With just over six weeks remaining until the NHL’s March 3 trade deadline, we’re bringing you one deadline-focused story each day at Daily Faceoff.
Today we’re going to set up the deadline for the Vancouver Canucks.
Current Record: 18-22-3, 6th in Pacific Division
President of Hockey Ops: Jim Rutherford (1st Full Season)
GM: Patrick Allvin (1st Full Season)
Head Coach: Bruce Boudreau (2nd Year)
Captain: Bo Horvat (4th Year)
Last Year: Failed to Qualify for the playoffs, earning the 15th selection in the 2022 Draft (Jonathan Lekkerimaki).
Current Lineup: Click Here
Goals For: 3.4 (8th)
Goals Against: 3.93 (30th)
Power Play: 23.8% (12th)
Penalty Kill: 66.7% (32nd)
LW Ilya Mikheyev – Signed 4 years, $19 million
RW Andrei Kuzmenko – Signed 1-year, entry-level contract
RW Curtis Lazar – Signed 3 years, $3 million
RD Ethan Bear – Acquired for a 2023 5th Round pick on Oct. 28
LD Riley Stillman – Acquired from Chicago on Oct. 7
C Tyler Motte – Traded to the NYR, signed with Ottawa in the offseason
LW Jason Dickinson – Traded to Chicago on Oct. 7 (with 2024 2nd Round Pick)
G Jaroslav Halak – Signed with NY Rangers
G Thatcher Demko – Week-to-week (Dec. 3)
LW Tanner Pearson – Out for season, multiple hand surgeries (Nov. 10)
RD Tucker Poolman – Undisclosed (Oct. 20)
LD Travis Dermott – Day-to-day, undisclosed (Jan. 15)
The Canucks have missed time from several key players. Ilya Mikheyev missed a good portion of training camp with a lower-body injury. Brock Boeser missed time at the end of October and the beginning of November with an undisclosed injury. Demko is currently battling a lower-body injury with a targeted return date some time in February.
It’s often helpful to look back on a regime’s previous deadline, but in this case, we’re not sure much can be gleaned from Allvin and Rutherford’s approach last season. They were managing a team then that they thought could compete for a playoff spot with the right tweaks. As such, their deals last season were about tidying up the house, not the deep clean that many Canucks fans wanted.
March 20, 2022
To Vancouver: Travis Dermott
To Toronto: 2022 3rd Round Pick (Jordan Gustafsson)
March 20, 2022
To Vancouver: 2022 3rd Round Pick (the other Elias Pettersson)
To Ottawa: Travis Hamonic
March 21, 2022
To Vancouver: 2023 4th Round Pick
To NY Rangers: Tyler Motte
Last season’s deadline inspired promise in the management team. The Canucks did well to move off of Hamonic’s contract, using a third-round pick they got back to flip for a useful defenseman in Dermott. And they salvaged what they could for Motte when a contract extension was not in the cards.
Bruce, There It Went. That’s maybe the best way to describe how we’ve landed at this juncture in the Lower Mainland. The Canucks rounded into form under Bruce Boudreau last year and played .659 hockey from Dec. 4 through the end of the season. According to Natural Stat Trick, their underlying numbers – especially defensively – steadily improved throughout the season to the point where they finished in the middle of the pack in terms of scoring chances for and against. They rose to eighth-best in goals allowed in all situations and owned the seventh-best save percentage in the league.
On the surface, their only major defensive flaw heading into the offseason was their penalty kill, which was horrendous before Boudreau arrived and finished in 30th place. Hence, the arrival of Ilya Mikheyev and Curtis Lazar. The Canucks also held onto all of their core players from last season, resisting offers on J.T. Miller at both the deadline and the Draft, instead re-signing him to an eight-year contract extension following his career year that does not kick in until October. To boost their offense, the Canucks further added to their group, luring coveted Russian free agent Andrei Kuzmenko. They believed themselves to be well-positioned to build off Boudreau’s partial season bump.
Well, it’s fair to say that not only have their moves not gone according to plan but also that some of their issues now can be considered self-inflicted. For one, the Canucks refused to offer Boudreau any security and made their displeasure about a request for an extension known. The Canucks fell out of the gate with seven losses. Vancouver’s defense, which showed signs of improvement, has imploded. They’ve allowed the 11th-most scoring chances against, the sixth-most high-danger chances, and are 30th in goals allowed and have the worst save percentage in the league in all situations. Thatcher Demko struggled mightily before going down with an injury, likely due to an increased workload coming off an offseason procedure.
The defense pair of Tyler Myers and Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been a major disappointment. In fact, almost anyone who has played with Myers and Ekman-Larsson has struggled outside of the rare minutes either guy plays with Quinn Hughes. The Canucks’ penalty kill has not rebounded and sits in 32nd place with a hard-to-fathom 66.7 success rate. Opposing teams are closing in on flip-a-coin territory when the Canucks are whistled for a penalty. All in all, this version of the Canucks appears disjointed and rudderless. Now, as Jim Rutherford said on Monday, they’re facing “major surgery” and no shortage of question marks.
The Canucks have Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes to build around. No surprise, but Rutherford said on Monday that this core will not be returning intact. That means everyone else is seemingly on the table, starting with captain Bo Horvat, who is having a magical contract year. Rutherford hinted at potential contract buyouts if others aren’t willing to be flexible with their ‘no-trade’ clauses. A franchise-altering trade deadline is on tap.
Rutherford said on Monday that the Canucks have made their “best offer” to Horvat for an extension. My belief is that Vancouver’s number starts with a $7, as in $7-plus million AAV, while the Horvat camp has firmly believed he is at least in the $8-million-plus territory on a long-term deal. That means the bidding war is well underway. In a story profiling Horvat, we mentioned Boston, Carolina, Minnesota, Colorado, Washington and maybe Edmonton as potential destinations, all for varying reasons. The best way for the Canucks to maximize value is to take a page from other teams’ playbooks and allow for Horvat’s camp to negotiate a contract as the final step before a deal is consummated.
Rutherford has stressed salary cap flexibility ever since taking over, yet the Canucks haven’t generated any yet as they attempted to paper over their mistakes. Teams like the Buffalo Sabres (see: 2012-2020) offer us a view into what life is like when you’re not good enough to compete and not bold enough to fully rebuild. You get stuck in the murky middle of hockey hell for what feels like an eternity. But rather than get caught up in the terminology of a “rebuild” or “retool,” as Rutherford called it on Monday, then the Canucks would just do well to listen on just about everyone on their roster. They can start by pulling the trigger on Brock Boeser, then move through the lineup to cut the cord and gain freedom. It’s impossible to “retool” without cap space.
The Canucks’ preference, according to Rutherford, is to re-sign Kuzmenko and discussions are underway. But at what cost? Kuzmenko is on pace for 70 points and is a pending unrestricted free agent – one of the rare players who can go from the entry-level system to walking as a free agent after one year at age 27. The Canucks would have to believe without a shadow of a doubt that Kuzmenko can replicate his rookie year success and pay him accordingly not to test the market. Another Andre’s contract – that of Andre Burakovsky in Seattle, at 5-years, $27.5 million – may be the guide. But it’s a road fraught with peril on either side.
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