Canucks are facing several long-term questions at forward

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

The Vancouver Canucks have one of the NHL’s best forward groups, but it could undergo several changes soon.

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning has gradually created one of the best forward groups in the NHL — a unit that ranked eighth in goals (228) prior to the 2019-20 season suspension.

But nothing lasts forever. Benning is going to have to make some difficult decisions over the next couple of years. Obviously, Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser are here to stay for the long haul — and likely Adam Gaudette as well.

Keeping 2020 trade deadline acquisition Tyler Toffoli around would be nice, but given Vancouver’s difficult salary cap situation, it’s hard to envision that happening. The pending UFA should be able to earn around $5 million on a new contact, which the cap-strapped Canucks cannot afford.

Toffoli isn’t the only notable Vancouver forward that could depart over the next couple of years. Jake Virtanen was enjoying a career year (18 goals and 36 points), but is that good enough for Benning and head coach Travis Green? Virtanen is an RFA this offseason, so we’ll get a good indicator there.

Veteran winger Tanner Pearson has been an excellent fit on Horvat’s line (21 goals and 45 points), but he’s a UFA next year. I’ve made the case for Vancouver to re-sign him this offseason (which you can read here). But Pearson might end up pricing himself out of Vancouver, tooo.

In an ideal world, the Canucks would manage to keep two of Pearson, Virtanen and Toffoli right? But where does that leave their top forward prospects, Vasili Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander long-term?

Both have the skill sets and tools to be top-six forwards. If Benning were to extend two of his veteran wingers, he’d have a difficult time finding the right spots for Podkolzin and Hoglander.

Simply put, Benning can’t afford to hoard on forwards here. He’s going to have to follow the models of the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins, the two best teams of the past decade: Let veteran players price themselves out, then bring in the younger and cheaper replacements.

This isn’t to say that Benning should part ways with all three of Toffoli, Virtanen and Pearson. Brandon Sutter‘s contract is up next offseason. Loui Eriksson comes off the books in two years, along with Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel.

But Pettersson and Quinn Hughes require new deals next offseason, and they’ll both take serious bites out of Vancouver’s remaining cap space. That’s where Benning and company need to think long-term.

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It’s easy to get caught up in excitement during the present times, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Benning looked to keep both Toffoli and Pearson on long-term deals. But it’s important for the Canucks to prioritize the future more than the present, because when the time comes, there has to be room for Hoglander and Podkolzin.