NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Vancouver Canucks:
1. Can they bounce back after a last-place finish in the Scotia North Division?
The Canucks were active in the offseason, trading for defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forwards Conor Garland and Jason Dickinson, and signing free agent defenseman Tucker Poolman and goalie Jaroslav Halak.
“It was a disappointing season for us last year,” general manager Jim Benning said. “I said I was going to be aggressive, and I think we have been aggressive. I want to be a playoff team next year and expect to be a playoff team.”
The Canucks (23-29-4) got off to a slow start last season (6-11-0) and couldn’t make up enough ground, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.
It was more than disappointing, given the promise that was present in 2019-20, when Vancouver advanced to the Western Conference Second Round before losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in seven games.
2. Can they sign Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes to long-term contracts?
Each player is a restricted free agent after completing his entry-level contract and each is key to Vancouver’s present and future. The Canucks would like to sign each player to a long-term contract if possible.
Pettersson scored 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 26 games last season but didn’t play after March 2 because of a wrist injury. The 22-year-old forward won the Calder Trophy voted as NHL rookie of the year in 2018-19 and scored 66 points in each of his first two NHL seasons.
In his second full NHL season, Hughes led the Canucks with an average of 22:48 of ice time per game and was third with 41 points (three goals, 38 assists) in 56 games.
Still, it was considered something of a down season for the creative defenseman. The 21-year-old was a Vancouver-worst minus-24, and his points-per-game average declined from 0.78 to 0.73 despite an increase in ice time from 21:53 per game as a rookie.
3. Will a fresh start rejuvenate Oliver Ekman-Larsson?
The 30-year-old was acquired along with Garland in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on July 23 for forwards Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle and Loui Eriksson, a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft (Dylan Guenther), a second-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and a seventh-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Ekman-Larsson scored 24 points (three goals, 21 assists) in 46 games last season. The former Coyotes captain scored 388 points (128 goals, 260 assists) in 769 regular-season games during 11 seasons with Arizona. He has scored eight points (two goals, six assists) in 25 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
“I want to be able to help young guys and I want to be on a winning team,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I haven’t been doing a lot of winning, unfortunately, but hopefully we’ll change that here with Vancouver and be a part of a winning culture.”
4. Will the power play come back to life?
The Canucks power play was a formidable weapon in 2019-20, ranking fourth in the NHL at 24.2 percent and tied for second with the Boston Bruins with 57 goals in 69 games, behind the 59 scored by the Edmonton Oilers.
The power play accounted for 25.4 percent of Vancouver’s offense that season.
With Pettersson’s shot missing for much of last season, the Canucks sagged on the power play, dropping to 25th in the NHL at 17.4 percent. They scored 27 power-play goals in 56 games, accounting for 18.2 percent of their goals.
The decline also led to an overall drop from 3.25 goals per game in 2019-20 to 2.64 goals per game last season.
5. Are the Canucks set with Thatcher Demko as their No. 1 goalie?
The 25-year-old was 16-18-1 with a 2.85 goals-against average, a .915 save percentage and one shutout in 35 games last season, his first full season as a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.
Demko was 13-10-2 with a 3.06 GAA and .905 save percentage in 27 games (25 starts) as Jacob Markstrom‘s backup in 2019-20 but ascended to the No. 1 role after Markstrom signed with the Calgary Flames as an unrestricted free agent Oct. 9.
The No. 36 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft had Braden Holtby as his backup last season. After Holtby had the final season of his contract bought out by the Canucks on July 27, Vancouver signed another veteran, Halak, on July 28.