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Pacific Division Overview: Vancouver Canucks determined to remain competitive during rebuild

Henrik and Daniel Sedin prepare to enter the final year of their contracts as the team looks to improve after finishing last in the division last season.

New York Rangers v Vancouver Canucks Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

As the Golden Knights’ inaugural season officially kicks off tonight, here is our final installment of the Pacific Division Overview series as we take a look at the 2017-2018 Vancouver Canucks.

Vancouver’s 2016-2017 Season

The Canucks finished the 2016-2017 season with a 30-43-9 record and 69 points, earning them the number seven seed in the Pacific Division and the 29th seed in the league. The team finished with the 28th-ranked penalty kill (76.7 percent) and 29th-ranked power play (14.1 percent), as well as the 29th-ranked offense. Vancouver compiled an 11-17-1 record against division opponents. Needless to say, it was a disappointing season.

2016-2017 Roster Highlights

It was a down year for both Daniel and Henrik Sedin, with Daniel seeing a 17-point drop in production. The 37-year-old Swedish forwards started to show their age, especially in the speed game. They now enter the final season of their contracts; both are expected to bounce back this season regardless of Vancouver’s overall standing.

It was an extremely difficult year for winger Loui Eriksson, who signed a six-year, $36 million contract with the team last summer. Eriksson scored just 11 goals and 24 points in 65 games, the second-worst points-per-game pace (0.369) of his career. The experiment of putting Eriksson on the top line with the Sedin’s did not pan out, and Eriksson's contract backfired in a big way. It was an especially disappointing outcome considering he scored 30 goals and 63 points with Boston the year before. However, he is slated to start the season on the top line.

There were several young players that stepped up last season, none more so than the team’s leading scorer and future face of the franchise, Bo Horvat. Horvat, 22, scored a career-high 20 goals and 52 points and recently signed a long-term extension. Many expect Horvat will be the next captain of this team.

Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund also had solid seasons, scoring 18 and 19 goals, respectively.

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Despite the fact that Vancouver has repeatedly claimed to be in "rebuild" mode, it’s clear management wants to remain competitive during that transition. This is especially true given the potential for the pending finality of the Sedins’ time in Vancouver.

The team made several moves this offseason in keeping with management's desire to maintain a competitive roster. General manager Jim Benning signed Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto on day one of free agency. Gagner, coming off a career season in Columbus in which he scored 18 goals and 50 points, signed a three-year, $9.45 million deal; his 18 points on the power play could be a significant help to Vancouver’s power play woes. Del Zotto, alternatively, signed a two-year, $6 million deal and will provide stability to the back end. He also can contribute offensively and could see time on either power play unit.

The team also elected to sign free-agent goaltender Anders Nilsson to a two-year deal that carries a $2.5 million cap hit. Nilsson, who will suit up for his fifth team since 2013-2014, has never been a starter and has never started more than 24 games in a season. He’ll join fellow Swede Jacob Markstrom, signed for the next three years with a $3.67 million cap hit, in the crease. At this point, it’s Markstrom’s job to lose.

The Canucks signed free-agent forward Thomas Vanek, who waited two months after the start of free agency to reach a deal. Vanek will start on a line with the Sedin’s and should contribute 25-30 goals.

Lastly, Benning signed defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a one-year extension worth $3.5 million.

Previewing Vancouver’s 2017-2018 Lineup

The Canucks had an eventful preseason, which included competing in the 2017 China Games against the Kings. Brock Boeser and Jake Virtanen led the team in preseason scoring with seven and six points, respectively. Here are the projected lines for Vancouver ahead of the team’s Oct. 7 season opener:

Forwards

Baertschi—Horvat—Eriksson
D Sedin—H Sedin—Vanek
Gagner—Burmistrov—Boeser
Granlund—Sutter—Dorsett

Defensemen

Edler—Tanev
Hutton—Stecher
Del Zotto—Gudbranson

Goalies

Markstrom
Nilsson

Bottom Line

The Vancouver Canucks have found very little postseason success since losing to Boston in the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. The six years since have featured three first-round postseason exits and three seasons without playoff action at all, including three of the past four years. The biggest question facing this team is, without a doubt, goaltending. With Markstrom and Nilsson in net, there’s no guarantee the Canucks will have a legitimate starting goalie this season. Both had their moments in preseason and will be plenty motivated to earn the starter’s gig, but neither is a proven commodity. This further calls into question the theory behind bringing in veteran assets to fill out the team, but perhaps the front office is banking on healthy competition to inspire better play. After all, Vancouver is no stranger to goalie controversy.

This year presents a new opportunity for everyone on the team, including new head coach Travis Green, to make something of this season. It’s likely to be the last hurrah for the Sedin’s after 16 seasons in the NHL. The odds of the Canucks playing meaningful hockey in late March are slim. But the offseason acquisitions along with bounce-back performances by the Sedin’s and Eriksson and fairly consistent goaltending could give this team enough for an encouraging bump in the standings.