Patrik Allvin’s first free agency day as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks was a mixed bag of good decisions and difficult choices that still need to be made. When he met with the media on Wednesday afternoon, Allvin had brought in several new depth forward options and a new goalie, but no cap space left in the budget for additional signings.
The largest portion of the Canucks’ cap room went to their most shocking pick-up of the day; former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Ilya Mikheyev on a four-year, $19 million deal. While the front office had prepared to sign largely short-term contracts to free agents, the price for Mikheyev was considered too low to pass on.
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“We had Mikheyev on our list, and when we got in here this morning we talked and he was still available there. We took our best shot, and we’re really excited to add him to our mid-six, top-six group,” Allvin said.
Mikheyev had asked for a trade from the Leafs earlier in the season, but Allvin said the Canucks didn’t inquire about him at the time.
“To be honest I wasn’t sure if he was looking at Vancouver as an option. But when we started talking about what we want to do, and the option we had for him here, it was a really good fit.”
The addition of Mikheyev, coupled with the official signing of Andrey Kuzmenko, suddenly gives Vancouver a trio of Russian skaters led by sophomore Vasily Podkolzin. Allvin talked about the importance of having fellow countrymen to lean on when you’re new to the NHL, particularly for a newcomer like Kuzmenko.
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“When you have a guy like Kuzmenko coming in here to the league as a rookie, I think it definitely helps him to be a little bit familiar with Podkolzin and Mikheyev that have been in the league for a couple of years,” Allvin said.
While Mikheyev marked their biggest signing of the day, it was far from Allvin’s only business. Salmon Arm native Curtis Lazar was brought in on a tidy three-year, $3 million deal that shores up Vancouver’s depth in the bottom six.
“Really happy to have a local kid coming home here. Being 27 years old and I think he’s settled in as a good, versatile bottom-six guy. Great character, great PK, right shot so really, really improved our bottom six,” Allvin said.
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Between Lazar and former Utica Comet Dakota Joshua signing a two-year deal with an AAV of $825,000, Vancouver’s forward depth is suddenly deeper than it’s been in years. And management feels the additional strength Joshua and Lazar could bring to the bottom six will translate into more offence across the lineup.
“We need, obviously depth scoring to be a good team. We need four lines to contribute. And I think adding Curtis and Dakota here makes us harder to play against, and hopefully, they will grind other teams down and give our coaches more flexibility for how they want to do matchups,” Allvin said.
Joshua’s history with the Canucks’ staff also played a large part in him being signed. Trent Cull coached Joshua in 2021 when the Canucks and St. Louis Blues shared the Comets roster, and he — along with Abbotsford GM Ryan Johnson — were crucial voices in bringing him to Vancouver according to Allvin.
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Vancouver also provided Ian Clark with more flexibility in goal, adding Collin Delia to an already full depth chart of goalies in the Vancouver system. But Delia’s arrival provides Allvin with the room to trade a different goalie for the right price, something the first-year GM alluded to.
“Our plan is to have two goalies there [in Abbotsford]. So it’s going to be a competition down there as well,” Allvin said.
“You want to have internal competition at all positions in the organization. And when he was available, it gives us the competition at the backup position there. But also whoever goes down to Abbotsford to have a good depth guy down there together with Silovs and DiPietro.”
While the Canucks were far busier today than most analysts had projected, the biggest focus continues to be on J.T. Miller’s future. And while Allvin didn’t throw water on the possibility of a trade, he spoke with the expectation that Miller will still be a Canuck come opening night.
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“Well, I didn’t get any calls today, so I didn’t talk with any teams today. Hey, he was our best player last year. I think Jim mentioned it, that there have been teams kicking tires and checking in. It hasn’t gotten much further than that,” Allvin said.
“We’re really excited to have J.T. here for another year. I believe he’s excited and ready to come back. And who knows, anything could happen here over the next couple of weeks, months. But we’re happy to have him back.”
The front office has never wavered on their “slow and steady” approach when it comes to the trade market, and Wednesday proved that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
“We realized that there wasn’t really anything on the market for us today to get into. So probably we’ll over time look into different trade scenarios. But again, I didn’t feel that we needed to rush into something here and then take other options away from us leading up to training camp,” Allvin said about the lack of trade movement.
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While Allvin & Co. still have a few holes to patch up, particularly on the right side of the blue line, every signing the Canucks made on Wednesday has sent a clear message: from now on, Vancouver will only go as far as their young stars like Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes can take them.
“We need those guys to get to the next level, and they are capable of it. And with Quinn and Petey, my understanding that missing the training camp last year set them back a little bit,” Allvin said.
“I definitely challenged them and I hope they’re going to come back here ready for day one in training camp and just take off.”