Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve covered the trade rumours surrounding the Vancouver Canucks and players like JT Miller and Jaroslav Halak.
Whether or not one agrees with actually moving either player, most can at least see the sense in them being on the market, given the Canucks’ current situation.
This last week, however, has been dominated by rumours of another key Canuck being highly sought-after, and maybe even shopped around, and it’s a name that makes a whole lot less sense: Conor Garland.
Pundits like Elliotte Friedman suggesting that the Canucks “might be able” to trade Garland sound a bit silly. It almost goes without saying that GM Patrik Allvin and POHO Jim Rutherford could find ample takers for Garland, if moving him was what they wanted to do.
But do they really want to trade Garland? Should they really want to trade Garland?
That’s a much trickier question to answer.
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The notion of trading established veterans like Miller centres around age, along with the idea that certain players might not fit into the Canucks’ newly-planned competitive window, which should open up in a couple of seasons.
Garland, however, is not exactly an established veteran. He just crossed the 200 games played threshold, and won’t turn 26 for another month. Age-wise, he slots in neatly between Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.
In other words, Garland fits well within the current and long-term core of the team, and should still be an effective player for years to come after this, and well into that aforementioned window.
Then there’s the question of salary. Part of wanting to trade Miller — or Boeser, or even Horvat, as some prefer — stems from fear of their next contract being too exorbitant to fit under the cap. Garland, on the other hand, is already signed for four more years with a cap hit of $4.95 million. If that’s not a bargain, it’s pretty darn close.
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Garland’s AAV ranks 132nd among leaguewide forwards, and he’ll continue to slide down that list as more contracts are signed over the next four years. That means that he’s compensated as a low-end second line scorer, and we all know that he’s much more than that.
But Garland’s contract offers more than just affordability. It also offers stability. It seems all-but-guaranteed that the Canucks will be parting ways with one of Miller, Boeser, or Horvat over the next two seasons. That means they’ll be down a top-six forward, one way or another. Ideally, one or both of Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Höglander will slide up to fill that position, but the team can’t exactly count on that.
Having Garland around for the next four years provides an effective top-six winger to support Elias Pettersson and whichever of the Miller/Boeser/Horvat trio sticks around. It takes a lot of pressure off Podkolzin and Höglander to immediately start producing. And it helps the team continue to make an annual push for the playoffs. No one is looking for another couple of seasons in the cellar of the Pacific Division.
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Speaking of the fans and their wants, they’re an important consideration, too. Losing one of Miller, Boeser, or Horvat is going to sting. The same can even be said for other long-term Vancouver forwards like Tyler Motte and Tanner Pearson. Garland is already a fan favourite for his relentless style of play, and having him out there, twisting and turning on a nightly basis, would go a long way toward softening the blow.
Win or lose, Canucks games have been a lot more entertaining of late. Imagine what a difference losing both Miller and Garland in quick succession would have on that.
On top of everything, there’s also the issue of selling low. With zero points in the six games prior to the All-Star Game, and just two points in his last 11, Garland is cold. He’s slumping. Even if the team decided it wanted to trade him, now would really not be the time. Garland, like most not-quite-elite top-six forwards, is streaky. Trading him at the bottom-end of a bad streak would make for bad business. Not that trading him made all that much sense to begin with.
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Slump or no, however, the way that Garland produces his points makes him more valuable to the Canucks than he might seem on raw totals alone. He’s as of yet to make much noise on the power play, where he has just two points. His 22 even-strength points, though, are second on the team and tied for 79th in the entire NHL. That rates Garland just a hair below first line production at 5-on-5. If the teams looking to add him to their roster don’t value him as such, the Canucks should definitely just hold on to him. Put into that statistical context, his $4.9 million cap hit looks like a straight-up bargain.
In truth, Garland is probably not uniquely talented enough to be “untouchable,” but past and current circumstances make it close. Any offer for him would have to be of the “blow your socks off” variety to even be considered.
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This past summer, the Canucks sent Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, the 9th overall pick, a 2022 second rounder, and a 2023 seventh rounder to Arizona for Garland and a slightly-retained Oliver Ekman-Larsson. It’s impossible to break such a complex trade down into individual components, but most would agree that “the 9th pick for Garland” is about right, with the rest shaking out as relatively even.
The Coyotes selected Dylan Guenther with that pick. He’s a blue-chip prospect. To flip that just to rent Garland for a year and then move him for a lesser return would be poor asset management. As such, any offer for Garland has to start at the value of a 9th overall pick, and ideally go up from there.
Some rumours out of Boston posited a deal involving Fabian Lysell and a 1st round pick in exchange for Garland. That’s a big offer, to be sure, but would it even be enough? Lysell was just drafted at 21st overall, and the Bruins’ 2022 pick should be in the same range, or even lower.
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Do two picks in the early-20s add up to the value of the 9th overall? Do they add up to the value of Conor Garland?
Eh. It’s debatable enough that, given everything else we’ve discussed in this article, the Canucks should probably err on the side of caution and keep Garland in the mix.
If an even greater offer comes to the table, they might consider it. If it doesn’t, they’ve got much better options available to open up cap space and change the balance of the roster. Let Garland stick around to provide stability and keep fans in the seats.
That’s what he was brought here to do in the first place. He’s done a fine job of it so far, and he’ll continue to do so for the next four seasons.
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