van no secret

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks exceeded outside expectations this season and feel they likely made things a lot harder for next season as a result.

Vancouver qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in four seasons and won the Pacific Division, its first division title since 2012-13, when the Canucks played in the Northwest Division. The Canucks eliminated the Nashville Predators in six games in the Western Conference First Round despite losing No. 1 goalie Thatcher Demko to an undisclosed injury in Game 1, then pushed the Edmonton Oilers in the second round before losing 3-2 in Game 7 without leading scorer Brock Boeser because of a blood clot.

They also improved by 12 wins and 26 points over last season. Few would have predicted any of it when this season started, and that could make it that much harder to repeat.

“We're not a secret anymore,” forward Conor Garland said Thursday. “We're a good hockey club. It's not going to get any easier. We're not going to surprise teams. It's going to be hard to win games in the regular season. … We're going to be a team that everybody is aware of, and we've got to be ready for that.”

The Canucks’ success also makes it harder to bring back the current roster because so many of the players who can become free agents July 1 are either coming off career seasons statistically or had a big impact in the playoffs.

The list of potential unrestricted free agents includes second-line center Elias Lindholm, who had 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 13 playoff games; penalty-killing center Teddy Blueger; and forward Dakota Joshua, who set NHL career highs in goals (18), assists (14), points (32) and rating (plus-19), and was ninth in the League with 244 hits during the regular season.

Three of Vancouver’s top-six defensemen -- Ian Cole, Tyler Myers and Nikita Zadorov -- each can also become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. And Filip Hronek, who set NHL career highs in points (48), assists (43) and rating (plus-33) while playing alongside Quinn Hughes -- a finalist for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the best defenseman in the League -- on the top pair, can become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.

Those players all said they want to return, but fitting them in under the NHL salary cap won’t be easy for general manager Patrik Allvin, who said he also wants to add speed and a top-six wing after the Canucks struggled to score in the playoffs. They averaged 2.54 goals per game in the postseason after averaging 3.40 in the regular season.

“The players expressed their interest to stay,” said Allvin, who was named a finalist for the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award on Thursday. “We all know we have a salary cap, so we want to be a competitive team moving forward, so it's only so much I can pay certain individuals and hopefully we can find ways to keep a lot of players because I do think that a lot of them have a chance to, with the coaches here, to take their game to the next level.”

Allvin said contract talks with some players started before the playoffs but were put on hold during the postseason. He wouldn’t share his priority list among the free agents and said some spots would be left open for younger players, but conceded that the size and physicality of defensemen like Myers (6-foot-8, 229 pounds), Cole (6-1, 225) and Zadorov (6-6, 248) are an important part of Vancouver’s identity.

“Yeah, we want to keep all those guys and hopefully we can come to an agreement and work with them,” Allvin said. “For me, it's not about giving one guy all the money, it's about finding ways to be competitive and finding ways to have players that are able to improve as we saw this year.”

As for how much harder it might be to get back to the playoffs next season, Allvin echoed Garland’s comments, but said he wasn’t worried about complacency setting in for a group that worked so hard this season to change the narrative surrounding the Canucks.

“I would lean towards the opposite,” Allvin said. “They're going to have a taste of it now and I would hope they're going to want it even more.”

Center J.T. Miller agreed, citing the higher standards set by coach Rick Tocchet, who took over midway through last season and won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL coach of the year Wednesday, as a foundation the Canucks can build on.

“That is the challenge in itself, but I think the whole point of creating a culture and DNA as a group is that way you're not thinking about that stuff. It just becomes part of the way we play,” Miller said. “I hope that taste of the playoffs and the city of Vancouver in May and what it's like to play a Game 7 puts a hunger in a lot of guys stomachs and shows how close we are, and after such a quick turnaround from last year. … That is going to be a challenge, not taking it for granted and raising the bar again.”

Related Content