Forget a retool, the Canucks need a proper rebuild
Refit. This is a word some franchises use to avoid signaling to their fans that years of missed playoffs and losses are approaching as part of a formal rebuild. In the Vancouver Canucks scenario, they are firmly committed to the idea that the organization is in the business of retooling, not rebuilding, although their ability to retool will be severely limited by lack of caps and contract flexibility.
“We don’t want to be here for recovery and have to wait and all that.” These were the words star defenseman Quinn Hughes following his team’s recent acquisition of Philip Hronek from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a draft pick.
Ahead of the deadline, the Canucks jettisoned captain Bo Horvath, defensemen Luke Schenn and Riley Stillman, and forward Curtis Lazar in exchange for young players and spades. They then acquired Chronek from the Red Wings using first and second round picks.
On paper, these moves look good until you examine the structural issues within the Canucks organization and how they will be limited in any future “retooling” efforts.
Trade talks to continue for Miller and Bozer
After trading their top scorer in Croatia, primarily because the organization didn’t have the financial capacity to re-sign their star, the ongoing trade chatter around J.T. Miller and Brock Bozer should signal this is about to be a rebuild and not retrofit. Miller’s massive contract extension won’t even go into effect until next season, so discussing trading a player the franchise has only recently tied itself to for seven years before that deadline even goes into effect should show just how dire the situation is.
At this point, the Canucks will not meet the restrictions next season, so a trade for Miller, Bozer, Tyler Myers, or a buyout of Oliver Ekman-Larsson will be necessary, with a buyout being the last course of action due to the long-term impact of the time limit. The Canucks are currently among the league leaders in dead cap, and adding to that number would not be ideal.
In this situation, there is no one to blame but the Canucks themselves, who continue to hang bad contracts on your books.
Call it what you want, but it’s a rebuild
The Philadelphia Flyers used the term “retooling” for a long time until it became apparent this year that they were slowing their progress, postponing the inevitable. With that in mind, the Flyers announced to their entire fanbase that they shouldn’t have called it a refit, and that now it’s time to rebuild. The Canucks would be wise to follow suit.
Only Hughes and Elias Pettersson are at the peak of their careers and they still have time. In addition to this duo, young people and promising players are valued in Vancouver. Vasily Podkolzin is leaning towards bankruptcy, and few are willing to step in other than the recently acquired Aatu Rati. Perhaps newly acquired Vitaly Kravtsov will be able to unleash his potential in a Canucks jersey? Most promising player Jonathan Lekkerimaki, selected last year at number 15, had a poor season in Sweden, struggling to show results and now struggling with injuries.
Since there was only one pick in the first two rounds of this year’s draft, there will be no immediate help either.
What’s next in Vancouver?
Perhaps general manager Patrick Allwyn is betting on himself and his players and betting that Bozer and Miller will have rebounding seasons. However, this is unlikely given his comments about the status of his lineup after the end of trading.
“Where we are sitting now, I believe that there is still a lot to be done here. We are not happy where we are.” Alvin told the media. “We still have some work to do to get this team to where we think they deserve to be, to be a competitive team that is moving forward and hopefully taking a big step forward.”
All signs point to another big deal, but finding a partner for the big contracts he wants to sell will not be easy, and getting the full value from these players will be a challenge.
In fact, Vancouver never recovered. When Henrik and Daniel Sedin retired, the team had to be fully involved in the process. Instead, it is retooled. With Horvath, Hughes, Bozer and Pettersson on board, the team tried to make moves to position themselves as contenders, but those moves fell through and left the Canucks where they are today.
The most pressing question is how the Canucks will get under the hood. They added over $10 million to next season’s commitments, but failed to acquire picks and future assets. To even make a roster, the Canucks would need to sign the RFAs of Ethan Bear, Travis Dermott and Kravtsov. Bear and Dermott are especially important as only Myers, Hronek and Hughes have contracts as NHL-caliber defensemen next season.
Call it what you will, but the longer the Canucks use the term “retool” and avoid the inevitable sell-off leading to a complete overhaul, they risk remaining mediocre and further ostracizing fans desperate for a winning team.