The Vancouver Canucks have worked through some negotiations quite quickly, reaching an agreement with pending free agent Andrei Kuzmenko. The two-year contract extension will carry an average annual value of $5.5MM, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. Friedman adds that there will be a 12-team no-trade clause included in the deal, which starts next season.
There are two ways to look at a deal like this. It brings back a player who has found incredible success in his first year, scoring 21 goals and 43 points in 47 games. The $5.5MM cap hit is a reasonable amount for the player that Kuzmenko has been this year, and keeps him from walking in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
The Canucks can now staple him to the wing of Elias Pettersson and have the makings of a legitimate top line through 2024-25.
On the other hand, the rest of the Vancouver roster doesn’t appear to be ready to compete during that span. Even with the “major surgery” that president Jim Rutherford suggested, which looks more and more like the exit of captain Bo Horvat, it’s hard to see the Canucks contending next season or the year after.
The pipeline isn’t filled with elite talent, the bad contracts aren’t coming off the books, and right now, they have a club good enough for 27th in the league.
Trading Kuzmenko at the deadline, then, appeared to be a better option. Given his bargain-basement salary thanks to a one-year entry-level contract, Kuzmenko could have been a target for any contender in the league. The return would have helped the prospect pool and potentially sped up a rebuild that seems inevitable, even if the front office won’t admit it.
That said, a two-year deal doesn’t necessarily mean Kuzmenko won’t be traded. It just means he won’t be traded right now. He’ll only be 29 when the deal is set to expire and if the Canucks are still not good, will still likely fetch a strong return on the trade market.
Given Rutherford’s belief that the team can be competitive again in under three years, this deal makes a lot of sense. It gives them another shot with a new head coach, and if it still doesn’t work, they can move on without much issue.
Perhaps the surprise is that Kuzmenko would agree to a two-year deal at all. After all, his performance this season would likely warrant a longer commitment if he wanted it. But this way, he can cash in for the next two years and potentially hit the market as an under-30 winger when the salary cap goes up. If he can keep producing, it might end up a savvy move for the undrafted Russian, who will be set up for a massive deal down the road.