As the rush of free agency dwindles and the offseason begins to head into its dog days, Canucks fans find themselves looking at a team that resembles much the same as the previous season.
It’s unfortunate, especially with the fireworks that were expected to happen. Management was upfront about being aggressive to clear cap space, along with plenty of rumours swirling around more than a few key pieces in the lineup.
Nothing of the sort happened.
When Vancouver signed a middle 6 forward and some depth pieces, the attention was naturally drawn towards the defence corps. The Canucks iced a lineup that was shaky at best. A top four consisting of Quinn Hughes, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tyler Myers, and Luke Schenn doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Neither does a bottom pairing consisting of a rotation between Kyle Burroughs, Tucker Poolman and Brad Hunt.
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So when nothing was done to address this area of weakness, naturally, some eyebrows were raised. After missing the playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven years, surely something had to give. Running it back with this defence would be insanity.
But instead of trying to acquire or sign a defenceman now, perhaps the Canucks would be better served to wait until the 2023 offseason to make major upgrades to their back end.
Preaching patience to a fanbase that’s waited 52-odd years for a cup is rich. However, rushing into a band-aid solution might just make the situation worse. Just look at the OEL trade in the first place. Instead of having a decent top 4 defenceman at $7.5 million and Conor Garland at $4.95 million, Vancouver could’ve had $12 million in cap space to play around with as well as a blue-chip forward prospect in Dylan Guenther.
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There are slim pickings left on the free agency market at this point, with only John Klingberg of note. And with the Canucks currently $2.75 million over the cap, there’s not much that can be done without moving out a big contract.
Instead of trying to find a trade partner to clear up cap right now, the Canucks should wait for the right moment, to find the guy that they know will fit in the system. Slapping another bandaid on top of the defence only means that it will be harder to rip it off and find a long-term solution afterwards.
Waiting a year presents an interesting wrinkle, particularly looking at the Matthew Tkachuk trade and its impacts on the Pacific Division. The Flames now find themselves thrust back into a win-now window, with expiring UFA’s in Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar having not yet agreed to an extension.
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If the trade goes well and both players re-sign, Vancouver knows exactly what it needs to do to catch up against their Alberta rivals. If the trade horrifically blows up in Calgary’s face, there’s a very good opportunity for the Canucks to seize on the chaos to catapult themselves into the Pacific’s best team.
The important part is to remain flexible as the situation unfolds. Not going after a temporary solution gives the Canucks options as their rivals compete for playoff spots. The Flames very well could be selling their new shiny acquisitions come the next trade deadline. If so, it opens up the Pacific in 2023, giving Vancouver the chance to find its long-term solution on the back end. Dodging Calgary’s make-or-break year could be a blessing down the road.
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After all, the goal is the Stanley Cup, not just the playoffs.
In 2023, some intriguing defencemen are due contracts. Weegar, Damon Severson, and Matt Dumba highlight the UFA market on the right side, with LHD Travis Sanheim and Vladislav Gavrikov also possibly hitting free agency. Any of these players would command a decent chunk of a cap hit, and all of them would be a sizeable upgrade on all but three defenders currently rostered by the Canucks.
Having space in 2023 could also result in acquiring an RFA a team isn’t able to sign. For instance, Evan Bouchard’s deal is up with Edmonton, who currently find themselves pressed up against the cap ceiling. This offseason, they have to sign Jesse Puljujärvi and Kailer Yamamoto. Next season, they have Stuart Skinner going to RFA. If Vancouver is patient, the opportunity to capitalize on another team’s struggles will present itself.
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Another added bonus of waiting another year is the possibility of an in-house solution emerging. Yes, the Canucks prospect pipeline might be bare compared to other teams, but there is still potential for cheap, young, and good bottom-pairing defenders to emerge. Jack Rathbone looks ready to take the next step in the NHL, while Travis Dermott might finally make the jump into a #4 spot. Jonathan Myrenberg and Elias Pettersson 2.0 wait in the wings too, and while long shots, could make a play come 2023 training camp for a spot in the Canucks’ lineup.
Though patience is something that is preached far too much to a Vancouver fanbase with very little results to show for it, rushing to slap a temporary fix on the back end won’t make the problems of tomorrow better. Instead, waiting to see how not only the season unfolds, but who could be targeted and who takes the next step in their development, could yield the defensive solutions the Canucks have been looking for.
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