Jim Rutherford, the Vancouver Canucks’ president of hockey operations, noted the team will start to make major decisions last week as the remainder of the front office arrived in Vancouver. The new general manager (GM), Patrik Allvin, joined the team in Vancouver and started taking calls from other clubs. Meanwhile, new assistant GM Emilie Castonguay has taken over the day-to-day management of the Canucks’ roster and salary cap.
With the Canucks new front office together, the organization has a few things to work on before the club can get to where Rutherford and the front office expect them to be. The president stated the club will not be rebuilding but instead retooling the roster. Rutherford noted it will likely be two years before the team is truly a Stanley Cup contender.
“We’re certainly not starting from scratch. There’s a lot of good players there,” Rutherford said.
“If you look at the teams that did a total rebuild, it’s nice to see those teams doing well now but everybody forgets about the four or five years they had to go through of tough years to get there. I would like to think, with the players we have, that this team can be retooled.”
Clear Up Cap Space
Rutherford noted any time a team is up against the cap and not in the playoffs, that is not a great thing. The Canucks are one of those teams as they don’t occupy a playoff spot and are projected to have $10.860 million in cap space this offseason, with one key forward as a restricted free agent (RFA) in Brock Boeser. Therefore, the front office has some work to do with the team’s salary cap.
The best way to clear up cap space is to offload some contracts. The Canucks have a few overpaid contracts left over from the Jim Benning era. Two players the organization could trade to free up space are Jason Dickinson and Tucker Poolman. The two signed with the club this past offseason.
Dickinson was traded to the Canucks this offseason from the Dallas Stars and signed a three contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $2.650 million. The club expected him to serve as a third-line shutdown centre, who’d provide some scoring depth, but he hasn’t done either. Meanwhile, the Canucks signed Tucker Poolman to a four-year deal with an AAV of $2.5 million. Poolman’s contract is questionable as he is locked up for four years, while players like Luke Schenn and Kyle Burroughs have proven they can provide the team with much more on the ice and come at a lower combined price point.
Along with Dickinson and Poolman, Travis Hamonic’s $3 million should be moved as well. He hasn’t played much for the club this season and didn’t play great last season. He is signed on for one more season, but Rutherford and Allvin would be wise to move him this offseason. Trading all three would free up an additional $8.15 million.
The Canucks may have to move another contract as Boeser will be an RFA this offseason, J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat are unrestricted free agents the following offseason and then Elias Pettersson is an RFA after the 2023-24 season. Miller, Boeser and Conor Garland have been a part of trade rumors over the past few months, but there are other players the club could move. Oliver Ekman-Larsson (six seasons, $7.2 million AAV) and Tyler Myers (three seasons, AAV of $6 million) are great candidates. Myers may be the one to go as Ekman-Larsson has been a great addition in the defensive end, while the 6-foot-8 defenceman hasn’t been nearly as great. Additionally, Jaroslav Halak and his contract bonus of $1.5 million could be traded if the goalie decides to waive his no-move clause.
Add Young Players
Canucks management appears to be interested in acquiring a player in the age range between 20-25 years old. The Canucks have reportedly shown interest in New York Rangers’ forward Vitali Kravtsov and New Jersey Devils’ forward Pavel Zacha.
Kravtsov, 22 years old, opted to return to Russia and play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) instead of playing with the Rangers American Hockey League (AHL) team this season. The 2018 ninth overall pick’s camp received permission to seek a trade for the forward in October. He stands at 6-foot-3, 193-pound winger brings high-end skill and passing ability. The KHL cancelled its regular season and will be going straight to the playoffs after the Olympics, which means the Canucks could trade for him before the March 21st trade deadline and have him play for the club this season.
Zacha is 24 years old and stands at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. The Devils have been unable to find a fit for the forward at centre, as they have Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer down the middle. He’d be a good fit for the Canucks, as he would be a third-line centre for the club, behind Pettersson and Horvat. In his seven NHL seasons, he has scored 66 goals and posted 166 points in 363 games.
Both players have seemed to fall out of favour with their clubs, so it seems as the Canucks are looking for players in a similar situation. The Athletic’s Thomas Drance and Harman Dayal list eight other players the Canucks could target, including Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk and Florida Panthers forward Owen Tippett (from ‘Pavel Zacha, Vitali Kravtsov and 8 more potential Canucks trade deadline targets between the ages of 20-25’ The Athletic, February 14, 2021).
Add Highly Touted Prospects
Whether it’s through a trade or the draft, the Canucks need to add a highly-touted prospect. With Vasily Podkolzin joining the Canucks this offseason and Olli Juolevi getting traded to Florida, Jack Rathbone and Mike DiPietro are the last remaining top prospects the Canucks have. The club traded away both its 2020 and 2021 first-round pick and has only picked once in the first two rounds over the past two years.
It’ll be tough for the Canucks to add prospects this season without moving a top player such as Miller, Boeser or Conor Garland. Additionally, the team doesn’t have its second-round pick this year. In order to add to the prospect pool, the Canucks may have to sacrifice one of their top forwards.
Rutherford & Front Office Will Take Their Time
Rutherford has noted the Canucks are in no rush to make moves and will likely take their time before the March 21st trade deadline. The club has a lot of big decisions to make, which includes potentially trading one of their top forwards while creating cap space and adding to their prospect pool. Additionally, one of the young players, who have fallen out of favour with their team, could be added in a side deal.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.