About seven weeks until the NHL trade deadline, the Vancouver Canucks figure to be one of the more interesting teams to watch, with plenty of possibilities on the table.
After a slow start, and despite a nice recovery, Vancouver still faces a heavy lift to get back into the playoffs. They're just two points out of a wild card spot at the moment, sure, but have played five more games than the Calgary Flames team currently occupying that position.
With GM Patrik Allvin now in the fold, perhaps the Canucks give him time to settle in with the organization before moving forward, but Jim Rutherford has been in the president of hockey operations chair for nearly two months now.
"Word is starting to get out that Rutherford is starting to put his blocks in play there," Elliotte Friedman said on Monday's Jeff Marek Show.
It's no secret the Vancouver Canucks will be looking to clear cap space whenever the new management teams starts moving ahead with any trades it can find. It's something Rutherford has discussed and that vice president Stan Smyl communicated as well on Sportsnet's Hometown Hockey broadcast this week.
It's believed the Canucks are looking specifically at their forward group for a possible trade candidate, and there are more than a few. On the depth side of things, Jason Dickinson ($2.65 million AAV through 2023-24) and Tanner Pearson ($3.25 million through 2023-24) have appeared in rumours. Three bigger fish could bring the Canucks back a greater return and have a more lasting impact on their path forward:
JT Miller: Vancouver's leader in goals and points, Miller has another season left on his $5.25 million contract before he becomes UFA eligible. The Canucks don't need to rush into a deal here, especially for such an important player. But his style and performance probably will open the door to more suitors.
"He's the kind of guy you want down the stretch, in the playoffs, he's a nasty piece of work and you like that at that time of year," Friedman noted.
For a Canucks team trying to gain stability and not lose too much of what makes playoff teams go, though, keeping Miller around and even possibly extending him next year has to also be a possible outcome. How the team proceeds may entirely depend on what the competitive market offers.
"I don't think they're in any hurry to trade JT Miller at all," Sportsnet's Iain MacIntyre said on Monday night's post-game show. "There's a lot of teams interested in him, and if they get an offer that's too good to pass up, then they'll probably trade JT Miller this spring. But I'm not sure they're going to get that offer. With him in particular, I would still probably be more surprised, not shocked, but more surprised than not if they trade him this season. I think that's a deal they could do in the summer, at the start of next season or even during next season."
Conor Garland: Acquired in a complex deal that included taking on Oliver Ekman-Larsson's hefty cap hit, Garland was -- more or less -- acquired for the ninth-overall pick of last year's draft (Dylan Guenther). If you're looking to shed cap space, then dealing Garland's $4.95 million AAV (through 2025-26) doesn't seem like the most optimal path. Sure, he's not a team scoring leader and may not be a truly "core" player, but he excels with good talent, has 20-goal, 50-point upside, and that makes for a value player. It would also make him an attractive piece for the many capped-out teams around the league looking for a productive, and affordable, middle-six winger.
"I've just heard it's not an impossibility and teams out there like Garland," Friedman said.
Brock Boeser: Here's where the desire to shed cap space meets with a young player other teams might covet.
Boeser makes $5.875 million against the cap, but is an RFA this summer due a $7.5 million qualifying offer, at least (they could negotiate that down on a termed deal still). He hasn't yet returned to matching his rookie year total of 29 goals in 62 games, but did score at the second-best per-game rate of his career in 2020-21, finishing with 23 goals in 56 games. This season, Boeser has 12 goals in 39 games for a roughly 25-goal pace.
Can he be a reliable 30- or even 40-goal scorer in this league? If not, his next paycheque may be a bit much for a team looking to bring down its overall cap. Here's a look at Boeser's goal scoring rates over his career so far:
"The name we don't hear about, and I wonder why we don't hear his name, is Brock Boeser," MacIntyre said. "Just like with Miller or Garland, it's not that the team doesn't like those players or doesn't want them, but in terms of creating some cap flexibility, Boeser's ticket is technically bigger than JT Miller's or Conor Garland's, and they have this elephant in the room, which is the $7.5-million qualifying offer due to him after this season.
"That's a big number and I'm pretty sure that's not a number the Canucks, given their cap situation and given the priorities they have with players, I don't think that's a number they look favourably upon."
Interestingly, when looking back on Rutherford's work when he was GM in Pittsburgh, he has a history of striking ahead of the trade deadline. Not that he's never made a move on the final day of dealing, but some of his more impactful work has come in the weeks before. In 2015, for example, he acquired David Perron on Jan. 2. In 2016, he added Carl Hagelin -- a key piece of the important HBK line in the Stanley Cup run -- on Jan. 16. In 2020, he picked up Jason Zucker two weeks before the deadline on Feb. 10.
The 2022 trade deadline comes at a later date than usual -- March 21 -- and so perhaps there's a little time yet as the front office has been built out. But we are getting to an interesting time for the Canucks. Surely they'll save some business for the summer, but the trading season is always interesting on a Rutherford-led organization.
COULD JEFF PETRY BE A TRADE CANDIDATE IN MONTREAL?
The only thing we can pretty much count on is that pending UFA Ben Chiarot will be traded by the Canadiens at some point (and maybe Cedric Paquette too). Beyond those expiring deals, though, the Canadiens under new management have indicated an openness to restructuring the team. Sitting in last place in the league, it's clear they can't return to start 2022-23 with the exact same set-up.
“First off, I’d say that I wouldn’t choose a job like this based on a roster," new GM Kent Hughes said at his introductory press conference last month. "I wouldn’t look to take a job where the work had already been done. I didn’t come here to fill somebody’s shoes. Having said that, I think there are some really interesting pieces here in Montreal that can be built around."
While it is important to also note that executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton (who hired Hughes) said no Canadiens had asked for a trade, there are some with term left on their deals who will start popping up in rumours. We've seen Brendan Gallagher's name in those lights already, and the latest drawing buzz is defenceman Jeff Petry.
"I just don't know if it's going to be now or in the summer. One of the things I've heard is it's possible this doesn't happen until the summer because teams have more flexibility to do it," Friedman said. "While I think there's interest in Petry and I do think they'll be able to move him ultimately, I just heard it might be trickier now. This one might have to play out over time."
Petry is signed for another three years beyond this one, through the 2024-25 season, at a $6.25 million AAV. There's no doubt Petry is struggling this season -- as most Habs are -- with just six points in 37 games, and he took some heat recently over a lack of pushback when goalie Sam Montembault was knocked over by Zack Kassian.
However, it'll be important for the Habs to bide their time and not sell low on any of their veterans. It's worth remembering that from 2017-18 through last season, Petry was tied for the 12th in points and was seventh in goals among all NHL defencemen. Just last season, Petry tied with Dougie Hamilton for 10th in points per game at the position.
Given what some top-pair offensive defencemen are going for on contract extensions in the past year-plus, having the 34-year-old Petry at $6.25 million may wind up a bargain if this season is one to throw away and he recovers.
Finding that right fit in the middle of this season could be tricky, though. According to Cap Friendly, 16 NHL teams are in LTIR and there's not a lot of room among most organizations. Activity at this deadline may depend on a third team getting involved to take on a percentage of cap and help facilitate deals.
For the Canadiens, the timing may be better to find a Petry deal in the off-season -- when teams shed expiring deals and can go 10 per cent over the cap -- if they can find an acceptable return and not just sell low.
LATEST ON ANAHEIM'S GM SEARCH
Another fascinating deadline team to watch will be the Anaheim Ducks, who face key decisions on players who could become UFAs, including Rickard Rakell, Josh Manson and, perhaps most importantly, Hampus Lindholm. The team has played above expectation and may be in the playoff hunt down the stretch, but it's important to also remember the Ducks are transitioning to a younger core that will require its own investments in the coming seasons.
And, as well, they have cooled somewhat recently (though still good!) and are tied with Edmonton for eight place in the Western Conference by points percentage.
That's a lot of decision making to do and while Jeff Solomon remains the interim GM, the approaching trade deadline may up the urgency for the Ducks to hire someone permanently to guide them through the important next steps.
"Anaheim I think is getting close," Friedman said. "I don't know if it's going to happen this week, but I think it's getting close.
"I don't know if it's going to be internal or external, but if it is external I know (Pat) Verbeek has a legit shot at it from Detroit. I think everything Anaheim does is going to be tied into whether or not they think they can sign Lindholm. I think he's decision No. 1 ... everything flows from there."
COLORADO MAY BE ALL IN, BUT CAN THEY FIND THE RIGHT TRADE?
No team is hotter than the Avalanche, who finished January with an incredible 15-0-1 mark. They have the league's best points percentage overall (.779) and average a league-leading 4.14 goals per game.
But with three consecutive second-round playoff losses and a huge raise on the way for Nathan MacKinnon in 2023, GM Joe Sakic may be inclined to try to go big this time by the deadline to really put his team over the top. The problem for a team that's been this dominant, though, is that it could be hard to move players out of the lineup.
"The thing Colorado has told other teams is that there's not many players they're that interested in moving off the roster," Friedman said. "You can look at teams that can win the Stanley Cup, like, same thing with Vegas, we're all making up trade rumours for Vegas because they have to move something off the roster to get Eichel on there. But there's not a lot of players they really want to move. I think Colorado is the same way."
The name most tied to the Avalanche is Claude Giroux, who the Philadelphia Flyers said would decide on his own trade outlook before he becomes UFA-eligible in the summer.
And while the Avs may be reticent to move anyone who is providing a positive, there is also a sense that they need to start making more of an impact in the playoffs. With so many challengers, can they set themselves apart?
"The thing about Colorado is they also recognize it's time to win something," Friedman said. "I don't think they care about these comments about how good each individual player (on their roster) is. I think they look at it like, 'It's our time to win something.'"
There's also been some talk of the Avalanche doing something with their goaltending. But as Kuemper has started to bounce back from a slow start (.927 save percentage in January), the team may instead just ride with the two 'tenders they already have, especially since they traded a first-round pick and prospect Conor Timmins to get Kuemper to replace Philipp Grubauer.
"My real sense is for them they would prefer to keep the goaltending with Kuemper," Friedman said. "They like Francouz as their backup. I think they would prefer something else."