6 potential forward-for-forward Canucks trades featuring Andrei Kuzmenko

Photo credit:© Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
6 months ago
On the one hand, things are going pretty darn well for the Vancouver Canucks.
It’s the day before the NHL’s holiday schedule and roster freeze, and the Canucks sit at the top of the league standings, tied at 47 points a piece with the Vegas Golden Knights. They’ve got three players in the top-ten for league scoring. Both of their goalies are in the top-ten for both save percentage and goals-against-average.
As of this writing, the Canucks have points in eight straight and have earned just one regulation loss in all of December, with that one being a last-second heartbreaker against the New Jersey Devils.
Yeah, things are pretty good in Vancouver right now, but it’s still Vancouver, and these are still the Canucks, so “pretty good” doesn’t necessarily equate to “controversy-free.”
Through the rolling of all these good times, the Canucks have an Andrei Kuzmenko situation on their hands.
Kuzmenko has been made a healthy scratch in two straight games, and four total on the season. Far from being the DAWG he often was in his rookie campaign, Kuzmenko is now very firmly in head coach Rick Tocchet’s doghouse.
Opinions on the situation seem to vary wildly.
Now, this article is not going to be about whether or not Kuzmenko will or should be traded. For one, those opinions have already been shared plenty, and for two, we have a feeling this is a storyline that is going to continue to play out for a while yet.
What this article aims to do is to pre-emptively analyze what a Kuzmenko trade might look like if it went down.
Here’s our primary thinking:
The Canucks’ bottom-six is absolutely rolling. Nobody wants to break up that Dakota Joshua-Teddy Blueger-Conor Garland third line. And between Sam Lafferty, Pius Suter, Phil di Giuseppe, and Nils Åman, the Canucks have more than enough on hand to put together a strong fourth unit.
The top-six, on the other hand, is decidedly less settled, and trading away Kuzmenko obviously complicate that issue further.
The Canucks seem to have two dedicated top-six “pairings” in Elias Pettersson/Ilya Mikheyev and JT Miller/Brock Boeser. Nils Höglander seems to have recently earned himself a semi-permanent spot in the top-six, too.
On paper, that sixth spot still belongs to Kuzmenko. But with him out of the lineup, the slot has gone to a rotation of players like Lafferty, Suter, and Di Giuseppe.
None of those players seem like long-term solutions in the top-six, or even players that should remain there for the remainder of the 2023/24 season.
Internal options are also lacking, with the likes of Vasily Podkolzin and Arshdeep Bains possibilities for top-six duty in the near-ish future, but not quite yet.
So, the answer seems simple enough: either Kuzmenko works his way back into the top-six, or the primary target in a Kuzmenko trade becomes a replacement top-six player.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with a list of potential forward-for-forward swaps that the Canucks could make if they decide on parting ways with Kuzmenko, but still want to keep their top-six stocked up.
These players have been selected because they have a history of top-six production, because they have similar-ish contracts to Kuzmenko, and because they hold at least the possibility of being available on the trade market.
It is worth noting, too, that Kuzmenko has a 12-team no-trade list, so it’s possible that at least a few of these destinations would be turned down by his camp.
In any case, it’s a short list, but an intriguing one.
Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins
LW, 29, 5’11”, 180lb
$6 million AAV, expiring in 2024
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
We might as well start with the cream of the crop. But get ready for those caveats!
There’s little doubt about Guentzel being the best player on this list, and little doubt about him being an across-the-board upgrade on Kuzmenko. Guentzel has been a point-per-game player throughout most of his career, he’s a proven complimentary piece on a superstar’s wing, and he’s a known playoff beast. This season, he’s scoring at his highest pace yet and leading the Penguins in points.
So why on Earth would he be available? It’s as simple as the Penguins being second-to-last in their division, and Guentzel being a pending UFA.
Should the season continue as it has, and should the Penguins get no closer to a playoff position, it’s entirely possible that they sell off Guentzel, who only has a 12-team NTC. And given that there’s still a few more years left in the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin/Kris Letang core, any selling will be focused on “next season” as much as it is future assets.
We can imagine a scenario in which the Penguins look to swap out pending UFA Guentzel for a Kuzmenko with one more year left on his contract. Now, Guentzel is still the much better player, and we have to imagine that the Penguins would demand a sweetener of some sort, especially with the Canucks probably requiring some light salary retention to make it all work. But it’s a full season worth of a player in exchange for a few months, so maybe that sweetener will be more on the reasonable side.
Pavel Buchnevich, St. Louis Blues
LW, 28, 6’1”, 196lb
$5.8 million AAV, expiring in 2025
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
The St. Louis Blues are going nowhere fast in the 2023/24 season, and that’s unlikely to change in the coming years. Look for them to start to sell off more and more pieces as they reconfigure around a younger core of Robert Thomas and Co., and look for Buchnevich, with just one more year on his contract after this one, to be one of those pieces sold.
That said, convincing the Blues to make a Kuzmenko-for-Buchnevich swap might be difficult under that context. They’re the same age, and signed for the same length of time, so it’s hard to see how Kuzmenko would move the needle for the Blues.
One would have to hope that, after a coaching change, the Blues get a little delusional about their chances of turning it around and look to make a change-of-scenery type trade. Buchnevich’s production is down a little bit this year, too. He’s got a 12-team no-trade list, but we can’t imagine he’d turn down a move from Missouri to BC.
Buchnevich has a longer track record and is a more complete player, but he’s never reached the heights of that 39-goal campaign Kuzmenko put together last year. Maybe the Blues like the upper potential and take a gamble on it being realized. 
Tyler Bertuzzi, Toronto Maple Leafs
LW, 28, 6’1”, 186lb
$5.5 million AAV, expiring in 2024
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
This one is, admittedly, a little awkward. The name “Bertuzzi” has a complicated history in Vancouver, and Tyler is a controversial figure on his own merits. That said, the potential for a mutually-beneficial swap here is strong.
Bertuzzi signed a one-year deal with the Maple Leafs in an attempt to set himself up for a long-term extension post-cap-raise, but has proceeded to put together the worst production of his career instead, despite ample opportunity in the Leafs’ loaded top-six.
He’s got a full NMC, but at this point maybe both the player and the organization are looking for a fresh start, and what better way to get it than by swapping Bertuzzi out for another struggling forward with the exact same salary?
In Kuzmenko, the Leafs get someone with an extra year on their contract, and someone with probably more pure scoring potential than Bertuzzi holds. In Bertuzzi, the Canucks get a more well-rounded, Tocchet-style player who brings elements to the table that they don’t have in abundance. They also get out of a contract a year earlier.
It makes a strange amount of sense. 
Reilly Smith, Pittsburgh Penguins
LW, 32, 6’1”, 185lb
$5 million AAV, expiring in 2025
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
This is our second Penguin on the list, and it’s no real mystery as to why. The Pittsburgh ties are strong with the Canucks’ front office, and if those ties can be taken advantage of, they might as well be.
We already wrote in the Guentzel section why the Penguins might be looking to make changes with an eye toward next season. That could be achieved, in part, by swapping the older Smith out for the younger Kuzmenko. The Canucks get a better fit for their style this year, and a player who is a proven winner in the postseason. The Penguins get someone who is likely to score more next year, and might find an abundance of success alongside Crosby or Malkin.
Unlike Guentzel, Smith is not having a particularly strong season in Pittsburgh. So long as the Penguins could swallow the $500K salary discrepancy, we could imagine this one being a fairly straight-up swap, or even one in which it is the Penguins giving up a sweetener to the Canucks.
Wouldn’t that be a fun change?
Vladimir Tarasenko, Ottawa Senators
RW, 32, 6’1”, 228lb
$5 million AAV, expiring in 2024
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
The Senators are close to last place in the league after expecting to challenge for the playoffs this season. They’ve already fired the coach, and more shakeups are inevitably coming.
Ottawa can’t really complain about Tarasenko’s production, after having signed him late to a single-year commitment. That said, he hasn’t been the best fit, either, and has occasionally struggled to make it into their top-six.
The Senators aren’t rebuilding. They’re retooling. And under that mission statement, we can imagine them being very interested in adding Kuzmenko for the rest of this season and all of next, especially with him being a left winger by trade. Right now, the Sens are playing Tarasenko there, slightly out of position. For the Canucks, meanwhile, Tarasenko adds some serious size, experience, and shooting ability to the top-six.
In this case, the Canucks would probably want something in addition to Tarasenko in exchange for Kuzmenko. But that might be amenable to the Senators. Having Kuzmenko in the fold for next season is worth more to them than the second round pick they’d normally get back for Tarasenko as a rental. Tarasenko does have a full NTC, but we can’t imagine he’d turn down the move.
Jaden Schwartz, Seattle Kraken
C/LW, 31, 5’10”, 185lb
$5.5 million AAV, expiring 2026
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
It’s hard to tell exactly where the Kraken are as a franchise. Last year, they outstripped expectations by a massive degree, and this year they’re decidedly underperforming. The short-term goal is probably for them to return to the playoffs as quickly as possible, and that will no doubt require some form of roster tinkering.
Thanks to multiple injuries, Schwartz has struggled to find consistency through three seasons with the Kraken, and has yet to approach his previous heights of production achieved in St. Louis. Of all the players in the Seattle top-six, Schwartz makes the most sense to hit the trade market this year.
The Vancouver offence is one that we can definitely imagine reinvigorating Schwartz as a scorer. He does often demonstrate those very same forechecking and play-driving qualities that coach Tocchet seems to want Kuzmenko to incorporate in his own game.
Meanwhile, the Kraken could see Kuzmenko as someone more age-appropriate for their core, and someone with some regional name value.
Schwartz is signed to an additional year at the same salary as Kuzmenko, but that might not be the biggest issue for the Canucks, with the cap due to rise in each of those years. This one would be a job for the pro scouts, but if they see a fit for Schwartz in Tocchet’s system, there could be some sand to it. Schwartz does have a full NMC this season, so he’d have to choose Vancouver.

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