(photo courtesy of thehockeywriters.com)
Playing hockey in the NHL’s Western Conference is proven to be a physical task. The biggest (if not sole) difference between the East and the West is the physicality of the two conferences. The way teams build themselves in the modern day NHL not only depicts what kind of strategy they play, but what conference they go head-to-head with the most.
The Vancouver Canucks belong to, what is arguably, the most tightly contested division in the conference- and the league.
The Pacific Division is home to three California teams known to be prominent in brute physicality and power.
This division is also home to the young and pesky Arizona Coyotes, whom surprised everyone with their early effectiveness last year.
The Pacific is also the stomping grounds of the two Alberta teams: The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, both teams who are excitingly on their way up. This leaves the lone British Columbia team looking up at the rest of the crowd: The Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks have problems that I’m sure any self-respecting hockey fan is aware of. I mean, everyone- not just Canucks fans- watched in horror as general manager Jim Benning/Mike Gillis completely blew up the team (starting in the blue paint) that had appeared in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
For Vancouver, this offseason was about just as successful as the Oilers rebuild. The Canucks were only able to make one major signing, inking an already 31 year old Loui Eriksson to a 6 year deal. While Eriksson has proven to be still effective so far, one has to notice that the rest of the Canucks depth up front looks bleak.
UNABLE TO ADRESS
Losing Radim Vrbata this offseason hurt Vancouver enough, and an aging Sedin duo does not help the Canucks too much either. The average “goals for” for Western Conference playoff teams was 231.75 for the regular season- the Canucks finished the year with 191 goals. Replacing Vrbata with Eriksson may be an improvement, but it is certainly not one that will make up for a 40 goal differential.
After Sedin-Sedin-Eriksson, the Canucks are lacking real proven threats on offence. Headlining the rest of the nine forwards are names such as Baertschi, Virtanen, Etem, and Horvat. Unproven prospects who will be relied on heavily this upcoming year: ‘cause their defence is downright terrible.
This team lacks even one big name on the backside, and if Vancouver learned from the Justin Schultz fiasco in Edmonton, they would let 2016 draft pick Olli Juolevi season for at least one year.
A big proven name on the backside is something that would be deemed a necessity, as Canucks goaltending tandem Miller and Markstrom will not be enough to get the job done. Last year, Miller/Markstrom were responsible for 243 goals against last year, while the average for a western conference playoff team was 207.25 goals against.
Where the darkness is definitely prominent, there are indeed a few bright spots for Van City; For example, the Canucks have a very exciting goaltending prospect in Thatcher Demko coming up the ranks, and 18 year old Finnish defensmen Olli Juolevi is an exciting offensive minded d-man to watch closely.
Defencmen Chris Tanev and young Ben Hutton looked to be Vancouver’s lone hope on the backside last year. Of course, everyone is excited to see what forwards Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen can muster up this year, as they are in a position where they will be relied on to produce regularly.
Between a lacklustre team and a hotly contested division, many would not be surprised to see the Vancouver Canucks be in contention for the number one pick of the 2017 NHL draft. Lacking proven forwards up front, no projected number one and two guy on the blue line and major uncertainty in the crease- the engine is starting to fail in Vancouver.
Hey, at least they have the BC Lions… Right?