It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the Vancouver Canucks started falling off the face of the NHL. Certainly it’s been in the last week or so, but the exact moment?
Was it against Carolina, when Bo Horvat went into the boards awkwardly?
Or how about when Sven Baertschi took an errant puck to the face and broke his jaw?
As if all hope wasn’t lost, the team’s last two games—against the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Predators—in which the Canucks scored two goals and conceded 12, served as official notice of the way the season is now going.
Any hope of making the playoffs is likely over. And while that’s crummy news in the short term, as the team was fun to watch and one of the league’s better stories, it may end up being a good thing.
Getting another top-10 pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft would be a positive for the Canucks. And it would be easier to swallow for the fan base. Vancouverites have now seen what this team can do when it’s healthy.
Brock Boeser is already a star in his rookie season (and indeed, is probably the only reason to watch games with Horvat and Baertschi sidelined. The Sedins are still a joy of course, but they can’t play first line minutes or against top competition regularly anymore), and Loui Eriksson seems like a completely different player.
But with Horvat and Baertschi healthy, the Canucks have two fun lines to watch, and the results weren’t too bad either. The blueline is still a bit of a work in progress (and if Chris Tanev’s injury suffered against Nashville is serious, it’s definitely a lost season), and the goaltending seems hot and cold, but there’s no doubting the potential of this team.
That potential would not be hurt by a high draft pick. Many were calling for the Canucks to tank the year at the beginning of the season, but now that we’ve seen what the team can do at full strength, fans shouldn’t have any problem with the Canucks positioning themselves for a solid pick.
What does that mean from a management perspective?
It probably means seeing what your unrestricted free agents can fetch at the trade deadline, or earlier. Erik Gudbranson should certainly be shopped the second he’s back and healthy in the Canucks lineup. He’s reportedly looking for $4.5 million or more on a long-term deal and that’s the sort of mistake the team cannot afford to make. Vancouver would be wise to deal him for a second-round pick and cut all losses (Jared McCann and a second rounder) associated with the defenceman.
Thomas Vanek should also be dealt at some point. The veteran has done his job this year, but he’s on a one-year contract and might be able to help a contending team that needs some scoring depth.
The Sedins obviously won’t be dealt and they shouldn’t be, but the team should be trying to grease the pathway to two one-year deals worth about $2 million per.
When Horvat and Baertschi come back, the team will likely be back to playing exciting hockey, and that will be a big plus. But it’s likely that Vancouver’s playoff dreams will be over and done at that point. It’s time to lean into that, and be excited for the future.