The 4 items at the top of the Vancouver Canucks’ summer to-do list
8 months ago
The Stanley Cup Final is officially underway, meaning the Canucks have just about one month to finish all their business before everyone heads out on summer vacation.
The next few weeks are going to be an absolute whirlwind for Patrik Allvin, Jim Rutherford and their staff. The NHL Draft will take place on June 28th and 29th, just two days before free agency officially opens on July 1. There won’t be much time to make a lot of franchise-altering decisions.
So let’s help them out by breaking down some of the biggest items on the Canucks’ agenda, and what direction the team might take to check them off the list.
Solve the salary cap issues
The Canucks are out of money, metaphorically speaking. But you already knew that.
Being capped out with a team that’s missed the playoffs in three straight seasons is far from ideal. And in order to make any sort of meaningful improvements, the Canucks will have to trim a lot of the fat from the roster.
Conor Garland and Brock Boeser’s names have been out in the rumour mill for a while, but neither of them are players the Canucks should be trying to move. Garland’s advanced metrics show that he’s a much more valuable player than his scoring struggles let on, and Boeser finally found a way to break the 50-point barrier like he did in his first two seasons.
If the Canucks can find a one-for-one swap that fills an immediate need at a lower cost, that’s the ideal solution. But since the whole league knows the team is desperate to shed salary, other GMs are going to be able to put the screws on them and insist on some sweeteners being thrown in.
That’s why a lot of teams are probably eyeing the Canucks’ 11th overall draft pick like a cartoon wolf when a sheep walks by.
Find a new third line centre
Life without Bo Horvat is still a mystery.
The Canucks might have more wings than an airplane hangar but are severely lacking down the middle after dealing their former captain to the Islanders.
Outside of Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller, the Canucks don’t have any bonafide centres ready to take on a full-season workload. Nils Åman, Dakota Joshua and Sheldon Dries all filled in admirably at different points of the year, but none of them is the right permanent fit for the 3C.
If they’re lucky, Aatu Raty or Danila Klimovich will fill that role someday. But for now, the Canucks will likely have to find a cheap stopgap in free agency.
One great option might be Pius Suter. The 27-year-old scored 24 points for the Red Wings last year and has proven to be a strong presence in the defensive end. In Evolving Hockey’s contract projections tool, Suter’s next contract is expected to land in the neighbourhood of $2.237 million AAV, making him a perfect low-cost fit for the Canucks needs.
If not Suter specifically, finding a centre who can contribute on the penalty kill as well as in the offensive zone is an extremely important piece of the puzzle.
Retool the blue line
The Canucks are in at least a better spot defensively now than they were at this point last year. But let’s be honest, that was a low bar to clear.
Once Ethan Bear gets inked to a new contract, the Canucks will have Quinn Hughes, Filip Hronek and Bear making up a legitimately decent top three on defence. But after them, there’s a large canyon talent-wise.
Tyler Myers is the most obvious candidate for a move, with his $6 million cap hit coming off the books next year. Retaining a small part of his salary might make it easier for the Canucks to entice some buyers, especially now that Myers has added an IIHF World Championship gold medal to his resume.
The direction the team decides to take with Travis Dermott is going to be interesting to watch. Dermott had a number of injuries plague his season, appearing in just 11 games and struggling to make an impact.
With the cost of Dermott’s qualifying offer set at only $1.5 million, it wouldn’t be a total back-breaker if the Canucks went that route. But without solving some of the issues highlighted earlier, it’s going to be hard to find any paths towards improving the defence in a meaningful way.
Solve the OEL dilemma
Finally, there’s the $7.26 million question: what do you do with Oliver Ekman-Larsson?
Buying him out is in no way an option. Adding over $2 million in dead cap for seven of the next eight years – including two years with $4.76 million in dead cap – would severely handicap a team that considers themselves playoff material.
As far as we’re concerned, it feels pretty safe to assume that Ekman-Larsson will be on the Canucks roster to start next season. His disastrous 2022-23 will make it extremely difficult for any team to justify trading for him, no matter what extra players or picks the Canucks are willing to package with him.
With the injuries that plagued him last year in the rearview, Ekman-Larsson expects to still be part of the solution in Vancouver. And unless some team is ringing their phone off the hook about him during the draft, Allvin and Rutherford will be better off holding onto OEL and hoping for some kind of rebound in his defensive play.
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