What Jim Rutherford’s Pittsburgh teams tell us about moves the Canucks could make this offseason and beyond
1 year ago
Moves will be made this offseason. This may already seem like a given considering the Vancouver Canucks have missed the playoffs for six out of the last seven seasons; however, the bigger elephant in the room is still the team’s lack of cap space.
Vancouver’s projected cap space extends itself into the negative column and it isn’t a surprise. The current roster is not financially durable and will need to be changed this offseason — a job for the tandem of president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin to navigate.
During his end-of-season media session, Allvin made it clear that the goal is to better the team overall and not just clear cap for the sake of doing so.
“I don’t think we just want to create cap space, we want to get better too,” said Allvin. “We are always looking to improve our team and I think that is a part of working with your cap space and current cap situation.”
This offseason, the $1 million cap increase will be in effect, bringing the running total for teams to $82,500,00. The end of Roberto Luongo’s $3 million recapture penalty, which the Canucks have been paying off for the last three years, will also help the Canucks scrounge what they can to try to bring some players back.
So what can fans expect this offseason?
Rutherford has had his fair share of blockbuster deals over the course of a lengthy management career, starting with 20 years of experience with the Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers franchise. But his recent seven-year tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins is an indicator of upcoming change on the Vancouver horizon.
It took Rutherford less than a month to make his first trade as the Penguins’ general manager, and it wasn’t a small one at that. On June 27, 2014, Rutherford traded forward James Neal to the Nashville Predators for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Rutherford did pick up an additional $1,450,000 payroll on the trade with the addition of Spaling’s $2,200,000 contract, but acquiring a player like Hornqvist, who was a key member of the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup runs, paid off big time.
This time around, at least for the moment, Rutherford and Allvin won’t be on the receiving end of any big-name contracts, but in a few years’ time, it wouldn’t be out of the question. Another routine Rutherford move that won’t be seen in his first offseason for the Canucks is trading away draft picks.
The Penguins only selected twice in the first round of the NHL Draft with Rutherford as the general manager. Last year alone, most of the Penguins’ selections, three to be exact, were made in the seventh and final round of the draft.
A Rutherford constant that fans may get to see this year is a young defence core. The Penguins had the fifth-youngest team heading into the 2016 playoffs. The oldest defenceman on Rutherford’s first Pittsburgh Stanley Cup team was 32-year-old Trevor Daley, who Rutherford traded for. On the other hand, the youngest was 21-year-old prospect Olli Maatta. The second Championship around, Rutherford went out and acquired 33-year-old veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey.
Meanwhile, fans are already witnessing Rutherford’s push to pay his backup goalie the league minimum to create more money down the front and back of the lineup. He did so previously with Matt Murray, Tristan Jarry, and now with Spencer Martin, whose two-year, one-way contract worth $762,500 AAV has him set to backup Demko next year.
Rutherford and Allvin have also already started to shop for young defencemen as seen in their latest acquisition of 25-year-old Travis Dermott. Given the Canucks have four players at or above the 30-age mark, including UFA Brad Hunt, next season could be the time for AHL All-Rookie team selection Jack Rathbone to solidify his spot as a full-time member of the team.
When it comes to forwards, Rutherford’s Pittsburgh teams were built off a few superstars, in combination with inexpensive role players. The team rolled out the red carpet for their top four players of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel, paying them an average of $8 million each.
As a result, Pittsburgh banked on skilled entry-level contracts from forwards Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel, and a whole roster of gritty two-way players for under $2 million dollars – something the Canucks have failed to do during the Jim Benning era.
The coveted HBK line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel, which was considered to be Pittsburgh’s third line on paper, converted for nearly 30% of the team’s playoff goals. Rutherford made his bottom-six earn every last penny of their contract. They were physical, could play on both the powerplay and penalty kill, and were aggressive on pucks, creating an offensive zone draw for their first line.
Speculation aside, one thing is for certain: the Canucks roster will become younger. Rutherford and Allvin both made reference to this when speaking to the media about the Dermott trade, and once more at his end-of-season availability.
“We’d like to stay with our same plan of keeping players in their mid-20s or younger, so the team can come together in the next year or two,” offered Rutherford. He did, however, say that there was enough talent on the roster to build off of to become a regular postseason team, so not a total rebuild. Whether these plans involve RFA Brock Boeser or even future UFA JT Miller is yet to be known. In turn, oldest UFAs Alex Chiasson, Brad Richardson, and Brandon Sutter might just be some of the players let go in return for younger up and coming forwards.
Allvin agreed that essentially flipping Travis Hamonic for Travis Dermott at the trade deadline is an example of the team clearing out cap space while also getting younger and better at the same time.
Rutherford and Allvin’s big focus this offseason is fixing the team’s structure to depend less on starting goalie Thatcher Demko. “Our exits from our defensive zone are not good, probably one of the worst in the league. Defencemen are getting in trouble all the time, and we have defencemen that are certainly capable of playing better if they had that structure,” said Rutherford.
Nevertheless, both Allvin and Rutherford seemed optimistic about bringing Bruce Boudreau back, at least for next year, exploring free agents overseas, and most notably, the developments of their prospects in Abbotsford. Rutherford went as far to refer to their affiliate as what could be “the best franchise in the American Hockey League over time.”
Ultimately, fans will have to wait until the team’s Training Camp in Whistler during September to feel the offseason moves of Allvin and Rutherford in full effect. But after today, it’s only a matter of time before the ball gets rolling.
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