Filip Hronek is another step forward in the Canucks’ latest attempt at a shortcut-filled retool plan
Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
8 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks were making every right move ahead of the NHL trade deadline.
Then Wednesday afternoon hit, and all hell broke loose.
When the dust had settled, the Canucks were left holding 25-year-old Filip Hronek, a right-shot defenceman acquired from the Red Wings, as well as Detroit’s 2023 fourth-round draft pick. Wings GM Steve Yzerman then ran off into the night, carrying the 2023 conditional first-round pick the Canucks had received from the Islanders for Bo Horvat, along with Vancouver’s own 2023 second-rounder.
Fan and media’s reaction to the deal was swift and almost universally panned. The team’s official tweet announcing the trade has over 1,200 replies; for comparison, a similar tweet posted on Saturday to announce the Vitali Kravtsov trade with the Rangers has less than 330.
On paper, Hronek is a fine two-way defender who immediately upgrades the top four, eats up a lot of minutes, and can play crucial roles on both special teams units. The Canucks’ biggest current roster flaw is their lack of quality defenders, and the young Czech amid his best offensive season clearly fits that bill.
For Patrik Allvin, Jim Rutherford and their front office, this trade makes sense. In their eyes, the Canucks are only a few pieces away from competing, and with the right bets, they can turn around the franchise in one or two years.
Adding Hronek fills the giant void on the team’s right side, and with restricted free agency on the way in 2024, odds are he’ll have another strong season and cash in. If all goes according to the Canucks’ own expectations, Hronek’s addition will help this roster somehow find an extra 40+ points in the standings next season, make the playoffs as a wild card, and put up a good fight before a far better team pushes them aside in the first or second round.
In that very, very narrowminded point of view, this move works.
But in reality, the Canucks are sixth-last in the entire NHL. Despite being 27th overall, they’re five points closer to the last-placed Columbus Blue Jackets than they are to the 23rd-place Red Wings they acquired Hronek from.
With their place in the league’s bottom six in mind, the Canucks went out and paid the type of price a bonafide Cup contender does for the final piece of a championship puzzle. But as has been made painfully clear this season, the Canucks are absolutely nowhere near that good.
They’ve also actively taken steps to get worse in the last month. Trading Bo Horvat took a 30-goal, 50-point scorer out of the lineup with no bonafide successor to replace his point totals on the way. If they’re hoping to replace those numbers by committee, they’re going to have a very hard time doing so with the team built as is.
Since trading Horvat in late January, every move the Canucks have made has been the work of a team coming to grips with their place in the NHL’s power rankings. Trading the likes of Luke Schenn and Riley Stillman to add prospects and draft capital. Holding firm on their offer for an undervalued Kravtsov until the Rangers got desperate for cap space.
Every move fit a much smarter direction, one where the team finally seemed prepared to meticulously craft a legitimate winner, no matter how much time that might take. But they never fully let their original evaluation go.
Instead, this management group appears ready to move to the phase of their retool featuring similar shortcuts to the one that the last regime took — multiple of which are still being felt today.
We can all argue the differences between a “retool” and a “rebuild” until the cows come home, or what constitutes “minor surgery” as opposed to “major surgery”.
The Canucks have said there’s a clear plan in place, and that adding Hronek lines up with it. And they’re absolutely correct on that front.
But it doesn’t make the plan they’ve chosen any less based on pure delusion about a poorly built team.
Without another trade on the way, the team is currently on track to be over the salary cap ceiling next season, thanks to Hronek’s hefty $4.4 million salary.
Almost impressively, Allvin and Rutherford have effectively re-capped out a basement-dwelling hockey team just to add a single defenceman. The decisions the team has made have only served to lower their chances of making real improvement in both the short and long term.
The current front office is riding the same ‘No Plan’ Plan the previous regime did, one that’s earned the Canucks a single playoff appearance since 2015. The train might have different conductors, but the stops are all the same. Hronek is just the Canucks’ latest attempt at trying to bypass proper foundational change with a quick fix, and it will likely only come back to haunt them later.
Through absolutely zero fault of their own, Kuzmenko and now Hronek have become the poster kids of a management team that’s lost their grip on reality. Allvin and Rutherford might not want to admit it, but odds are high that by the time the Canucks host their next playoff game, both of these players will be long gone. As will the majority of the current roster.
And yet, they’re doubling down anyway.
Yes, the Canucks could very well be making another big trade before Friday’s deadline. A lot of signs point to that being the case, and anything can happen in the last 24 hours before a crucial deadline.
But until that move is signed, sealed, and delivered, we have to ask ourselves: what happens if they don’t?
What if this ends up being the Canucks’ last substantial move before the clock strikes noon on Friday? And even if they do, what’re the odds that by making the Hronek trade first, they’ve effectively blown a lot of their bargaining power since the rest of the league knows they need to move somebody before July 1?
Those questions will be answered in due time, but it’s worth deciding if the answer is satisfying as is before then.
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