushing to get on the board. And as the Sharks learned from their back-and-forth 6-5 win over the Minnesota Wild last week, only playing well for the first 20 minutes isn't a good formula for winning games. 

But the Sharks didn't sit back on their heels, instead scoring another goal 1:26 into the second period and then another before the intermission. Even though the Oilers scored three goals in the last two periods, San Jose had enough of a lead to keep the damage minimal.

Not too shabby for a team with one of the league's worst goal differentials at the start of the homestand.

[RELATED: Sharks' Baker shares mental health journey in HEADSTRONG]

The Sharks' best game to date?

Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Sharks have certainly played much better over the last four games, but there are still a couple of areas they need to tighten up as they try to climb their way to a .500 record.

Although the Sharks built a big enough cushion, they did let up a bit Tuesday and allow two goals in the third period to let the Oilers make things interesting. As we discussed earlier, that's exactly how the Sharks almost gave up last week's game to the Wild.

While San Jose goaltender Martin Jones did a pretty solid job against Edmonton's offense, the defense in front of him needs to stay tight late into games so they don't end up blowing any late leads.