The Vancouver Canucks Future in Two-and-a-Half Directions

The Vancouver Canucks future is one of those year-round topics of discussion on Canada’s West Coast. Not taking part in those discussions right now? President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford and General Manager Patrik Allvin. So we’re here to take up the slack.

Infinite Options in Canucks Future

Well, maybe not infinite. But the new management isn’t letting any hints out, despite some broadcaster’s fondest wishes. While Nick Kypreos may have been overly dramatic in his declaration that Rutherford “hates the room” it wouldn’t surprise anyone if big changes happened. After all, as anyone who has glanced at the Canucks page on CapFriendly can tell, change is coming. The only question is how much.

As we’ve already mentioned, the big decision is about – and by – J.T. Miller. So we’ll use that as our dividing point.

Option One: Burn, Baby, Burn!

This ain’t working. Whatever “this” is, it’s gotta change wholesale. The untouchable players are Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and probably Thatcher Demko. Everything else is in the air, designed to pull in picks and prospects. Some moves are obvious, some can be more subtle. It’s very difficult to move out Oliver Ekman-Larsson, for instance, because he wants to stay and his no-move clause shuts out most return on value. Paying to get rid of his contract leaves the Canucks short a decent second-pair defender, and that’s not helping.

What many people seem to forget about rebuilds is just because all options are there, a team really shouldn’t use ALL of them. They need to pick and choose who goes and who stays. You don’t want to get caught in a cycle of losses. Even if you get some great talent through the draft or prospects, spending a few years in the league’s bottom five is a great way to teach that young talent how to lose and not much else.

So despite the headline, it doesn’t actually need to be all that dramatic. But what are we doing here talking about the Canucks future without being dramatic? Drama is one of Vancouver’s chief exports, dang it! So let’s go with Miller heading out, bringing back what seems to be the going rate: a pick, a prospect, and a player. Also leaving is Brock Boeser, and possibly Michael Ferland’s long-term injured reserve relief. That last can go to a cap-strapped team like the Toronto Maple Leafs or Vegas Golden Knights, both teams that want to push next year.*

If Tucker Poolman can return next season – or ever – then Tyler Myers is more likely to go, too. But if not, there really isn’t anyone to take Myers’ place.

End Result

This pokes holes in a team that can ill-afford them. But short-term loss is for long-term gain. Without needing to worry about big raises to Boeser and Miller, the team can move up a strength they’ll still have. Assume Vasily Podkolzin and Conor Garland taking spots beside Pettersson, Höglander and Pearson skating with Bo Horvat. There are plenty of spots to be taken by any return in trade, both at forward and defence. The list of free agents is rather underwhelming this season, but free agents are for contending teams. And with moves like this? The Canucks are looking to grow, not contend.

Option Two: We Got Somethin’!

But what if Miller looks at the teams who might want him and his bargain price and decides he’d rather stay? That’s not completely outside the realm of possibility! After all, in Vancouver, he gets all the ice time he can eat. He is the go-to whenever a player’s needed in any zone. He’s used everywhere, in every situation, and is going to be paid like it. And therein lies the crux.

Option Two A

Miller was never a $10 million man until he came to Vancouver. He was still an extremely useful guy, but for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers he was a middle- or even bottom-six player. With Vancouver, he is needed more, plays more, and did more. In this timeline, Miller looks at the Canucks future and says: Pay Up Sucker!

It’s one thing to play like a $10 million man in the last year of a contract. It’s another to play like a $10 million man for three seasons while getting paid half that. Yes, he wants to stay in Vancouver, but he also wants to be paid like he played. A short-term deal, say three years, at $10 million is what it takes to keep him here. That size of deal will cause problems – next season. For 2022-23 Miller’s still at a bargain-basement $5.25 million with no-trade protection.

That deal makes fitting in other contracts a bit trickier, but it’s certainly doable. But it also implies that the team thinks their Stanley Cup contender window is opening in the next two years – and that seems troublesome. From today’s appearance, the team will have maybe a dozen roster players signed and about $22 million to fill the rest. Tyler Myers’ contract might have some actual value by then, only costing $1 million cash for his $6 million cap hit. But, boy they’re going to need some young guys to step up because they can’t afford to go free-agent shopping.

Option Two B

With Vancouver, Miller is needed more, plays more, and did more. In this timeline, Miller looks at the Canucks’ future and says: I want to stick around for this. Yes, he’s worth $10 million in his time with the Canucks. However, would he get those same chances with other teams? Absolutely – next season. If his numbers drop, though, then so does his earning potential. One deal gets him $30 million, but after that? Add the risk that his physical style can lead to injuries and, well, he might not even be playing in three seasons, never mind scoring 99 points.

So, sure, he’ll take less now for a longer deal. Guaranteed money always looks good! Call it 7 x $7 million. The odds of him losing ALL his skills in a couple years is remote, and it leaves the team some wiggle room. They’ll still need to move some money for 2023-24, but between Miller, Pettersson and Hughes a pay structure is laid out. Besides, even if his scoring atrophies in four seasons, the salary cap will increase considerably. Sure, having a 50-point, $7 million player on the third line who also kills penalties sucks. But with record-breaking revenue already happening, the artificial COVID  limit is going to be long gone by then. And for that first three years, he’s probably going to be closer to a point-per-game Swiss Army Man.

End Result

You get the feeling Miller’s going to be useful for as long as he can tie his skates. If there’s a Cup window in the Canucks future, it’s realistically four(-ish) years from now. Having him around for it isn’t a bad idea. The team is going to have to afford him, though. If he insists on a short-term, high-salary deal, there’s no way the Canucks will get enough other pieces into position to make a solid run. A longer-term, lower-cost deal can produce good results, though. As can moving him on now, when his value is highest.

The worst part is that we won’t get to see which option works best. We only get to see one Vancouver Canucks future and speculate on the rest. Stupid linear nature of the space-time continuum.

*Yeah, we heard about Vegas getting Shea Weber just as this was written. The idea stays, dang it! It just might be a different team.