VANCOUVER – New general manager Patrik Allvin won’t be trading anyone until he actually sees the Vancouver Canucks play. Of course, he’ll see them Thursday night.
Allvin planned to be at the rink in Winnipeg to meet players and watch them first-hand when the Canucks open a four-game road trip against the Jets. Typically, the presence of a new GM empowered to decide the immediate future of his players tends to have an inspiring effect on these employees.
The Canucks enjoyed a gigantic bounce when Bruce Boudreau took over as coach on Dec. 5. We’re not sure what kind of lift the hiring of Allvin, announced Wednesday by president Jim Rutherford, will have because the players can’t give much more than they did on the last homestand, when the team battled admirably through three difficult games – but collected only two loser points – while Omicron deprived it of both National Hockey League goalies and three of its top four forwards.
Under these circumstances, and because Allvin seems at first glance to be wholly decent and fair, nobody should expect a blockbuster trade on Friday no matter what happens against the Jets.
It’s unlikely much of anything will happen personnel-wise for at least a couple of weeks, as Allvin measures the landscape he is inheriting from former GM Jim Benning.
But the reason there was an undercurrent of urgency to Rutherford’s management search was the desire by the president to give the incoming GM enough time before the March 21 trade deadline to make his own judgments about the players and team and what the Canucks need to do so they no longer require an abacus or an iPhone to calculate their slender playoff odds halfway through a regular season.
Even Rutherford has acknowledged publicly that the Canucks, big-picture, aren’t good enough and the roster and salary-cap structure needs improving.
In the virtual press conference with Allvin on Wednesday, Rutherford said: “We have to add more players to get to where we want to get to. And that's something that's going to have to be decided here, leading up to the trading deadline. How do we go about that? And we've got to figure out a way to get a little cushion on the cap. It's always difficult being up against the cap, and a team that's not in the playoffs at this point in time is not a good thing. So, some big decisions are coming up.”
Earlier this week in an interview with Sportsnet, Rutherford was even more direct.
“I do think it's fair to say that with everything going on now, the team is capable of making the playoffs,” he said. “But it’s against the odds. There's a lot of things that can happen here in the second half, and we'll see where it goes.
“At this point, hockey trades are always on the table. But as long as this team keeps hanging around and has hope for the playoffs, ideally, we give them that chance. But it's always going to be: What are we doing now, and what are we doing in the future? And let's make sure what we're doing a year or two from now, we're going to be in a stronger position.”
A lot is on the table in the next couple of months:
• Backup goalie Jaroslav Halak will soon trigger $1.5 million in bonuses ($1.25 million for playing 10 games, $250,000 for posting a save percentage of at least .905) and the Canucks will have to carry this overage against their cap next season when the 36-year-old is very likely playing elsewhere. Understandably, Rutherford would rather not be stuck with this dead money. But Halak has a full no-move clause and will have to be convinced to waive it for a chance to play on a contending team that could offer him a stage on which to generate his next payday.
• Speedy checker and penalty killer Tyler Motte is on an expiring contract, and a lot of good teams would see him as a handy depth piece for a playoff run. One of the previous Canuck administration’s failings was the inability to harvest something in return for a player likely to leave for free in free agency.
• Teams have been calling the Canucks on J.T. Miller, a formidable forward on a bargain contract that expires in 2023. There is no urgency within the organization to move him now, but how much better might the offers be for the power forward this trade deadline than the next one?
• The Canucks owe winger Brock Boeser a $7.5-million qualifying offer after this season. That’s probably too much for a player who is not one of the top five Canucks and is struggling through a season in which he has just 19 points in 36 games. If the Canucks are uncomfortable with that QO, do they trade him now, wait until after the season or try to negotiate a multi-year term for less than $7.5 million?
• Off the ice, Vancouver is still building out its hockey-operations department, and Allvin will have a voice in determining how much the analytics department is expanded, changes to the pro and amateur scouting divisions and the potential hiring of another assistant GM.
As Rutherford said, some big decisions are to be made in the next seven weeks.
“New management and what-not, we're trying to get a handle on it and evaluate it,” the president told Sportsnet. “But what I can say that I feel really strong and good about is this team has showed a lot of character. They've given everything they've got on the ice. I mean, they've played their hearts out here these last few games shorthanded. We can't ask any more than that. But with that being said, we've got some work to do to get this team to another level.”