On opening night for the 2022-23 season, the Vancouver Canucks defence consisted of Quinn Hughes, Luke Schenn, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tucker Poolman, Riley Stillman, and Kyle Burroughs.
Just one of those defencemen is likely to play for the Canucks next season.
Hughes is obviously still with the Canucks, as is Tyler Myers, who was injured to start last season. Apart from that, there’s been a radical overhaul of the Canucks’ blue line since the start of last season.
Schenn was traded, and then he signed with the Nashville Predators in free agency. Ekman-Larsson was bought out and signed a one-year deal with the Florida Panthers. Poolman is, in all likelihood, permanently on Long-Term Injured Reserve. Stillman was traded to the Buffalo Sabres. Burroughs signed with the San Jose Sharks in free agency.
That’s not including the departure of Ethan Bear, whose future with the Canucks seemed secure until a shoulder injury at the World Championship changed the risk evaluation for the Canucks. He wasn’t qualified by the Canucks and became an unrestricted free agent.
It’s understandable that the Canucks would want to overhaul their defence, of course. They were one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL last season, though things improved in that area after the coaching change to Rick Tocchet. Clearly, general manager Patrik Allvin didn’t think that the coach was the only thing that needed to change.
That’s why Allvin spent a premium asset in the first-round pick they acquired in the Bo Horvat trade to get Filip Hronek, bolstering their right side significantly. That’s why three of the Canucks’ signings on the first day of free agency were defencemen, adding Ian Cole, Carson Soucy, and Matt Irwin.
And that’s why four of the Canucks’ seven picks at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft were defencemen, as Allvin and his scouting staff rebuilt the team’s paltry defensive depth in their prospect pool.
After all of the changes, here’s a potential lineup to start next season:
Quinn Hughes - Ian Cole
Carson Soucy - Filip Hronek
Matt Irwin - Tyler Myers
With three new top-four defencemen, the Canucks’ defence will look very different next season. It remains to be seen, however, if it will be any better.
Soucy has size but has primarily played in a third-pairing role in his career. Cole has experience on a second pairing but is 34 years old. Hronek is an excellent puck-mover but he’s coming off a significant shoulder injury that ended his season.
That’s a lot of uncertainty heading into next season, to go with the questions about chemistry that comes with any roster overhaul. The Canucks are likely counting on one of Cole or Soucy to swap over to the right side to play with Hughes on the top pairing. Will it work? Who knows?
But, at the very least, Allvin did something about the team’s defence and did so without locking the team into long-term contracts or spending assets beyond the Hronek trade. If the new-look defence doesn’t work, more changes can be made in a year’s time to rework it again.