En­tic­ing list of free agents ahead

Will Canucks con­sider mak­ing a move on Karls­son or one of the avail­able elite for­wards?

The Province - - SPORTS - ED WILLES ewil­[email protected]­media.com @willeson­sports

ou can look at the West­ern Con­fer­ence play­off race a cou­ple of ways: One, there are five teams within five points of the Canucks and the last play­off spot in the con­fer­ence, or, two, the Canucks are just 17 points back of Cal­gary for first. While you’re try­ing to de­cide which is more re­al­is­tic, here are the mus­ings and med­i­ta­tions on the world of sports af­ter an event­ful week­end.

The list of this sum­mer’s po­ten­tial un­re­stricted free agents is the most at­trac­tive in the NHL’s re­cent me­mory.

As of this writ­ing, there are at least five elite for­wards who are 28 and un­der, a sec­ondary group of four who are 29 and un­der and would fit into the top six of any team in the NHL, a Nor­ris-Tro­phy de­fence­man in Erik Karls­son, a Vez­ina-win­ning goalie in Sergei Bo­brovsky, and a cou­ple of other en­tic­ing baubles.

Now here is to­day’s home­work as­sign­ment: Look at that list, look at the Canucks’ lineup, and fac­tor in this or­ga­ni­za­tion’s his­tory of chas­ing big-name UFAs. Now, try to imag­ine a uni­verse where the Canucks don’t make an at­tempt to land at least one of those play­ers this sum­mer.

Given this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s track record with free agents, that’s a scary propo­si­tion.

But this time, it ac­tu­ally makes sense.

This sea­son, the lo­cals have demon­strated they’re trend­ing in the right di­rec­tion. We can ar­gue about some of the specifics, but, big pic­ture, they’re in the mid­dle of a play­off race, they’ve iden­ti­fied three foun­da­tional pieces up­front in Elias Pet­ters­son, Bo Hor­vat and Brock Boeser, there is some depth on the team and within the or­ga­ni­za­tion, and Quinn Hughes is on the way.

In short, they seem to be close to, well, some­thing. Now, ask your­self this: What would one of the big fish — Artemi Pa­narin, Mark Stone, Jeff Skin­ner — do for the Canucks? What about Karls­son? What about a player such as Micheal Fer­land or Jakob Sil­fver­berg?

It’s an en­tic­ing propo­si­tion, and if the av­er­age fan can imag­ine the im­pact of a dif­fer­ence-maker or two in the Canucks lineup, you can be sure the front of­fice is go­ing through the same ex­er­cise.

The next two months sets up as an ex­cit­ing time for the faith­ful who’ve had pre­cious lit­tle to sus­tain them for three full sea­sons. But here’s the thing. This off-sea­son might be just as ex­cit­ing.

Canucks GM Jim Ben­ning on what a play­off race means to his young team: “I think it’s in­valu­able. There’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween play­ing mean­ing­ful games in Fe­bru­ary and March when you’re com­pet­ing for a play­off spot ver­sus a bot­tom-six team that’s play­ing out the string. Our young play­ers are go­ing to learn how hard you have to play to have suc­cess.”

On a re­lated note — for those past three sea­sons, the stated goal of Ben­ning’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has been to pro­vide a com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment for their young core.

It fi­nally looks like the Canucks have ar­rived at that point, which raises the ques­tion: How can they trade Alex Edler and/or Chris Tanev and main­tain their cred­i­bil­ity?

Edler and Tanev were huge in the third pe­riod of Sun­day’s win over Detroit, shut­ting down the Wings’ best play­ers af­ter the Canucks took the lead. Edler, more­over, has been the heart of the de­fence for the past two months and has played his best hockey since that dis­as­trous sea­son un­der John Tor­torella.

As it hap­pens, the Canucks have sched­uled con­tract talks with the de­fence­man’s agent over the All-Star break. As al­ways, the ques­tion for a blue­liner who is about to turn 33 is term, but you’d gam­ble an ex­tra year or two on Edler based on the way he’s play­ing.

Be­fore Fri­day night’s win over Buf­falo, Boeser had one goal in seven games, an empty net­ter against Florida.

The is­sue wasn’t scor­ing chances. The is­sue was he was just miss­ing on the ones that came his way.

In a dif­fer­ent life, Boeser was a high-level base­ball prospect in Min­nesota be­fore he con­cen­trated on hockey full-time as a 16-year-old.

He was asked if there were sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween a scor­ing slump and a hit­ting slump.

“It’s the same thing,” he said.

“You feel like you’re hit­ting the ball hard and do­ing ev­ery­thing right. You’re just not get­ting the re­sults. Then you get a hit and things start rolling.”

Against Buf­falo on Fri­day, Boeser scored on a set up by Hor­vat and fol­lowed that up with a two-as­sist per­for­mance in Sun­day’s win over Detroit. He now has four points in his past two games. Just say­ing. And fi­nally, I hate it when CFL coaches chal­lenge pass in­ter­fer­ence and go fish­ing for a call that has the po­ten­tial to turn around a game.

But I hate it more that this year’s NFC ti­tle game will for­ever be re­mem­bered for the non-call on Rams de­fen­sive back Nick­ell Robey-Cole­man that cost the Saints a berth in the Su­per Bowl.

As a re­sult of that one of­fi­ci­at­ing er­ror, the NFL se­ri­ously will have to con­sider adding pass in­ter­fer­ence to the list of plays that can be chal­lenged un­der video re­view.

The Dark Star can’t af­ford an­other night­mare like this.

GERRY KAHRMANN/PNG FILES

Quinn Hughes shows ev­ery sign that he’ll soon be con­sid­ered a foun­da­tional player on the Canucks.

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