The Vancouver Canucks traded for J.T. Miller before signing three new blueliners in free agency. Is this team finally ready to push for the playoffs?
After missing out on the postseason by just nine points in 2018-19, the Vancouver Canucks went about addressing their biggest weaknesses in hopes of returning to the big party next year.
Needing to add another top six forward, general manager Jim Benning paid a steep price to acquire J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning. He then went out and signed blueliners Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg — who replace the departing Derrick Pouliot and Luke Schenn — and likely Ben Hutton as well.
Benning now has to re-sign RFA forward Brock Boeser, but he doesn’t have much cap room to work with. As such, it’s safe to say that Benning’s work is practically done in free agency and in the trade market.
Now comes the waiting game. Benning made these big moves in hopes of sending this team to the postseason in his contract year. So with a new top six forward and three new blueliners, are the Canucks ready to push hard for a playoff spot in 2019-20 now?
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On paper, the Canucks certainly look like a team that can qualify for a playoff spot. They only missed out on nine points last season despite injuries to key players, a lack of secondary scoring plus a leaky blue line.
You know that Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson will only get better. 80-plus points isn’t out of the question for next season. We all know that Brock Boeser has 30-goal potential. He’s a true first line winger and hasn’t even reached his prime yet.
Bo Horvat continues to progress more and more every year. It remains to be seen if Miller will play on the top line or alongside No. 53. If it’s the former, well Horvat can at least continue to blossom with Tanner Pearson and Josh Leivo.
Both of them displayed 20-goal potential after coming over in mid-season trades. Speaking of 20-goal candidates, Jake Virtanen (15 goals in 70 games), showed signs of breaking out.
Secondary scoring shouldn’t be a problem in Vancouver this time around. Miller is a three-time 20-goal man with four seasons of 43-plus points on his resume. Pearson, Leivo and Virtanen will all score double-digit goals.
Maybe you don’t like the Myers signing, but at the end of the day, something had to change on the blue line. He’ll eat up key minutes on the second-pairing, and his physical presence will help aplenty in the Pacific Division — especially on those punishing California road trips. Benn is the ideal stay-at-home defenceman that the Canucks desperately needed, and he should help clean up some of the mistakes in Vancouver’s end.
And of course, Quinn Hughes will be a huge weapon on the blue line, where he’ll take over as the new power play quarterback. If he’s assigned to play with Alexander Edler, the Canucks could form one of the top defensive pairings in the league.
Finally, Jacob Markstrom enjoyed a career season and should be able to build on top of it — especially with an improved group of blueliners in front of him. Thatcher Demko will only get better as he develops more experience. There is no reason to be worried about the crease here.
Add it all up, and you can’t find many weaknesses on this Vancouver team. There’s finally some reliable secondary scoring intact, the blue line has been rebuilt and the goaltending is more than stable.
The Western Conference is shaping up to be extremely difficult once again, however. Even if the Canucks were to get 90 to 95 points, it’s certainly possible that it wouldn’t be enough to qualify for the postseason.
But the Canucks certainly have the depth and talent to finally break through and reach the playoffs in 2020. They’ll most certainly top the 81 points from this past season, but will they improve enough to sneak in? We’ll just have to wait and see, but it’s hard not to be optimistic about their chances.