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Jim Rutherford’s comments on OEL buyout and young players give a glimpse into Canucks’ long term plan

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David Quadrelli
2 months ago
Canucks fans don’t want to wait much longer for their team to be a playoff contender again, and they definitely don’t want that to be their favourite team’s ceiling. No, people in Vancouver want a Stanley Cup contender, something the city hasn’t had in over 10 years.
On Monday, Canucks President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford sat down with Postmedia’s Patrick Johnston for a Q&A in which Rutherford spoke about his time in Vancouver, the Canucks’ intricate process for acquiring players, his “if everything goes right” comment, and more.
There were two questions and answers in that article that really stood out, and we’ll be examining them further today:
Q: You’ve talked so many times about clearing up the cap. And we can look at where things are next year, very much it is entirely your staff’s framework. Do you anticipate the cap still being something you’re going to have to think extra about, if you will?
A: The one area that we’re going to have to be aware of, is years three and four of the OEL (Oliver Ekman-Larsson) buyout. Year one and two aren’t bad. The last four years aren’t bad. But we have to be a little bit cautious of (years three and four). But it seems like if you’re going to be competitive and want to contend, you’re always going to be up against the cap, you’re always going to be walking that tightrope.
Q: With the players you have and the age they’re at — Hughes, Pettersson, Miller — you really should be trying to contend, shouldn’t you?
A: Correct. But I do feel — and it should fall in line with that year three and four of OEL’s buyout — that if these younger players that we have in the pipeline now, if they get to where we’re projecting them to be, that all will fall into place. And we got some good players coming. And then Jeremy Colliton’s doing a good job with those young players (in Abbotsford), they’re developing those players, getting them ready. So I feel confident, but it doesn’t always go the way you thought it was going to go.
First, let’s break down the Oliver Ekman-Larsson buyout year-by-year to get a sense of what Rutherford is talking about.
In year one — this current season — OEL takes up just $146,667 on the Canucks’ salary cap. Next year, that number grows to $2.346 million. In the 2025-26 and 2026-27 seasons — the third and fourth years of the buyout that Rutherford is referencing above — the Canucks will carry $4.766 million in dead cap.
Sure, the salary cap is going up, but it’s going up for every other team in the NHL as well. Rutherford is bang-on with his summation that if the Canucks hope to contend during those seasons, they’ll need impact players coming in on their entry-level contracts, or at the very least, before their big pay days.
Earlier in the Q&A with Johnston, Rutherford said what we already knew — the Canucks are trying to contend right now. What his answers above tell us is that unlike the Canucks’ last management regime, this one doesn’t live “day-to-day,” and they’ve got a firm eye on contending for a playoff spot beyond just this season and next.
But who are these “young players in the pipeline” who will be impact players by years three and four of the OEL buyout? The most obvious one is Tom Willander, the Canucks’ most recent first round pick, and a player this management group is very high on. As a right shot defenceman, it shouldn’t be hard for Willander to step in and find a home in the Canucks’ NHL lineup. Whether he signs at the end of this season or next season at the conclusion of his NCAA season remains to be seen, but it’s safe to assume that Willander is one of the players Rutherford is talking about here in years three and four of the OEL buyout on a cheap entry-level contract.
In terms of who is developing down in Abbotsford, Vasily Podkolzin, Aatu Räty, and Arshdeep Bains likely have the best chance at becoming impact players at the NHL level during those years, while players like Danila Klimovich, Akito Hirose, and Cole McWard are more in the wild card category. Nonetheless, even one of these players turning into a true impact player for the Canucks would make a huge difference.
Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Lekkerimäki are progressing well in Sweden, but here’s the thing to remember: we don’t know if these prospects will hit. What we do know, is that if they’re going to hit and be regular NHL players for the Canucks, they’ll almost certainly at least be with the team by the 2025-26 and 2026-27 seasons.
The wild card category grows when you look at the rest of the Canucks’ unsigned prospect pool as well. Players like Hunter Brzustewicz, Sawyer Mynio, Kirill Kudryavtsev, and Vilmer Alriksson were all drafted by this regime, and might
As was made painfully clear during the Benning regime, counting your chickens before they hatch is a dangerous game when it comes to prospects. But as we’ve seen with teams like the Dallas Stars, all it takes is one or two impact players on ELCs surrounded by an otherwise competent roster to keep a team in contending mode. For Dallas, that was centre Wyatt Johnson and defenceman Thomas Harley.
Will they still be able to contend for the playoffs if none of these players hit? Maybe, but having even two effective players join your team during their ELC or second contract in some cases can be a sizable advantage over the teams they’re competing with.
Can the Canucks count on at least one top six forward and one top four defenceman coming in on an ELC during the 2025-26 and 2026-27 seasons? It sure sounds like the team themselves thinks so.
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