The Stanley Cup Playoffs are over and the Colorado Avalanche have been crowned the 2022 Stanley Cup champions. All of the hardware has been distributed at the NHL awards ceremony. The focus on hockey now turns to two big July NHL off-season events: The NHL Draft and free agency day. In the upcoming weeks, look to the Vancouver Canucks to make big moves to improve their team for the upcoming 2022-23 season.
Draft Day and Free Agency
Draft day (actually two days, running July 7-8) is more than just picking prospects. A gathering league-wide of NHL general managers and front office staff. It’s not only where the future of a team’s success is sculpted, but where teams make deals. Leading up to the draft, teams often make smaller moves. Contract extensions, back bench shuffling, minor deals, and a key signing. The Canucks did this in in inking Andrey Kuzmenko. However, come draft day there are inevitably one or two big (if not blockbuster) trades made. These are often in exchange for a high pick or two. A week later is free agency day, where any players whose contracts are expired are up for grabs. This often becomes a free-for-all for teams hurrying to sign the best player before the new season begins.
So how do the Canucks stand to possibly improve with all this potential upcoming flurry of transactions? What have they done up and until to improve their roster and staff for next season?
Let’s take a look.
Canucks Off-Season Moves So Far
Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin has certainly not been sleeping in the off-season, The signings he has made offer a hint of what may be coming in July. Stretching back to before the season ended, the Canucks signed backup goalie Spencer Martin to a two-year, one-way deal. This was good news for those who don’t like the looks of the Canucks regular backup Jaroslav Halak. Despite a few key performances filling in for a fatigued Thatcher Demko late in the season, he comes with a hefty contract. Martin also impressed in his appearances, quickly becoming a fan favourite with his shimmering chrome mask. With his signing look for the Canucks to try to move Halak and free up cap space in the off-season. This is provided he waives his no-trade clause.
Signing Some Swedes
Next, Allvin signed a trio of 22-year-old Swedes to entry-level contracts. It started with power forward Linus Karlsson. The San Jose Sharks drafted Karlsson in 2018 and the Canucks acquired him the following year. He comes off a solid rookie season in Sweden and looks to bolster the team’s bottom six for a great price. Adding more depth comes the unsigned Nils Aman. He was drafted originally by the Colorado Avalanche. Aman brings potential toughness and a solid two-way game to the Canucks checking lines if he can crack the roster.
Also signed was defenseman Filip Johansson, a first round, 24th overall pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2018. Allvin seemingly swooped in to sign Johansson, whom the Wild saw as a bust after coming off poor offensive numbers in Sweden. However, many tout as having great two-way and defensive potential. It seems for the time being that Canucks organization is happy to see the young defenceman remain playing in Sweden to develop.
The Big Move
The big signing however was for the 26-year-old old Kuzmenko. The Canucks won the sweepstakes in courting and signing Kuzmenko, who comes off a stellar year in the KHL. He placed second among all scorers for the season. The Russian is quick, good with the puck, and seems ready to fit it nicely in the Canucks bottom six this coming season. The best part of signing Kuzmenko may come from a financial standpoint for the team. His entry-level contract makes him a low-risk-high value addition to the roster.
The Canucks at Draft
Before signing Kuzmenko (guaranteed to make the roster) and Karlsson (will probably make the roster) many pundits had the Canucks going with a big forward (Swede or not) as their first pick in the upcoming draft. Names like Conor Geekie, Mario Kasper, and Cutter Gauthier were bandied about as potentials for the team’s first-round, 15th overall pick.
But now with the new additions making their offense look more crowded. It might be time for the Canucks to draft the best young defenceman they can find. As it stands, the Canucks defensive line is somewhat old (with the exception of Quinn Hughes). Looking at the top Norris vote-getting defensemen in the league, Daily Hive Offside notes a distinct pattern when it comes to teams drafting for defence. The problem comes in with the Canucks’ pick placement in the first round. The top defender rated as being picked in 15th overall range are all either left handed or possibly not elite enough to have an impact. Players like Pavel Mintyukov or Denton Mateychuk, who are both left-handed shots. would not compliment lefty-shooting Hughes in a potential future D pairing.
Complicating things further is that the Canucks gave up their second round pick in acquiring the rights to Johansson. The answer may lie in using one of Vancouver’s significant bargaining chips (Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat) to trade up for a higher first-round pick (and perhaps and second or additional third) making a straight trade to snag a more elite rated right handed shooting defenceman. David Jiricek or Simon Nemec are high value picks that would do well in Vancouver. Such a trade would not be easy to make, but could be accomplished in a package or multi-way deal.
J.T, Miller Rumours
Signing or shopping free agents remains a looming question for the Canucks this off-season. As any Canucks fan knows, J.T. Miller is coming off a career year and is due for an extension, but how much the Canucks are willing to pay him vs. how much he is willing to accept is a key factor. Brock Boeser becomes a UFA in July and looks to be seeking a significant salary bump, and the Canucks will have to at least meet a 7.5 million qualifying offer to retain him. Front office will have to decide which of them is going to be worth it.
In an ideal scenario both players would accept lower offers in the name of team love and unity, but business is business, and look for at least one of them to be shipped on draft day or soon after. Either could be shipped for prospects, picks, and/or other players to fill holes in the Canucks roster. Possibly in combination with Conor Garland, Halak, or Jason Dickinson. As for other free agents look for the Canucks to resign Brad Hunt and Matthew Highmore to short contracts, while Juho Lammikko and Alex Chiasson‘s futures with the team dependent on what will happen after July.
For potential FA signings, the Canucks can look to Ottawa’s Curtis Lazar for a cheap option at centre, and who in Vancouver wouldn’t welcome the return of (right handed) D-man Troy Stecher, whose contract with the Kings comes up next month?
Lastly, the salary-cap hit. Tyler Myers and Jaroslav Halak continue to eat up a lot of space. Many see Myers’ contract verus his value as untradeable, and in the end the Canucks may have to absorb some of it to move him and at least make some some space. As for Halak, teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens or Seattle Kraken sure do look like they could use a good goalie who showed some impressive performances late in the year.
First day of the new job!— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 31, 2022
General Manager, Patrik Allvin, has joined the team in Chicago. pic.twitter.com/OjnW94QgkI