What’s next for the Vancouver Canucks’ struggling bottom six?

Throughout the 2021 Vancouver Canucks campaign, storylines have emerged about what has gone well for the team, but largely about what has gone wrong. One of the leading issues that have faced the team all year long is the production, or lack thereof from the team’s bottom-six.

Obviously, the lack of production from Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette have been problematic, but considering the amount of money that the Canucks have invested in Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Loui Eriksson and Brandon Sutter, their eight goals and 16 points aren’t even close to satisfactory. Especially when you consider that three of those goals came from one Sutter game against Ottawa.

The lack of Tyler Motte and the struggles from Virtanen and Gaudette have been troubling, but it has exposed the glaring weakness within the Canucks third and fourth lines. And for a variety of reasons, the Canucks’ bottom-six could start to look differently, hopefully in the near future. Virtanen’s future with his hometown team is seemingly nearing its end, and Sutter’s contract expires at the end of the year with a return to Vancouver unlikely.

If Virtanen and Sutter are indeed gone, that frees up two spots right away. And all three of Beagle, Roussel and Eriksson are off the books after next season, with the Canucks already showing the willingness to keep Eriksson off the active roster.

Last Thursday’s game against Toronto gave us the first glimpse of Marc Michaelis, and while he struggled in the first period and made a mistake on the Maple Leafs’ lone goal, he’s a player worth giving an extended look at this point in the year. Zack MacEwen has shown he is worth keeping around as well, and the hope for the Canucks is that Gaudette will be able to break out of the slump he’s been mired in.

But outside of the main roster, there are options as well. Jonah Gadjovich is a physical winger off to a scorching hot start in the AHL with seven goals in eight games, and Kole Lind probably deserves a chance to taste the NHL as well with his two-way game constantly improving and the ability he has shown to make the move to centre. And then there’s Lukas Jasek, who has probably earned at least a few games in the league.

The key about all the mentioned options is that they’re inexpensive. Instead of investing upwards of 15 million in unproductive, ageing players, they can look to build the bottom six with cheap, in-house options. In all likelihood, the likes of Lind, Michaelis, Gadjovich and Jasek will outproduce the current group anyway.

Now, this may in turn affect the Canucks penalty killing, but at some point, you can’t include three or four guys in your lineup that are simply there to kill penalties. Part of what made the Canucks a playoff team last year was the ability to get offence from guys like Virtanen and Gaudette. They just haven’t gotten that level of production from either of those players, and none of the other forwards have been able to make it up.

There are certainly other things the Canucks need to address, but injecting new, fresh life into the third and fourth lines could greatly help the teams’ ability to get a spark and a scoring punch from the bottom of their lineup going forward.