Though he’s only the interim General Manager, Jim Rutherford is also the Vancouver Canucks’ President of Hockey Operations, and it’s he who is responsible for setting the team vision moving forward.
And as far as immediate transactions go, Rutherford has made that vision rather clear.
No more trading of picks and prospects in return for short-term gains. Instead, Rutherford and Co. will seek to supplement and support the franchise’s long-term health through the addition of future assets.
Read between the lines, and that can only mean one thing: sooner or later, Rutherford and his GM-To-Be are going to start dealing out some Vancouver veterans in exchange for picks and prospects. Some of that will happen between now and the 2022 Trade Deadline, and some of it will have to wait until the summer.
But make no mistake, trades are coming. The only thing left to determine is who on the Canucks might be packing their bags in the months to come — and, to that end, we’ve put together a handy and colourfully-labelled set of veteran trade tiers* to help you get ready for the inevitable.
*Note: For the purposes of this article, a “veteran” is someone who has completed at least three NHL seasons.
The “Forget About It” Tier
Read the header, pal. These folks aren’t going anywhere.
There used to be some debate about it, but that’s ended as of his stellar and resurgent third NHL campaign: Quinn Hughes is the single most valuable asset in the Vancouver Canucks organization. He’s tied for seventh in the league in assists, fifth in blueline scoring, and his rounded-out defensive game continues to evolve. Best of all, Hughes is signed for six years at less than $8 million per. He’s not moving.
If Hughes is the team’s most valuable asset, Demko can at least give him a run for his money as the team’s most valuable player. A true number one goalie, a should-be Vezina candidate this year, and still in the first year of a five-year contract that pays him less annually than the average NHL starter receives. Demko provides the Canucks with crease consistency for the next half-decade or more.
We could rehash all this again, or we could direct you to an article from earlier in the week, written by this same author and titled “8 reasons the Vancouver Canucks should not even consider moving on from Elias Pettersson right now.” There might not ever be a right time to move Pettersson, and it’s certainly not this season.
The “Almost Certainly Not” Tier
These players leaving Vancouver isn’t quite as inconceivable as the previous set, but are still pretty limited on the conceivability front.
Horvat is the team’s beloved captain, one of the best-producing 2Cs in the entire league, and as much a clutch performer as exists in the game. He’s irrevocably part of the franchise picture moving forward, and the only reason he’s in this tier and not the one above is his not-quite-superstar status. Horvat is due for a new contract in two seasons, but if anyone is going to take a reasonable hometown discount, it’s Horvat. Vancouver fans should plan to have him around until 2030 at least.
Although Garland’s production has slowed down a bit after his red-hot start, he’s not any more likely to be traded. He was just acquired this past summer, signed for a below-market five-year contract, and has already exceeded all expectations. He’s also a clear-cut fan favourite, and all at the ripe old age of 25. A wildly good offer could feasibly change that, but even then there are other pieces that could be offered in Garland’s stead. He’s part of the solution, and has been all season.
The “It’s Complicated” Tier
These players could and maybe even should be on the market, but they’re probably not for a multitude of convoluted, contracted-related reasons.
On the one hand, Rutherford and Co. might be wise to try to get out of Ekman-Larsson’s contract, which hits the cap at $7.26 million for the next six years, while it’s still possible. Whatever you think of OEL’s play right now, chances are good that it’s going to get ugly before he’s a free agent again.
With that said, the Canucks can’t really afford to lose Ekman-Larsson right now, either. He’s been their best overall defender on the season, and one of the best 5v5 defenders in the league, period. His contract also ensures that the Canucks would never get fair value in return for him.
There may come a time when it makes sense to trade OEL, or maybe even buy out the final years of his deal, but that time is not now. Ekman-Larsson is just too important to the current roster to even consider flipping him for a presumably middling return.
There’s a Myers Renaissance going on under the watchful eye of Bruce Boudreau, and it’s been a lot of fun to experience. Like Ekman-Larsson, Myers is one whose contract might eventually come back to bite the Canucks — but also one who they can’t afford to part with quite yet.
If Myers’ current level of play is in any way sustainable, he’d arguably be worth his $6 million cap hit, and if he can keep it up for two-and-a-half more years, there’s nothing to worry about. But even if he can’t, the Canucks have absolutely no one to replace him with on the right side. Myers is working for the Canucks right now, and if it ain’t broke, they shouldn’t look to fix it.
The “Make Me An Offer I Can’t Refuse” Tier
Now it gets interesting. These are players that the Canucks would love to hang on to, but that could be pried loose if the offer were irresistible enough.
This is another topic we’ve covered recently, but we’ll get into it again here. Yes, Miller is currently the best-performing Canuck forward by a fairly wide margin. Yes, in an ideal world, they’d simply sign him to a contract extension when that option became available, and never even consider trading their emotional leader.
But this isn’t an ideal world, and Miller’s current run of PPG hockey has him in line for a significant raise in the summer of 2023. He’ll be 30 by then, but that won’t stop him from chasing a seven- or eight-year contract at a high salary, and that may not be something that the Canucks could or should sign him to.
The best bet is to wait until July 1, 2022, when negotiations with Miller and his reps can begin. If the early asks from his camp are exorbitant, the best time to trade Miller will probably be between then and the outset of the 2022/23 season.
That being said, if the team is fairly sure that this is how it’s going to go down, they should be at least actively listening to offers for Miller. And if something comes along that truly blows their socks off, it doesn’t make a terribly huge difference if the trade is made now, versus in the offseason.
Boeser is another player in line for a big contract extension, except his will come this summer, not next. But while Boeser and Miller will be looking for new deals a year apart, their fates are inextricably linked. We might go as far as to say that the Canucks can’t afford to keep both of them, cap-wise, and so one of them probably has to go eventually.
Boeser, while the lesser talent, has some advantages over Miller when it comes to being a long-term fit. He’s six years younger, remains under full team control, and probably won’t be asking for as much after an up-and-down season. But that qualifying offer of $7.5 million is a little frightening, and the Canucks should be paying close attention to how negotiations are progressing thus far. If it looks like Boeser is leaning toward taking that QO and becoming a UFA sooner rather than later, the time to trade him may be now. Still, it would take an exceptional offer.
The “Worth More To The Canucks Than They’d Return In A Trade” Tier
These players would probably return some value in a trade, but not enough to make it worth the Canucks’ while.
Dickinson’s first year with the Canucks has been a difficult one, but he was already starting to find his stride before Travis Green was fired, and has continued to make himself useful under Boudreau.
Dickinson is a multifaceted player who can play anywhere in the lineup, and he’s signed for three years at fair compensation. His lack of offence means that no one will offer up much for him — it only cost the Canucks a third-rounder this past offseason. Thus, the flexibility that he brings to the lineup is worth more to the team than anything else they’d get in return, and he’ll probably stick around for at least the next couple of years.
Schenn is quietly having an incredibly effective season as a depth defender for the Canucks, and he’s signed up for another year after this one at a scant $850K. The fact that he’s regularly able to pair up with the team’s best blueliner and skate competent shifts on the top pairing is just gravy. Schenn would have suitors at the Trade Deadline, but it’s unlikely that anyone will offer anything up that’s more valuable than what he already brings to the Canucks. This time, Schenn is staying around.
Burroughs is an inspiring hometown story, and he’s actually shown some real versatility this year in playing both sides of the blueline semi-effectively. He’s probably never going to be an everyday NHLer, but Burroughs is already signed for another year at $750K. In a worst-case scenario, he’s a call-up option in Abbotsford, and he’s already demonstrated that he can do more than that when called upon. There’s no real need to consider moving on from Burroughs.
The “Trade ‘Em If You Can” Tier
These players should be moved if it is at all possible — but it might not be!
It’s hard not to like Pearson, and he’s still putting in a gutsy veteran effort on a nightly basis. But the reality is that his production was already drying up last season before he was signed to a three-year extension, and that process has only continued through this year.
If the salary cap weren’t a thing, it would be no issue to keep Pearson around in the bottom-six for the next couple of years. But the salary cap is a thing, and Pearson’s $3.25 million compensation is just too much for the role he’s playing, especially when cap efficiency becomes increasingly more vital in the offseasons to come.
For that exact same reason, however, Pearson may be difficult to move. He’s not quite in “negative value” territory yet, but he’s not far off.
On the one hand, Poolman is new to the organization, and has played better under Boudreau after a disastrous start under Green. There’s reason to want to keep him around to see what he can contribute in the long term.
But his four-year, $2.5 million AAV should have simply never been signed, and it’s going to continue to be in the way until it’s out of the way. It’s too much for a bottom-pairing defender, and the Canucks can’t really afford to have a top-four right side made up of just Myers and Hamonic. If you want to supplement Myers with another top-four talent, you need a cheap bottom-pairing. Right now, Poolman’s presence prevents that. He’s also blocking Rutherford from trying out some cheap RHD options with room for growth, a la John Marino in Pittsburgh.
If anyone is willing to take on all four years of Poolman’s contract right now, the Canucks have to jump at the “get out of jail free” opportunity and cut their losses.
Nothing has gone right for Hamonic this year, whether it be his late start or his recent long-term injury. Unfortunately, those circumstances have combined with a game that was already slowing down to leave Hamonic as a barely-replacement-level defender.
Again, his is a contract that never should have been signed. Now he’s on the books for another year beyond this one at a $3 million cap hit, and the Canucks could really, really use that money elsewhere. Take everything we said about Poolman’s place on the RHD depth chart and copy/paste it here. Hamonic is about as valuable, a little more expensive, and thankfully signed for less term. Otherwise, he presents a similar issue.
Getting someone to trade for Hamonic will be quite the task after this season, but he may still have enough of a lingering positive reputation around the league to make something happen. If so, pull the trigger on the trade immediately.
The “Genuine Trade Bait” Tier
These players are tradeable and should garner significant interest between now and the Trade Deadline. This is the cream of the crop, likelihood-of-being-traded wise.
It seems all but inevitable that Halak will be dealt to a contender seeking crease depth at some point. The Canucks aren’t set up for a deep run, and Demko doesn’t need much of a backup during the regular season. The real question is whether or not the Canucks manage to deal Halak before he hits the 10-game threshold and incurs an extra $1.25 million in bonus money against the cap, or if they can somehow manage to wriggle out of that particular poison pill.
The clock is ticking on that. But even if they don’t meet that deadline, someone will definitely offer something up for Halak by the actual Deadline. Keep in mind, however, that Halak has a full no-movement clause, and thus controls his own destination, greatly limiting his marketability. Expect something in the third rounder territory at a minimum, and higher than that if any bidding actually occurs. Or, expect the Canucks to give him away for free if they can do it before the extra $1.25 million kicks in.
Motte has become a fan favourite in Vancouver, and with good reason. Most would love to keep him around for as long as possible. But he’s a pending UFA, one who is probably in line for a raise, and he’s the exact kind of player who playoff-bound teams pay up for at the Trade Deadline. Trading Motte won’t be a popular move, but it might be a smart one.
Motte is fairly compensated right now, making $1.25 million as an elite fourth liner, but he can probably double that this summer on the UFA market, and the Canucks need to start staffing the bottom-end of their lineup with more cost-efficient contracts. If they’re going to continue to be top-heavy, they can’t be paying $2 million+ to a fourth line winger, even if it’s a really good one.
Motte’s hustle, physicality, and PK wizardry are sure to draw attention from contenders. The auctioneering on him could easily get up to a second-round pick and change — and that’s something the Canucks could definitely use.
Hunt hasn’t exactly impressed for his hometown club thus far. But he’s a veteran defender with NHL playoff experience, and contending teams are always looking for blueline depth at the Deadline. The Canucks won’t get much in return for Hunt, but they will almost certainly get something if they put him to market. Think a fifth-round pick or something along those lines.
A veteran of nearly 600 NHL games and 37 playoff games who can (theoretically) play anywhere in the lineup, including on the power play? Chiasson is a classic Trade Deadline depth piece, and the fact that the former PTO only has six points on this season doesn’t diminish his deadline desirability nearly as much as you’d think. Any team planning on a lengthy postseason run needs replacement options, and Chiasson brings multifaceted depth to the table. That he’s a mildly physical player is an added bonus. Chiasson won’t return much, but he can definitely bring in a fourth-round pick, or something in that ballpark.
The “Take ‘Em Or Leave ‘Em” Tier
If the Canucks get an offer for any of these skaters, they should probably take it. If not, they’re all fine depth pieces to keep around.
Lammikko has been a fine enough fourth line center and penalty killer, but nothing special or irreplaceable. The Canucks can qualify him at the end of the season if they want, or they can choose to go in another direction. If someone offers a late pick for him at the Trade Deadline, they can likely have him.
Highmore had a so-so training camp, never really got into form, and then got injured. Since returning, he’s been mildly effective in a reduced role, but the Canucks definitely shouldn’t be holding down a long-term spot in the lineup for him. If someone wants to offer a pick in return for him — or even an Adam Gaudette-style project prospect — then the Canucks will probably take it.
Dowling has outpaced expectations as a depth piece, but he’s still very much a depth piece, and no NHL team should plan to have him on their opening night roster. He’s still signed for another year beyond this one, so he’s probably sticking around — unless someone else really wants him, of course.