NHL Scout's Analysis: How the Canucks could approach an important off-season

Iain MacIntyre and Randip Janda break down the Canucks' season looking back at the disastrous start to the full-on regime change, how injuries to Bo Horvat and Thatcher Demko will carry over, and the potential departures during this offseason.

Vancouver's first off-season with its new leadership group has the potential to be a busy one.

Owner Francesco Aquilini made some aggressive in-season decisions this past year. He replaced head coach Travis Green with Bruce Boudreau and then also relieved Jim Benning of his job as General Manager and brought in Jim Rutherford as team president, who then hired Patrik Allvin as GM.

The team got off to a terrible start in 2021-22 and, although they battled hard to the end and saw significant improvement after hiring Boudreau, the Canucks fell short of the playoffs.

Continuing with our analysis of the Canadian NHL teams, their end-of-season rosters, and what they potentially could look like in 2022-23, here is a look at the state of the Vancouver Canucks:

HOCKEY OPERATIONS

Rutherford has seen it all over his decades-long career as a player and executive. When he got to Vancouver he let it be known that he was going to fill out his front office with “people from a variety of backgrounds” and has accomplished his goal with the group of decision makers he's assembled in the hockey operations department.

Allvin has an extensive background in scouting. He served as Director of Scouting and Assistant GM with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Assistant GM Derek Clancey brings his knowledge and experience from the pro side of scouting and roster construction. Clancey served under Rutherford in Pittsburgh as the Director of Pro Scouting and then Director of Player Personnel.

Former player agent, and new assistant GM Emilie Castonguay brings experience relating to the CBA, negotiating player contracts, and salary cap compliance. Castonguay was the first certified female NHL player agent in Canada.

Finally, Cammi Granato has joined the front office as an Assistant GM. With a lifetime of experience as a player and scout Granato is responsible for assembling the pro and amateur scouting staffs and implementing the vision the Canucks are looking for as they build out the organization.

The Canucks' own pick is 15th overall in the first round of the draft, which begins in Montreal on July 7. While it may not be as high as some fans would have preferred in a non-playoff season, the good news is that this draft class should provide the team with a solid player at that slot. There isn’t a lot of difference between prospects eight to 20.

The heavy lifting is just beginning for the front office. Brock Boeser needs a new contract and JT Miller is entering the last year of his deal coming off a season in which he produced a career-high 99 points.

2021-22 CANUCKS ROSTER ANALYSIS

Goaltending

Thatcher Demko: Demko has clearly established himself as a No. 1 NHL goalie. He played 64 games for the Canucks this season and finished with a GAA of 2.72 and a .915 save percentage. There were nights the team had no business being in games, but Demko stole some points for the group and gave them a chance to contend for playoffs. He’s signed to an excellent contract ($5 million AAV through 2025-2026). Demko was the Canucks' MVP this year in my opinion and will be a key piece of their build and success moving forward.

Jaroslav Halak: He’s a UFA and 37 years young. In my opinion he was barely holding on as an NHL backup this past season. There are goalies in the league with worse numbers than Halak’s 2.94 GAA and .902 save percentage, but it feels like he is best suited to pack up his gear and finish out his career in Europe if he still has the desire. There is zero chance the Canucks bring him back.

Spencer Martin: It appears Martin is in the Canucks' plans as a potential replacement for Halak. His numbers with AHL Abbotsford (2.43 GAA .914 SV%) were solid. His six-game stint with the Canucks resulted in a 1.74 GAA and .935 save percentage. At 6-foot-3 he brings more size and presence than Halak, and at 27 years of age he is plenty mature enough to compete and win the backup job in Vancouver. Martin is an upgrade from Halak and recently signed a team friendly extension through 2023-24 with an AAV of $762,500.

In the system...

Michael DiPietro: When the Canucks drafted DiPietro in the third round of the 2017 draft they felt they had hit on a candidate to someday become a potential No. 1 in Vancouver. He’s a competitive goalie and a character person, but my concern has always been that his stature and style of play might not translate to the NHL game. He’s six-feet tall but appears smaller in his net. His rebound control and second stop net awareness have always been a concern for me. To date, those concerns have been validated. He's an average AHL goalie with decent, not elite, stats (2.95 GAA .901 SV%). His minimal exposure at the NHL level has not gone well either. On average it takes goalies longer to develop than skaters. Having said that, I don’t see a path to the NHL in a Canucks uniform for DiPietro. He’s an RFA without arbitration rights and the team can qualify him on a two-way contract with an NHL salary of $840,000.

Defencemen

Quinn Hughes: A dynamic, transitional defenceman who is the quarterback on the first power play unit. He will never be described as an elite defender, but his play in his zone has improved. Hughes is a risk/reward playmaker. He’s an elite skater with fantastic vision offensively. NHL teams covet this kind of a player. He’s signed through 2026-27 with an AAV of $7.85 million. He produced eight goals and 68 points this past season and his plus-minus improved from minus-24 in 2020-21 to plus-10 in 2021-22. Hughes has the fitness and stamina to log over 22 minutes per night with ease. He’s one of the most important players on this team moving forward.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: Early in the year, when things weren’t trending well for the Canucks, Ekman-Larsson was a target for criticism. His game was lacking the kind of impact the team needed from his slot in the lineup. OEL carries an AAV of $7.26 million and he’s signed through 2026-27 as well. He also owns a full no movement clause in his contract. After the team made its coaching change, Ekman-Larsson settled into being a trustworthy two-way defenceman, logging heavy minutes in all situations. Is he making too much money for his role and the secondary offence he brings (five goals, 29 points in 79 games)? Maybe...but he’s reliable and, just regarding his on-ice play, he is certainly a top four defender on every team in the league. There are other contracts in the league that look worse than his.

Tyler Myers: This is a polarizing player for me. He’s a big body, but opponents aren’t intimidated by his size. He certainly cannot be described as a physically punishing defender. There were nights his pace of play was a massive concern. There were also games he struggled to make accurate outlets with the puck. Having said all of that, Myers did play his best hockey from the middle of the season on. He’s a two-way defenceman who is what he is at this stage of his career, producing one goal and 18 points this season. He has a modified 10-team, no-trade clause that kicks in on July 1. The Canucks would likely have to retain some salary in a trade, but I would at least investigate interest and adjust from there. Players like Myers can be found for much less than his $6 million AAV, which runs through 2023-24.

Travis Dermott: Dermott came into the league as a potential transitional defender who projected to be a contributor on the power play. He’s much more of a distributor than a shooter. Dermott has never been a threat to shoot the puck from range and score goals. His defending is average. I did feel he looked energized in Vancouver after his time in Toronto very likely took away some of his confidence. He has a chance to play a role with the Canucks and provide a secondary layer of speed and playmaking from the bottom pairing. He’s signed for one more year with a $1.5 million AAV. He should be motivated heading into next season, but it's time his game goes to another level and he defines himself in the NHL.

Tucker Poolman: Hopefully he is healthy and able to get back to training and preparing for next season. Poolman is not a player who will transport the puck or bring much offence. He is, by definition, a defensive defenceman. When he was moderately healthy this past season he mostly struggled. The weight of being overpaid for your services brings unwanted attention and the reality is that a $2.5 million AAV is far too much for this kind of a player. He’s a buyout target, but it's not possible due to the fact he is still listed as injured.

Luke Schenn: Full disclosure, I thought Schenn’s skating was going to be too much for him to overcome playing in Vancouver. Looking back on his season there were nights I still believe his pace is an outlier. Having said that, Schenn put together a nice season for the Canucks and earned every penny of his $850,000 salary. He’s signed for one more year at that cost. He’s a solid bottom pairing option for next season who brings a physical element and can penalty kill. There are going to be nights when it's not pretty to watch, but his body of work over the course of the season wins out.

Kyle Burroughs: A right shot defenceman who can slot into the lineup as a depth option. Burroughs doesn’t possess an offensive element -- he’s a simple two-way defenceman. When he did play games at the NHL level he averaged 13 minutes of ice time and was used primarily at even strength. He’s a part-time sixth defenceman who is signed for one more season and carries an AAV of $750,000. If the Canucks decide to send him to the minors his AHL salary is $500,000 so they are likely to give him a long look at camp.

Brad Hunt: The journeyman defender is a UFA coming off a one-year deal in Vancouver that paid him $800,000. He has produced offence at the minor league level, but has never found stable footing in the NHL. He’s a 5-foot-9, 187-pound, two-way transitional defenceman. He played 50 games for the Canucks this past season and produced three goals and 17 points. Vancouver is likely to look elsewhere, but if they aren’t happy with what they find it wouldn’t surprise me to see Hunt attend training camp on a tryout.

In the system…

Jack Rathbone: One of the Canucks' top prospects. A transitional defender who can man the power play. Rathbone has always had a bit of risk/reward in his game. He isn’t shy about joining the rush as an extra layer or taking advantage of space and going on the attack with the puck on his stick. His defending is average, but he will sneak up on an opponent and gap up with authority at times. He requires a qualifying offer from Vancouver. Expect Rathbone to compete for a job with the NHL team next season. He has played to his point-producing identity at the AHL level and his qualifying offer should come in around $975,000.  

Brady Keeper: He missed the entire 2021-22 season with injury. His contract and $762,500 AAV expires after next season. To date his career has been full of starts and stops due to fitness issues or injury. His status is unclear, but it’s safe to assume he would have to bring significant impact at the AHL level before being considered for NHL duty. He’s a two-way defenceman who doesn’t back down from physical play.

Jett Woo: His development has been slower than some might expect, but he doesn’t turn 22 until this summer. Woo demonstrated a two-way transitional element as a junior in the WHL, where he was deployed in all situations in Moose Jaw and Calgary and produced offensively. He is taking time to adjust to the pro game and only produced five goals and 13 points in his first 70 AHL games. He needs more time. He’s not ready to defend consistently at the NHL level and his offensive element still needs time to evolve. When he’s on he’s a capable player on both sides of the puck and doesn’t shy away from battle areas. He is in year two of his entry-level deal paying him $1.05 million (including performance bonuses) if he makes the NHL club.

Filip Johansson: Originally drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the 2018 draft (24th overall) Johansson is an interesting free agent signing for the Canucks after the Wild let him walk. He will remain in Sweden where he plays for Frolunda in the SHL. He’s a 6-foot-1, 180-pound right shot defenceman and is the kind of player who relies on outthinking opponents on and off the puck. He’s quick to space and capable launching the attack. Johansson isn’t elite offensively, but he is capable of providing some secondary offence. It will be interesting to see how he develops under the watch of the Canucks' player development staff. He won’t arrive in North America until the beginning of the 2023-24 season at least.

Forwards

Elias Pettersson: He’s signed through 2023-24 with an AAV of $7.35 million. An elite shooter who picks opponents apart on the power plays, he scored 32 goals and 68 points in 80 games this season. His power play production accounted for 39 per cent of his scoring (10 goals, 27 points). Pettersson has one of the most accurate weak side one timers in the entire NHL. There are nights the team would like more detail at even strength, but his offensive element wins out.

Bo Horvat: The Canucks Captain is close to a complete player by NHL standards. He’s used in all situations and contributes. It’s going to be interesting to see how things play out with his contract next season. Horvat is set to make $5.5 million in 2022-23 before he could hit the UFA market next summer, and he produced 31 goals and 52 points in 70 games this past season. With 13 goals on the power play (many coming from in and around the opponent's crease) he gives teams all they can handle from a 6-foot, 215-pound frame. Horvat bleeds character. The Canucks need to find a way to keep this player in their jersey beyond 2023.

J.T. Miller: He maybe isn’t a perfect teammate. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and has a reputation for speaking his mind (sometimes at the wrong time). Having said that, I believe most NHL teams would be very pleased to have the one-two punch at centre the Canucks currently do. Horvat is 27 years old, Miller is 29, and they both have several more productive years ahead of them. Players like this are hard to find in trades. Miller produced 32 goals and 99 points this past season and on the power play he contributed eight foals and 38 points. He takes key face-offs, plays with a chip on his shoulder, and he’s deployed in all situations. This isn’t the player I’d be looking to trade, but he is going to get paid when his contract expires after next season. Hopefully it's with the Canucks. Miller is on an expiring contract that pays him $5.25 million next season.

Conor Garland: He has produced 130 points in 194 games over the past three seasons and has an AAV that comes in at $4.95 million through 2025-26. He’s a streaky scorer who can frustrate at times with his lack of three-zone detail. He doesn’t have trade protection in his deal, so if the Canucks prioritize spending dollars on other players in their group Garland could be a name that is shopped to other teams.

Tanner Pearson: Pearson has a modified, seven-team no-trade list and his AAV is $3.25 million through 2023-24. In the last year of his deal he won’t have any trade protection. Pearson produced 14 goals and 34 points this past season, which isn't bad considering he only contributed one goal and three points on the power play. It feels like people expect more from him, but he’s a fairly reliable two-way forward who brings better than secondary offence at even strength.

Jason Dickinson: In relation to his contract ($2.65 million AAV), Dickinson's first year in a Canucks uniform was nothing short of a disaster, and he's still signed through 2023-24. The contract isn’t Dickinson’s fault, though. Anyone would take the kind of money he is getting paid for what he produces offensively. Before arriving in Vancouver Dickinson played 221 games for the Dallas Stars and produced 63 points. He’s swimming in no man’s land on this roster. He’s not a consistent contributor on either side of the puck. Dickinson is only 26 years young, but this contract takes up valuable dollars the team needs to have available elsewhere in their lineup. Dickinson is definitely a buyout candidate for the Canucks.

Vasily Podkolzin: A highly competitive prospect who finished his first year in the NHL with a respectable 14 goals and 26 points, Podkolzin isn’t the most dazzling player to watch. In fact, he’s more bulldog than ballet dancer. I have no issues with his first 79 games in the league and look for Podkolzin to settle into even more of a role in the next couple seasons. He’s entering year two of his entry-level deal and though his cap hit is $925,000 his AAV increases to $1.775 million with his bonus structure.

Nils Hoglander: He ended the season on the IR as a result of a groin injury. His first two NHL seasons have been up and down, but he is a solid prospect who works and brings better than average skill. I don’t see an elite point producer on the horizon here, but he will contribute in a secondary layer. Hoglander has one more year left on his entry-level contract with a cap hit of $891,667, but his AAV is $1.125 million when factoring in his performance bonuses. Hoglander contributed 10 goals and 18 points in 60 games.

Matthew Highmore: He is due a qualifying offer, but it’s my feeling the Canucks will look elsewhere. Highmore hasn’t produced offence at the NHL level the way he was projected to when Chicago signed him as a free agent out of Saint John of the QMJHL. He has shown he can play to his point producing identity at the AHL level, though. The NHL is just a completely different animal. Highmore was paid $725,000 last season and produced five goals and 12 points in 46 games.

Juho Lammikko: He provides fourth line checking/energy minutes for the Canucks, making $750,000 this past season. The team knows what to expect from Lammikko and he knows his role, but his penalty killing will need to improve because that's a big part of being a role player in the NHL. He contributed seven goals and 15 points this past season. With his deal now expired, his next contract is likely to pay him around $800,000. Lammikko can play both the middle and the wing.

Alex Chiasson: His game elevated after the coaching change and he ended up contributing decent numbers for a player making $750,000. He’s a 31-year-old veteran forward who has a good stick and can find pucks around the crease. Make no mistake, Chiasson is a bottom-six NHL player who scored 13 goals this season. Anything over 15 goals from a player with that salary has to be considered a sound investment and it’s my belief Chiasson can get to that number with the way Boudreau deploys him in Vancouver. But is there enough roster space and money to fit him back in?

Elephant in the room

Brock Boeser: By now it’s common knowledge that Boeser was dealing with some off-ice issues in relation to his family this past season. His father had been ill for some time and recently passed. The fact he produced 23 goals and 46 points in a year with many distractions has to be considered a positive more than a negative.

Vancouver needs to qualify Boeser at $7.5 million to retain his negotiating rights and keep him from becoming a UFA, or negotiate a long-term deal instead of outright qualifying him for one season.

Boeser is a goal scorer and goal scorers are in high demand throughout the NHL. A large degree of his scoring comes on the power play, where he got 11 of his 23 goals.

The downside of Boeser’s game is obvious. He is not fleet of foot. His offensive zone exits are later than anyone else on the roster. He is not the kind of forward who is a threat off the rush. He needs to be more of a consistent threat to score goals at even strength.

If Boeser’s camp is looking for north of $7.5 million per year over the course of a long-term contract I don’t see how he’s a fit for the Canucks. A sign and trade becomes a real possibility in that scenario.

If they can come to an agreement on a deal that pays him top-six forward/power play specialist kind of dollars, his number would come in around $6.5 million.

END OF SEASON ROSTER 2021-22

LW

C

RW

Tanner Pearson ($3.25M)

J.T. Miller ($5.25M)

Brock Boeser ($5.875M)

Vasily Podkolzin ($925K)

Elias Pettersson ($7.35M)

Conor Garland ($4.95M)

Jason Dickinson ($2.65M)

Bo Horvat ($5.5M)

Nils Hoglander ($892K)

Matthew Highmore ($725K)

Juho Lammikko (750K)

Alex Chiasson (750K)

Justin Dowling (750K)

Brad Richardson (800K)

LD

RD

G

Quinn Hughes ($7.85M)

Tyler Myers ($6M)

Thatcher Demko ($5M)

Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($7.26M)

Tucker Poolman ($2.5M)

Jaroslav Halak ($1.5M)

Travis Dermott ($1.5M)

Luke Schenn (850K)

Spencer Martin (762K)

Brad Hunt (800K)

Kyle Burroughs (750K)

POTENTIAL ROSTER FOR 2022-23

LW

C

RW

Tanner Pearson ($3.25M)

J.T. Miller ($5.25M)

Brock Boeser ($6.5M)

Conor Garland ($4.95M)

Bo Horvat ($5.5M)

Elias Pettersson ($7.35M)

Mason Marchment ($2.75M)

Evan Rodrigues ($3.5M)

Vasily Podkolzin (925K)

Andrei Kuzmenko (925K)

Curtis Lazar (800K)

Nils Hoglander (892K)

Justin Dowling (750K)


LD

RD

G

Quinn Hughes ($7.85M)

Tyler Myers ($6M)

Thatcher Demko ($5M)

Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($7.26M)

Tucker Poolman ($2.5M)

Spencer Martin (762K)

Travis Dermott ($1.5M)

Luke Schenn (850K)

Kyle Burroughs (750K)

Jack Rathbone (975K)

Cap considerations

Jason Dickinson buyout saves $1.708 million on the cap next season.

Dickinson buyout picture via Cap Friendly

There will be dead cap space committed to Jake Virtanen ($500,000), and Braden Holtby ($1.9 million), while Jaroslav Halak will still account for $1.25 million off next season's cap due to the fact he hit his games played performance bonus this season, which carries over into next.

Total budget for proposed 2022-2023 roster: $81,330,000

CONCLUSION

With this team build, I have Boeser signing a six-year extension carrying an AAV of $6.5 million. Scoring goals is the name of the game and I believe he is a 25-plus goal scorer for the duration of this deal. His foot speed and detail certainly bother me. He isn’t a perfect player. But he went through a lot this past season and still managed to contribute 23 goals. The structure of the contract in relation to a no-trade or no-movement will need to be strategized.

With the team looking to add some value muscle and skill to round out the roster, I have them signing free agents Mason Marchment and Evan Rodrigues to identical three-year contracts. Both players are coming off successful seasons that saw their stats increase substantially, but they do not have a history of those kinds of results. Marchment brings sandpaper and offence, while Rodrigues brings speed and skill. Both players are capable of playing the middle and the wing.

Adding Curtis Lazar to the bottom of the lineup is a homecoming of sorts. He has transformed his game. Lazar competes on and off the puck and can be relied upon to match up well against bottom six opponents across the league.

I also have Vancouver adding coveted free agent Andrei Kuzmenko from CSKA in the KHL, who they have been attached to in rumours. He’s a skilled forward who will contribute on the power play and potentially add another element to their group at even strength. Plus he's only eligible to sign a one-year, $925,000 offer, so he's cost effective, too.

For my build, I value having Miller and Horvat as staples in the middle of the ice for the Canucks. It’s difficult to find centremen who provide the kind of impact those two players do. And I have left room in my model to re-sign both players beyond next season, instead of having to trade them out.

The Canucks will have some dollars coming off the books in 2023-24, with the dead caps for Holtby and Virtanen being removed, and the bonus overage for Halak disappearing. There will also be some other contracts that could be easier to trade in 2023, most notably Tyler Myers. While his cap hit will continue to be $6 million and he's owed a $5 million signing bonus on July 1, 2023, that means his actually salary will only be $1 million in the final year of his deal. That could make him more attractive to a team that needs to add cap, but doesn't want to add to the payroll.

Worst case scenario is that Miller enters next season as an “own” rental. If the Canucks underachieve they can look to move him to a contender at the trade deadline and bring back assets in a deal.

I’m disappointed but realistic when looking at the makeup of Vancouver's defence core. In a perfect world I would have found a scenario to move a player via trade, but I don’t see a team willing to take on contracts like Myers' or Poolman's for this coming season. And if the Canucks offered to absorb some of the money owed on those deals, it would only further handcuff them moving forward.

There are issues here, yes, but a lot of good in place too. It will be a sticky situation to navigate, but for the Canucks right now the outlook should be simple: One step a time, one year at a time.

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