Vancouver Canucks, Hronek and Myers

Has The Canucks Blueline Actually Improved?

What a remarkable chain of events last season for the Vancouver Canucks D-corps.

At this time last year we were writing about Oliver Ekman-Larsson potentially finding his game and re-establishing his presence, entering his 2nd season in Vancouver and the 4th year of a whopper eight-year contract he signed in Arizona.

Not so much. He’s gone via buy-out and has signed a tidy, one-year $2.25-million deal with the Florida Panthers to supplement his guaranteed income.

Travis Dermott was enthusiastic during informal pre-camp skates in Burnaby last September.

He was a “lefty with decent size who could play the right side.” An almost bizarre head injury knocked him out of camp. Although his presence didn’t solve the right-side, lack-of-depth, it surely didn’t hurt having an extra option. He ended up skating in eleven NHL games last season with easily his busiest night being New Year’s Eve when he played 19-minutes in Calgary against the Flames.

Given his injury struggles, the Canucks didn’t qualify Dermott this summer and after becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, he signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Arizona Coyotes. This isn’t your classic injured-guy-salary-dump situation that we’re so used to seeing in the desert, this is an actual new contract worth $800,000 at the NHL level should he be able to play.

Big Tucker Poolman was hopeful to return, but it simply didn’t happen. He was horribly hampered by the concussion issues our pals in Winnipeg warned us about when the Canucks acquired him.

He managed to play three games last season, presently sits in the long-term injured reserve world, and worst case scenario he won’t play but still collect $2.5-million for the next two seasons.

“The hope is Jack Rathbone eventually takes OEL’s spot,” was a common sentiment last August. Well, OEL is gone, but it doesn’t appear the lefty prospect is ready to (finally) slide in, does it?

To be fair, sometimes skaters, especially D-men, take a bit longer to find their full NHL game. Rathbone played six games early last season and then five games late during mop up time when the club experienced injuries.

Tick tock goes the clock; Rathbone is 24-years-old and has one year remaining on a deal that will pay him $950,000 this season regardless at what level he plays.

Everyone was pleased with Luke Schenn being around. A bodyguard for star blueliner Quinn Hughes and a beloved, respected, hard working veteran. When the season went south, Schenn was shipped to Toronto ahead of the trade deadline for the Maple Leafs playoff “run” and has since signed with the Nashville Predators.

Ethan Bear provided depth as a righty and produced 16 points over 61 games. An injury at the World Championship this past spring forced shoulder surgery and knocked him out of action for six months. The Canucks didn’t qualify the restricted free agent. Bad luck that freed up potential cap space.

Canucks Turnover

It’s actually remarkable to go back just two autumns ago, in the twilight of Canucks general manager Jim Benning’s regime, and look at how much has changed in that short time. Beside Hughes and big Tyler Myers, the D-corps has been completely overhauled.

Is it better?

Aside from the two fully known commodities, Filip Hronek would be next on the list of importance, adding some versatility and talent to the always underwhelming right side. It’s a contract year for him again, having played just four games for the Canucks last season after arriving from the Detroit Red Wings on March 1st with a shoulder injury.

Word is Hronek can be a bit prickly to work with. It would behoove him to have a solid year for career/financial reasons, while it’s essential he has one for the Canucks playoff aspirations. The locals have learned the hard way before you can’t rely on hopes and reputation.

Carson Soucy appears to have a career on the upswing having left the rival Seattle Kraken as a free agent to sign a three-year deal in Vancouver. Great opportunity with a few question marks. How far does he slide up the line-up, does the lefty play the right side, and can he deal with a dramatically larger microscope?

Otherwise, a one-year deal for 34-year-old Ian Cole, the roster’s lone previous Cup winner, a one-year deal for 35-year-old Matt Irwin and a bit of plug-and-play from Abbotsford to round out the roster.

What are we missing? Maybe a lot. It’s debatable whether this D-corps is stronger on paper than the one the Canucks had last September, or ever the September before that. Of course, until the puck drops, paper is all we’ve got.

It’s looking like another transition year and a potential try-out for some AHLers. While there’s always optimism heading to camp, the ultimate key to the Canucks blueline will be the one thing that hasn’t changed: goalie Thatcher Demko.

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Rob Simpson

Rob Simpson has covered the NHL in five different decades. He’s authored 4 books on hockey and is a veteran TV and radio play-by-play man and reporter.