A Penguins fan enters Mellon Arena and receives a T-shirt. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
A selection of the best images from May 9..
A Penguins fan enters Mellon Arena and receives a T-shirt. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
A selection of the best images from May 9..
Bill Foley and George McPhee
Claude Julien's off the board as a free agent coach, but there are several other out-of-work bench bosses vying for the job with the Golden Knights. But who should Vegas choose?
The Vegas Golden Knights are coming together quickly, and are just a couple weeks (and an important payment to the NHL) away from even being able to make trades. They have a lot of front office pieces in place except for one notable addition still to be made -- the coach. And given the number of high-profile coaches who have recently become unemployed, the Knight appear to have a decent pool of candidates to draw from.
So here are our picks for who should be the first coach in team history. Turns out only two stand out above the rest.
Golden Knights GM George McPhee said he’s open to looking at all options for Vegas’ first coach, but the sense is he’s leaning towards a more experienced, veteran coach who can come in and instantly establish himself in the dressing room. Hard to think of a coach who brings with him more clout than Hitchcock, who’s two wins away from becoming the third winningest in league history. Were it not for some shaky goaltending, he’d likely be in position to coach for the Stanley Cup this season, but Hitchcock’s bad luck could be the Golden Knights’ good fortune.
Strategically, there’s not a better coach available than Hitchcock, and he has the ability to take a ragtag group assembled through the expansion draft and put them into a place to compete for a playoff spot in their first season. It’s not an easy task, but one made that much easier by nabbing the best coach available on the market. (Jared Clinton)
I know Habs fans will probably groan at this answer, but Therrien would give the Golden Knights instant credibility and years of NHL coaching experience. Look at some of the most successful expansion teams of the past and you'll find an old hand behind the bench: Minnesota and Jacques Lemaire, Florida and Roger Nielsen, St. Louis and Scotty Bowman (who took over midway through the first season from the also-experienced Lynn Patrick), to name a few.
It's not fun and yes, it's kinda boring, but Therrien has been to a Stanley Cup final and gone on numerous playoff runs. His act may have worn thin in Montreal, but Vegas will need a strong personality right off the hop and Therrien can be that guy. I'm not saying he's the long-term solution – ideally Vegas finds their Al Arbour or Fred Shero once the Knights get settled in after a few seasons – but he's a great option to get the ball rolling. (Ryan Kennedy)
It’s pretty simple, really. Ken Hitchcock has worked for three GMs in his NHL coaching career – Bob Clarke, Bob Gainey and Doug Armstrong. It’s important that he have a good relationship with his GM and, guess what? He and George McPhee happen to be pretty good friends. And despite Hitchcock’s pronouncement at the beginning of the season that this would be his last as a coach, he has backed off on that and is believed now to still be considering his options. All of which makes Vegas the perfect landing spot for both him and the Golden Knights. Look at it this way, this team is not going to be tanking off the hop because the talent the NHL is making available will make it impossible to do so. They’re going to get two very good NHL goalies and the team will be stocked with mid-range forwards and defensemen, good players at the NHL level who have character, compete and experience. They may have trouble scoring, but they’ll also be a bugger to play against. Now is that the perfect template for a Ken Hitchcock team or what? It should happen, it must happen and we’re betting heavily that it will happen. (Ken Campbell)
Michel Therrien is my pick. He has lots of recent experience with veteran-laden clubs, having guided the Montreal Canadiens through some decent regular seasons and several playoff series victories. Therrien isn't known for leaning on his youngsters, which is fine – as the Vegas squad will take a few years to stockpile draft picks and line its system with legit young prospects. The expansion draft should give the Golden Knights a bunch of bona fide NHLers, creating the need for a coach to merely keep a veteran squad relevant and prevent it from embarrassing itself in front of an unpredictable fan market. The Ken Hitchcocks and Gerard Gallants of the world have shepherded young teams in recent seasons, and those are the types of coaches the Golden Knights might prefer two or three years from now. (Matt Larkin)
Scott Darling Image by: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images
Ben Bishop is set to be the most sought after free agent goaltender, but he’s not the only masked man hitting the open market. Here are five other netminders who could be difference-making signings in the off-season.
By the time the 2017-18 campaign begins, Ben Bishop is going to have a new home. It could be in Las Vegas, he could be headed to Dallas, there’s always the chance Calgary loops back around and tries to find another deal with the behemoth netminder or maybe a darkhorse candidate swoops in and delivers Bishop an offer he can’t refuse. We’re looking at you, Carolina.
That questions are already arising about Bishop’s whereabouts next season speaks volumes about how valued he’ll be on the free agent goalie market. This season has seen his numbers take a dip, no doubt, but teams want a goaltender of his size and talent, and the fact he’s proven he can carry a club in the post-season is reason enough for him to draw serious interest. No matter where he lands, Bishop is going to be the most sought after option in goal.
After Bishop, all eyes turn to Marc-Andre Fleury and what is, realistically, the more interesting of the two big-name goaltending scenarios. Fleury, unlike Bishop, won’t be available on the open market. Rather, if he’s going anywhere, it’ll be via trade. Fleury’s time is up in the Pittsburgh crease a lot sooner than most would have expected when he inked his four-year, $23-million extension in March 2014. Reason being is that no one, not even the most optimistic of Penguins fans, would have seen Matt Murray’s progression from AHL rookie to NHL stud coming.
As is the case with Bishop, Fleury has had a down season and it’s worth questioning just how good he’s going to be away from Pittsburgh. It’s not as if that’s going to scare many of his suitors off, though. If he’s an improvement, even minor, over some current goaltending situations, he’s still an improvement. If that’s worth two, three or four points in the too-close-for-comfort standings come next season, it could be the difference between a shot at post-season glory and an early summer. Plus, Fleury has great playoff experience and a pair of Stanley Cups to his name. Teams value that.
Things will get interesting once Bishop and Fleury come off the list of potential targets, though. They’re the two big fish in an admittedly small goaltending pond in the off-season, which is going to leave at least a couple of teams scrambling to find answers to their goaltending situation.
The aforementioned Hurricanes need a netminder, as we said around these parts earlier this week, and the Stars are almost certainly going to have to make a move in goal after seasons of discussion about it. Likewise, the Flames are going to be searching for a goaltender if they don’t lock up one or both of their current netminders, both of the Flyers’ netminders are set to become unrestricted free agents, while the Bruins, Canucks, Ducks and Blackhawks could be searching for experienced backup help. So, who’s going to be available to help?
Steve Mason — 2016-17 Cap Hit: $4.1 million
It happens every year. There’s a forward a season from free agency and all of a sudden everything seems to click. He’s scoring at a rate like never before, piling up points left and right and by the time July 1 hits, he’s got himself a sizeable raise on a deal no one would have expected one year earlier. Now take that scenario and apply it to a goaltender. Then completely flip it.
Mason has stood on his head over the past two seasons in the Flyers’ goal and he’s been one of the best 5-on-5 netminders in the league. How good? Carey Price-level good. That’s no joke, either. Of the 42 goaltenders to play at least 2,500 minutes at 5-on-5 from the start of 2014-15 to the end of 2015-16, Mason’s .940 SP ranks a close second to Price’s .942 mark. And Mason played 1,000 extra minutes.
His fall has been precipitous, however. Mason is nearly the worst 5-on-5 starting goaltender this season, and after it appeared he was headed to cash in as a free agent, it looks more like he’s going to be given a show-me deal somewhere to prove he can reach the level of the past two seasons. If he can, though, whoever signs Mason might end up looking like a genius.
Brian Elliott — 2016-17 Cap Hit: $2.5 million
Elliott is experiencing a similar stumble as Mason, but the overall look at Elliott has arguably been worse. In 2015-16, Elliott backstopped the Blues to the Western Conference final, pieced together one of the best statistical seasons of his career and finished ninth in Vezina Trophy voting. Suffice to say, Elliott was coming off of an outstanding season in St. Louis when he was brought into Calgary after the Flames had second thoughts about the cost of trading and signing Bishop.
But things went south in a hurry for Elliott. He allowed four or more goals in his first three starts in Calgary and his SP was an ugly .885 by the end of November. Overall, his numbers still haven’t recovered, and Bishop is currently sporting a 2.79 GAA and .898 SP. This is about as good as his numbers have been all campaign, too. The promising thing, though, is that Elliott is starting to right the ship. Over the past month, Elliott has a .911 SP and 2.62 GAA. Since the start of February, he’s at .925 and 2.31.
Elliott had his chance to prove he’s a bonafide No. 1, and he’d even likely admit he’s struggled to do so, but he’s getting back to showing he can be a legitimate starter. Maybe he’s best in a platoon, and a team looking to run with a two-goalie system could benefit from picking up Elliott.
Ryan Miller — 2016-17 Cap Hit: $6 million
Let’s start with the free agent-to-be who’s currently carrying the biggest cap hit. Miller’s getting up there in age — he’s 36 — and his game hasn’t reached Vezina levels since, well, he won the thing in 2009-10. That season he turned in a .929 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average to go along with a 41-18-8 record. That was the first time Miller posted a SP above .920, and it also happened to be the last.
The smart money would be on Miller landing another gig, be it with the Canucks or otherwise, but chances are he’s not going to be given the starting reins wherever he goes. Already that’s the case in Vancouver, where the prevailing thought is that even if he comes back, Miller and Jacob Markstrom are set to split duty even more than they already are.
The rumors of Miller ending up in southern California have persisted for years, and if he’s willing to take a pretty sizeable pay cut on his $6 million salary, he might be able to make that happen come next season. Not with the Kings, of course, because they’re far too close to the salary cap, but maybe there’s a fit with the Ducks with Jonathan Bernier’s $4.15-million cap hit set to come off the books.
Scott Darling — 2016-17 Cap Hit: $587,500
It was a long road to the NHL, but now that Darling has made it, it’s unlikely he’s not going to find another opportunity next season. His next chance could very well be a starting gig, too. There are, of course, questions about how Darling would fare outside of Chicago in a situation where he’s relied upon to play a more evenly split schedule, but the 28-year-old is doing his best to make a case for a heavier workload come next season.
In 23 games with the Blackhawks, Darling has turned in a 13-5-2 record, 2.24 GAA and .927 SP. There are 12 goaltenders who’ve seen at least 12 games this season set to become free agents, and Darling’s SP is the best among all of them.
There’s also the matter of playoff performances, and Darling has had some doozies. His calm and collected nature saved the Blackhawks on their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup, and a team looking for a netminder with some playoff experience might not look much further
The best thing for Darling would probably be a 1A-1B scenario where he’s the second half of the starting crew. That’s not quite how things work in Chicago, but somewhere like Vancouver, Calgary or Vegas could very well be a fit. Of course, there’s always the chance he stays with the Blackhawks.
Chad Johnson — 2016-17 Cap Hit: $1.7 million
Johnson’s primary role throughout his career has been backup netminder. However, for a stretch this season, like seasons in the past, Johnson took the starting reins and ran with it. From Nov. 30 to Dec. 10, Johnson commandeered the crease in Calgary and piled up six-straight victories, over which time he posted an excellent .951 SP and 1.48 GAA. He had a shutout in there, too, as a way to kick off his run.
At the height of his run, Johnson was boasting a .932 SP and 1.32 GAA on the season, but since then, Johnson has been back to his old gig, starting for the Flame when Elliott isn’t. His numbers have taken a dive, too. He’s now sitting at a .912 SP with a 2.55 GAA. Regardless, he’s still been the more solid of the two goaltenders in Calgary’s crease overall, and he could be the perfect target for backup help if the Flames let him walk. He’s proven he can get the job done prior to this season, too.
Since becoming a full-time second-stringer in 2013-14 with the Bruins, Johnson has turned in a .914 SP and 2.46 GAA in 112 starts. His 64-41-9 record is better than you’ll get out of most relief goaltenders. Maybe he doesn’t come cheap, but he’s effective. A team with money to spend to bulk up in goal should scoop him up if Calgary doesn’t get a deal done first.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Patrik Laine. Image by: Getty Images
The origins of Patrik Laine’s lethal shot lie buried in his family’s backyard. And imagine, if it weren’t for his father, Laine would still be stopping pucks instead of shooting them.
It takes somewhere in the neighborhood of five centuries for aluminum to decompose. That means there are 490-odd years left for some archaeologically inclined Finnish hockey fans to get their hands on some precious pieces of memorabilia. The dig site is a backyard in Tampere, Finland, and soda can shrapnel is the treasure. Those fragments of old aluminum cans, bashed, battered and burst to bits by six ounces of hard-charging vulcanized rubber, are a reminder of where Patrik Laine began his path to becoming one of the most fearsome rookie scorers ever.
Laine’s shot, used to blast soda cans apart years ago, has been the talk of the NHL this season. It’s lethal, both in strength and accuracy, and it didn’t get that way overnight, which is to say it’s not Laine’s gift so much as his passion project. In his backyard, on the ice and in every moment he could spare, Laine would shoot. And when he was tired, he would shoot again. He’d shoot until his hands bled, as they did while training this past summer, and then he’d shoot some more.
“I had a net in our backyard and I spent many hours there every day, just shooting,” Laine said. “When the coaches would blow the whistle and everyone would get water, I stayed and took shots to improve it.”
Laine has long since graduated from obliterating soda cans in his backyard, moving on to dominating the SM-liiga in Finland and now to destroying the already high expectations put upon him as an 18-year-old rookie in the NHL. On his first night in the league, Laine showed off the skills built in his parents’ backyard with a laser wrist shot from the left point that sparked a Jets come-from-behind victory. He called his first NHL goal “the best moment in the world,” made more special with his family there to see it. Days later, he had a hat trick in a showdown against Toronto Maple Leafs phenom Auston Matthews – the only player drafted ahead of him last June – capped off by an overtime snipe that sent the MTS Centre into a frenzy. At the season’s midway point, only Sidney Crosby had more goals than Laine, and he and Matthews were on pace to be the first teenaged rookies to score 40-plus goals since Eric Lindros in 1992-93.
The irony in all of this, of course, is that Laine came close to spending his entire career trying to stop pucks. If Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn’t sent Laine’s father, Harri, a thank you card yet, he may want to get out his finest stationary and draft up something special, because if it weren’t for him, Laine might still be plying his trade as a goaltender somewhere in Finland. He didn’t give up the position until he was 12.
“I would have kept going but then my dad decided for me, and I went being a forward all the time,” Laine said. “I was a better goalie than a forward, but I think I’m good with his decision.”
That position change came only six years ago. Imagine what Laine could be capable of had he focused all his energy on scoring goals instead of stopping them from the outset. But there may be something to the connection between Laine’s goaltending days and his current goal-scoring ways. Facing Laine’s shot hundreds of times already in practice, Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson made note of a trait Laine has that few players, be it rookies or veterans, possess – the ability to use a goaltender’s understanding of a shooter’s tendencies against them.
“He doesn’t just pick the top corner every time,” Hutchinson said. “A lot of kids, especially at 17 and 18 with a shot like that, want to come in and just shoot the puck as hard as they can and try to go bar down and blow one by the goalie every single time. He’s not like that. He has no problem shooting for a rebound to get his teammates a goal, shooting for five-hole or picking a low corner over the pad. That’s maturity beyond his years.”
And impressive maturity given how swift his progression has been from goaltender to goal scorer. Laine is used to progressing quickly, though, because his six-year rise to becoming one of the world’s best teenage players was preceded by a year-long skyrocket up the draft rankings.
“I was a better goalie than a forward, but I think I’m good with his decision.”
In The Hockey News’ Future Watch and Draft Preview issues in 2015, Laine was nowhere to be found among the projected top 10 for 2016. Instead, a panel of scouts deemed the likes of Logan Brown and Kieffer Bellows as top-10 selections, with fellow Finn Jesse Puljujarvi considered the shoo-in second-overall pick behind Matthews. By the start of 2015-16, however, the winds of change were blowing fiercer than a blustery chill at Portage and Main. Laine had vaulted up the charts, projected to go as high as fourth, with Matthew Tkachuk and Jakob Chychrun often separating Laine from the top three. It was following the 2016 World Junior Championship that Laine completed his rise up the draft board.
“A year ago him and Jesse Puljujarvi were more or less even,” recalled NHL director of European scouting Goran Stubb. “But after Christmas, and after the world juniors, Laine just took off and was unbelievable.”
Laine had seven goals and 13 points in seven games at the world juniors en route to winning gold with Finland. He then returned to the Finnish League and scored at a torrid pace, dominating the post-season with 10 goals and 15 points in 18 games as Tappara, his hometown team, captured the league title with Laine taking playoff MVP honors. His unpredictable rise continued at the World Championship in May, where he scored seven goals and 12 points in 10 games on his way to a silver medal and yet another MVP honor.
“His understanding of the game is exceptional,” Stubb said. “He always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. What people also forget is he’s also a very good playmaker. It’s not only the shot.”
Laine had come a long way from being that petulant kid sent home from the 2014 Ivan Hlinka tournament following a highly publicized dispute with his coach. Petteri Lehto, Laine’s European agent who has grown to know both Laine and his family the past four years, said the incident was overblown and taken out of context. But instead of stirring up the controversy more, Laine, on the advice of Lehto, stayed quiet in hopes the story would go away. And eventually, it did.
“It was very tough for Patrik and his family,” Lehto said. “But it probably helped him to understand that when you’re a good player, media is a part of it and you better watch yourself.”
Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.
The same passion that got Laine into trouble earlier in his career has now become one of his greatest assets, according to Kimmo Vaha-Ruohola, his former coach. When Laine came under Vaha-Ruohola’s guidance, first in the under-20s and later for two seasons with Tappara, his all-consuming desire to score often led to frustration and distraction. Vaha-Ruohola and Laine would talk honestly about what happened after each outburst, and learning to harness his passion led to a rocky road that required a benching from time to time. Laine grew to understand how he could handle his emotions and channel them to help his team. That continued into the men’s league.
“He had to analyze his game, every game, mental-wise,” Vaha-Ruohola said. “How did it go? Did he lose his temper and at what cost? How did he try to handle it? And so on. That process took two-and-a-half years.”
It’s clear how hard Laine can take the difficult moments, though, as evidenced by his gaffe in a December game against the Edmonton Oilers. Defending in his own zone, Laine inadvertently shot a loose puck into the Winnipeg net, for what ended up being the game-deciding goal. He looked distraught as captain Blake Wheeler comforted him on the bench. It was an impressive show of maturity post-game when Laine sat in his stall and answered questions, owning up to his mistake, but the sight of him on the bench following the goal was a reminder that this dynamic scorer who has set the NHL ablaze in his first few months in North America is still a teenager.
"The thing that often divides good players and top players in the world is how eager they are to learn and how fast it happens.”
It’s sometimes forgotten that Laine is still a kid, and it’s easy to see why. At 6-foot-5, 206 pounds, he’s a teen in a grown man’s body. And if it’s not Laine’s size that makes us forget how young he is, it’s his outspoken confidence that does.
In a sport filled with braggadocios boasting about the merits of humility, Laine has never shied away from being upfront about the fact he’s a talented player. He openly stated he believed he had what it took to be the first-overall pick ahead of Matthews, he turned heads with his stick-twirling celebration and he has outright said he knows how good he is. That’s a rare quality found in a small handful of players, and it has only increased his appeal.
It’s all about how Laine expresses that confidence, however. It doesn’t come across as if he’s gloating. There’s a truthfulness in the way he says it, an almost Honest Abe-like inability to tell a lie. It’s more endearing than anything, as are the other aspects of his personality, like his dry, subtle sense of humor.
For instance, Laine calls his father, a plumber, a “beer-league” player in Finland. When asked about his living situation, he glowingly refers to his mother as his roommate, remarking around the holidays how she did the decorating because that’s not really his thing. And he’s more than willing to take playful jabs at teammates. When asked about a scoring drought plaguing Nikolaj Ehlers, Laine’s road roommate and one of the teammates he’s closest to off ice, Laine quipped it was similar to the struggles that haunt Ehlers during their Playstation battles in FIFA. Ehlers shakes his head and chuckles in Laine’s direction when it’s brought up.
“He’s a great guy on and off the ice, and he’s a pretty funny guy sometimes,” Ehlers said, later comparing the duo to an old married couple. “We do chirp each other in a healthy way.”
Despite his steady growth both on and off the ice, Laine isn’t a finished product. He understands there’s room to improve, specifically on the defensive side of the puck. Even in Tappara, he was striving to be better defensively, sharpening his skating in order to be in the right place at the right time in his own end as often as he is when on the attack in the other direction.
But outside of his shot, Laine’s other great weapon is his ability to adapt and learn at a rate few others can.
“His development is probably the bigger thing for me as a coach,” Vaha-Ruohola said. “He’s not just scoring goals and being good offensively, but it’s how much he wants to learn and how quick he learns. The thing that often divides good players and top players in the world is how eager they are to learn and how fast it happens.”
It’s a skill of Laine’s that Vaha-Rouhola compared to Crosby, adding he believes Laine had the capability to be that kind of two-way forward. And it’s in his playmaking skill and ability to “take you out of your pants” that Lehto, who had a brief stint playing with a rookie Mario Lemieux, sees flashes of a young No. 66. For Stubb, there will always be the parallels drawn between Laine and great Finnish scorers like Teemu Selanne and Jari Kurri. And every time Laine unloads a one-timer from the top of the circle on the power play, there will be inevitable comparisons to his childhood idol, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. Yet Laine sees things differently.
“I don’t have to compare myself to anybody,” Laine said.
“Everybody is different, and I want to be me. I don’t have to think about what everybody else has done. People can say what they want, but I just want to be me and create my own path.”
Dale Hawerchuk's letter to Patrik Laine.
Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning
Vancouver GM Jim Benning said he’d evaluate the deadline situation after they play their next five games, but even if they win every game, the Canucks should be selling come March 1.
With less than two weeks to the trade deadline, the Vancouver Canucks somehow sit a mere five points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Given the way the season started in Vancouver, that’s nothing short of miraculous because there was a time when fans were thinking more about what number Nolan Patrick would wear when he joins the Canucks than the possibility of post-season play.
The wonders of league parity have been at play, however, allowing Vancouver to pick their way back up the standings, fight their way into the conversation as one of the league’s bubble teams and make the trade deadline all the more confusing than it ever should have had to be for GM Jim Benning. For much of the early season, the Canucks were firmly in the seller category and speculation circled about which free agents-to-be would be gone come March. Now, instead of a fire sale, there seems to be real, honest to goodness talk about whether Vancouver is going to be selling or buying come the deadline.
“We’ve got five more games before the trade deadline,” Benning said in an interview with TSN 1040. “We still have some time. We want to see where we’re at going into the deadline and then, like I’ve said all year, we’ll talk to players, find out what their thoughts are and go from there.”
You can maybe understand where Benning is coming from. The Canucks made the post-season in his first year as the club’s GM, but the 2015-16 season was a disaster and 2016-17 started much the same. The playoffs are enticing, and with the West looking more wide open than in years past, there’s certainly some appeal to trying to sneak in, capture some magic and go on a deep run. But for Vancouver to do anything but sell right now would be absolutely foolish.
It’s not what one would call a bold prediction, but the Canucks aren’t going to win the Stanley Cup this year and it matters naught who they add come the deadline. The pieces, simply put, aren’t there. Daniel and Henrik Sedin still have magic left in their sticks as they inch closer to sailing off into the sunset, but on a team-wide basis, this isn’t a Vancouver club that’s in position to do much damage at all.
Look at it this way: Yes, the Canucks are five points out of a playoff spot with five games to go before the deadline, and yes, that means the Canucks could potentially have 66 points to their name by the time deadline day rolls around, but Vancouver has just 21 regulation or overtime wins to their name, tied for fourth-worst in the league, have a minus-30 goal differential, also tied for fourth-worst in the league, and they’ve produced a grand total of 138 goals this season, which is, you guessed it, fourth-worst in the league.
This is to say that to this point, Vancouver’s reaching this level of success this season has largely been a mirage, something underlying numbers also point out. For instance, Vancouver ranks 21st in the league in Corsi For percentage at 48.6 percent, they have the fifth-worst scoring chance for percentage in the league at 46.9 percent and, as far as expected goals for go, only the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes rate worse at 5-on-5.
Even if Vancouver were to wiggle their way into the post-season, the Canucks’ stay would almost undoubtedly be a short one. And if all that adding a few pieces at the deadline is going to net you is a couple home games and a bit of extra revenue, why bother?
In their current position, the Canucks have to be thinking about long-term gain over short-term pain. Getting involved in buying at the deadline would be a fool’s errand for a team that should be retooling at this point. Sure, Vancouver stands to potentially inject some hope, however false, into the fan base, but it almost assuredly won’t pay off. This should be the time for the Canucks to look at the Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs, teams who have stockpiled picks in hopes of a bright future, and bring a piece of that to the West Coast. The rebuild doesn’t have to be the same or nearly as extreme, and it definitely won’t be while the Sedins remain in town, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to be similar.
That’s why making an acquisition at the deadline, no matter who it is, wouldn’t make all that much sense. First and foremost, the price for any player, no matter who, is upped at the deadline, and there’s simply no point in the Canucks participating if it means they’re giving up assets that could potentially be a fit down the line.
Say what you will for the first round of the upcoming draft — there’s a reason talk has been first-round picks could be thrown around without so much as a second thought — but there’s always the chance one of the draft picks the Canucks would potentially give up could hit. The same goes for prospects who haven’t quite made it yet. It always helps to have more potential, more chances, to find someone who can fit the organization than it does to have less. And you never know when a player might find their game.
The shame of it all is that Vancouver isn’t really in a position to be a big-time seller, either. Alexandre Burrows is the top UFA-to-be on the roster and he could draw some interest as a depth scorer, agitator and penalty killer. There could also be consideration given to shipping out Jannik Hansen or Alex Edler, and maybe someone would be willing to throw a pick Vancouver’s way for Jack Skille and Jayson Megna, both of whom are set to walk in July if they so choose. But even if the return is minimal on what Vancouver does have to sell off, now’s the time to do it.
In the coming seasons, the Canucks stand to bring Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi and goaltender Thatcher Demko into the NHL, and that can add to a more youthful core highlighted by Bo Horvat, with Sven Baerstchi, Markus Granlund and Troy Stecher as the secondary players. That’s a solid group to work off of and build a future around, but buying and giving away assets now when a Stanley Cup is nothing more than a pipe dream would jeopardize the future. For the young core the Canucks are building to be successful in the future, they need to be supplemented by players who can contribute, not middling players barely able to move the needle.
The next few seasons are going to be the most important for the Canucks, as rebuilding the right way can make the future brighter than it has been in the past. Going in too soon, though, and buying into the status as a bubble team only serves to damage what could be. Regardless of the result of the next five games, the Canucks should either sell or stand pat. They’ll be thankful for it down the line.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.