Every offseason for the past four or five years, we ask ourselves the same question, are the Vancouver Canucks a playoff team?
Every offseason, the Canucks make moves. Some polarize the fanbase, of course. This season, something feels different. The Canucks decided to spend the cap space they had on what they needed and they spent it well.
They signed defenceman Carson Soucy, (Three years, 3.25 million AAV) defenceman Ian Cole (one year, three million dollars) and centre Teddy Blueger (one year, 1.9 million dollars.) Last Friday, Vancouver signed centre Pius Suter to a two-year deal worth 1.6 million dollars. It was also the first Canucks transaction in August since 2015 which is a cool fun fact.
These are all good deals and they are low-risk, high-reward. The Canucks are better. But are they good enough to get into the playoffs?
Now I know what you are all thinking: “We’ve had this conversation before.” Yes, we had this conversation last year, the year before that and the year before that and the- you get the point.
So let’s go over the Canucks depth chart and look at the other teams the Canucks could be competing with for the playoffs.
Andrei Kuzmenko- Elias Pettersson- Ilya Mikheyev
Conor Garland-JT Miller-Brock Boeser
Anthony Beauvilier-Pius Suter-Vasily Podkolzin
Dakota Joshua-Teddy Blueger-Nils Höglander
Extras: Phil Di Giuseppe, Jack Studnicka, Nils Åman
Quinn Hughes-Ian Cole
Carson Soucy-Filip Hronek
Christian Wolanin-Tyler Myers
Extras: Guilliame Breisbois, Akito Hirose,
So this is my projected lineup and obviously, the Canucks could make another move before opening night. For example, Tyler Myers could be traded after his five million dollar signing bonus is paid on September 1.
You could also argue all you want about how wrong my lineup is and that’s fine.
Can the Canucks make the playoffs? What needs to happen for them to make it?
The playoffs are possible for the Canucks. However, it once again seems like they are a wild card team at best. On paper, it looks like the Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings will finish top three in the Pacific Division. The Seattle Kraken and Calgary Flames will challenge the Canucks for a wild card spot.
The Kraken look like they could take a step back after losing guys like Soucy, Ryan Donato and Morgan Geekie. However, they look like a team that could still surprise people.
The Flames were a major disappointment last season. The only significant offseason move they made was trading Tyler Toffoli for Yegor Sharangovich. Jonathan Huberdeau had a disappointing first year in Calgary and looks poised to bounce back. The Flames are a team that wants to go on a Stanley Cup run but their core is getting older and look like a mushy middle team.
Back to the Canucks. Mushy middle is also a good way to describe them as well. Not good enough to tank for the number one pick and not good enough for a Stanley Cup. As the kids say these days, they are “mid”
The biggest thing that needs to happen is Thatcher Demko needs to stay healthy. That comes with plenty of rest. In 2021-22, he started 64 games and last season he started 32. Last season, Martin and Colin Delia didn’t get in done as backups when Demko was injured. Can Martin bounce back or is Arturs Silovs ready for the backup job? Demko was injured late in the 2021-22 season and didn’t look right at the beginning of 2022-23. This time around, the Canucks are hoping a healthy Demko will be a big key to success.
The new acquisitions need to live up to expectations. Suter is probably their best one. He ticks off the boxes. Good defensively, can provide some offence and has good penalty-killing underlying numbers. According to Daniel Wagner of Vancouver Is Awesome, Suter has a career faceoff percentage of 46.7%. It will be tough for him to start shifts against elite competition.
Soucy and Cole were brought in for defensive upgrades. There is less pressure on Cole as he is only on a one-year deal but there is more on Soucy. He was a decent shutdown defenceman in Seattle and needs to replicate that in Vancouver, especially since he is under contract for three years
Speaking of shutdown, the penalty kill obviously needs to be better. The Canucks had the worst PK in the NHL last season (80.4%) and it was the ninth-worst PK percentage in NHL history. Soucy, Bluegar, Cole and Suter were brought in to fix the PK. Surely it can’t be any worse than last season, right? It just can’t.
There is no doubt Pettersson and Hughes will improve. But what about JT Miller? His play improved under Rick Tocchet last season. Will we see him put up more points and turn down the turnovers? Can Brock Boeser stay healthy and score 20 to 30 goals?
The other thing is the Canucks cannot have a start like they did the past two seasons. They need those meaningful games in March (A running joke on Canucks Twitter, I know) It’s been two long without playoff hockey in Vancouver, eight years. In eight years, a high school student can become a doctor.
Do I think the Canucks can make the playoffs? I think they will but will get bounced out of the first round early by the Oilers.