After one of the most eventful trade deadlines in the last decade, there became a strong line contrasting buyers and sellers. Many of the top teams in the league added more talent to their roster, and some teams outside the playoff picture went down a clear direction of selling. However, one of the most popular questions arising from the deadline was: ’What exactly are the Vancouver Canucks doing?’.
Since their trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, the Canucks haven’t been a serious playoff threat in over a decade. After acquiring Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland during the 2021 NHL Draft, there was legitimate hope that this team could return to the playoffs and make some noise. Instead, the team finished with a 40-30-12 record, fifth place in the Pacific Division, and 10th in the Western Conference, falling short of the playoffs again. They did sell off a few pieces at last year’s deadline but also chose to sign forward J.T. Miller to an 8-year, $64MM contract extension, thus indicating that they were still hoping to compete with this core.
This year, it’s been much of the same. Currently standing at 25-32-5, the Canucks are once again well outside the playoff picture. Many believed that the fire sale had begun after dishing longtime captain Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders for Anthony Beauvillier, Aatu Raty, and a first-round pick in 2023. This deal was made four days after signing pending unrestricted free agent Andrei Kuzmenko to a 2-year, $11MM contract extension. Kuzmenko was thought to be a trade chip available before the deadline, but an argument can be made that Kuzmenko, 27, could fit around the timeline of building blocks Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
About a month later, the Canucks continued to look toward the future. Acquiring young forward Vitali Kravtsov from the New York Rangers, and also selling off pieces such as Riley Stillman, Luke Schenn, and Curtis Lazar. However, in one of the more stunning moves from deadline week, they sent the first-round pick acquired from the Islanders for Horvat as well as their own second-round pick from this season to the Detroit Red Wings for defenseman Filip Hronek. Similarly to Kuzmenko, an argument can be made that Hronek fits into the timeline as he is only 25 years old. He has two years remaining on his contract, he will be a restricted free agent at the end of his deal, and Tyler Myers’ contract will be up at the same time if he is not moved beforehand.
Although it is reasonable to suggest that Hronek and Kuzmenko fit the supposed timeline, this has quickly become a team that just can’t get it done. Their head coaching situation has been a carousel for some time, and the front office is investing a lot of money and assets into players that are not good enough to help this team go on a run in the playoffs. It’s not all doom and gloom in Vancouver, they have two of the best young talents in the league in Pettersson and Hughes, but the supporting staff must be changed quickly. There were rumors swirling around on the deadline day that the Canucks had a deal in place with the Pittsburgh Penguins to unload Miller, but it was nixed at the goal line by the Canucks because they were not receiving a young center in return. With the team in the position that they are, not receiving a young center in return is not a defensible excuse to not make that trade.
Included in the Miller extension, he will have a complete no-movement clause until the 2027-28 season. Ekman-Larsson is the only other Canuck on the roster with that same attachment included in his contract. Aside from that, Myers, Ilya Mikheyev, Micheal Ferland, and Tanner Pearson all have modified no-trade clauses in their respective contracts. They will receive salary relief at the end of this year as Ferland’s contract is up, but he has not factored much into their in-season movement due to his stay on the LTIR. Although it will be hard for many teams to acquire such high-priced contracts from the Canucks’, the Nashville Predators showed exactly how to get it done. After trading away Mattias Ekholm, Mikael Granlund, and Nino Niederreiter, the Predators were able to clear a total of $10.5MM, as well as pick up a total of four draft picks, along with prospects. Sticking with their core of Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, and Juuse Saros, the Predators cleared cap space, acquired future assets, and are now able to retool around their core players.
This isn’t to say that every draft pick is going to work out wonderfully for the Predators, but at the very least they are now a team with options. If the Canucks continue to shy away from a full-on teardown, the most important pieces of their roster that need to be addressed are defense and goaltending. As they have a GF/G of 3.32, and a team powerplay percentage of 23.1%, the Canucks offense seems to be manageable as they rank higher than some playoff teams in those respective categories. Despite the above-average offense, this team can’t stop letting the puck go into their net. Ranking 31st in the NHL, the Canucks sport a GA/G of 3.89, and a league-worst save percentage of 87.6%.
With their top defenseman Hughes taking a much more offensive approach to the game, it would make more sense to acquire defensemen that play a similar style to Brandon Carlo from the Boston Bruins and Erik Cernak of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Although they do not score the highlight reel goals, they are some of the very best defensive defensemen in the NHL. Back in November, it was reported that the Canucks and Ottawa Senators held discussions involving Myers, meaning talks could be revisited at the conclusion of the season.
The defense has also impacted the goaltending in Vancouver as well. Many fans have soured on the idea of Thatcher Demko being the long-term answer in the net, but injuries aside, he has been above average throughout his young career. With a cumulative stat line of 91.0% save percentage, 2.93 goals against average, and 6.4 goals saved above average, those numbers show that there should still be hope for Demko.
Once the offseason rolls around, Vancouver needs to be shopping high-price veterans such as Miller, Garland, Myers, and Brock Boeser. Instead of trading away draft capital in hopes of still competing, the Canucks should be stockpiling it. Because of the dollar value of these contracts, they may not receive much in return, but having the luxury of cap space in today’s NHL is an asset in and of itself. Residing in a Canadian market is always going to include added pressure, but with the ability to build around Pettersson and Hughes, the Canucks shouldn’t be as far away as they currently are. Vancouver shouldn’t entertain moving those two, but they need a much harder reset than what they are attempting now.
As they still retain their first-round selection in the upcoming draft, Canucks currently are projected to have the sixth overall pick. Although that is a good draft ranking for a team in this position, because of previous moves, they only have five picks in the first three rounds of the next two drafts. If they are able to acquire more, as they should, the Canucks will now have more options at their disposal. Mismanagement has governed this team for too long, and the Canucks need to pick a more sensible direction.