Photo credit:Matthew Henderson
Monday Mailbag: Vancouver Canucks New Year’s Resolution edition
1 month ago
Happy New Year, CanucksArmy Nation!
How odd that back-to-back Mailbags fall on a milestone date? Christmas Day and January 1st?
What a year to take over the Mailbag!
Since most of us are likely nursing some pretty brutal hangovers, let’s get right into the questions that burned hot in your minds during the last days of 2023!
What would you be willing to give up to get another top four defenceman or top six winger?
Moneypuck.com gives the Canucks a 96.2% chance of making the playoffs, a 50% chance of making it to the second round, and a 13% chance of making the final. Those are the second, fifth, and seventh-best odds of any team for each respective round. Additionally, they’ve been given a 37.8% chance of finishing 1st in the Pacific Division, 6.7% higher than the Los Angeles Kings.
At this point, it would be almost irresponsible not to trade their 2023 1st round pick to create space and net a legit top-six winger or a legit top-pair defenceman.
My untouchables would be Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Tom Willander.
Beyond those two, if the return is a top-six forward or a top-pairing defencemen, especially one under 27 years old, on a team-controlled contract, or locked up at a decent cap hit with term remaining, then I believe everything should be on the table.
I’ve already preached this in previous Mailbags, but I’m still eyeballing Mathieu Joseph from the Ottawa Senators. The Sens recently placed Joseph on LTIR to create enough cap space to activate Thomas Chabot and will have to create another $2.5-million in cap space to bring Joseph back into the lineup.
Does Allvin have another trick up his sleeve to take advantage of another team in a cap/roster bind?
If you could target a forward in a trade to improve the Canucks, who would it be and why?
I told myself I wouldn’t get that deep in the weeds for the first Monday Mailbag of 2024.
But then I had too much caffeine and started having too much fun.
I dug out my handy-dandy google sheets and Statmuse.com to help Canucks fans game the system for trade deadline targets.
There are 46 games left on the docket: 27 against the Western Conference (14 against the Central and 13 against the Pacific) and 19 against the Eastern Conference (9 against the Atlantic and ten against the Metropolitan).
Vancouver plays Arizona, Winnipeg, and Los Angeles the most over this 46-game stretch, three games each, with four games against the Vegas Golden Knights to boot. So I decided to look up who in the NHL has the most points against these teams through the 2023-24 season to identify low-cost, potential forward acquisitions for Vancouver to “game the system” against these opponents during crunch time.
For good measure, I looked up the big point-getters against Eastern playoff teams Detroit, Boston, and Washington, who the Canucks have two games to play through the 2024 portion of the season.
Unsurprisingly, at the top of the charts were guys from current playoff fixtures who are unlikely ever to be moved from their current team. So, I had to scroll a bit further down the list to try and find some eyebrow-raisers who fit the following criteria:
- Not on a cup contender, or
- If on a contender, on an expiring, or about to expire contract
- Making not a lot of money, or
- Making a lot of money for a non-contending team that could be looking for a shake-up move
That left me with this list of forwards*, listed by points against upcoming Canuck opponents.
*Plus, Brendan Dillon, whose five points against Arizona would be convenient in the Canucks lineup come April, as well as Cam Fowler’s four points against the Golden Knights!
From a “gaming the system” perspective, any of Tippett, Norris, Fowler, Kadri, Bunting, or Vatrano would be most valuable moving forward. They have the best production against a powerhouse Vegas team through the 2023 portion of the schedule. The Canucks got crushed in their one meeting with Vegas this season and could use a confidence boost from those players!
The next layer of forward targets includes Ehlers, Tippett, Frost, Nyquist, Kurashev, and Rodrigues.
This management group seems to love ex-Leafs players, so I wonder if Michael Bunting could be a target.
Suppose the Canucks are all in on a playoff push for this season. I think the rad play would be to entice Winnipeg with a combination of the Canucks’ first-round pick and a host of ready and near-read-to-play prospects (think Vasili Podkolzin) for Nikolaj Ehlers, kind of like the package the Kings offered in exchange for Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Don’t worry. I’m not stupid. I’m aware the Jets are not likely in the business of trading anyone now that they’re sitting atop the Central heap. Let alone a proven top line forward of Ehlers quality.
Still, it would be one of those standout “oh, they mean business!” moves that define the Allvin era of Canucks hockey.
Also, please note that Mathieu Joseph appears on this list, which syncs-up perfectly with the first question of this Mailbag.
Which Canucks players are having good seasons and which ones have been lousy so far this season?
The great thing about leading the NHL by points, second by points percentage, is that you only get to that point because the majority of players are having good seasons, and very few are having lousy ones.
During the team’s hot start, the top stars were 1, 2, and 3 for production in the NHL. The bottom six struggled to produce but were controlling play effectively. Through injuries and a rough November stretch that saw the top six’s production slow down, the bottom six stepped up and carried the load by scoring plenty of goals and controlling play at 5-on-5 to a staggering degree.
Conor Garland was in everyone’s crosshairs to start the season for the lack of production but has half of his points in the last ten games.
With Carson Soucy out of the lineup, Tyler Myers drew back into the market’s crosshairs for his numerous errors, but even he is on pace to have the most productive season of his Canucks tenure, on track to score 35 points.
Noah Juulsen took the brunt of the blame for the club’s rough November stretch but has since been recognized for his underlying PK numbers and physicality.
The players who had lousy seasons were all traded away for pieces that have helped both the NHL and AHL clubs win games. Anthony Beauvillier was moved for a pick that was then flipped for Nikita Zadorov, and Jack Studnicka was moved for a pick and defenseman Nick Cicek.
The only truly lousy season being had right now is Andrey Kuzmenko, and even he is still on pace for 20 goals and near 50 points despite his position in the Tocchet doghouse.
What was the most notable thing to come out of the year 2023?
I refuse to include negativity in the first Mailbag of the new year.
The answer is still the organization’s abhorrent treatment of Bruce Boudreau into January of last season.
If the question was “most notable non-Canucks thing to come out of the year 2023,” then I refuse to answer because 2023 was a whole lot of sad and bad on a global scale.
What’s a realistic expectation for Max Sasson?
Apparently, 2024 is a leap year! Which means there are 366 days!
As for Max Sasson, he might be this team’s first or second center call-up at the present moment!
With Aatu Räty playing predominately at the wing for Abbotsford, I have to think that an in-season center call-up would either be Sheldon Dries or Max Sasson. Dries does have a considerable edge over Sasson, given his NHL experience and propensity for scrapping, alongside power play and penalty kill experience at both the NHL and AHL levels.
BUT, Sasson is having a pretty fantastic rookie year in the AHL.
Despite missing three weeks of play with a concussion, Sasson has been lights out at 5-on-5 for the Abbotsford Canucks, with three goals and two assists in his first four games back.
His 13 points at 5-on-5 are tied with the aforementioned Dries and Linus Karlsson for second-most on the team, one below Räty and Arshdeep Bains. His 13 points in 21 games gives him the best 5v5 points per game on the team, with Tristen Nielsen in a close second, with 10 points in 17 games played.
Though he doesn’t feature on the team’s penalty kill, Sasson has been a line driver for the top six at 5-on-5 and on the second power play unit. That lack of PK time puts him behind a player like Dries for an in-season call-up, but his waiver eligibility and 5v5 production will make that a tough decision for this management group.
With Sasson on the ice at 5-on-5, the Abbotsford Canucks have outscored their opposition 19 to 9. His plus-10 goal differential is second only to Cole McWard’s plus-11 goal differential.
With the way he’s playing, I could see this management group rewarding him with an in-season cup of coffee when a playoff spot is firmly locked up.
Sasson impressed at this season’s training camp; if he has another standout camp for Vancouver next season, I could very well see him splitting time between Vancouver and Abbotsford in a bottom-six role. A lot needs to break right for that to happen, but I’ve liked his work rate, skating, and nose for the net in Abbotsford. His playstyle is one that would gel nicely with what Rick Tocchet wants out of his players; he just needs to add a bit more weight and physicality to knock the door down.
A little PK time in Abbotsford wouldn’t hurt, either.
What is a realistic timeline for both Jonathan Lekkerimäki and Tom Willander?
The other day, I would have guessed Lekkerimäki is still another season away. Barring an incredible offseason or blowing the doors down at training camp, he is likely due for a full season in the AHL after this summer.
Willander’s roadmap to the NHL is a total mystery to me. First, it’s rare to see a Swedish defenceman jump to the NCAA in their Draft plus-1 season before even turning 19 years old—most, if not all, drafted Swedish prospects opt to develop in the Swedish leagues or spend one year in the USHL before entering the NCAA in their Draft plus-2 season. Secondly, despite his draft pedigree, it doesn’t sound like the club is in any rush to move him to the AHL/NHL.
Thanks to Reddit user CrYztaLreddit for this translation of an interview conducted with GM Patrik Allvin on the Swedish broadcast of the World Juniors panel in Gothenburg.
When asked about where Allvin sees Willander in the Canucks defense hierarchy, he mentions that they are in no hurry with Willander but he has the qualities to be a top 2/3 defenseman with some more experience.
More experience could mean another year in a 1st pairing role with Boston University or a year in Abbotsford getting 1st pairing minutes in the AHL.
Allvin mentioned that hes happy with Lekkerimäkis development so far, but when asked about when he would get his chance in the NHL, he was hesitant to give a solid answer and said that Lekkerimäki still has to build some strength and likely need to adjust to the smaller ice in North America but he anticipates Lekkerimäki to come over to North America ” next year ” after “8 more months and a good summer” to hopefully fight for a spot in the Canucks lineup but a stint in Abbotsford was not ruled out.
For the team’s sake, I hope Lekkerimäki blows the doors off at training camp and gives the organization a legit top-six winger option in his first year of North American hockey. It’s been a while since a drafted prospect stole the show in Vancouver.
What is your New Year’s Resolution?
I posit this question to our faithful Mailbag comment section: what is your New Year’s Resolution?
Last year, I wanted to work out more, and though I didn’t start going to the gym with frequency until October, I got there eventually.
The year before that, I wanted to read more. I bought a stack of 10 books that I was determined to get through, and by the end of 2024 I hope to be done at least half of them!
This year, I’m going to try and be more positive.
Thanks again to everyone in the comment section for embracing me as Chris Faber’s replacement as the Monday Mailbag guy. Here’s to 2024 and (hopefully) a long run of Playoff Edition Mailbags to come.
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