Edmonton - May 30, 2014 - The Vancouver Canucks are in an interesting position for the 2014-15 NHL season. Having missed the Playoffs in 2013-14 and as result firing both GM Mike Gillis and Head Coach John Tortorella, the Canucks are left searching for answers as they head into the off season.
With the hiring of Trevor Linden as Team President, and Jim Benning as GM, the Canucks are gearing up for an eventful summer. They have some pressing needs that must be addressed sooner rather than later. Finding a new Head Coach is at the top of the list and with Barry Trotz off the market (he signed with the Washington Capitals earlier this week) the Canucks may have missed a potentially great replacement for Tortorella. Fear not though as the list of potential coach’s is quite large.
The question though is whether Linden and Benning will choose experience or potential. There are a variety of coach’s bubbling under the radar that could fill the role of Rookie head coach for Vancouver, but there is a danger in this route. For every Jon Cooper success story, there is a Dallas Eakins/Adam Oates failure story. The direction of the team may be the influencing factor in the decision. Are the Canucks going to go into a rebuild mode and ship out some aging stars? Or do they believe with a few tweaks they can get right back into the form that saw them as perennial contenders since 2008.
The options are vast, and whichever direction is chosen for the head coach vacancy may tip the hand of the Canucks direction as an organization.
The Canucks had an interesting year in 2013/2014. It all began when they traded away Cory Schneider at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft to the New Jersey Devils, effectively ending the Luongo/Schneider debate that had been ravaging the team for over a year. However this turned out to be a mistake as the season wore on. Head Coach John Tortorella seemed to lose faith in Luongo as the number one goaltender in Vancouver, going so far as to start rookie goaltender Eddie Lack in the Heritage Classic, a move that shocked not only Luongo but the NHL as a whole.
This drama was finally sealed when Mike Gillis traded Luongo to the Florida Panthers for goaltender Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias. Some speculate that the handling of the goaltending situation was the breaking point for GM Mike Gillis and the eventual result of his firing.
If Vancouver chooses not to sign/trade for a more experienced number one goaltender they will be entering the 2014-15 NHL season with a very unproven goaltending duo. Eddie Lack has the potential to be a number one starter, but it is hard to imagine he is ready for that spot just now. Signing an experienced hand such as Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller could give the Canucks a nice stop-gap mentor for the young netminder.
Ryan Kesler is another name which hit the trade rumors in 2013-14. It was reported that he had asked for a trade out of Vancouver, but the Canucks were unable to fill that wish at the Trade Deadline. Kesler is a very good two way centerman in the NHL, and despite some injuries over the past couple seasons, remains a great top 6 guy. If the rumors are true and Kesler is looking to get out of Vancouver, GM Benning will have his first true test. He cannot undersell Kesler and it will be interesting to see if they make a move for an immediate replacement, or if they use Kesler to help build for the future of the organization. If Kesler is available, the upcoming NHL Entry Draft could see a change in scenery for him.
The Canucks have a pretty decent forward corps heading into next season. You can expect both Daniel and Henrik Sedin to have much better seasons then they did in 2013-14. The twins had very poor offensive seasons and both suffered injuries throughout. They should bounce back and with them you could see Alex Burrows have a bounce back season as well. Burrows struggled mightily this season, but the Sedins and Burrows have had chemistry in the past. If the Sedins return to form, Burrows should be able to skate alongside them effectively once again.
The defence remains the strongest area for Vancouver. With a solid top four of Edler, Bieksa, Garrison and Hamhuis, the Canucks need to round out the depth. These type of depth defenceman are readily available in the off season, and the Canucks should have no problem finding guys to fill these roles in the lineup.
Up and Comers
The Prospect depth in Vancouver is highlighted by Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Nicklas Jensen, and Brendan Gaunce. These players have had their ups and downs since being drafted, but they seem to be trending in the right direction. Jensen played 17 games with the Canucks last season, and the speed in his game was very evident and translated well to the NHL.
All of these players need to increase their strength and continue to learn the finer details of playing in the NHL. Some seasoning in the AHL will be required, but there is hope for these players that they will eventually make an impact in the NHL.
The Canucks will also be receiving a very good prospect from this year’s NHL Entry Draft where they will be picking 6th overall. Some names that have been linked to that spot include Michael Dal Colle, Nick Ritchie, William Nylander, and Nikolaj Ehlers. These players all bring different aspects to the game, and the Canucks will be lucky to get any of them though if Michael Dal Colle is there when they pick, it is hard to imagine them passing on him. He is 6’2” and 171 lbs, and scored 95 points this season in the OHL. He has been praised for his hands and high level of compete, and with a big body he will be able to grow into his frame as he matures physically which will only add to the strength of his game.
It is an interesting time in Vancouver as they teeter on the edge of rebuilding from the ground up, or simply tweaking the lineup with hopes that 2013-14 was just flash in the pan poor season. The direction of this team will become evident as they move forward with the signing of a Head Coach, and the choices made at the draft and with players such as Ryan Kesler.
If they believe that a rebuild is unnecessary they will likely sign an experienced Head Coach, bring in an experienced goaltender, and sign some depth players that will fill holes in the lineup that were evident in 2013-14.