The Vancouver Canucks’ defense took a leap forward this season but still needs work. Here are three ways management can upgrade the blueline for next year.
In a good way, the Vancouver Canucks defense is not what it used to be. Long gone are the dreadful days of Erik Gudbranson. But in a bad way, the Canucks blueline still needs help. Let’s look into three ways the Canucks can improve their blueline this summer.
Improve the top-4
The 20-year-old Quinn Hughes was an absolute blessing on the blueline for the Canucks this season, but beyond him, the Vancouver depth chart isn’t exactly dripping with defensive talent.
Alex Edler is soon approaching the wrong side of 30, and Chris Tanev has a right-handed shot that’ll likely demand an unmatchable dollar figure for the Canucks in free agency. After that, it’s pretty slim pickings for talented defenders in BC. It’s clear the backend needs help and adding a skilled defender inside the team’s top-four could be the perfect way to do it.
With a few too many deadweight contracts the Canucks were already expected to be facing a bit of a “tight money” situation this offseason. Now, instead of the originally reported $4-8 million dollar raise, COVID-19 has the League’s maximum cap destined to drop and Benning will need to get even more creative this summer. Free Agency likely won’t be an affordable option and Benning will be forced to improve the backend via trade.
Fortunately for Vancouver, Benning and company have done a pretty remarkable job stocking the cupboard full of right and left-wing scoring power. The right side, in particular, is quite stacked with talent. Two elite scorers in Brock Boeser and Stanley Cup champion Tyler Toffoli, backed by reliable depth scorers in Jake Virtanen, Josh Leivo, and Zack MacEwen. Hopefully, there’s another team willing to strike a deal.
Give Hughes complete control
As the rookie season of Hughes went on throughout the year, one thing became more and more certain. The more time and space Travis Green allowed Hughes with the puck, the more successful the Canucks became.
He never slowed or stopped. He only gained momentum. With each passing game, his skills grew stronger, and his confidence with it. The man-advantage is where he really got going. The more open ice Hughes had at his disposal, the better. He racked up a team-leading 25 PP points and finished tied for fourth amongst NHL defenders in total points (53).
A single season in the NHL for the smooth-skating blueliner has already gotten him etched in history as the team’s best defender of the last 50 seasons. Imagine what he can do once he hits his prime years? At such a young age, he’s only scratching the surface of his full potential. Next season Just give him the puck and let him go to work. It’s what’s best for everybody.
Let the young kids play
Out with the old, in with the new. That’s the motto Benning will soon need to adopt moving forward. Other than Hughes, all main roster defenders returning next season are 30 years of age or older. Edler will be 34, Jordie Benn is already 32, and Tyler Myers is 30. That’s a high number for a team that wishes to be entering their cup window soon.
Edler saw a drop in minutes this year, and that trend will likely continue next season. It benefitted Edler, and it benefitted the team as a whole. He stepped aside for Hughes this season to take on a bigger role. It’s time he does the same thing next year.
Both Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty are chomping at the bit for a chance in the NHL and they should both see ice time when hockey returns. Juolevi, although he’s faced his fair share of serious injuries, should be able to crack the top-six and contribute solid defensively. Rafferty, on the other hand, put up an impressive 45 points this year in the AHL and if things go smoothly, he could prove to be a very affordable offensive addition.
Any way you slice it, the Canucks still need to make changes on defense this summer. It’s up to Benning and his management staff to do things the right way. Fingers crossed.