The Andrei Kuzmenko extension would be cause for celebration…if the Canucks hadn’t squandered all previous chances to sell high
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
10 months ago
Let’s kick things off with a classic journalistic trick called “immediately contradicting one’s own headline.”
Because the Vancouver Canucks’ extension of Andrei Kuzmenko — signed this week for another two years at a $5.5 million AAV — is cause for celebration.
Sure, we’ve heard all the arguments in the other direction. Our own Lachlan Irvine did a fine job of laying them out in the immediate aftermath of the signing.
It’s yet another signing that signals that the Canucks believe they can be competitive within the span of a couple years, as opposed to performing a rebuild or even a thorough retooling. It’s more veteran winger salary against the cap, something the Canucks are already overly-leveraged on. The contract makes Kuzmenko a UFA again at the age of 29, which as Canucks fans have learned recently, is a rather awkward time to sign a high-scoring forward to another extension.
It’s very clearly a shorter-sighted decision than this franchise should probably be making at this time.
If there was one player everyone might be willing to compromise on “the plan” for, it’s Andrei Kuzmenko.
Right? C’mon, just look at the guy.
Kuzmenko has operated this season as if he arrived on a mission to win the hearts of Vancouver fans as quickly as possible.
Already up to 21 goals and 43 points through his first 47 games in North America, Kuzmenko has blown away even the most optimistic on-ice expectations. He’s developed clear and consistent chemistry with franchise player Elias Pettersson, but also performed just as impressively when lined up with other forwards.
Off the ice, Kuzmenko is a bright shining star in the sea of darkness that is the current state of the Canucks. He’s got the world’s easiest smile at a time when smiling ain’t that easy. His exuberant celebrations are already legendary. He’s best friends with team puppy Ryp.
Never forget that, twice now, Kuzmenko has resolved his UFA status by choosing Vancouver. We’re in an era full of thinkpieces asking “Who would ever choose to join such a disjointed organization?” It matters more than most will admit that someone as loveable as Kuzmenko chose Vancouver and continues to choose Vancouver, despite it all.
Not just chose Vancouver, mind you, but had his family craft an adorable letter to thank the city, as well.
So, yeah, we understand why this extension is frustrating for some. We see the short-sightedness. We understand that it’s a compromise to what all seem to agree should be the long-term plan for this franchise.
And yet, if there was any individual worth compromising for, it’s got to be Kuzmenko. For a guy like this, fans could definitely swallow a little short-sightedness and a less-than-convenient timeline. In fact, this extension probably wouldn’t be viewed as an issue or controversial in the slightest, had the Canucks not already made so many other compromises with previous, far less loveable players.
The sad truth is that we’ve been here before and we’ve been here a while. The Canucks have been making short-sighted choices for a decade running now, and whereas the Kuzmenko compromise should be viewed as a once-in-a-lifetime exception made for a very special person, it’s instead just one more in a long list of likely blunders.
We wrote earlier in the season about the Canucks’ apparent allergy to selling high on their tradeable assets. It’s an issue that goes back at least as far as the days of Dan Hamhuis, and that has continued well into the modern era with the likes of Jacob Markstrom, Tanner Pearson, and — most significantly — JT Miller.
As a result, the Canucks have been left absolutely bereft of the sort of assets a franchise needs to ensure long-term success. They’re short on picks, they’re short on viable prospects, and they’re short on potential NHLers ready to break onto the scene.
On the one hand, that further explains the desire to keep Kuzmenko around for another couple of years. On the other hand, extending Kuzmenko squanders yet another chance to build toward the future, and a good one at that.
Kuzmenko was about the hit the 2023 Trade Deadline as the premium asset of all premium assets. Near a point-per-game with an adaptable, complementary skillset and a proclivity toward power play production? All available at a cap hit under $1 million? That’s the sort of asset that any playoff-bound team would pay handsomely for.
Kuzmenko would have garnered a return that started with a first round pick and went up from there as the bidding escalated. If the Canucks already had plenty of picks and prospects in their cupboard, then this would be far less of an issue. If they had future NHLers ready to step in and improve the overall quality of the team over the next two years, then the Kuzmenko extension makes sense and it’s a lot easier to get over the loss of a potential return.
But that’s simply not the case for the Canucks. They’re a team who — largely because of previous short-sighted decisions — won’t be very competitive over the next two seasons, and who will thus blow through the Kuzmenko extension without much of anything to show for it…and then they’ll still be bereft of picks and prospects.
It’s a vicious cycle that just won’t stop turning. If there’s one singular reason to be most frustrated with the Kuzmenko signing, it’s that it was perhaps the best opportunity to break that cycle that the Canucks are going to get, and they passed it up.
Which, to be perfectly blunt, really sucks. Professional sports are meant to be fun. It should never be viewed as a bad thing that fans are going to get more of such a dynamic and electric player. The prospect of more Kuzmenko smiles should have everyone smiling, but it does not.
Such off-ice concerns are the natural consequence, we suppose, of supporting a league in which asset- and cap-management are so vital and rooting for a team so ill-practiced at managing either.
Andrei Kuzmenko is well worth cheering for. It’s the Canucks in general that are not.
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