The Vancovuer Canucks have gone from the leagues best team, to an outdated veteran roster that requires a serious rebuild. The team is still competitive, but is not capable of making a run for the Stanley Cup with their current roster. The core of the team is closing in on their last few NHL seasons.
The Sedin twins have been the best players on the Canucks roster for many years, but have yet to bring a cup to the city. The twins are both 35, and come with a combined 14 million dollar cap hit for each of the next three seasons. Other veteran players like Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata have expiring contracts as well. These core players are vital to the current success of the Canucks, but at some point the team needs to move on to younger players. Vancouver will probably extend some of these guys for another year or two, which will keep the team competitive until the Sedin's contracts expire. At that point, we will see some serious adjustments to the roster.
Players on their way out:
Henrik and Daniel Sedin
Alex Burrows ( unless signed for less than his current 4.5M cap hit)
These moves will take place within the next three seasons. This of course, will be partially determined by the development of the Canuck prospects currently playing in Junior, Europe, and the AHL.
It is no secret that Vancouver has had some serious trouble in goal over the past few seasons. Moving out Eddie Lack was another move which came as a surprise to many fans. He was a fan favorite who showed serious promise as a backup over the years. When Benning shipped him out, he made a very clear statement. Moving forward, Markstrom would be the guy. I am confident that Benning and head coach Willie Desjardins will find a way to get Markstrom significant playing time behind starting goaltender, Ryan Miller.
Markstrom dominated this past season in the AHL. he posted a 1.88 GAA, and a .934 save %. His numbers, combined with his size and agility make him a serious candidate for an NHL starter at some point in his career. If Markstrom can stay consistent backing up Miler, he could take the starting position as early as next year. There's no rush, but Markstrom will be expected to take this role as soon as possible. Two years from now, Miller will not be a Canuck. At that time, Markstrom and another young gun will be expected to take the reigns. It is likely that Benning will try to avoid free agency while in search of his backup goalie. That is easier said than done when you consider the lack of goalie prospects at his disposal.
When it comes down to it, the Canucks only have one solid prospects in net. His name is Thatcher Demko. He was drafted 36th overall by the Canucks in 2014. He is just 19, but is playing among men in the NCAA. He has posted good numbers in his past two seasons with Boston College. Last year, he posted a .925 save % and a 2.19 GAA. There's no guarantee that any prospect will make the jump to the NHL long-term, but Canuck fans should be excited about this kid. He sports a great hockey profile: Good size, good movement in goal, and comes from a very good NCAA program in Boston. The last goalie to come from this program; Cory Schneider who was also drafted by the Vancouver Canucks.
The defense for Vancouver is not terrible moving forward. They have a decent group of guys on the current roster, most of which have a good number of years left in them. The prospect pool on the back end needs to improve, but there's no rush to replace players. Benning knows what area need improvement, and I am sure he will pick up some prospects in the next hand full of drafts.
The centerpiece moving forward will undoubtedly be Chris Tanev. He is 25 years old, and is probably the best defensive player on the entire Canuck roster. He signed a very reasonable contract last season, which has him on the roster until 2020 for 4.5 million per season. I am unsure about Alex Edler, who has showed amazing potential throughout his career in Vancouver. His ability to stay consistent has been a major concern, but the Canucks do not have anybody to fill that void if they wanted him out. They have no prospects who have the offensive upside that Edler offers his team. In my mind, Edler will need to be extended long term given the Canucks current prospect pool.
In my opinion, the Canucks are going to keep the same defensive roster moving forward. The core will get extended, while the last pairing will be recycled through free agents over the next few years. Unless Frank Corrado or Anton Cederholm can make the jump, don't expect many drastic changes.
Despite what many people think, Cederholm could quietly sneak his way onto the NHL roster if given an opportunity. Big, strong defenders are highly sought after in the West. He is not an offensively dominant player, but Vancouver will need players to sure up their final pairing. If an opportunity presents itself in the next few years, I expect Cederholm to be given a chance. He is still just twenty, which makes him a perfect candidate to slip into the NHL roster after the rebuild which we will see in approximately three years.
Finally, we will discuss the forward group for Vancouver. This is the one big area that the Canucks are looking to sure up moving forward. They have a lot of veterans with expiring contracts, but it is uncertain as to when the kids will be ready to make the NHL roster. The Sedins and Vrbata were horses for the Canucks offense last year. There is absolutely nobody else in the system who can match their numbers as it stands. The Canucks need to use these three years to develop offensively dominant players which will be ready to replace Henrik and Daniel.
I really like Horvat and Sutter up the middle. They are both very strong two way centers, who will be pivotal to the Canucs moving forward. Despite their skill set however, they show little signs of exploding offensively. Can McCann be the guy to solve our offensive woes? If we develop him properly, we will have an extremely strong, young core up the middle. Even with Henrik out of the question, Horvat, McCann and Sutter will be a talented trio for our future. The one question we need answering is whether or not McCann can develop into our answer to the offense. If not, who will take the #1 center spot for the future.
The one area that scares me the most is the Canucks winger positions. Outside of Virtanen, we have very little solid prospects. There's a few guys who might get a shot at the NHL, but none of them have the offensive upside we require to replace our top line stars. Niklas Jensen has seemingly played himself off the roster, and nobody else had stood out in my mind. Hunter Shinkaruk looked good early on, but has since been mediocre at best. I am sure some of these young guys will develop, but none have shown that they are capable of a top 6 role moving forward. A deep team is a coach's dream, but the Canucks are going to need some firepower if we want to return to the top of the West anytime soon.