Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
7 options for the Vancouver Canucks to solve Ethan Bear’s absence
8 months ago
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
But sometimes, it’s unbearable.
Sorry. Perhaps we’re making bad puns to distract ourselves from the unpleasant news that the Vancouver Canucks just received, which is that Ethan Bear’s shoulder injury — sustained at the 2023 World Hockey Championships — required surgery to fix, and that the recovery from that surgery is expected to keep him out of action until December.
Bear, a pending RFA, doesn’t exactly have a perfectly-defined role in the long-term future of the franchise, but suffice it to say that he remained one of the Canucks’ best options on RHD for the 2023/24 campaign, and was definitely in their plans for October and November.
Now, with Bear set to miss up to one-third of the season, those plans are going to have to change.
So, what options do the Canucks have to deal with Bear’s absence, and a RHD depth chart that suddenly looks like 1) Filip Hronek, 2) (Maybe) Tyler Myers, and 3) ????? to start the season?
Just hang on to Tyler Myers a little longer
Perhaps the simplest solution is to just stand pat.
It is expected that the Canucks will move Myers at some point between now and the outset of the 2023/24 season, with most believing that trade will come after Myers’ September signing bonus is paid out.
But with Bear on LTIR to start the year, maybe the Canucks should hang on to Myers a little bit longer.
They will now have a little bit of extra cap space on hand. The Canucks could keep Myers slotted into their top-four, as he was all last season, until Bear is ready to return, and then either flip Myers then or (cap permitting) wait even longer and attempt to sell him at the Trade Deadline.
For a fanbase hungry for change, this might not be the most appealing option. Realistically-speaking, however, this might be a better choice than any sort of overreaction to a temporary absence from a team that probably won’t be all that competitive.
Promote a replacement from within
Whether or not Myers sticks around, the Canucks are going to have to find at least one more RHD just to fill out the roster.
In an ideal world, they’d just be able to promote someone from within to cover Bear’s spot for a couple of months in a form of extended audition.
Unfortunately, the pickings are pretty slim at the moment.
Filip Johansson is probably the team’s best RHD prospect, but he just got to North America late last season and could almost certainly use at least one year of seasoning in Abbotsford.
Jett Woo might be a better option, but he just started looking truly comfortable at the AHL level last season. Expecting him to make the jump to NHL minutes in October is probably a bridge too far.
Cole McWard looked okay in a late-season audition of his own last year, but is still a rookie pro after having signed out of the NCAA. And he’s just 22 years old. The plan should be for him to stay in Abbotsford all season long.
The only other RHD on the Canucks’ reserve list is Viktor Persson, who they are not expected to sign before his rights elapse next summer.
Promoting an RHD from within looks like a longshot right now.
Bring back Kyle Burroughs (or Noah Juulsen)
Here’s an option that fans will like.
The Canucks already had a solid fill-in RHD in the mix as of the end of 2022/23. In fact, they arguably had two.
So why not just bring back one or both of pending UFA RHDs Kyle Burroughs and Noah Juulsen, and ask them to cover Bear’s spot for the time being?
This strikes us as an option that only really works in conjunction with the keeping of Myers or the acquisition of another RHD of higher quality, as no one wants Burroughs or Juulsen in their top-four to start a season.
But on the bottom pairing? That would probably be acceptable. Both showed fine enough when in the lineup last year.
It’s not the most exciting or elegant solution to the problem, but if it keeps the beloved Burroughs around for a while longer, the fanbase won’t mind.
Bring back Travis Dermott or Tucker Poolman, health permitting
The Canucks do have another pending RFA on hand who isn’t a RHD, but has spent much of his career on the right side of the blueline, and that’s Travis Dermott.
Now, we don’t know much about the current status of Dermott’s recovery from a concussion that robbed him of most of the 2022/23 season. But if he is healthy enough to attempt a comeback, the Canucks could either retain his rights with a qualifying offer ($1.75 million, probably too rich) or just offer him a cheaper one-year deal, which he’d probably take.
Then, they could give him the opportunity to resurrect his career by holding down Bear’s spot to start the season.
A player in a similar situation is Tucker Poolman. He’s been out of the lineup even longer with ill-defined head-injury-related issues, and we haven’t received an update on him since he started skating again late in 2022/23.
But Poolman remains on the Canucks roster, and on their books for another two seasons at a $2.5 million AAV. If he’s healthy again, he’s honestly a good candidate for a buyout, but he could theoretically be held onto and allowed a chance to cover for Bear, too.
Unfortunately, we’ve received no actual indication that either player has returned to health, so this is purely speculative.
Sign a short-term replacement in UFA
If the Canucks are really set on improving their blueline for 2023/24, and doing so from the get-go, they’re going to need to replace Bear from outside of the organization.
The simplest way to do so will be to sign a UFA, one that can either fill in for Bear now and then drop down the lineup upon his return, or (ideally) one that is good enough to bump Bear down the lineup.
But the pickings are slim here, too. The top UFA RHD crop includes names like Mathew Dumba, John Klingberg, Radko Gudas, and Scott Mayfield, all of whom are either poor fits or well out of the Canucks’ price range.
The next tier contains names like Justin Holl, Connor Clifton, Erik Johnson, and Michael Stone.
Perhaps the best candidates are actually a couple of old friends in Luke Schenn and Troy Stecher, either of whom would be welcomed back in Vancouver with open arms, and both of whom would be worthy temporary replacements for Bear — though neither would bump him down the depth chart for long.
Draft an RHD and throw them into the lineup immediately
This is technically an option, so we’ll include it, but it’s a real longshot.
The Canucks could walk away from the upcoming 2023 NHL Entry Draft with a shiny new RHD drafted in the first round, and that player would automatically become the best RHD prospect the team has had in decades.
They could throw said prospect into the fire for a couple of months and insert them directly into the NHL lineup.
This would be the move with the most long-term impact, but it’s tough to say whether that impact would be positive or negative. The only RHD in the draft that seems even close to ready for NHL minutes is David Reinbacher, and he’s A) probably going to be gone by pick #11 and B) not all that ready.
Even if they draft a RHD, the smart move for the Canucks is to find someone else for this year.
Cut to the chase and seek out a true top-four RHD
Look, just because the Canucks had designs on Bear taking a top-four role this season doesn’t mean that’s their real plan for the long-term.
And most will agree that, if the Canucks are ever going to become a contender, they’re probably going to need to find a couple more true top-four talents to join Hronek and Quinn Hughes at the top of the lineup.
So, if Bear is eventually going to need to be replaced by a better RHD, and if they Canucks are currently looking to temporarily replace Bear in the lineup, why not cut to the chase and replace Bear with a true top-four RHD right now?
The issue, of course, is with resources. The Canucks don’t have a lot of spendable assets to offer up for trade right now, and there aren’t an abundance of RHD on the block at the moment.
The only four RHDs on Daily Faceoff’s list of offseason trade targets are Erik Karlsson (way too expensive), Tony DeAngelo (way too much of a loser), Tyler Myers (already have), and Andrew Peeke.
We wrote earlier in the week about the possibility of trading for Peeke, and we continue to think that he’s the single-best option available for the Canucks to truly upgrade the right side of the blueline this offseason.
Acquire someone like Peeke, and Bear’s absence is suddenly not an issue at all.
Don’t acquire someone like Peeke, and it’ll have to be one of the other, lesser options listed above.
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