On the eve of NHL free agency, Jim Rutherford made an appearance on Sportsnet 650’s Canucks Central show to give a presidential state of the union meant to assuage Canucks fans about the direction ahead for the franchise.
What fans got instead was a surprising about-face, outlining major issues preventing the new front office from making a lot of meaningful change, while also offering a few soundbites that sounded hauntingly similar to the last management team in charge.
Vancouver’s salary cap woes left by the Jim Benning regime is one of the NHL’s worst-kept secrets, and Rutherford was brutally honest about their inability to improve the situation ahead of free agency. The President of Hockey Ops made it clear that while the Canucks would be looking to fill out their roster with bargain bin deals, any big-name hunting is likely out of the question.
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“Well, we have a little bit of cap space. It’s not as much as we would have liked, so we won’t do as much as we would like to in an ideal world,” Rutherford said.
“We’ll pick away at it over time. But we want to balance out our forward lines if we can get more balanced and more depth for our forward lines. I know that we have a need on defence, it may be harder making additions there and fixing that as quickly as we’d like to, but we’ll keep looking at it.”
When it comes to finding roster additions outside the organization, Rutherford said the front office will be looking for younger players who fit in the longer term, specifically targeting players under 27 years of age. He then added that players closer to 30 could still find a home in Vancouver, just likely with a shorter term.
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“We try to look at an age where these guys can be part of when this team can really become a contender. And hopefully, that’s within the next couple of years. So trying to look at guys that are younger than 30. And then, of course, if it’s somebody that’s closer to 30, they get a shorter-term deal,” Rutherford said.
“One of the important things that I’ve talked to everybody about is, let’s not do something just to do it. Let’s do it with a purpose and really have a consensus on one or two guys that we may want to add that not only can help us immediately but certainly help us over time.”
And yet, when asked about specifics for improving the team in free agency, Rutherford went to a well that Canucks fans are all too familiar with in recent years: the quick fix angle.
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“I know it’s been a long, hard run here for our fans and everybody involved. And if we can do a short-term fix here on a couple of year deal for a veteran that can be the difference to getting us in the playoffs and start to get our players that kind of experience to become contenders, we would consider that,” Rutherford said.
But the only veteran name anyone in Vancouver is focused on right now is J.T. Miller’s. While there have been numerous reports of a potential deal involving the New York Islanders at the NHL Draft that fell apart, Rutherford quickly dismissed those rumours.
“No. We have not had any offers on J.T., and we were not close to a deal. We haven’t been close enough to a deal, and we haven’t had anybody ask permission to talk to him as far as a potential salary if they were able to acquire him.”
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When asked about the current trade market for Miller, Rutherford said it hasn’t been any more difficult to find offers than he expected. But he also made it clear that the Canucks’ main goal is to sign Miller to an extension, a surprisingly strong reversal considering recent events.
“I think that both sides understand where each side’s at. It’s certainly understandable at this point, that there wouldn’t be a deal made this quick,” Rutherford said. “Whether there’s a position from both sides that either side can move and get to that comfort level is hard to say, it could be difficult.”
“At this point in time, we just go along day by day. There’s not a lot happening with J.T. Miller at this point in time, and we’ll see where it goes.”
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With the rest of the NHL preparing for the free agent frenzy, any money a potential suitor might have for Miller or another Canuck on the trading block is likely tied up until the biggest UFAs find new homes. But Rutherford stressed that moving out contracts isn’t an urgent requirement for the team to do business, and he knows eventually teams will circle back to their players.
“I would expect it to open up. It’ll be probably two weeks after free agency when the dust settles between then and the start of the season,” Rutherford said. “Teams are going to realize they have certain needs they couldn’t fill, and that’s when trade talks really start to heat up.”
It’s clear that Rutherford and the Canucks are in no rush to make major changes to the roster. But with a lot of issues to sort out before October and a fanbase used to watching quick fixes chosen more often than real impactful change, they may want to move with a little more speed.
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