Vancouver Canucks: 3 Players to Watch for the Rest of 2016-17

Vancouver Canucks

Nov 22, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin (22) and forward Jannik Hansen (36) and defenseman Alexander Edler (23) and defenseman Christopher Tanev (8) and center Henrik Sedin (33) listen to the national anthem prior to a game against the New Jersey Devils at Rogers Arena. New Jersey won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

As the Vancouver Canucks push for a playoff berth, here are 3 player storylines to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.

It’s now or never for the  Vancouver Canucks.

With 31 games remaining on their schedule, they sit four points back of the Los Angeles Kings for the final wild card spot in the West.

From the beginning, management stated they had one goal for this season: compete for the playoffs. Coach Willie Desjardins said the same. And though the team has gone through extended periods of losing this season, Trevor Linden and company stuck with their coach — and their message.

So now, we will see the real fruits of Jim Benning‘s labors. Will the team defy critics and numbers alike? Or will they fade down the stretch, and leave themselves in the no-man’s land between the playoffs and the draft lottery?

While we wait for the definitive answer, there are other subplots worth paying attention to. Here are three players to watch for the rest of the season. Just like their team, these players’ futures are uncertain.

Unlike their team, they will be interesting to watch even they are losing.

Vancouver Canucks

Feb 2, 2017; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin (22) reaches for the puck against the San Jose Sharks during the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Sedin

On Jan. 20, Daniel Sedin set up his brother for a historic goal:

Henrik Sedin became the first player in Vancouver Canucks’ franchise history to score 1000 points.

Now the focus turns to Daniel, who is right behind him. He sits at 969 career points, and needs just 31 more. The trouble is, there are only 31 games remaining in the Canucks’ season.

Unfortunately, Daniel won’t be able to score a point per game until the end of the season. He is averaging just over half that amount. At that rate, he will get another 15-20 points by the end.

In that case, Christmas 2017 might come early in Vancouver. Daniel would likely hit his magic milestone sometime in November. In one calendar year, the Canucks franchise would go from zero 1000-point scorers to a pair of them.

But, is there a chance he scores his 1000th point somewhere else?

Daniel’s Future

Daniel and Henrik will enter the last year of their contracts next season. Though both of them insist they have no desire to leave Vancouver, they also stated that they believed the Canucks would be ready to compete for a Stanley Cup in their final years.

Is there a chance they change their minds this summer, and decide to waive their no-movement clauses?

There is plenty to get through between now and then: a playoff race, a trade deadline, an expansion draft and an entry draft. What the organization does through all of these might persuade the Sedins to reconsider staying with the team that drafted them.

If so, fans may have to settle for one 1000-point scorer.

Vancouver Canucks

Dec 18, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Jannik Hansen (36) controls the puck against Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard (58) during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Jannik Hansen

Jannik Hansen has been out since Christmas with a knee injury sustained against the Winnipeg Jets.

But it looks like the Honey Badger is back. Hansen practiced today and is expected to play Saturday against the Minnesota Wild.

His return comes at a critical time: the Canucks are four points back of a wild card spot. Their next three games are against the Wild, the Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Minnesota and Columbus are in the top-three teams in the league, while the Preds are on the rise, having won seven of their last 10.

So, Vancouver could dearly use some more goals from anywhere they can find them. Hansen is coming off his second major injury, and his team has missed him.

But Hansen’s off-ice future could prove even more interesting.

Hansen’s Future

The NHL’s expansion draft looms at the end of the year. Management can only protect seven forwards. The first five choices are easy:

They can only choose two others, and there are three candidates: Hansen, Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund.

And right now, it looks like Hansen could be the odd one out. Baertschi and Granlund are near the team-lead in goals. They are both in their early 20s, and Benning gave up two second-round picks to acquire both of them.

Still, if they expose Hansen, it’s guaranteed that the Vegas Golden Knights will choose him over Luca Sbisa or goaltender Richard Bachman. The Danish forward will only be 31, and can play anywhere in the lineup.

Which raises the question: could Vancouver trade Hansen rather than lose him for nothing? 

While Hansen is beloved by fans, teammates and coaches alike, trading him at the deadline makes a lot of sense. He has just one more year left on his contract, which has very affordable cap hit of $2.5 Million.

He does have a no-trade clause, which means he has the final say in where he ends up. But if the Canucks are OK with losing him for nothing in an expansion draft, surely it’s worth it to try to trade him to contending team and get something in return?

Vancouver Canucks

Feb 2, 2017; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller (30) makes a save against the San Jose Sharks during the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Miller

Last, but not least, there is goaltender Ryan Miller.

Miller is one of the keys to Vancouver’s playoff hopes. Between Christmas and the All-Star break, he started 11 of their 15 games, going 7-2-2 with a 1.70 goals-against average and .945 save percentage. Sensational numbers.

But stats like that raise a bunch of questions, too.

First, are the Canucks more than just their goaltender?

While Miller was posting those amazing numbers, the team in front him only managed to score 32 goals — barely over two per game.

If their 36-year-old goaltender had been just a bit worse, maybe no one in Vancouver would be talking about the playoffs.

Second, isn’t Jacob Markstrom supposed to be the starter-in-waiting?

I’ve written before that it’s unwise to lean so heavily on the older of their two goaltenders. Miller has started 75% of his team’s games in the last month. And he shouldn’t be.

Does the coach not trust Markstrom, or does he just like Miller that much? Either way, it raises some interesting questions about Miller’s future with the Canucks.

Miller’s Future

That’s the third thing to watch with Miller: what the heck are the Canucks going to do with him? 

Benning could keep him and allow him to leave as a free agent. He could try to trade him at the deadline. Or, he could even re-sign him for next season. No one seems to know which option the GM will choose.

The next few weeks will have a lot to say about that. With more playoff teams in the upcoming schedule, we will see whether Miller and the Canucks can continue to play well and stay in the playoff race.

If they can, Miller is more than likely staying put, at least until the end of the season. But if the team falls out of the race between now and the deadline, there’s a chance management receives a deadline offer they can’t refuse.

Of course, that depends on just how interested they are in re-signing the veteran goalie. Last season, they chose not to trade Dan Hamhuis or Radim Vrbata, despite having no plans to sign either of them.

Will the Vancouver Canucks hold out at the deadline again, or will they be proactive and trade a veteran player whose future is uncertain? Only time will tell.

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