With two straight Stanley Cup titles under their belt, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017-18. They will get the chance to secure just that -- and the rest of the NHL will get the chance to prevent it -- sooner rather than later. Another season is well on the way.
In the third of a series of team-by-team summer reviews and season previews, here's a glimpse at the ...
Two years after a second-place finish in the Pacific Division, the Canucks tumbled rather drastically under the guidance of Willie Desjardins, finishing as the NHL's worst team outside of the with a 30-43-9 record and a minus-61 goal differential. The 69-point club was left without a ticket to the postseason for the second time in as many years, ending the regular season on a 1-9 stretch that featured eight straight losses.
With minor-league coach Travis Green to replace Desjardins, Vancouver might have acted like it can make a quick turnaround thanks to some of its summer moves (see below), but there's still plenty of work to be done before the Canucks find themselves back in the playoff picture.
The Canucks' biggest and most curious move of the summer came when they landed Gagner on a three-year deal. It was big because, well, the veteran forward was among the most accomplished offensive players on the market. It remains to be seen whether he can replicate his career-best 50-point year in Columbus, where he erased memories of a short-lived Flyers stint on a one-year prove-it deal, but Gagner is still a notable name with a notable résumé. And his move to the Canucks was curious because Vancouver didn't seem like the type of club likely to add immediate scoring help as if it needed just an extra dose of experience to get over the edge.
Throw Del Zotto into the mix, and Vancouver sure did its best to look like a team after immediate results under Green. Nilsson could be an underrated find in net as Miller suits up elsewhere, too. But as unusual and potentially promising as the Canucks' moves appear to be, they'll probably only pay off if everything else also clicks -- everything as in direction from a rookie NHL head coach and yet another step forward for Bo Horvat and the rest of Vancouver's younger prospects.
Just about any signs of life would top the way the Canucks rounded out 2016-17, and the unexpected infusion of some proven and motivated veteran talent (see: Gagner, Sam) makes Vancouver quite a bit more watchable entering Green's first year at the helm of the NHL staff. A little end-of-the-road fire from Henrik and Daniel Sedin wouldn't hurt the team's chances at a quick rebound, either.
All in all, though, this unit still smells like one a few years away from getting serious, and that's if Green can translate his Western Hockey League championship experience into big-stage progress. The roster is at least a little better stocked for competition than it was at the tail end of the Desjardins era, but even the power-play and blue-line upgrades offered by Gagner and Del Zotto won't figure to impact a true postseason run until farther down the road when guys like Horvat and first-round pick Elias Pettersson can either be or supplement big-time scorers.