Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Cap aside, the Canucks still need to trade a winger before the season starts to alleviate their roster glut
7 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks announced the signing of Nils Höglander to a two-year contract worth an AAV of $1.1 million on Sunday, making it all the more official that Höglander would be a part of the forward lineup in the 2023/24 season — as if his impending waiver eligibility wasn’t confirmation enough.
The news comes just about a week after GM Patrik Allvin revealed that Tanner Pearson’s hand had finally healed, and that the veteran forward intended to be ready for training camp in September.
Both are undoubtedly positive pieces of news. But where does that leave the Canucks, what with the nine other NHL wingers already on their active roster?
With at least one too many wingers, that’s where. And probably in real need of shedding at least one of them for roster management purposes before the 2023/24 season begins.
Up top of the depth chart, there’s Andrei Kuzmenko, who’s got a two-year extension in his pocket and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and especially not too far from Elias Pettersson.
After him, the depth chart gets murky, but we do at least have a fairly good idea of who’s got a spot on lock.
Ilya Mikheyev comes off the IR and directly into the top-six at a minimum, and quite possibly onto Pettersson’s wing, too.
Both the Canucks and the trade market itself seem to have indicated that Brock Boeser is sticking around, and his salary and track record probably indicate that he’ll stick in the top-six.
Anthony Beauvillier scored at a 25-goal pace following his Trade Deadline ’23 acquisition, and is another fine candidate for the Pettersson line.
And then there’s both Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin, the team’s only two NHL-ready young talents on the wings. With each at a crucial stage in their development, the Canucks will almost certainly want to squeeze them both into the top-nine on a permanent basis, and ideally into the top-six on as regular a basis as possible. Already, we’re talking about bumping some of the aforementioned established pieces down the depth chart, and we’re definitely not even close to out of wingers yet.
Dakota Joshua proved a favourite of head coach Rick Tocchet, who posited that the burly winger had 20-goal potential. That alone speaks to Joshua’s odds of getting a look at a role greater than the fourth line, as he often did late into the 2022/23 campaign.
Conor Garland pops up at about this point in the considerations, but it’s hard to find a fit for him anywhere. He struggled to find a groove on the third line last year, and fourth line duties seem like a death knell for his productivity. But then where do you put him, especially while still ostensibly trying to offload him and his $4.95 million salary?
But if even Garland and his famously fine advanced stats can’t fit into the picture, where the heck is Pearson supposed to play? Of the two, he’s perhaps the better fit as a fourth liner, but he’s currently the ninth-ranked winger on the depth chart at best, so that equates to a healthy scratch for the time being. Seems unfair to someone who’s battled back bravely from multiple surgeries and remains a beloved personality in the room.
We haven’t even mentioned Phil di Giuseppe, who earned a job in two consecutive training camps but didn’t actually receive it until late last season. Healthy scratch seems the best he can hope for right now. Or Jack Studnicka, who seems almost destined to be lost in this shuffle and wind up on waivers on route to Abbotsford.
Forget any chance of a prospect like Aidan McDonough or Arshdeep Bains busting through onto the main roster after an impressive camp. There’s just no room.
This is all to say nothing of the minor cap issues facing the Canucks should Pearson not be on LTIR as was originally assumed. It’s all navigable, but it would certainly be a lot more navigable with fewer contracts gumming up the works.
So what’s a team to do? By far the easiest solution is for Allvin to move at least one of those wingers before the season kicks off.
One would hope that Kuzmenko, Höglander, and Podkolzin are off the table, as is probably also the case for Mikheyev after his injury-limited-but-still-impressive Canucks debut.
Boeser seems exceedingly difficult to move, if not impossible, and the team doesn’t seem to want to do it anyway. That leaves Garland as the next-most desirable to trade from a Canucks perspective, with his mid-level salary and extraneous role on the roster. But in a world where a $6 million Taylor Hall went for free, who’s taking Garland for anything other than a chunky sweetener? That’s certainly not an ideal outcome to a winger glut.
Parting ways with Pearson may honestly be for the best following what became a somewhat awkward situation surrounding his extended absence, but that would require another team willing to take a chance on a soon-to-be-31-year-old who missed most of last season and has scored just 25 goals over the last three calendar years, and all for the low price of $3.25 million. Pearson really reads as someone whose value the Canucks might have to rehabilitate before they can move on from him, and that doesn’t do much to solve the preseason roster jam-up, now does it?
Joshua and di Giuseppe belong toward the bottom of the lineup and can duke it out for minutes there. Neither fits in the ‘need-to-trade’ category.
Which means that the answer here is to trade either Garland or Pearson if the Canucks can, but they can’t, so the answer is to trade Beauvillier.
Beauvillier is reasonably priced on an expiring contract that starts at $4.15 million and can go as low as $2.075 million with full retention. A cumulative 18 goals and 40 points in 82 games puts him well into the positive value range already, and then there’s his significantly increased production after becoming a Canuck.
Even in these last gasps of the flat cap era, there’s definitely room to be found on other rosters around the league for a player like Beauvillier. A quick look at the cap charts shows a full 20 teams with enough cap space to add him to their lineup, at a bare minimum, and surely one of them would flip a decent draft pick or prospect for the chance to do it.
Back on the Canucks, it opens up a spot in the top-six for one of Höglander or Podkolzin, for the sake of their development, or for Garland in the hopes of rebuilding his trade value. It makes room for a strong fourth line mix of Joshua, di Giuseppe, and perhaps Pearson, and it even provides some small hope of someone else breaking in from below.
It’s not that the Canucks couldn’t use Beauvillier’s talents. It’s just that there’s only so much ice-time to go around, and that it needs to start being handed out in ways that suit the terms long-term needs as much as its short-term.
And if the Canucks have other plans, we’ll have to wait to see them unfold in the months to come.
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