Jim Rutherford has never been one to sugarcoat the issues surrounding his teams. In fact, during an appearance on yesterday’s edition of The Bob McCown Podcast, the Vancouver Canucks president of hockey ops called what he’s currently preaching — not patience, but “reality”.
And reality was the name of the game when Rutherford discussed the variety of pressing topics surrounding the Canucks, including their search for trade partners, their need for defensive help, and their approach to goalie workload management next season.
Among the biggest questions for Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin has been the lack of trades the Canucks have made since free agency began, and he admitted that the market has provided some challenges.
“We need to do more than what we’ve done. But you can only do things if you have a partner to do it,” Rutherford said. “There were some defencemen available in free agency. It didn’t work for us whether it was term or what they were looking for. So it appears that it’s going to take longer to address the defence than we would have liked and we’re gonna have to do it through trades.”
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“And of course, everybody deals with the cap and everything like that. That makes deals harder to make.”
One of those potential trade chips, J.T. Miller, hasn’t inspired the market the Canucks’ front office might’ve hoped for. But even if the trade offers were richer, Rutherford doesn’t sound like a man too keen on moving his 99-point centre.
“He’s a very good player, he’ll be a good player for a long time. We would like to resign him if possible,” Rutherford said. “We were a long ways apart where I think it’ll be hard to get to a point where he’ll have a comfort level of what we’re able to do.”
“If we can’t do that, then it’s obvious we’ll have to do the best we can to put him in a place where he’s going to get his contract, and we’re going to get the right assets back that can help the Canucks in the future.”
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As far as a timeline is concerned, next year’s trade deadline was brought up as the point of no return for Miller. “If we don’t have him signed and nobody’s made an offer that makes sense for us, then you don’t really have any other choice. We really don’t want to be in a position that we don’t get anything in return if we can’t keep him.”
The right pieces for Vancouver likely involve improvements for their blue line. But while Rutherford made clear that the team’s defensive depth isn’t strong enough, he also showed high confidence in the group they currently have.
“Our defence right now is good enough to win, but there are question marks there,” Rutherford said. “If all those guys stay healthy, our team is strong enough to be a playoff team. But if something goes wrong in that defence, which we know could, that’s going to be an issue. So we’ll continue to look at our defence.”
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Rutherford highlighted two defenders as potentially key pieces for Vancouver this year for very different reasons; the young, developing Jack Rathbone and, surprisingly, the struggling Tucker Poolman.
“We’ve got [Jack] Rathbone who’s a young player that’s tracking in the right direction, and deserves the opportunity to be in Vancouver this year. If he comes in and plays the way he played in the American League last year and stays healthy, that’s going to improve our defence,” Rutherford said.
“The big question mark is Poolman. Poolman when he’s playing and without any injuries is a good, solid defenceman that can actually play in our top four. But there are question marks around his health, and that’s going to be something we’re going to have to watch.”
While roster construction is still a long work in progress, the Canucks’ goaltending is as solidified as they come. Thatcher Demko started 61 games last season in Vancouver’s rally attempt to make the postseason, a number that was inflated by the team’s lack of trust in backup Jaroslav Halak. But a former goalie himself, Rutherford knows keeping Demko fresh would be crucial come playoff time.
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“I’d like him to play 82. I know the coach every day he sits there and looks at it, he’s got to lean towards playing him 82 games. But you have to be careful of the wear and tear,” Rutherford said. “I believe if you overplay a goalie, you know he’s going to get injured or he’s gonna get worn down at some point in time, but we’ll play Demko as many games as we can.”
Rutherford also gave a vote of confidence in Demko’s new backup, Spencer Martin, who’ll be tasked with cutting down the starter’s massive workload next year. But he stopped short of saying there’ll be any guaranteed minutes for Martin unless he’s able to hold up his share of the bargain for head coach Bruce Boudreau.
“He’s done a really good job in the minors. He played very well for the Canucks last year, albeit in a limited role, and we’re hoping he can continue that, and that way we can be comfortable with having two guys,” Rutherford said.
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“Once you get in the heat of the battle and you have to win a game that night, but it was a designated time where you were going to go with the other goalie that’ll probably change. Bruce is gonna go with Demko. But like I said, if Martin keeps playing the way he’s played, [Bruce is] going to be comfortable going with him also.”