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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