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Pacific Division Preview: Vancouver Canucks begin new chapter without Sedin’s

Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson are ready to take center stage in Vancouver.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

As we gear up for the regular season, we’ll take a look at Vegas’ seven Pacific Division opponents to examine how they fared in 2017-18, what moves they’ve made in the offseason and what their lineups may look like to start the 2018-19 season. The Golden Knights have a full season and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final under their belts, so no one will be taking them lightly in Year 2. Here’s a look at the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks are at the dawn of a new era in Vancouver: life without Henrik and Daniel Sedin. After 17 seasons and more than 1300 games, the Swedish twins are now enjoying retirement while the stars of the future take the reins.

Season recap

Surprisingly, the Canucks got off to a pretty good start last season before falling far out of playoff contention at the mid-way point, which was precipitated by an injury to Bo Horvat. Expectations were low, but Horvat and rookie sniper Brock Boeser found instant chemistry and became quite the dynamic duo on the Canucks’ top line.

Boeser led the team in scoring with 29 goals and 55 points in 62 games and was on track to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year before sustaining a back injury in March. Horvat missed time as well but scored a career-high 22 goals in 64 games.

Aside from those two, there weren’t many bright spots on the roster. The questionable goaltending tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson had their moments but proved to be average down the stretch. Though it was hardly on them alone as Vancouver’s defense struggled all year.

In fact, the Canucks gave up the sixth-highest goals-per-game rate (3.16) while falling sixth from the bottom of the league in goals for (2.66). That’s bound to lead to a losing record; in Vancouver’s case, it involved 40 regulation losses and 73 points, good for seventh in the division and 14th in the conference. The Canucks finished just three points ahead of the last-place Coyotes.

Though it was the end of the line for the Sedin’s, they couldn’t have asked to go out in better fashion. It was sort of a fairytale ending, much like the final game of Derek Jeter’s career. The final home game of the season saw the Canucks and Coyotes head to overtime, where Michael Del Zotto drew a penalty; this would set up a moment to remember.

One last time, Henrik and Daniel did their thing, and it led to an emotional game-winning goal by Daniel off a feed from brother Henrik.

Offseason moves

It was a rather bizarre offseason for the braintrust in Vancouver, as the organization brought in multiple bottom-six forwards on long-term contracts. For example, Jay Beagle inked a four-year, $12 million contract after winning the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals. While he’s an effective depth forward who is excellent on the penalty kill and in the dots, his production, age and lack of speed make him an interesting candidate for such a hefty price tag.

Antoine Roussel, formerly of the Dallas Stars, signed the same four-year deal with a $3 million cap hit. Roussel has more speed and offensive upside but is coming off a down year in which he scored just five goals and 17 points in 73 games. Roussel is another grinder who should see fourth-line minutes, though he is set to start the season on injured reserve.

Vancouver also brought in Tim Schaller, who signed a two-year, $3.8 million contract this summer. Schaller, 27, spent the last two seasons with the Bruins, scoring a combined 19 goals and 36 points in 141 games. He set career highs last season with 12 goals, 10 assists and 22 points.

In another surprising twist, the team waived forward Sam Gagner earlier this week. Gagner had a disappointing year (10-21—31) in his first season with the Canucks but remains more skilled and versatile than other forwards still on the roster. It’s especially ironic considering Gagner signed an expensive multi-year contract last summer, yet Benning went ahead and handed out similar contracts to fourth-liners this year.

But the team did extend many players with bright futures, including Sven Baertschi, Jake Virtanen and Troy Stecher. Baertschi signed a three-year, $10.1 million deal, while Virtanen earned a two-year extension with an average annual value of $1.25 million. Stecher scored a two-year bridge deal with an AAV of $2.35 million.

Derrick Pouliot, acquired from Pittsburgh last season, signed a one-year extension ($1.1 million), as did Markus Granlund ($1.475 million).

The team also signed former first-round pick Elias Pettersson to a three-year entry-level contract.

Notable departures include the Sedin’s (retired), Derek Dorsett (retired), Jussi Jokinen (not re-signed) and Thomas Vanek (traded at deadline).

Lineup preview

The Canucks will look very different without numbers 33 and 22 on the ice, but it’s time for the young guns in Vancouver to take over the ship. Vancouver’s young talent is extensive and will be heavily featured throughout this year’s lineup. In fact, there are 12 players on the active roster who are 25 or younger, which bodes well for the future.

The team’s porous defense from last season remains intact, which should mean Markstrom and Nilsson will face a lot of rubber. Markstrom established himself as a No. 1 starter last season, even if his numbers weren’t great. He will be the starter again this year, though both are treading water until goalie prospect Thatcher Demko is ready.

After scoring 30 goals with the Bruins in 2015-16, Loui Eriksson’s production has fallen off a cliff. In fact, he has accumulated just 21 goals and 47 points in two seasons with the Canucks. But it’s possible he could rebound this year, especially since he’s expected to start the season on the second line with Pettersson and Nikolay Goldobin.

Brendan Leipsic (remember him?) may not make the opening-night lineup, but he is certainly an option the Canucks can and should turn to throughout the season. He was excellent in his short time with Vancouver after Vegas traded him at the deadline, scoring nine points in 14 games. He’s the kind of player who can play up and down this lineup, though it looks as though Tyler Motte and Markus Granlund have the early edge.

Here’s what Vancouver’s lines could look like to start the season:

Baertschi — Horvat — Boeser
Goldobin — Pettersson — Eriksson
Motte — Brandon Sutter — Virtanen
Schaller — Beagle — Granlund

Alex Edler — Chris Tanev
Del Zotto — Stecher
Pouliot — Erik Gudbranson

Markstrom
Nilsson

Quick Hits

2017-18 Team record: 31-40-11—73
Position in standings: Division-7, Conference-14, League-26
Pacific Division record: 9-17-3
Record against Vegas: 0-3-1
Playoff result: Did not qualify
Leading Scorers: Boeser (29-26—55), D Sedin (23-32—55), H Sedin (3-47—50), Horvat (22-22—44)
Top Corsi For % (min. 10 GP): D Sedin (52.48), H Sedin (51.65), Reid Boucher (51.45)
Power play (NHL rank): 21.4 percent (9)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 78.3 percent (21)
Goals for (NHL rank): 218 (26)
Goals against (NHL rank): 259 (6)
Team MVP: Boeser (29-26—55)
Season opener: Oct. 3 vs. Calgary

Bottom line

The Canucks are not expected to come close to making the playoffs this season, and if their preseason struggles are any indication, it could be a long year.

As has been the case for many years now, Vancouver remains stuck between a rebuild and trying to compete in the here and now, though signing guys like Beagle and Roussel to do so is misguided. Though there is plenty of skill and speed on this roster, the defense, goaltending and lack of depth scoring could spell trouble for a club seemingly more concerned with individual improvement rather than overall team progress.

But the future is bright, especially with Jonathan Dahlen, Olli Juolevi, Adam Gaudette and Quinn Hughes waiting in the wings. It could be a huge year for Pettersson, who really impressed in the preseason. But it could very well be the Brock Boeser show, as many believe the sophomore is capable of hitting 40 goals this season, especially since it’s a contract year. It’s also an important year for Horvat, however, as he is expected to take over the captaincy in the near future. For now, though, Alex Edler, Brandon Sutter, Horvat and Chris Tanev will serve as alternates.

While it’s likely to be another losing season for Vancouver, the Canucks could be destined for the draft lottery (a.k.a. the Jack Hughes sweepstakes), which would certainly be a nice consolation prize. After all, this organization is no stranger to turning to the magical chemistry between two talented brothers.

Golden Knights vs. Canucks schedule

Oct. 24 vs. Vancouver
Nov. 29 @ Vancouver
Mar. 3 vs. Vancouver
Mar. 9 @ Vancouver