The Paper Feature is a weekly column and sidebars that appears in the print edition of the Vancouver Courier newspaper. Track it down!
The Canucks have a lot riding on the 2019-20 season. This is particularly true for Jim Benning, who is entering his sixth season as general manager. With the Canucks missing the playoffs in four-straight seasons, Benning is on the hot seat.
The truth is, general managers tend not to last long in the NHL. Just eight of the league’s 31 GMs have been on the job longer than Benning: the NHL tends to go through GMs like paper napkins, discarding them as soon as they’ve served their purpose. And then, when a new GM job opens up, recycling those old GMs and reusing them, citing “previous experience.”
For Benning, this coming season is crucial. Not only is he looking to avoid missing the playoffs for a fifth-straight season — the first time that would happen in Canucks franchise history — but he’s also hoping that his gamble to trade a first-round pick for forward J.T. Miller doesn’t blow up in his face.
As recompense for Miller, the Tampa Bay Lightning will get either the Canucks’ 2020 or 2021 first-round pick. If the Canucks make the playoffs this season, the Lightning get the 2020 pick, but the Canucks will likely feel it was worth it. If they miss the playoffs, the Lightning get the 2021 pick, which isn’t lottery protected: worst-case scenario, it could be the first-overall pick.
As I said, there’s a lot riding on the 2019-20 season, which kicks off in less than a week. Fortunately for the Canucks, there are some significant reasons for optimism and only a few reasons for pessimism.
1 | Quinn Hughes is the real deal. The Canucks’ rookie defenceman looks even better than his five-game audition last season. Canucks fans haven’t seen anything approaching his smooth skating and offensive creativity since Christian Ehrhoff, and Hughes is still just 19 years old. He's got a legitimate chance of winning the Calder Trophy.
2 | A battle-tested Elias Pettersson is ready to take the next step. At 19, he led the Canucks in scoring, broke franchise rookie records, and won the Calder Trophy, but Pettersson is a perfectionist and isn’t satisfied. He’s stronger, faster, and more determined than ever.
3 | Benning’s veteran acquisitions will make a difference. The off-season additions of J.T. Miller, Micheal Ferland, Tyler Myers, and Jordie Benn provide upgrades at key positions of need. While you can question the acquisition cost for Miller and Myers, they do make the team better.
4 | Jacob Markstrom has a better backup. The Canucks’ number one goaltender took a step forward last season as a reliable starter, giving the Canucks a chance to win almost every single night. Unfortunately, his backups didn’t do the same. This season, with prospect Thatcher Demko graduating to the NHL, that should change, which will also help Markstrom be even better.
1 | Canucks offence could still be top-heavy. The top two lines, anchored by core forwards Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Bo Horvat, should be able to compete with any team in the NHL. The question is whether the Canucks have enough scoring depth on the third and fourth lines, which are centred by the defence-first Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle.
2 | There are still questions on defence. The additions of Quinn, Myers, and Benn represent upgrades on the blueline, but the Canucks will still depend a lot on aging veterans Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, who have been unable to stay healthy over the last few seasons.
3 | Is the depth there in case of injury? For the last four seasons, the Canucks have claimed to have enough depth to deal with injuries and at the end of each of those seasons, they’ve lamented that they didn’t. Will this season be different? Can the likes of Adam Gaudette, Zack MacEwen, Olli Juolevi, and Brogan Rafferty provide the impactful depth the Canucks have been missing?
27 - Heading into Wednesday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, the Canucks led the preseason in scoring, with 27 goals in six games. While the preseason may not mean much, that’s at least a big step up from their 10 goals in the preseason last year.
37 - TSN released their ranking of the Top 50 players in the NHL, with Elias Pettersson coming in at 37.
Stick-taps and Glove-drops
A tap of the stick to the ECHL, which has made a rule change to limit fighting this season: players that reach 10 fighting majors will be suspended for a game; at 14, the suspension becomes two games.
A tap of the stick to the Abbotsford Centre, which brought figure skating legends like Tessa Moir, Scott Virtue, Patrick Chan, and Elvis Stojko out onto the ice for Monday’s preseason game between the Canucks and Senators. It was neat!