Have the Canucks improved after an eventful offseason?

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VANCOUVER – With negotiations for a contract extension for Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green “on hold,” it’s fair to ask: will the team he returns next season be as good as the team he left after the surprising playoff series last summer?There was a major upheaval thanks to free will with four Canucks, including starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom and veteran defenseman Chris Tanev, skating through the Rockies to sign with rival Calgary Flames.

But the biggest hole in the roster was created by the departure of free agent frontline winger Tyler Toffoli to Montreal. Toffoli’s exit was essentially a by-product of GM Jim Benning trading for Nate Schmidt – as an upgrade from the late Tanev – with his $ 5.95 million milestone hit by the Vegas Golden Knights.

After replacing Markstrom with Washington Capitals free agent Braden Holtby, it would have been difficult for the Canucks to afford both Toffoli and Schmidt, although Benning told Sportsnet this week that he was working on a deal to open up more space when the winger signed with the Canadiens on Day 4 of Free Will.

Benning has prioritized improving the top four in defense rather than maintaining his top six forwards. But that leaves Green with one less weapon to work with when he returns next season for the final year of his contract.

Due to the NHL recession in the year of COVID-19 and uncertainty over what next season will look like, Benning said talks with Green were on hold – even though both sides want an extension for the coach responsible for the development of the young stars of the Canucks. during the evolution of the team.

Clearly, Green got a multi-year extension and a significant hike to a rookie NHL coaching salary of around $ 1 million.

“Travis is a good fit for our group, our team,” Benning said. “I think he’s improved as a coach every year. He has very good communication skills with our players to get the most out of it. Our intention is to re-sign Travis. But he still has a year left on his contract and… we’re kind of on hold to try and see what the scenery looks like as we get closer to the reboot. I had these conversations with Travis. He is aware of it.

The Canucks will be a younger team when Green returns, so his job doesn’t become less important. This is what the range will look like.

BEFORE

Vancouver has five top forwards for its first two rows: centers Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat, and wingers JT Miller, Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson. Acquired during a February trade in Los Angeles, Toffoli has turned into an expensive rental and his departure gives the enigmatic Jake Virtanen another chance to play on the first two rows.

At this point, Virtanen just isn’t Toffoli – although their efforts to score last season weren’t much different: 18 for Virtanen, 24 for Toffoli.

Toffoli has a full 200-foot set that coaches, including Green, love. He leads possession and in 10 games alongside Pettersson and Miller has scored six goals and 10 points. That said, it’s only been 10 games for Toffoli, who was injured in the Canucks’ game opener and missed Vancouver’s impressive series wins over the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. .

For most of the season Brock Boeser – a younger and better offensive player than Toffoli but missing a full game – lined up alongside Pettersson and Miller and the line was one of the best in the NHL. .

If Virtanen doesn’t stick with Pearson and Horvat, newcomer Jayce Hawryluk could get an audition. Or Green could see again what he can wreak in untradeable Loui Eriksson, who is good defensively but has long lost his touch-in-goal. A much happier prospect is the idea that Nils Hoglander, the Swedish dynamo who is one of the Canucks’ top prospects, could be part of the NHL squad at training camp and be ready to play on the second row. .

Winger Micheal Ferland, who missed most of last season with concussions that threaten not only his career but also his quality of life, is a wild card. But frankly, setting aside the overriding importance of Ferland’s well-being, the 28-year-old could help Vancouver the most by going to the long-term injury reserve, saving $ 3.5million. dollars and make the Canucks cap compliant.

There’s a large crowd of forwards competing in the bottom six, but the locks are centers Adam Gaudette and Jay Beagle and winger Tyler Motte. Converted center Brandon Sutter is close to a lock, given his ability to kill penalties and win faceoffs. Antoine Roussel and Zack MacEwen are the other most likely wingers, although Roussel needs a year rebound after a devastating 2019 knee injury delayed and hampered last season. Signed as a free agent, Hawryluk is also part of that mix, along with Eriksson.

DEFENSEMEN

Led by potential superstar Quinn Hughes, the Canucks arguably have their best top four since going to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Schmidt is an upgrade on Tanev and joins Alex Edler and Tyler Myers among defensemen. over 20 minutes.

The questions are: who is playing with whom and what happens to the third pair?

Losing versatile defenseman Troy Stecher to Detroit in free agency could be costly, given his experience and ability to be part of the roster.

But former fifth overall pick Olli Juolevi is finally ready to play in the NHL at age 22 – he made a one-game appearance during the playoffs – and veteran Jordie Benn, who can kill. penalties and playing either side gives the Canucks a few options. .

Benn, however, was a healthy scratch for most of the second half of last season, and Green was hesitant to play a left-hander on the right side. Other options on the right side are minor leagues Jalen Chatfield and Brogan Rafferty, who were excellent last season in the American Hockey League.

Highly regarded college student Jack Rathbone could also push for a berth in the NHL, and the lower body defense could be further improved with a signing or a value trade before the start of next season.

“These guys, once they stand up and gain their trust… they could be better than the guys we had in the five and six holes last year,” Benning said of the outlook in defense. “We do not know yet. They could have a higher cap.

GOALKEEPERS

It hurts to lose Markstrom, who finished fourth in the Vezina Trophy poll last season and developed into the Canucks’ top 10. But taking Holtby on a two-year contract seems like a great counter-move.

Former Vezina and Stanley Cup winner Holtby has attributed his poor 2019-20 season to uncertainty over his future in Washington and believes he can regain his form by training under the guidance of the goaltending guru Canucks goalie Ian Clark, whose ideology closely matches the beliefs of the former Capitals goaltender coach. Mitch Korn.

But the reason Benning chose not to match Markstrom’s six-year, $ 36 million deal with Calgary is goalie hopeful Thatcher Demko, who had a strong NHL first season but was brilliant in a three-game playoff streak that extended the Canucks’ season. against the Golden Knights.

“Depending on how we’re going to play games this year, if we’re going to central cities or if we’re playing a condensed schedule… we’re going to need two good goalies and these guys are two good goalies,” Benning said. “Holtby has more experience (than Markstrom) and he won a Stanley Cup. He has an impressive CV. Ian will be working to bring him back to where he is one of the best goalies in the league. They are both # 1.

For now, it’s a slight step backwards for the Canucks. But Holtby, who is still only 31, could close that gap by working with Clark.

The same applies to the team: a small step back from the end of last season. But that gap could be more than closed by the natural improvement expected from Pettersson, Hughes, Boeser and Demko, as well as other young players like Gaudette, MacEwen and Juolevi.

Free agency has not clouded the bright future of the Canucks.

PROJECTED RANGE

Attackers

JT Miller – Elias Pettersson – Brock Boeser

Tanner Pearson – Bo Horvat – Jake Virtanen

Antoine Roussel – Adam Gaudette – Zack MacEwen

Tyler Motte – Jay Beagle – Brandon Sutter

Defenders

Quinn Hughes – Tyler Myers

Alex Edler – Nate Schmidt

Olli Juolevi – Jordie Benn

Goalkeepers

Braden Holtby

Thatcher Demko

Healthy stripes

Jayce Hawryluk, Loui Eriksson, Jalen Chatfield

LTIR

Micheal Ferland

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