Vancouver Canucks: 3 players who did not meet expectations in 2017-18

VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 5: Ben Hutton
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 5: Ben Hutton /
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There were many disappointments during the 2017-18 season, but these three stood out in a bad way.

This year was supposed to be different. Jim Benning was hoping this team would surpass what he did in his first year when they made the playoffs on the backs of Henrik and Daniel Sedin. I mean, the Vancouver Canucks General Manager said this year’s team was the best in the last four years.

Forgive me if I am wrong, but finishing 26th place in the league with 73 points seems a lot worse than the 101-point finish in their first year. Whoops.

In yet another injury-riddled season, we can still pick out those that fell well short of expectations. Surprisingly, only one free agent from the last offseason is on this list. However, I feel we can’t ignore how poor these other players performed.

You may wonder why Anders Nilsson is not here. If you check out his stats page on Hockey Reference, his numbers have been poor except for the outlier season in Buffalo (who coincidentally finished 26th overall that year as well). To me he was an overpaid backup at the time of his signing, so it’s hard to disappoint with low expectations.

I can understand if you were disappointed after his short run of starts early in the season, but the sample size was small. It isn’t fair to him or Jacob Markstrom to assume that after nine games he would suddenly become the starter. As you saw, it didn’t work out.

This is why I will focus on a trio of players with higher expectations. The fall from grace is far more noticeable and reflective of this season. Without further ado, let’s take a look at these players.

Markus Granlund

Can you believe Markus Granlund has been here for two seasons and change? Me neither. Last year was a very positive season for Granlund. He scored 19 goals in 69 games while playing with an injured wrist. Over an 82-game pace, that’s 22 goals.

Granlund repaired the wrist in the offseason and looked poised for a breakout year. Reality set in for the 25-year-old and he had one of his worst seasons since his days with the Calgary Flames.  He finished the year with 12 points. What happened?

Last year, Granlund played more offensive minutes, picking up 32 points (12 on the power play). This season, he was buried in the defensive zone and moved off the man advantage.

However, it’s not just the zone starts. Granlund took 123 shots last season. He only had 93 in 2016-17. If we are looking at 5v5 situations, he took 66 shots, one fewer than Jayson Megna‘s total last year.

In 2016-17, he benefitted from the highest shooting percentage of his career (15.1). This season had his lowest success rate ever at 8.6%. Even if he had a normal shooting percentage, Granlund would only have 11 goals instead of eight.

It’s not bad luck holding him back. The Canucks can’t generate shots when Granlund is on the ice because he is trapped in his own end. You can blame deployment and his linemates, but Granlund must find a way to have a net positive effect on shot attempts and scoring chances to prove he is not a hindrance on defence.

At the end of the day, Granlund is 25. He is approaching the stage where what you see is what you get. Sadly, it seems that the player he will be is an okay fourth line player. This past season will certainly hurt Granlund in contract negotiations.

Sam Gagner

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Well, you all saw this one coming. Sam Gagner was expected to do a lot. He got a three-year, $9.45 million deal last summer and was supposed to be a supporting piece moving forward. Gagner had 50 points during his lone season with Columbus and was going to revitalize the Canucks power play.

Instead, the Canucks took too long to realize how to use Gagner, moving him from the front of the net to the point. Gagner has a weak shot and the Canucks thought it would be good to put him in the one-timer spot. Brilliant.

The Canucks forward ended the season with 31 points in 74 games, but there were painful stretches this year. He did not score his first goal until his 11th game of the season. After January 6th, Gagner went the next 25 games without scoring a goal.

A forward with $3 million cap hit should not be playing like that. He was making league minimum money in Columbus. Vancouver is not getting their money’s worth from Gagner. Jim Benning was duped, again.

Gagner gets more offensive zone starts compared to other forwards and plays more than he did last year. He was a positive possession player for three years before arriving in Vancouver. This is not acceptable and at this point, Gagner could be blocking a roster spot for another player due to his positional utility and contract. He could bounce back, but I don’t think it will make much of a difference next year.

Ben Hutton

The Vancouver Canucks have a terrible problem on defence. Their blue line is one of the worst in the NHL and as it stands, the team is bringing everyone back next year. One distressing player in particular is appearing to get worse with each season.

Surprisingly, I’m not talking about Erik Gudbranson. Honestly, he can’t get much worse than he already is. We would be hitting bedrock by that point. However, this is about the defenceman he ruined, Ben Hutton.

Hutton’s time with the Vancouver Canucks has a parallel to Cinderella. His rookie season was fantastic. 25 points in a the first of three bad seasons, showing offensive upside, a rarity for Canucks defencemen.

The young defender earned a two year, $5.6 million deal, with Jim Benning banking on his potential. This quote from the GM made me laugh at the time and still to this day.

"“If he knocks it out of the park and he’s a 50- or 60-point guy, I don’t mind paying him.”"

I guess nobody told Benning that only nine defencemen in the NHL scored 50 or more points in 2016-17. Those are staggering expectations after a rookie season. For those of us on planet Earth, we did hope Hutton would build on that year.

Theoretically, Erik Gudbranson would support Hutton defensively, allowing him to thrive in the opposite end. The clock struck midnight and everything fell apart. Gudbranson was the worst possible partner, acting more like an anchor than life preserver. Hutton’s totals dipped down to 19 points in his second season.

Travis Green’s doghouse

Everything that could have gone wrong did this year. Hutton seemed okay near the start of the season, playing over 20 minutes a night and getting spots on the power play. He just could not produce and as time wore on, we learned his strength and conditioning were an issue.

Moreover, Hutton could not stay within Travis Green‘s good graces, being healthy scratched several times. Despite being the same age as Derrick Pouliot, Hutton did not benefit form the disproportionate offensive zone starts and heavy usage on the power play.

These are not excuses though. Hutton was objectively terrible this season and he knows it. An offensive defenceman can’t produce six points in 61 games. It is never a good look when a defenceman making $2.8 million a season fails to make the worst defence in the NHL.

Next: Vancouver Canucks prospects that need more time before the NHL

We can quibble about how fair Green is being, but Hutton has to prove that he can be effective in spite of his coach. It’s an uphill battle for Ben Hutton and a change of scenery may be the only way for him to find success. I do hope Hutton comes to camp ready. However, he could be gone by then.