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Season preview: Vancouver Canucks

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Season preview: Vancouver Canucks

To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.

Today’s team: Vancouver Canucks

2014-15 record: 48-29-5, 2nd in the Pacific

How they finished: Lost in six games to Calgary in the Western Conference Quarterfinals

Coach: Willie Desjardins (2nd season)

Notable additions: LW Brandon Prust, C Brandon Sutter, G Richard Bachman

Notable subtractions: G Eddie Lack, D Kevin Bieksa, RW Zack Kassian, C Nick Bonino, D Adam Clendening, C Shawn Matthias, RW Brad Richardson, D Ryan Stanton

RELATED: Hershey Bears release preseason schedule

Schedule against the Capitals: Thu. Oct. 22 in Vancouver, Thu. Jan. 14 in Washington

Outlook: If you thought Vancouver's loss to Calgary in the playoffs last season was a sign of two teams headed in opposite directions, you would be correct. While the Flames are on the rise, the Canucks are most definitely on the decline.

If that was not evident enough in the playoffs, then general manager Jim Benning made it abundantly clear with a flurry of offseason moves that left everyone scratching their heads.

Players like Brandon Prust and Brandon Sutter--who the team traded for this summer--certainly have their value, but will ultimately do little to alleviate the offensive burden put on the aging Henrik and Daniel Sedin.

In fact, Vancouver's entire offense is aging. If you look at last season's point leaders, you have to go all the way down to number seven on the list before you find someone who is both under the age of 30 and still on the Canuck's roster. That players was Jannik Hansen who recorded a whopping 33 points. He turns 30 in March.

The cupboard is not totally bare in terms of youth as Bo Horvat, 20, returns and Sven Baertschi, 22, is expected to be a full-time NHLer next season, but is that enough to make up for Vancouver's aging offense?

Oh, and did I mention the Canucks did nothing to replace Kevin Bieksa, one of their top defenseman last season who they traded to division rival Anaheim to stay under the cap?

The kicker was the goalie debacle. Last season, the 21-year-old Eddie Lack started Game 1 of the playoffs for Vancouver. He was traded over the summer to Carolina, leaving the 35-year-old Ryan Miller as the starter in net. Granted, Lack did not play well in the playoffs, but he did finish the regular season with a better save percentage and GAA than Miller. if Benning had traded Miller and his $6 million cap hit instead, they could have kept both Lack ($1.15 million) and Bieksa ($4.6 million).

Now they are left with an expensive, declining netminder, an angry fan base and an aging offense.

Expectations: Vancouver really had no business losing to Calgary last year. With that first-round exit, we saw the Stanley Cup window for this team close for good. The additions of Prust and Sutter with a few younger players won't be enough to open it again.

Could they still make the playoffs? Assuming the Sedin's are still able to carry much of the offensive load, they can perhaps fight their way into the postseason behind Anaheim and Calgary. The 2011 team that won the conference, however, is long gone and will not be back until this team commits to a rebuild.

MORE CAPS: Who will drop the gloves for the Caps this season?

See more team previews:

Pacific Division 
Anaheim Ducks 
Arizona Coyotes 
Calgary Flames 
Edmonton Oilers 
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks

Central Division 
Chicago Blackhawks 8/8 
Colorado Avalanche 8/9 
Dallas Stars 8/10 
Minnesota Wild 8/11
Nashville 8/12
St. Louis Blues 8/13 
Winnipeg Jets 8/14

Atlantic Division 
Boston Bruins 8/15 
Buffalo Sabres 8/16 
Detroit Red Wings 8/17 
Florida Panthers 8/18 
Montreal Canadiens 8/19 
Ottawa Senators 8/20
Tampa Bay Lightning 8/21 
Toronto Maple Leafs 8/22

Metropolitan Division 
Carolina Hurricanes 8/23 
Columbus Blue Jackets 8/24 
New Jersey Devils 8/25 
New York Islanders 8/26 
New York Rangers 8/27 
Philadelphia Flyers 8/28 
Pittsburgh Penguins 8/29 
Washington Capitals 8/30

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

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USA TODAY Sports

John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

On Friday, the Capitals shipped out Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to clear space on the salary cap for John Carlson's massive contract extension.

On Sunday night, Carlson signed on the dotted line. 

The 28-year-old became the latest core Cap to sign a long-term deal, inking an eight-year extension that will carry an $8 million average salary. 

His cap hit is now the second highest on the team—behind Ovechkin’s $9.538 million charge and just ahead of Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million hit.

With Carlson locked up, the defending Stanley Cup champion now has the majority of its core signed through at least the 2019-20 season. Among the players with at least two years remaining on their deals are forwards Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nickas Backstrom and Lars Eller, defensemen Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Carlson news did not come as a surprise.

The Caps wanted to keep him. Carlson, who makes his offseason home Washington, wanted to stay with the club that drafted him 27th overall in 2008. And on Friday night in Dallas, GM Brian MacLellan all but guaranteed that a deal was going to happen when he said, “We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

It ended up taking a little more than 24 hours, but in the end MacLellan got his D-man.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said MacLellan in a statement on Sunday. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime.”

Indeed, Carlson notched a career-high 15 goals and 53 assists last season, and his 68 points led all NHL defensemen. He also became the eighth defensemen in Caps’ history to record 60 points in a season and the first since Mike Green accomplished the feat in 2009-10. Meanwhile, Carlson’s average ice time (24:47) also marked a career high.

“As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams,” MacLellan added. “We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

With Carlson under contract, the Caps now have a little more than $13 million in cap space underneath the $79.5 million ceiling, according to www.capfiendly.com. Michal Kempny, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson and Jakub Jerabek are all unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

Carlson’s signing kicks off a big week for MacLellan.

In addition to negotiating with the free agents he hopes to retain, he’s expected to have a formal interview with associate coach Todd Reirden, who is the leading candidate to replace Barry Trotz as head coach.

So buckle up, there figure to be a few more important announcements in the coming days.

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Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

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USA TODAY Sports

Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.

The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.

So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?

Not necessarily.

At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.

But the Caps still have some leverage too.

“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”

By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.

So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.

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