Vancouver Canucks

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


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.

Sharks need to find their killer instinct with playoffs on horizon

Sharks need to find their killer instinct with playoffs on horizon

It’s something of a hockey cliché to -- after a team scores a go-ahead goal -- turn around and say: “Okay, now go get the next one.”

It may be an overused phrase, but that’s how it works. And it’s something the Sharks have struggled doing during the last month of the regular season.

Tuesday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks demonstrated this hole in San Jose’s game yet again.

After overcoming an early 1-0 deficit to skate into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead, Team Teal had the opportunity to build on that momentum and shut Vancouver down.

They didn’t, and the Canucks registered three unanswered goals in the third period en route to a 4-2 win over the Sharks, 

“Tonight was a good chance for us, up 2-1 going into the third, for us to get that playoff-type third period down and we just didn’t do that, unfortunately," Joe Thornton told the media after the game.

Joe Pavelski agreed.

“We had chances to break it open 3-1, and we didn’t do that," Pavelski said.

That’s perhaps what San Jose needs more than any other aspect of its game with the playoffs just a week away.

Through this last leg of the regular season, the Sharks have continued to insist their big need is to get healthy before the playoffs start. What they also need to do is harness that killer instinct to get that next goal.

Going into the third period of a game with either a tie or a one-goal lead isn’t new to this Sharks team. According to @SharksStats, 21 of the Sharks' 44 wins this season have been the product of a game-winning goal scored in the 3rd period or overtime. That’s a lot of wins not being determined until late in the game. 

On one hand, this can reflect come-from-behind victories -- think of that third-period comeback they mounted against the Predators in Nashville back in October, or their OT victory over the Vegas Golden Knights just this past weekend. Then again, Hockey Reference tells us the Sharks are just 14-8-4 when they are tied with their opponent after one period of play, and 7-5-4 when they go into the third period of games with a tie. San Jose is getting opportunities to create space when it has a lead or make a big push when games are tied, but more times than not, the opponents are able to creep back into the game.

[RELATED: What we learned from Sharks' loss to Canucks]

So, what has to change? Is it tightening up the defense after getting the go-ahead or game-tying goal? Is it getting more saves from Martin Jones when games are tight? (To be fair, he made some big saves Tuesday before ending up on the wrong end of a weird game-tying goal by Vancouver.) Really, the Sharks need a mix of all of those factors if they’re going to put teams away instead of letting them hang around.

The Sharks must find the ability to close, so that late-game let-ups, like the one against the Canucks, don’t happen once the regular season is over, and playoffs get underway.

Sharks have to fix sloppy third periods before NHL playoffs start

Sharks have to fix sloppy third periods before NHL playoffs start

For a long stretch of Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, it looked like the Sharks had figured out things.

They held a lead for the bulk of the game. They had their captain back healthy, and he got right to work by scoring a power-play goal to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead in the first period. Even goaltender Martin Jones, who allowed the first goal less than two minutes into the contest, made some key saves that helped keep his team in the game -- saves when the Sharks needed them the most.

But the Sharks didn’t build on that initial lead. Instead of shutting the door, they let young, optimistic Vancouver hang around. Instead of scoring another goal or buckling down defensively, the Sharks watched the Canucks score three unanswered in the third period.

The Sharks had the opportunity to win but lost for the ninth time in 10 games. If they have any plans of getting past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs -- which start next week -- that kind of let-up just can’t happen.

“Tonight, I think the biggest thing is that we had chances to break it open 3-1 and we failed to do that,” captain Joe Pavelski told reporters in Vancouver. “It felt closer out there today, for sure. A lot of parts of our game. But there’s still that ‘winning hockey’ that we’ve got to get to. For some reason, we haven’t gotten over that hump lately."

That certainly would easier if the Sharks were scoring as many goals as they were giving up. In the last 10 games, San Jose has scored 27 goals but surrendered 43. The Sharks have gone 7 of 36 on the power play in that same span, including a 1-for-4 performance Tuesday.

The Sharks are getting opportunities, but they aren't cashing in. That makes things all the more baffling.

“It was going good tonight, and there’s, I don’t know. It’s frustrating how they end up finding a way to stick one in,” Pavelski said.

Perhaps the most frustrating part for the Sharks was that they didn't respond after the Canucks' bizaare game-tying goal. Tanner Pearson's tally, originally waved off before officials overturned the on-ice call (and upheld the goal when the Sharks challenged), should have prompted a San Jose push.

[RELATED: What we learned in Sharks' loss to lottery-bound Canucks]

Instead, Vancouver capitalized when Markus Granlund had room to scoop up a loose puck on Jones’ blocker side, and scored the game-winner. Jones kept San Jose in front with several key saves, but the loose puck proved to be disastrous when he wasn't playing with a lead.

Now time is almost up, and the Sharks have just two games left in the regular season to get into playoff shape and face the Vegas Golden Knights. The final two games, meaningless in the Pacific Division standings, now are San Jose's last chances to stop the bleeding.

If the Sharks are going to make a deep playoff run, however, they can’t let their opponent hang around late in a game like they did Tuesday.