Hronek deal topples major domino for Canucks, Allvin

Vancouver Canucks General Manager Patrik Allvin talks with the media about re-signing defenceman Filip Hronek to an eight-year extension, why it was important to get the deal done, and how the Canucks arrived at the decision.

VANCOUVER – Somewhere on the road last season, we were attempting to converse with Filip Hronek in the Vancouver Canucks dressing room after a practice. Not an interview, really, just a conversation to try to build some rapport and familiarity.

Hronek was polite, but as talkative as the dead presidents on Mount Rushmore.

Bemused and sitting next to Hronek, defence teammates Nikita Zadorov and Ian Cole were enjoying the journalistic-dentistry spectacle. Hey, it’s a long season, and you take entertainment where you can find it.

Eventually, Zadorov smiled and said: “Don’t worry, he doesn’t say much to us, either.”

One of them said someone even ordered for Hronek when the players went out for dinner. Maybe they were kidding.

[brightcove videoID=6355309467112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Truly, Filip Hronek is a player who does his talking on the ice, and that talk will need to be amplified next season with the massive, eight-year, $58-million-US extension the 26-year-old Czech signed Wednesday to remain with the National Hockey League team.

The Canucks re-signed their least talkative, most important free agent at an annual cap hit of $7.25 million. That’s an awful lot of money for a No. 2 defenceman. 

Hronek was eligible only for restricted free agency on July 1, but his ability to make a formidable case in arbitration this summer and his potential UFA status one year from now complicated matters for Vancouver general manager Patrik Allvin.

Re-signing Hronek gives the Canucks cost certainty during what will become one of the most inflationary periods in the NHL salary-cap era, and also secures the preferred, right-side, blue-line partner for team captain and Norris Trophy favourite Quinn Hughes.

The heft of the Hronek deal — and the Canucks’ reported interest in soon-to-be-free-agent winger Jake Guentzel — have likely been factors in the apparent lack of progress toward re-signing other free agents in Vancouver.

Allvin is so far batting 0-for-9 on the Canucks’ own unrestricted free agents, including Zadorov and Cole. Cole is heading to market on July 1 and Zadorov probably will be, too, unless management moves off its current position in negotiations.

[brightcove videoID=6355295398112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

But it’s worth remembering that there is always a free-agent hierarchy, and re-signing Hronek at the top of the Canucks’ list topples a major domino that could lead to movement in some other areas. 

“It definitely was a pecking order for us,” Allvin told reporters in a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon. “Filip being a restricted free agent here, which also means that he was one of the younger guys, we needed to take care of.

“Although we had his rights for another year, I think this was important for our team knowing his contract number leading forward. And also, a younger defenceman on the right side that we feel that we can continue to work with. I think there is more to come there. We were extremely pleased to get it over the finish line here.”

Tuesday’s signing feels like a starting line.

The nine Canucks eligible for unrestricted free agency include defencemen Zadorov, Cole, Tyler Myers and depth player Mark Friedman, forwards Elias Lindholm, Dakota Joshua, Teddy Blueger and Sam Lafferty, and backup goalie Casey DeSmith.

With Hronek re-signed and interest in Guentzel, who played for Allvin and Canucks coach Rick Tocchet in Pittsburgh, it’s extremely unlikely Lindholm will be back. Both Myers and Blueger should return on modest deals, but there are questions about where the Canucks are headed with Zadorov and Joshua – key middle-of-the-lineup pieces whose size, mobility and physicality helped the team play to the identity Tocchet demands.

The Hronek contract reduces Allvin’s cap space by $7.25 million but provides some budgeting clarity about how much can be spent on others.

With 16 Canucks under contract for next season, shows Vancouver with $16.83 million in available cap space.

“We’re looking at all options,” Allvin said. “But as I said, it really appears that we’re not going to be able to sign all of our UFAs at this point.”

The Canucks traded first- and second-round picks to the Detroit Red Wings to acquire Hronek on March 1, 2023, and the defencemen had a breakthrough season during his first full year in Vancouver.

Hronek finished the regular season with 48 points in 81 games, a plus-30 goal differential at five-on-five and a 52-per-cent share of expected goals. Only 12 of his points, however, came during the final 39 games. Hronek added only two points in 13 playoff games — his first experience in the Stanley Cup tournament — although his advanced stats were mostly favourable.

[brightcove videoID=6354443159112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Importantly, Hronek provided stability and more puck touches for superstar Hughes, who hadn’t had a long-term defence partner since Chris Tanev left the Canucks as a free agent in 2020.

“He probably makes it easier (for me), for sure,” Hughes told Sportsnet during an early-season road trip. “And it’s just going to keep getting easier for me and him the longer we play together. 

“He’s a great player. He’s really mobile. He can make some passes that other guys can’t. He can skate and defend the rush really well. He can just make plays that a lot of people can’t make.”

Famously, Hronek arrived from Detroit having gone 1,000 days without a media interview.

“I was going for 2,000, but got traded,” he deadpanned in October. We thought he was joking.

The Canucks have Hronek under contract for another 2,935 days.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.