Despite trade rumours, it makes more sense for the Canucks to keep Brock Boeser
Photo credit:© Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
According to The Weather Network, this weekend promises to be cloudy and placid in Vancouver, with an average of about 8° Celsius.
According to every other media outlet, however, the trade winds are blowing strong.
Captain Bo Horvat is already gone.
And the word on the street is that Brock Boeser — the new longest-serving Canuck — might be next, with specific implications of ongoing talks between Vancouver, Boeser’s camp, and both New Jersey and Minnesota about the possibility of a deal.
Suffice it to say that, as it currently stands, the odds of Boeser still being with the Canucks after the March 3rd Trade Deadline has come and gone seem slim, at best.
But should that really be the case?
There’s no doubt that Boeser’s 2022/23 season has been less-than-successful.
Boeser infamously started the year by going goalless in his first 11 games. He’s rebounded a fair bit since then, but he’s still on pace for fewer than 20 goals total, and is putting them in at a rate less than half of that of his sophomore season.
Points-wise, Boeser is at least on pace to improve on 2021/22’s outright dismal results, but he’s still nowhere near the level that saw him lead the team in scoring just two seasons back.
For a forward whose talents lie primarily in the offensive end of the ice, that’s not terrific. And, unfortunately, the situation looks even worse once one has a peek at Boeser’s underlying numbers.
At 5v5 this season, Boeser is posting all-time worst performances in the statistical categories of Corsi (47.53%), xG% (42.65%), scoring chance control (43.71%), and especially high-danger chance control (39.67%). That’s more than enough hard evidence to say that Boeser isn’t just experiencing a cold streak, he’s straight-up just not playing well.
To make matters worse, Boeser is in the first year of a three-year, $6.65 million AAV contract extension that made him the 60th-highest-paid forward in the NHL this season. Boeser, notably, has not been performing like a top-60 forward, or even particularly close.
That all serves as a fairly thorough explanation of why the Canucks might be looking to move on from Boeser. Cap space is still at a premium in Vancouver, they’re looking for offseason flexibility, and — in his current form, anyway — Boeser isn’t helping the team very much on the ice.
Make no mistake, however: trading Boeser now is absolutely a case study in selling low. His personal value has plummeted dramatically over the last two years, and — according to pundits like our own Noah Strang — the returns being offered up for him at this year’s deadline should be minimal, at best. Some others believe his trade value is actually negative.
Which leads us to ponder if maybe, in the long-term, Boeser might make more sense as an asset to hold onto, rather than one to cash in on right now while his value is at an all-time low. The Canucks don’t have any realistic path toward contention anytime soon, so there’s really no rush. If a better return can be gleaned from Boeser at a later date, there’s no real consequence to them waiting.
Of course, believing that his value is at an all-time low, and won’t just continue to get worse from here on out, requires some belief in the possibility of a Boeser rebound.
Fortunately, there’s actually plenty of reason to think he might bounce back.
Boeser will turn 26 later this month, putting him right in the middle of what should be his statistical prime. That says that his decline in scoring is probably not age-related, and thus hopefully not permanent.
Some markers of bad puck-luck are present in Boeser’s statistical profile. His personal shooting percentage is down nearly three points from his career average. His PDO (combined team shooting percentage and save percentage while on-ice) is quite low at 96.7%, which is among the lowest of any regular Canucks skater.
Beyond the tangible evidence, however, is a veritable mountain of aggravating circumstances that explain not only why Boeser is not at his best, but why he probably should not have been expected to be in this particular season.
The 2022 offseason did begin with the loss of Boeser’s father, something that no doubt still weighs heavily upon him.
Any chance of getting off to a hot start on the ice was scuppered by yet another preseason injury, the fifth time in six years that Boeser got hurt right at the start of a campaign. In fact, his run of luck was so bad, it inspired us to write “A brief history of Brock Boeser not being able to catch a break” back in September.
This latest injury involved his hand and required surgery. Then, in keeping with the typical standard of injury care in Vancouver these days, Boeser appeared to be rushed back into the lineup before he was fully recovered. He was only back for six games before leftover complications from the surgery forced him back into the pressbox for a couple more weeks.
For a noted sniper with a lethal wrister, a preseason hand injury requiring surgery and then improperly recovered from might go a long way toward explaining Boeser’s lack of goals this season, especially at the outset.
But there’s still more to it than that.
The arrival of Andrei Kuzmenko meant that Boeser was frequently bumped off the Canucks’ first power play unit, further reducing his ability to rack up goals and points. Never mind the general suppression of statistics brought on by the Canucks’ overall poor performance and low production rates.
Then there are all of the off-ice considerations. Few players felt the blunt edge of the Canucks’ organizational dysfunction more directly this season than Boeser, what with that whole debacle of him being almost scratched on the first Hockey Fights Cancer night following the loss of his father.
In the past, Boeser has been referred to as “Mr. Sensitive.” And while that’s usually delivered tongue-in-cheek, it’s also got an element of truth to it. This season has not been a fun one for the Vancouver Canucks. Bruce Boudreau started the year a hair’s breadth from being fired and stayed there until long after his replacement was already found. Dressing room turmoil erupted at seemingly every turn. The team’s long-term captain was subject to endless trade speculation, and he wasn’t the only one.
We can easily see how all the off-ice drama would negatively affect the performance of virtually anyone on the Vancouver roster, but we can also imagine how that’s especially true for Boeser. That’s the downside, we guess, to being Mr. Sensitive.
Which leads us back to our original point.
Given that there is both ample tangible and non-tangible evidence available to explain Boeser’s struggles this season, and given that many of those factors are (hopefully) temporary ones, and given that he’s still plenty young enough to progress back toward his career averages, we’d argue that the chances of Boeser experiencing some level of bounce-back next season — or even in the later stages of this season — are actually quite decent.
Heck, with eight points in his last six games, maybe it’s already happening.
And if that’s the case, doesn’t it make much more sense to hold on Boeser, to trade other assets at the 2023 Trade Deadline instead, and to bet on him rebuilding his trade value to some extent, rather than dealing him at an all-time low for pennies-on-the-dollar right now?
Here’s the thing, too: if the Canucks wait on trading him, and even if Boeser doesn’t rebound, he might still increase his trade value by simply being closer to finished with his current extension. Two years of an overpaid contract is always easier to move than three years, and one year is even easier than that.
Really, it’s hard to find any reason to believe that now is the time to move on from Brock Boeser. The Canucks have held onto the asset this long, and cashing in now definitely reads as a worst-case scenario.
This is one situation in which patience is almost certainly a virtue.
Recent articles from Stephan Roget