The 2015-16 season was one to forget for the Vancouver Canucks. Everything that could go wrong did, from injuries to key players to a bungled trade deadline, scoring depth being non-existent, and inept special teams. If you had told Canucks fans before the 2015-16 season that all they had to look forward to was a win every 2.6 games, the Sedins keeping the team barely alive, and a strong second halves for Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi, there would have been even more empty seats at Rogers Arena.
With a new season comes renewed optimism, however. After a strong summer from management, which included the hiring of former fan favorite Manny Malhotra as a development coach, Canucks fans at least have reason to be optimistic. The Sedins are looking as good as ever for 60 points apiece with their long-awaited Swedish scorer on their flank in Loui Eriksson. Horvat, Baertschi and Jake Virtanen appear ready to take more responsibility. The goalie tandem, while prone to injury, looks solid, and the defense – one of Vancouver's real problems in past seasons – looks as strong as it has since that 2011 Game 7 loss to Boston.
- Can wild card signings Anton Rodin and Philip Larsen contribute a big enough improvement in scoring?
- Will the return of a fully healthy Brandon Sutter give the Canucks a more balanced top nine?
- Can the Canucks’ defense cut down on the mistakes, as well as increase production?
BEST CASE SCENARIO
Let’s not kid ourselves – this team is far from perfect, but headed in the right direction. A fight for a playoff spot, with a wild card finish, is about as much as even the most optimistic Canucks fan can expect.
To accomplish that, there are three things this team will need: considerably fewer injuries to key players (the Canucks were seventh in man games lost in 2015-16), better balanced scoring throughout the lineup, and a big improvement in special teams play. Last season saw the Canucks finish 27th on the PP and 17th on the PK. Even a three percent increase on the PP and a two percent PK improvement should see this team in a wild card spot.
Yes, the Sedins and Loui Eriksson will be heavily leaned on. Yes, the defense is lacking offense. But with all four lines chipping in, the growth in their young players and more of the same solid goaltending? This team can, and should, squeeze into the playoffs.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Basically, a repeat of last season is the nightmare scenario. Some Canucks fans would welcome this, as another top pick would assist the "rebuild" significantly. Most Canucks fans want to pretend last season never happened. Surely things could not be that bad again? Well, the team is two injuries away from seeing Richard Bachman in net – hardly ideal – and is a Sedin injury away from a lottery pick. That’s the thin red line they're skating in Vancouver.
The real damage, however, could be done off the ice. After a trade deadline that saw GM Jim Benning widely pilloried for his lack of asset management, the Canucks have more impending UFAs who, if the team is out of the playoff picture, need to be converted into draft picks. Ryan Miller and Alex Burrows are both in their last years as Canucks, and Benning cannot allow a repeat of the 2016 trade deadline to occur. Similarly, another poor season in the standings would likely spell the end of Willie Desjardins’ time on the Canucks’ bench. Heading into 2017-18 with a new coach after two consecutive seasons of abject misery? Let’s not even contemplate that.