Faced with harsh deadline decisions, Canucks make best of tight cap situation

Canucks GM Patrik Allvin once again lays out his vision for this club, saying they want to create cap space and get younger, and feels he's accomplished their goals this trade deadline.

VANCOUVER – A lot of fans were outraged four years ago when the Vancouver Canucks acquired Tyler Motte. And a lot of fans – possibly even many of the same – were outraged Monday when the National Hockey League traded him away.

Their ire was directed at very different general managers, Jim Benning previously and Patrik Allvin now, and reflects a couple of things: how good and endearing a player Motte - all energy and honesty - became with the Canucks; and how unwilling the new management regime in Vancouver will be to let players depart for nothing as free agents.

The beef with Benning at the NHL trade deadline in 2018 was, essentially, that Motte’s no good and the Canucks should have been able to get a draft pick for soon-to-be-free-agent Thomas Vanek. The criticism Monday was that Motte is too good to be traded for the New York Rangers’ fourth-round pick in 2023.

In both cases, the GM got what he could for an expiring asset. But this turned out to be the exception for Benning. It will be the rule for Allvin.

A month ago – about month after he was hired – Allvin told Sportsnet that the Canucks, struggling to make the Stanley Cup playoffs, were not in a position to let free agents “just walk away and you don’t get anything in return.”

He also said there would be tough decisions ahead.

On Monday, he made his first difficult one, trading away the popular Motte when it became clear the penalty-killer and buzzsaw checker would be unaffordable to the Canucks on his next contract. The fourth-round pick from the Rangers for the 27-year-old wasn’t a lot, but it was something rather than nothing.

Initial reaction from Canucks fans on social media was quite critical, as Allvin went from hero to zero 24 hours after somehow convincing the Ottawa Senators to surrender a third-round pick for Vancouver defenceman Travis Hamonic.

“Obviously, I have a lot of respect for the fans,” Allvin said Monday afternoon. “But we're making decisions that are best for our organization and our team.”

Motte wasn’t expected to even make the Canucks the autumn after his trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets, but became a bottom-six staple and PK specialist, arguably Vancouver’s best depth forward. Trading him was hard.

“Yeah, it was,” Allvin said. “It's never an easy decision to make when you've got to part ways with good players and good people. Yeah, it was a hard decision. But I do think that where we are right now, I felt that this was needed for us to get something in return for Tyler.”

Overall, it was a pretty good first deadline for Allvin and his new hockey operations department, which is a kind of Camelot constructed by president Jim Rutherford to bring smart people together from very different starting points in hockey.

The Canucks’ hockey ops bunker at Rogers Arena included first-time assistant GMs Cammi Granato, Emilie Castonguay and Derek Clancey, as well as big chairs for special advisors Daniel and Henrik Sedin, among others.

At home in COVID quarantine, Rutherford was on speakerphone.

“Obviously, Jim was involved in every discussion as well,” Allvin, who was in a lot of trade-deadline rooms with the Pittsburgh Penguins but never in charge of one until this weekend, told Sportsnet. “I think it was great for our staff. Emilie and Cammi are fairly new, and Daniel and Henrik, so I thought it was great for them to be part of this. I thought we had great discussions.”

Those discussions led to Sunday’s trade of Hamonic and his $3 million cap hit, followed soon by the acquisition of younger, more mobile and enthusiastic defenceman Travis Dermott from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The price in each transaction was a third-round draft pick.

But in the exchanges, the Canucks saved $1.5 million (the difference in salaries due Dermott and Hamonic) next season, which will cover the bonus overage the team must carry on next year's cap for backup goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Due a $1.25-million bonus for starting 10 games for the Canucks this season, Halak was not traded by Allvin, who said the financial baggage attached to the 36-year-old was a “big factor.”

Besides the fourth-round pick for Motte, however, the Canucks have the money they’re not paying the veteran (this season's cap hit was $1.225 million) to direct elsewhere.

Allvin had reached out to Motte’s agent, Vancouver-based Rich Evans, and concluded that the player’s next contract was likely to cost more than the cap-crunched Canucks could afford. So he made the best trade he could.

The Canucks also claimed centre Brad Richardson on waivers from the Calgary Flames. Dermott and Richardson, who left the Canucks seven years ago after playing for John Tortorella, then Willie Desjardins, are expected in the lineup Wednesday when Vancouver opens a daunting four-game road trip against the Colorado Avalanche.

Apart from needing to fill Motte’s lineup spot, Allvin said he claimed Richardson partly over concerns about organizational depth, with swing forwards Justin Dowling and Phil Di Giuseppe injured with the minor-league Abbotsford Canucks.

Allvin probably could have traded depth defenceman Luke Schenn but didn’t.

“I have a lot of respect for Luke Schenn as a player and more as a person and what he means to this club off the ice, in terms of being a winner, the culture, the commitment he has to be a pro every day,” the GM said. “For me, it's extremely important for this young group to have a guy like Luke Schenn around.”

The group at the end of Monday included all the core players who started the day as Canucks. Despite the months-long torrent of trade conjecture, the Canucks did not come close to dealing away either J.T. Miller or Brock Boeser.

Allvin and Rutherford have long maintained that the Canucks would take all the time available to them to make decisions about their core players. Boeser becomes a restricted free agent this summer but is due a $7.5-million qualifying offer that is unpalatable to management. Miller, the team’s best player this season, is under contract another year at a bargain $5.25-million before he can leave as an unrestricted free agent.

“I didn't shop those guys,” Allvin said. “I talk to teams, but I've got a lot of respect for those players.”

Asked if there was more fact or fiction to stories about the Canucks seeking to trade Miller and/or Boeser, the GM said “definitely fiction.”

The fact is more tough decisions await.

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