New Canucks front office faces key trade deadline, free agent choices

New Canucks front office faces key trade deadline, free agent choices
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Not long from now, the Vancouver Canucks face an array of tough choices regarding the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, looming free agency, and how hard they want to push for an unlikely playoff spot.

With certain NHL teams, the answers often feel so obvious, you want to slap your forehead. Yet, in the case of the newly redesigned Canucks front office, things can sometimes get much murkier. Especially if you’re maybe a bit too optimistic about Vancouver’s playoff chances.

Let’s consider some of the questions Jim Rutherford, Patrik Allvin, Cammi Granato, and Émilie Castonguay, will face as the Canucks approach the NHL trade deadline, free agency, and more.

What should Canucks do with Boeser, Horvat, Miller — at NHL trade deadline, or possibly eventual free agency?

While each player’s situation is different, much of the Canucks’ immediate future revolves around answering an interlocking question. What should they do about Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and J.T. Miller?

Let’s quickly review their contract situations, in short.

  • Brock Boeser, 24, is a pending RFA. If the Canucks go the qualifying offer route, the cost would be $7.5M. The Athletic’s Thomas Drance has more (sub required) on the different routes the Canucks could take with Boeser, and why this wouldn’t be the ideal time to trade him. Even if the Canucks eventually decide that’s the best route to take.
  • Bo Horvat, 26, sees his $5.5M cap hit expire after next season. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent after that 2022-23 campaign.
  • J.T. Miller, 28, has a $5.25M cap hit, also through 2022-23. Despite having that extra year of term, Miller is one of the leading names in NHL trade deadline rumors. A possible J.T. Miller – Rangers reunion comes up a lot in those Canucks trade rumors.

Again, each situation has its own quirks. For example: the perception of Bo Horvat as a defensive gem may not match the reality of a quality offensive center who might be better off being fed easier matchups.

New Canucks front office faces key trade deadline, free agent choices Bo Horvat
via Hockey Viz

Meanwhile, some might view Brock Boeser as a somewhat flawed player who occasionally scores points in “empty calories” ways. They may view J.T. Miller as a sell-high trade candidate, or not like the deadline market at all, and elect to wait until the offseason.

Yet, as much as you can view those forwards on a case-by-case basis, the larger strategy revolves around the Canucks’ vision.

Keeping 28-year-old Miller much longer only makes sense if you expect to contend very soon. If you decide to keep Horvat, you’re betting on a possibly steep raise being worth it. And maybe the stars simply won’t align for Boeser to make sense as possibly a $7.5M+ forward for the Canucks.

The Canucks must decide not just if they should trade Boeser, Horvat, and/or Miller, but also when they might receive the best returns. It may not be easy to find the right medium between being patient vs. aggressive. (And we all know how much Jim Rutherford loves his aggressive trades.)

What Canucks already have, where they should seek improvements

If there’s an enduring theme to Jim Benning’s time as Canucks GM, it’s extending sweatily, desperately beyond one’s reach. And injuring yourself in most cases.

With that in mind, it’s not shocking that the Canucks boast one of the worst-rated farm systems in the NHL. Benning’s many whiffs at speeding up the Canucks’ climb explain that, not to mention their current lack of a second-round pick.

But at least the Canucks check some of the boxes of a would-be contender.

  • Assuming Elias Pettersson can bounce back, they have a top center who’s only 23. He’s also relatively cheap ($7.35M) through 2023-24, and even then he’d be an RFA.
  • Quietly, Quinn Hughes looks like the sort of defenseman teams will build around in the future. He’s merely 22, and his $7.85M cap hit (through 2026-27) looks nifty when you consider how many NHL teams went out of their minds for lesser defensemen last offseason.
  • Thatcher Demko mostly seems like a worthy No. 1 goalie, he’s just 25, and his $5M cap hit is team-friendly through 2025-26.
  • If you’re a Bo-liever, Horvat could remain as a coveted 2C. Brock Boeser could also fill the role of a wingman to Pettersson.
  • The early returns on Bruce Boudreau are robust, too, as he’s off to a 14-6-4 start.

Now, your mileage may vary on all of those perceived strengths. As much as anything else, the Canucks’ new management team must explore avenues to optimize the likes of Pettersson, Hughes, and Demko.

With Boudreau already 67, hammering out a succession plan could be another long-term project.

But it’s somewhat reassuring that the Canucks aren’t necessarily totally hopeless. That said, the hope is what often killed the Canucks during the Benning era, as they hit dead end after dead end. At this fork in the road, new Canucks management has to hope that they can make this a smoother ride — starting with the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.