Despite losses in free agency, Canucks could be better in 2021

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) /

The Vancouver Canucks lost several key players in free agency, but there are reasons to believe they’ll be better in 2020-21.

For the most part, 2020 free agency wasn’t kind to the Vancouver Canucks.

General manager Jim Benning saw team MVP and star goalie Jacob Markstrom and veteran top-four defenceman Chris Tanev sign with the Calgary Flames.

Fan favourite Troy Stecher signed a bargain two-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings, and trade deadline acquisition and reliable top-six forward Tyler Toffoli signed a four-year, $17 million pact the Montreal Canadiens.

With limited cap space, Benning was only to replace two of those departures. He signed former Vezina Trophy winner and Washington Capitals All-Star goalie Braden Holtby to a two-year deal worth $8.6 million.

Three days later, the Canucks acquired stud top-four defenceman Nate Schmidt in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, who had to clear cap room for the blockbuster Alex Pietrangelo signing.

It’s easy to automatically assume that the Canucks will regress in 2020-21, considering they’ve seen more subtractions than additions. But there are several reasons to believe this team will be even better in 2020-21.

Thatcher Demko showed signs of future stardom in the second round series against Vegas. He should be ready to take over the starting reigns, and if worse comes to worst, he’ll have a Stanley Cup winner and proven veteran to help out.

Schmidt is an upgrade over Tanev at this stage. The former brings more speed, offence and is practically just as sound defensively. Yes, the blue line was a weak link last season, but I don’t think the Canucks will experience much, if any, regression there in 2020-21.

Schmidt, Quinn Hughes, Tyler Myers and Alexander Edler round out a strong and capable top-four. If they play in an all-Canadian division next season, I’d argue that the Canucks have the best defensive group compared to the other Canadian teams.

I also don’t see a reason to worry about the offence. Losing Toffoli hurts, but Jake Virtanen is more than capable of producing career highs in an expanded top-six role. And let’s not forget that Toffoli was only here for 10 regular season games. Vancouver wasn’t exactly struggling in the scoring department before his arrival.

If Brock Boeser stays healthy, who’s to say he can’t score at a 30-goal pace (next season may be shortened to 48-65 games). And Elias Pettersson will only continue to get better. I can see him being a point per game player in 2020-21.

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Yes, Vancouver lost four key players, and cap space limited them to making just two impactful additions. But if the young stars can build off strong showings in 2019-20, there’s a good chance the Canucks will actually be better next season.