Vancouver Canucks Must Learn from past Season

Oct 3, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Tuomo Ruutu (7) collides with Arizona Coyotes goaltender Louis Domingue (35) during a preseason hockey game at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Tuomo Ruutu (7) collides with Arizona Coyotes goaltender Louis Domingue (35) during a preseason hockey game at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports /

In 2015-16, the Vancouver Canucks struggled mightily with injuries, because they didn’t have sufficient roster depth. Could that happen again?

For the Vancouver Canucks, there was only one goal for the 2015-16 season: making the playoffs. They took their roster that made the 2016 playoffs, got rid of a few players, swapped Nick Bonino for Brandon Sutter, and added a couple of guys like Brandon Prust and Matt Bartkowski. It was all planned out.

Unfortunately, things don’t always work out the way they were planned.

The 2015-16 Season

It all started with rookies Ben Hutton, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann surprisingly making the team out of training camp. Because of that, the Canucks were forced to make some tough decision, including that to put defenseman Frank Corrado on waivers. Corrado was claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canucks lost an asset for nothing.

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The biggest storyline of the season, however, was Vancouver’s injury luck. At the end of the year, Vancouver’s official injury report listed 51 injuries. That included minor things like Derek Dorsett missing one game with the flu, but also major injuries that had a lasting impact on the season — like when Dan Hamhuis missed 21 games with a facial fracture that, for better illustration, should probably be called a totally shattered face.

Vancouver never had the depth required to take the team to the playoffs even with 51 injuries along the way. Fans knew it, management knew it. Yet, the Canucks did nothing on trade deadline day, holding on to pending restricted free agents Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata. Again, they lost assets for nothing.

The Offseason

In the summer of 2016, the Canucks made a major trade that sent McCann, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Erik Gudbranson and a fifth-round pick (140th, D Cole Candella). No matter how good Gudbranson ends up being for Vancouver, the Canucks again gave up a high draft pick to achieve immediate success.

On the bright side, the Canucks also added several depth players that should help if (or rather when) injuries happen. After signing prospect Nikita Tryamkin late last season, the Canucks added free agent Troy Stecher and signed Andrey Pedan to an extension. On offense, Vancouver added several more free agents, including Michael Chaput, Jayson Megna and Borna Rendulic.

But here comes the “problem”: the Canucks have players performing well that weren’t on their radar going into the offseason.

Training Camp

In training camp, the Canucks were surprised by a few performances — both positive and negative.

Stecher has been great on the blue line and he has probably done enough to earn a roster spot already. On offense, Joseph LaBate has been a pleasant surprise, Anton Rodin is the team’s top scorer so far, and professional tryout players Tuomo Ruutu and Jack Skille have proven to be great bottom-line options as well.

Meanwhile, Luca Sbisa had a time to forget as his Team Europe made it to the World Cup of Hockey finals with him watching from the press box, after having two terrible showings in pre-tournament action. Plus, Tryamkin looks like he needs some more time to develop. On offense, winger Emerson Etem still carries a giant question mark around with him, and Markus Granlund isn’t the center the Canucks wanted to get when they acquired him.

Long story short, waiver-exempt players and tryout forwards are pushing for spots while the Canucks’ own guys are having rather mediocre showings. That obviously puts the Canucks in a difficult situation.

Which is why Jim Benning and Co. need to look back at last season and learn from it.

The Lesson

On the Vancouver Canucks blue line, there are six locks, either because of their performance or contract situation: Hutton, Gudbranson, Tryamkin, Sbisa, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev. That leaves two spots for Philip Larsen, Alex Biega, Pedan and Stecher. Here, the Canucks could make a decision based on training camp performance, or asset management.

Last season, the Canucks pushed Hutton into the opening-night lineup. A move that turned out nicely for the club, but it came at the cost of losing Corrado, a 22-year-old defenseman, on waivers. This time around, the same could happen because of Stecher.

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Larsen can likely be labelled a lock, too. If the Canucks decide to to keep Stecher up as well, they would have to waive both Biega and Pedan. Worst case scenario, they lose both of them for nothing.

If the Canucks learned from last season, they will waive Biega — who should have a higher chance of clearing than Pedan — and send Stecher to the Utica Comets. This would be a low-risk move that likely leaves the Canucks with 10 potential NHL defensemen.

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The forward situation is similar: the Sedins, Loui Eriksson, Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Anton Rodin, Sutter, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Derek Dorsett should be locks to at least be on the roster. That leaves three spots for LaBate, Etem, Virtanen, Granlund, Brendan Gaunce, Skille and Ruutu.

Again, there is an easy solution to the problem: keep Granlund, Etem and Virtanen or Gaunce in Vancouver, send LaBate back to Utica, and let Skille and Ruutu walk. That way, the Canucks don’t lose any of their assets and LaBate and Virtanen or Gaunce are in Utica as the first call-up candidates.

Alternatively, the Canucks could, for example, keep LaBate and Gaunce, and sign Skille to a one-year deal. That way, they would send Virtanen to Utica, let Ruutu walk, and have to waive both Etem and Granlund. Chances are, they would lose at least one of them.

That might currently be the way to go if Vancouver wants to ice the best possible lineup, but it just wouldn’t be smart. The Canucks are attempting a rebuild on the fly, so losing more assets is the worst thing they could do.

Next: Is Waiving Etem Worth the Risk?

Best-case scenario: the Canucks lose no one and have solid roster depth. Worst-case scenario: the Canucks lose three players — say, Pedan, Etem and Granlund.

Your call, Mr. Benning. Did you learn from last season?