Canucks defence still an area of critical need, despite Allvin’s impressive moves

Vancouver Canucks General Manager Patrik Allvin talks about the Canucks' franchise record start to the season and expresses his happiness when it comes to Rick Tocchet and the coaching staff's mindset of always looking to improve every day.

VANCOUVER – Patrik Allvin is on a roll.

If you think the Vancouver Canucks have had a good start to the National Hockey League season, check out the general manager’s scorecard.

Allvin’s blockbuster trades last winter involving Bo Horvat and Filip Hronek look favourable so far. The GM turned the summer buyout of Oliver Ekman-Larsson into four free-agent acquisitions: defencemen Carson Soucy and Ian Cole, and centres Teddy Blueger and Pius Suter. In September, Allvin acquired backup goalie Casey DeSmith from the Montreal Canadiens for Tanner Pearson (while saving cap space) and a couple of weeks later surrendered only a fifth-round pick to get versatile and speedy depth forward Sam Lafferty from the Toronto Maple Leafs. He added depth defenceman Mark Friedman from the Pittsburgh Penguins for expendable prospect Jack Rathbone.

Allvin also did not trade winger Brock Boeser, who has rebounded from last season’s distress with an NHL-leading 17 goals through 23 games.

On Tuesday, Allvin made one of his most impressive transactions yet: shedding the full $4.15-million cap hit of winger Anthony Beauvillier, a takeback in the Horvat trade who in Vancouver was playing on the fourth line and had two goals, without paying the Chicago Blackhawks a sweetener. The Canucks even pocketed a fifth-round pick in the latest deal.

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Collectively, Allvin’s body of work the last 10 months has been almost as impressive as the Canucks’ 15-7-1 start this fall. The team can move atop the Western Conference standings by beating the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday at Rogers Arena.

But just as the Canucks under coach Rick Tocchet have embraced an “earn-your-day” mentality, pushing themselves to get better each day, Allvin needs to keep going, too. 

As the Canucks have scuffled though the last eight games, going 4-4 while rarely finding their top level, injuries on defence that should be absorbable have again exposed Vancouver’s blue line as an area of critical need.

On Wednesday, as Allvin conducted a state-of-union press conference in the wake of the Beauvillier trade, minor-league callup Matt Irwin was on the ice at the University of B.C., getting ready to be the 10th defenceman the Canucks have tried this season.

The team’s recent dip in play began soon after Soucy suffered a fracture Nov. 12 in Montreal when he blocked a shot on his ankle. Soucy is the Canucks’ fifth defenceman, and the projected sixth guy, Guillaume Brisebois, has been out with a concussion since the pre-season.

Tocchet has tried to plug the holes with Noah Juulsen, Mark Friedman, Akito Hirose and Cole McWard. It looks like Irwin, a 36-year-old NHL journeyman, will get the next chance to play.

“Do I think we need another defenceman?” Allvin said Wednesday. “I think we can get help on the back end, yes.”

Reporters had to all but waterboard the GM to get him to admit this, as Allvin was pressed about the salary cap space that is suddenly available.

The timing of the Beauvillier trade worked perfectly for the Blackhawks, who needed a winger capable of playing up the lineup after the Corey Perry fiasco. But the timing is also ideal for the Canucks, who need another NHL defenceman capable of playing 20 minutes.

The money they’re saving on Beauvillier could pay for that defenceman.

“It’s business, right?” Tocchet told reporters after Tuesday’s 3-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks. “We need the cap space. (Beauvillier) is a guy who was tradeable and now we’ve got some cap space to get some stuff that we need to do down the road. And there’s competition in Abbotsford, too; there’s a couple of guys knocking on the door. So you can make a trade like that. We’ll see what we’re going to use with that cap space down the road.”

To be clear, the American Hockey League guys pushing upwards from the Abbotsford Canucks mostly play forward. Winger Linus Karlsson was recalled Wednesday to replace Beauvillier.

Minor-league defenceman Cole McWard played his first NHL game of the season on Tuesday but logged just 9:05 of ice time. The previous game, Friedman was the sixth man at 8:57. In his last game before being returned to Abbotsford, Akito Hirose played just 11:06. 

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No wonder ice times for Hronek (26:46 average the last six games) and Quinn Hughes (26:04) are reaching unsustainable levels, while veterans Tyler Myers (23:06 on Tuesday) and Cole (21:26) are starting to show the consequences of being overused.

Myers and Cole were given rest days on Wednesday. Hughes and Hronek had Monday off.

“We can’t overuse them,” Tocchet said after practice. “We’ve got to start playing some other D, too. After the game, Footy (assistant coach Adam Foote) always looks at me, like: ‘Oh, my God.’ We’ve got to get some more minutes out of the fifth and sixth guy. We know that.”

Those guys should be Soucy and Brisebois. 

But Soucy is expected to be out another 4-6 weeks, and Brisebois’ absence is indefinite.

“There’s a lot of pieces out there,” Allvin said. “But again, I think we owe it to the players internally here to put them in that position to succeed. We all know that we have some injuries, you know, on the back end and Pius Suter up top. We’re looking at ways to see where we can strengthen our team.”

The “where” part isn’t a mystery.

ICE CHIPS – Allvin is in regular contact with the agents for Hronek and Elias Pettersson, whose exceptional seasons are taking them towards restricted free agency, but said there are no updates on contract talks. . . Allvin said he is pleased with the standards and accountability Tocchet and the coaching staff have established, and that no one is satisfied with the Canucks’ start and everyone is pushing to get better. . . Asked if the team’s strong opening quarter has changed his outlook for this season, the GM said: “We know what they’re capable of. And again, I think that consistency of playing up to your capability every night — that’s something that the coaches need to challenge the players on. We want to be a consistent team. We want to play to your staples every night, and when you do, you have a chance to win hockey games. I think that’s the biggest challenge for this group to understand how you (need to) play every night.”

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