Vancouver Canucks Barely Better than Last Year

Jan 11, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin (22) checks Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 11, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin (22) checks Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports /

The Vancouver Canucks made some big moves this offseason. But are they any better than they were last season?

For Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning there is only one goal: the playoffs. He wanted to reach them in 2016 and he will do everything in his power to reach them in 2017. To do so, he made quite a few moves throughout the offseason, most notably bringing in defenseman Erik Gudbranson and forward Loui Eriksson. Unfortunately, that does not make the Canucks an immediate playoff team.

If we compare this season’s roster with last year’s, there aren’t many new faces. Gudbranson comes in for Dan Hamhuis, Eriksson replaces Radim Vrbata, Philip Larsen mans the right side of the blue line for Yannick Weber, and Anton Rodin joins for Jared McCann.

Weber was sent to the AHL Utica Comets for part of last season while McCann was likely to start the upcoming season there. Likewise, neither Larsen nor Rodin are guaranteed to make the roster this year.

Eriksson vs. Vrbata

So let’s take a look at Eriksson and Gudbranson, and their 2015-16 counterparts.

Looking at the HERO Chart above, you might be surprised to see Eriksson and Vrbata being pretty much equal players. The reason for that is that I compared Eriksson’s 2015-16 season with Vrbata’s 2014-15 campaign. If we want to compare last season’s roster with this year’s, we might as well look at the beginning of each.

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What jumped right into my eye is that Eriksson had 30 goals and 63 points this past season while Vrbata finished 2014-15 with 31 goals and an equal 63 points. Does this mean Eriksson will finish 2016-17 with Vrbata’s 27 points of 2015-16? Of course not. But a decline is possible for Eriksson, who will turn 31 this year.

Luckily, Eriksson’s “following season probabilities” still make him a likely first-line player for the upcoming year. After watching both Eriksson and Vrbata play last season, it is also hard to imagine that Eriksson’s production and defensive play could suddenly drop off like Vrbata’s did — especially if/when he plays with the Sedin twins.

Gudbranson vs. Hamhuis

Now let’s take a look at Gudbranson and Hamhuis.

This time around, I used the 2015-16 seasons for both players for one particular reason: despite the age difference of nine years, Hamhuis was the better player in just about every category. Gudbranson beat Hamhuis in goals per 60 but that certainly doesn’t mean you can expect Gudbranson to produce much offense.

I never understood why fans kept bashing Hamhuis all season long. Analytics prove what was obvious on the ice: Dan Hamhuis is still a top-four defenseman. Gudbranson will hopefully get there one day, but his recent performance does not exactly justify the ice time he got in Florida.

So, the Canucks got younger and better on the right wing and younger but possibly worse on defense. If Larsen and/or Troy Stecher can make up for that, it’s all good. But the team really didn’t improve much so far this offseason.

Making the Playoffs

Now, that certainly does not mean Vancouver can’t reach the big goal. I was always one who said the Canucks would have been in playoff contention if it hadn’t been for all the injuries. After all, Vancouver was second in the Pacific Division when Henrik Sedin went down, and it all went downhill from there.

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However, the Canucks definitely have playoff potential with a healthy roster.

With Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter, Bo Horvat and Markus Granlund, they have an extremely strong center core. Eriksson, Daniel Sedin, Sven Baertschi and hopefully Jannik Hansen can provide scoring from the wings. With a little bit of luck, Rodin becomes a regular as well.

On defense, Chris Tanev and Alex Edler still make a solid top pairing, even though neither is a true No. 1 player. Then there is Ben Hutton, who had an outstanding rookie year. Now that he has Gudbranson as his partner, he should be able to focus more on the offensive part of his game. Plus, Nikita Tryamkin will play his first full season in North America after a promising 13-game stint in 2016. Last but not least, Luca Sbisa can hopefully succeed in a bottom-pairing role (unless he gets traded before the season starts).

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If everything works out the way it is supposed to, Sbisa, Tryamkin, Larsen, Andrey Pedan, Alex Biega and Troy Stecher will provide some solid depth.

But, as we know, nothing ever goes as planned.

The Vancouver Canucks finally got a true top-line scorer to play with the Sedins and their defense looks much better than it did at the beginning of last season. But overall, nothing really changed. The core remains the same, and what the Canucks really need to be playoff contenders is something money can’t buy: a healthy roster.