Before the season began, the common thought was that the Vancouver Canucks team had a talent pool up front that would win the day. The defence was shaky, but that forward corps and goaltending were enough to get them to the playoffs. Or challenging for a spot, anyway. That all could still happen, but not because of how good the Canucks are.
For Vancouver Canucks Team, Talent Won’t Save Them
Let’s talk about The Shining for a second.* It is a terrifying film, but odds are pretty good most people who have heard of it haven’t seen it. They’ve seen parodies or specific scenes or parodies of specific scenes. No shade, here – that’s just what happens to very old, very famous movies, especially “genre” ones. And those scenes are good! Well shot, well acted, and – depending on which scene – pretty darned creepy. But if all you see are those scenes back-to-back, they go from creepy to just weird or even funny. There are so many iconic moments you’ll wonder how the heck they can all be from the same movie. And if they are in the same movie, how on earth can they all work together?
The secret, of course, is in the whole. If you haven’t seen it yet – spoiler alert – those scenes aren’t the story. Everything leading to them, the relationships around them, and the understanding you get before they happen are why the scenes work. All the clues are there, subtle and otherwise, on how the family is trapped and why the protagonist is doomed. But more than that is the director’s “voice” in the music, weird pacing, and the subtle “off-ness” of the world. Add the creepy and weird and yes even the funny scenes and you have one of the most frightening movies ever made.
So now let’s talk about a team that keeps getting multi-goal leads but can’t seem to reach .500.
Crisis Isn’t Always Opportunity
By the time the Band-Aids finally came off the zombie of the 2011 Vancouver Canucks team, the next move was obvious. Full bed rest, cutting out junk food, then surgery and a careful and planned patient recovery. And bits and pieces of that happened! A new coach, a new general manager, and minor moves were welcomed with open arms. It was reasonably well understood that the establishment of a new plan was going to take time. The Canucks talent pool isn’t extensive, but it exists.
The biggest problem facing the team is inefficient contracts, something inherited from their former life. Nobody’s blaming General Manager Patrik Allvin if he takes a loss on a few deals if that’s what it takes. And yet he seems reluctant to actually pull the trigger on any such deal, possibly being anxious about the fans here. Trading away draft picks as sweeteners to move bad contracts is almost expected in today’s NHL. He could certainly take fire for that if those are the deals he made. But after nearly a decade of coming up short on any kind of rebuild, he can get away with it.
Those bad contracts Allvin inherited are exactly the ones that he shouldn’t be blamed for (hat tip, as ever, to CapFriendly). The desperation moves of the past aren’t the fault of this administration. He had nothing to do with Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Tyler Myers or Conor Garland or Tanner Pearson. All of those deals financially limit what can be done. The players’ lack of production limits their value, affecting who Allvin can move and for how much. Any trade he does that moves an actual problem is going to cost in the short term. He’ll hear about it for the rest of his tenure, however long that happens to be.
Losing to Win
He’s gotta take one for the team.
No, this isn’t about tanking, and for good reason. There is simply no way the Canucks talent is worse than the Chicago Blackhawks, Arizona Coyotes or Anaheim Ducks. The team isn’t going to move Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson or Thatcher Demko for draft picks. Given the sorry state of the West, Vancouver may well make the playoffs whatever else happens this year. Which means the general manager needs to stop thinking about it. Allvin needs to put either making the playoffs or tanking for a draft pick completely out of his mind. Those aren’t things he can accomplish this year.
Back up the vision. Wider angle, longer term. The only thing Patrik Allvin needs to consider right now is whether or not this Vancouver Canucks team works. Not the current talent level, the coaching or even individual players and their production. Right now – today – the mix of players on the Vancouver Canucks team isn’t working together into a coherent whole.
Now, they took steps leading to something like that in the off-season. Bringing in Ilya Mikheyev and winning the bidding war for Andrei Kuzmenko prepared the team to lose J.T. Miller. Riley Stillman was a precaution against Tucker Poolman‘s injury. It also let the team get cheaper centres that are more cost-effective than Jason Dickinson. But it also cost the team a second-round draft pick, and you can bet that caused some flashbacks! Which makes it a good example of a trade Allvin needs to lose.
Robbing Peter to Pay Your Bookie
The reason Bo Horvat‘s name comes up right now is that he’s the hot commodity. He is the best of all available Canucks talent out there on the trade market. It’s a deal that Vancouver can not only be part of but can win. There isn’t a team in the league who couldn’t use his services, and a bidding war is a given.
It’s also the coward’s move and shouldn’t happen.
Make no mistake, dealing Horvat will return a substantial haul which will help the team to some degree. But it won’t solve the problem the Canucks have, which is incoherence. Losing their captain – who, to be frank, is an excellent one for this town – just makes another hole. Draft picks, even high ones, aren’t normally a major part of the team for three, four, or more years. When management talks about getting young players it’s with that in mind. Obviously, Horvat’s salary demand, which no one outside those negotiating it knows, is a part of this. Trading him now frees up future salary cap space so the team can maneuver.
And at the risk of repeating ourselves, that’s not the problem.
The Cause And Solution to All Life’s Problems
The problem is that this team as it is currently assembled isn’t working. That, more than anything else, is why they can get a lead only to blow it. It’s why a defence with very little change can somehow be worse than last season’s. It’s how a power play can be devastating while 5-on-5 play remains mediocre. For the Canucks 2022-23 Puck Drop Preview we said this:
Vancouver’s issue is having five third-pair capable defencemen but a giant gap beside Hughes. It’s not a problem they can solve with greater numbers.
And it’s still true. But the same is happening among the forwards. Yes, Pearson’s out, but that doesn’t change the fact that Curtis Lazar is somehow in the top six. That while Garland is on the third line, Nils Höglander is a frequent scratch, and Vasili Podkolzin plays in the AHL! Brock Boeser is playing the fewest minutes of his career, which is not great for a $6.65 million man. There’s nothing here that smacks of the most efficient use of the Canucks talent.
Some players have to go, and there are positions of excess on the club. Boeser can absolutely use a new start on a team looking for a potential top winger. Yes, there’s risk there, so the deal won’t be a great one. See how much the Edmonton Oilers want to move on from Jesse Puljujarvi.
Conor Garland is a good player who can drive play on a line, but unless the Little Things line (inside joke) takes off the team has simply never found that match for him. Yes, he’s the best part of the Ekman-Larsson deal, but cut bait and open room for a younger, cheaper guy. Myers might actually be movable this Summer after his bonus is paid – $6 million cap, but $1 million cash? There’s probably a buyer out there for him.
These aren’t going to be great deals. The Canucks might “lose” on every one of them. If they can arrange a deal for Ekman-Larsson or Myers before next season they will definitely need to pay up. But what they’d get back in return is not just cap space. They get player space as well. Instead of Garland spinning his wheels, we get Höglander pushing for a permanent spot. Instead of a frustrated Boeser, get a rejuvenated Podkolzin. And instead of a $6 million third-pair defenceman, there’s… well, that’s actually its own solution.
Most importantly, fans waiting for that second shoe to drop can finally get some sleep.
*Opened the same week as Empire Strikes Back, for a special The Worst Dads doubleheader at the cinema!