What the Vancouver Canucks Signing Andrei Kuzmenko Changes

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 24: Andrei Kuzmenko #96 of the Vancouver Canucks throws a stick to a fan after the NHL game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Arena on January 24, 2023 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 5-2. (Photo by Derek Cain/Getty Images)

What does the Vancouver Canucks signing Kuzmenko change about the Canucks or their trade deadline? Short, unfortunate answer: nothing. Longer, more complicated answer: not much, but their media team needs to exploit this guy to the hilt! Who the heck includes their “childhood friend” in a thank-you letter?

Andrei Kuzmenko does.

Signing Kuzmenko Doesn’t Help Canucks

The Canucks – and their fans – know what needs to get done by the time March 3rd comes around. They have a lot of money devoted to their wings, they’re about to lose a top-two centre, and the defence is a mess. None of this is hidden away behind locked doors, so why are they acting like it’s a secret?

They aren’t, of course. It’s just that the plan the team has isn’t a rebuild, and never has been. Whether fans think this is the right move or not isn’t relevant to ownership. They hired a group with the understanding that a big turnaround is just around the corner and will be easy to reach. They’re wrong, but the team can certainly improve from where it sits now.

This clearly isn’t the only move the team is making in the next five weeks. It does let us know what direction they are moving in, which combined with cap restrictions gives us a “shadow blueprint”.

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VP, Magic 8-Ball Department

The press conference given about Tanner Pearson‘s injury didn’t stay on subject. Hardly a surprise, given how rare those pressers have been of late. Full marks to the Canucks president of hockey operations, but there are only so many answers he could provide. A couple of bits of information came out during it, though, and one of them was how the team wants to progress. That vision included trading for NHL-level players rather than prospects or picks and potential buyouts.

So what does the Canucks signing Kuzmenko mean for that plan? Let’s see if the breadcrumbs form an arrow.

Horvat’s Gone

Bo Horvat has no chance of staying with the team. There was always hope among fans that there would be some way to find a middle ground and keep the captain in town. It’s not a coincidence that Kuzmenko’s deal averages Horvat’s current $5.5 million dollars. Pen hitting paper sounds an awful lot like a death knell for the Horvat Hopefulls out there.

They are saving money here, as Horvat’s next contract is going to be substantial. But they sure aren’t getting younger, and unless J.T. Miller really picks up his game at centre they’re losing strength in the middle. It’s pretty clear that trading Horvat is how the new management team decided to make their mark.

The Canucks need to bring in a young centre in this deal because he’s their best chance to do so. The problem is that most high-calibre teams also need cheap players, either now or in the very near future. Targeting Alex Newhook is a great idea, but the Colorado Avalanche already lost Nazem Kadri because of the cap.

The same is going to be true for other teams: youth is cheaper. By the time a team is ready to compete for the Stanley Cup, they’ve probably got a lot of money devoted to it. Horvat, ready to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, is a tough add as more than a rental. But he’s also a premium piece as a rental, so the ask for him should be very high.

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They’re Taking A Loss on Boeser

Not so much forgotten as buried under an avalanche of news, Brock Boeser‘s agent is looking for a trade. How one happens is still a mystery, but it’s going to involve Vancouver getting below market value for him. Despite his depressed numbers this season, he’s more likely a victim of the drama surrounding the team than a cause.

Boeser is a winger, though, and with the Canucks signing Kuzmenko for two more years – at less than Boeser’s number – the wings are flooded. Between that and the public knowledge that everyone wants him out of town, the return is going to be bad. Fans of the team need to accept that the trade of Boeser is mostly for cap space rather than talent.

If he’s sold without a “sweetener” then the team is swallowing some of his cap hit. In a world where Max Pacioretty was given away as a rental with a young, right-handed defenceman, it’s hard to see what value Boeser’s three-year deal has. If the Canucks retain salary AND bring back an NHL-level player, then they aren’t saving any cap space.

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Spin the Wheel

If not Boeser, then it could be Conor Garland moved out. In his first season with Vancouver, Garland bounced around the lineup looking for a suitable home. This year, he seems to have found it beside Miller and, ironically enough, Horvat. Garland is a player who can drive play, is good at retrieving and keeping the puck, and rack up some points. So what’s the problem?

His boxcar numbers are down slightly this year, but the real issue with Garland is the same one as Boeser. There are simply too many wingers on the Canucks making too much money for their play. Garland’s $5 million cap hit is high for his production this season, but not wildly so. There is every reason to suspect he will return to his normal either on a different team or whenever Vancouver finally stabilizes.

If the team doesn’t find any kind of reasonable return for Boeser, Garland needs to go. There is probably a deal for him out there, even if the Canucks are selling low. Then again, if Boeser is moved then room for Garland opens up, and he’ll have every chance to find his scoring again.

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Losing Players on Lay-Away

One thing the Canucks signing Kuzmenko doesn’t do is improve the defence. There are two great, big, glaring elephants who aren’t only in the room but rampaging through it. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers were surprisingly decent defensively last season, even if they didn’t provide much scoring. Their numbers were fine for a third pairing in modest minutes.

Unfortunately, they averaged 22 minutes a night at a cost of – say it with us, now – over $13 million. Their combined offence totalled six goals and 47 points on the year. For the record, Quinn Hughes alone scored six times and finished 2021-22 with 68 points and his new contract is below eight million dollars. And this year, their offence is no better while their defence has dropped.

Now, Myers might have some value after his $5 million bonus gets paid out this July, but the team he goes to needs cap space. Combine that need with Myers’ limited no-trade clause, and the move gets much harder. There might be a team that is trying to reach the cap floor while saving money, but is it one he’ll want to go to?

This leaves Ekman-Larsson. Even if the Canucks were to retain half, he still wouldn’t be worth the $3.13 million owed. Not for next year, and certainly not for the four years remaining on his current deal. He is an active liability this year at anything over the league minimum salary, and even then he’d be a scratch alongside Kyle Burroughs and Riley Stillman.

Buying Ekman-Larsson out would mean paying for it over the next eight years. But it’s worth it. He can look for another team if he wants to stay in North America or go to Europe or even retire at 32 years old.

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The End of Drama?

No, of course not! This is still the Vancouver Canucks we’re talking about. Which is, at least in part, one reason for the surprise signing. Canucks management has taken an absolute thrashing of late in the popular perception, and it’s a well-deserved one. They need to rehabilitate their reputation not only among fans but among players and their agents as well. Keeping a promise to one of their free agents is, frankly, the least they could do, even if it harms this iteration of the team’s prospects.

On the other hand, could YOU turn down this face?

Who knows if any of this is in Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin’s plans, but it looks to us like the future. It won’t all happen right away, but like the Canucks signing Kuzmenko, it will do for now.

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