The Vancouver Canucks have had troubles since moving to the Pacific Division in 2013-14, but they’re starting to gain ground on some of their rivals.
The Northwest Division used to be the greatest gift the Vancouver Canucks could ask for. This team cruised to seven division titles over a nine-year span from 2004 to 2013, thanks in large part to a fairly weak division that consisted of the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild.
But the NHL realigned their divisions and conferences before the 2013-14 season. Vancouver has been forced to deal with the three California heavyweights — who have beaten and battered this Canucks team with ease.
The Arizona Coyotes have struggled more than the Canucks, but the Flames and Oilers are now among the top teams in the Western Conference after years of struggling.
Vancouver has made the playoffs just once in their four years as a member of the Pacific Division, and they’ve been among the NHL’s bottom-six times in the other three. But the Canucks may not be in the basement of the Pacific much longer, as things are slowly but surely looking up.
California teams are aging
The Anaheim Ducks have been the class of the Pacific Division, winning it in each of the past five seasons. That includes a pair of trips to the Western Conference Final, but how much longer can the Ducks dominate for?
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Edmonton and the Nashville Predators skated circles around Anaheim during this year’s playoffs, and a few bounces helped the Ducks barely overcome the Oilers in the second round. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are both 32, and Ryan Kesler turns 33 next month.
The Los Angeles Kings? You mean the two-time Cup champs who haven’t won a playoff series in three years?
Good luck as aging veterans like Dustin Brown (32), Jeff Carter (32), Anze Kopitar (30 in August), Jonathan Quick (31), and Marian Gaborik (35), are all under long-term deals. No cap space to make the changes. Good luck, new general manager Rob Blake.
As for the San Jose Sharks? Like the Kings, too many aging players like Joe Pavelski (33) and Joe Thornton (38). Few young players coming up in the system. The three California teams have too many fading stars and lack the cap space and young talent to ensure long-term competitiveness.
Coyotes are on the rise
Arizona is in a similar position as the Canucks. After a nice string of success that saw the Coyotes reach the playoffs in 2010, 2011 and 2012, they’ve been among the worst teams. But like the Canucks, there’s a ton of young talent on the roster and in their prospect pool.
Arizona also has Max Domi and Anthony Duclair — two power forwards with lots of upside. The Canucks and Coyotes are perhaps the worst teams in the Pacific right now, but things will be changing in the next couple of seasons.
Far behind Alberta
Unfortunately for Canucks fans, there’s no denying that the Oilers and Flames are heads-and-shoulders above Vancouver. If you were to ask me which teams have the longest championship windows, Calgary and Edmonton would easily round out my top five.
The Canucks don’t have a Connor McDavid or a Leon Draisaitl. They don’t have a Sean Monahan or Johnny Gaudreau. Furthermore, only the Nashville Predators can say they have a better top-four on defence than Calgary — who own Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano, Travis Hamonic and T.J. Brodie.
Calgary officially began their rebuild in 2013. Edmonton’s rebuild goes way back to 2010. Vancouver’s just started a couple of months ago, technically speaking.
This isn’t a knock against the Canucks. The Flames and Oilers just happened to draft some franchise-changing stars. They made good trades and are built to win Stanley Cups in 2018, 2019, 2023 and perhaps 2028.
The Canucks have been stuck in the Pacific Division basement over the last three seasons, but that is bound to change before long.
Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose can only envy the young talent Vancouver has assembled as they’ve watched the three California teams dominate the NHL. The Canucks have their successors to the Sedins. Anaheim doesn’t for Perry or Getzlaf. L.A. doesn’t for Kopitar, Carter or Gaborik. San Jose doesn’t for Thornton or Pavelski.
The Coyotes, like the Canucks, will soon be out of the basement and in perennial playoff contention. But when it comes to Calgary and Edmonton, Vancouver will be looking up at them in the standings for a few years now.
But don’t get stressed, Canucks fans. With the way this team is headed, the Vancouver Canucks be a long-term threat in the Pacific beginning by 2020, while the California teams will just be in the early stages of their rebuilds.