Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning has often prided himself on building what he calls a “luxurious defense”. While they do boast some intriguing pieces, one could easily make the argument that Benning’s vision is inflated. This has only been emphasized by the recent departure of massive Russian rookie Nikita Tryamkin. The present and future outlook of the Canucks blue line has some major question marks surrounding it. These issues will have to be dealt with this coming off-season.
Big Decisions Loom for Vancouver Canucks Defense Core
The Big Three
On the trade season, the team has seen trade rumors surrounding arguably their three biggest names: Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, and Ben Hutton. Tanev in particular has been subject to much speculation of late. Many see the 27-year old as the team’s most valuable trading chip. He could be used to stockpile draft picks and young assets to support the rebuild. While no official word has been released yet on such a transaction; many see the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning as potential landing spots for the right-shooting defender. If a Tanev trade were to go down, it would undoubtedly be the team’s biggest move since trading Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks.
Meanwhile, Edler appears to be more of a long shot. This is due to his age and no-trade clause which, essentially, gives him full control over a potential move. However, many have discussed the waiving of his clause to be a possibility. It is certainly something to be looked at as a possibility. Hutton garnered some trade discussion when the Evander Kane speculation was at its peak, and many still consider a Hutton trade to be a legitimate possibility. While this is perhaps not the smartest move the Canucks could make in a rebuild phase, it must still be considered a legitimate possibility.
There remains a number of other issues outside of those three, however. Erik Gudbranson, acquired from the Florida Panthers last summer for Jared McCann and draft picks, is set to become a restricted free agent. After a season plagued by injuries, the Canucks will have to decide whether to sign him short-term, long-term, or whether they flip his rights for an asset. It seems likely they will do their best to allow Gudbranson at least one more chance. However, his case is one to keep an eye on moving forward. Additionally, the Canucks have the issue of Luca Sbisa and the expansion draft. Many see him as the Vegas Golden Knights’ eventual target. That said, should they not take him, the team needs to be prepared to either integrate him into their 2017-18 planning, or somehow flip him in a package.
The Canucks have gotten some housecleaning done as of late in regards to their young blue liners. They chose to not sign 2015 4th and 7th round picks Carl Neill and Tate Olson, despite both showing respectable upside. They also re-signed prospect Andrey Pedan to a one-year deal. Pedan, 23, will be under immense pressure to make the Canucks roster this season. He has been unable to establish himself as a regular up to this point.
The team will also need to make a decision regarding prized prospect Olli Juolevi (selected fifth overall in 2016): do they send him back to the OHL, or bring him into the NHL? It will be a major story heading into the summer, and one that could possibly shape the rebuilding process.
There’s also the issue of this year’s draft. Benning has been on record saying he may select a power play quarterback with the team’s fifth overall selection. Who would they take? It seems likely that one, if not both of Miro Heiskanen or Cale Makar will be available, and there’s a chance they reach for Timothy Liljegren at that spot. If they choose not to go the route of a centreman, it’s likely they go for one of these three in order to stock up their defensive core.
The Canucks have a number of issues to deal with heading into the summer. Chief among them will be their defense. Their actions could have exceptional ramifications on the present and long-term well-being of the hockey club. Benning and the rest of the management team must ensure they execute their plan to perfection.
NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 07: Alexander Edler #23 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on November 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Canucks 4-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)