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Vancouver Canucks Priorities Before the NHL Draft

Canucks priorities; NHL rumours

Tracking the Vancouver Canucks priorities used to be an easy thing.

  1. Get into the playoffs this season, whatever the cost;
  2. [details to follow].

But times, along with general managers, have changed.

Canucks Need to Keep Priorities Straight

There is, as ever, a lot of pressure on the entry draft coming up at the end of the month. Right after that – literally the next day – the first buyout period ends and qualifying offers need to be made.

That’s some heavy lifting this team needs to do before free agency opens on July 1st. But what happens during the lead-in is just as important.

Letting Go

Arvid Costmar and Connor Lockhart were coming due as draft picks made four and two years ago respectively. Costmar, turning 22 this year, was taken 215th overall in 2019. The centre remained in Sweden with Linkopings HC and hasn’t progressed to a point where he should maintain his contract slot.

That’s not to say he can’t become an NHL player. But if he does, it will be as a free-agent signing. Nils Åman has done pretty well for Vancouver, playing 68 games last season after failing to sign with the Colorado Avalanche who drafted him in 2020.

Lockhart is a more interesting case. The CHL player had his entire 2020-21 season wiped out by the pandemic, but the Canucks took a flier on him with the 178th overall selection.

A move from the Erie Otters to the Peterborough Petes mirrored a leap in production, and he had a very good playoff run. But he didn’t dominate as much as an overager is expected to in the CHL, and the 20-year old is now a free agent.

These aren’t the biggest deals, but at least it shows a willingness to walk away from someone who isn’t reaching the desired standard. Something to hold onto as the month continues.

That Post-Cup Glow

Everyone knows the Canucks priorities this year are going to be centred around the draft. Right? Of course. No cap space, depleted prospect pool, et cetera. You know where they stand. But BEFORE we get there, an opportunity raises its head.

On either the 15th (or 18th in the Stanley Cup Final goes to seven games) the first buyout window opens up. We looked into this back in February, and haven’t changed our minds since. Some options are possible, only one really makes any sense.

And judging by either Jim Rutherford‘s or Patrik Allvin’s words, even that one is unlikely. Thing is, the Canucks aren’t the only team with the option. A team looking to reduce salaries should certainly give any bought-out players a call. Or at least keep them in mind.

If, for instance, Mikael Granlund is bought out by Pittsburgh, then he’s already being paid $833,000 for 2022-23. Add a million to that number for another three years beyond. With that much in his pocket, a more reasonable price could be negotiated.

He’d still be getting overpaid – just not by the Canucks. What they pay for is a much-needed third-line centre; what Granlund gets paid is another matter entirely.

This buyout period ends on June 30, so not every team will have made their decisions before the draft. Pittsburgh is likely already trying to trade Granlund rather than take the cap hit. But the idea is one Vancouver should look for.

Keeping Friends Close, Arbitration Closer

At the same time as the buyout opening, club-selected arbitration reaches its deadline. There are a few Canucks players eligible – Carson Focht, Travis Dermott, Vitali Kravstov, and Ethan Bear.

Of these, the one who might be taken to arbitration is Bear. Focht is unlikely to be re-signed, Dermott’s coming off an injury, and Kravstov is gone to Russia. Kravstov still might get qualified, if only to retain his NHL rights.

Bear’s qualifying offer is $2.2 million. While he’s in an important position for Vancouver, there is some question on where his potential lies. Bear turns 26 years old this month, so this might be as good as he gets. The question is whether he agrees or not.

The Canucks want to keep Bear around. He’s been perfectly fine since coming to Vancouver, providing some mobility and puck-carrying ability on the right side. But does the team see him as a second-pair defenceman or a third? How important does he become if the Canucks move one or two of their regulars..?

It seems like everyone wants him on a longer-term deal, but no one agrees on what that deal looks like. In the cap-era NHL, third-pair defenders make – or should – about half what Bear does. Among the Canucks priorities, saving money everywhere is near the top.

If Vancouver decides against taking Bear to arbitration, he may not return the favour. Player-selected arbitration closes on July 5th.

The Day Before The Day Of

The Big One is coming before the NHL Entry Draft. June 27th is the NHL General Managers’ meeting, leading into the next day’s first round. You can make as many phone calls as you’d like, when the GMs are face-to-face is when the fun stuff happens.

With the past season being a mistuned calliope of chaos, getting some sheet music has to be top among the Canucks priorities. Really, until they got the coach they wanted, much of the Rutherford/Allvin reign can be considered background noise.

Now, 18 months in, we’ll get a good look at the orchestration. Cap space needs to happen, and the draft is their best shot at getting it if they ignore a buyout. Beyond that, how important is reaching the playoffs this year to this group?

We’ll find out by how they treat their draft picks. The Canucks have had – say it with me, now – FOUR total selections in the first three rounds of the past three years. That’s one first-round pick, one second, and two thirds. That ain’t great.

Currently, they have five selections in the third and fourth rounds combined. Those might get combined to get into the second round. Their top pick, while not exactly available, might drop for some assets.

If, on the other hand, more selections are moved out to bring roster players – a la Filip Hronek – then all bets are off. It’s going to be the same old song and dance, with a new musician playing the same reels.

Main photo by: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports


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