When you’re in the game at the highest level, your GM will inevitably task you with analyzing your roster and providing a blunt and honest assessment. Upper management looks for input from player development as well as the pro and amateur scouting departments.
Those conversations will include assessing organizational depth, analyzing value trade options, and forecasting draft capital in relation to the number of picks the team has moving forward.
It’s not the job of the directors of these departments to advise on how to fix the power play or the penalty kill. And it’s definitely not the job of the directors to recommend making changes to the coaching staff. Bruce Boudreau’s future is a topic in Vancouver today, but that is not part of our organizational analysis here for this reason.
Our job is to provide honest feedback on where we see the team now and how we see it evolving in the near and distant future.
The decision-making lies with upper management.
Now, let’s have an honest conversation about the 4-9-3 Vancouver Canucks.
(Note: Observations, comments, and recommendations have been made from traditional scouting methods. The analytics department would also provide player data to management in their own form.)
CURRENT NHL ROSTER
Bo Horvat: He is off to a great start, scoring goals at the highest rate of his career. On most nights he is solid in the face-off circle and logs big minutes. In my opinion he is a solid 2C on a good team.
Cap hit: $5.5 million
Contract: Pending UFA
Recommendation: Re-sign if the number does not exceed $7.5 million and trade if negotiations break down. If traded, one of the assets in return must be a first-round pick in the deep 2023 draft and cannot be lottery protected.
J.T. Miller: Miller is struggling to play the middle full time. His face-off percentage has dipped below 50 per cent. He’s providing offence, but consider the fact he has scored nine of his 15 points on the power play. He has six even strength points to date. He’s also a minus-9 on the season. Watching his effort to block shots in his zone is laughable at times. I’m as much to blame on this one. I didn’t see his game falling off the way it has and valued him as part of the solution moving forward.
Cap hit: $5.25 million
Contract: Last year of current deal. New contract kicks in next season with an AAV of $8 million through 2029-30.
Recommendation: His new deal has a full no-move clause through 2026-27. If someone values the player elsewhere make a move.
Conor Garland: For me, Garland has been a mostly one-dimensional player dating back to his years playing major junior in the QMJHL. His off-the-puck detail is below average for the NHL. He needs to play a top six role and produce on the power play to justify his contract. If there is a way to get out from this deal, I recommend making it happen. He isn’t a nearly $5 million NHL player.
Cap hit: $4.95 million
Contract: Signed through 2025-2026
Ilya Mikheyev: He recently signed and his stats through his first 13 games aren’t terrible. He plays fast and can contribute secondary scoring. He’s also Russian and recruiting Russian players is dicey at the best of times. If he was traded this soon after signing his contract it would significantly reduce the odds of signing future Russians in Vancouver. Importantly, he can play a role on this team moving forward.
Cap hit: $4.75 million
Contract: Signed through 2025-26
Brock Boeser: I feel uncomfortable writing this given what Boeser and his family have gone through in the past year with the death of his father, but the NHL is a business and these are highly compensated athletes.
Boeser is too much of a “one trick pony” for me. Yes, he can score goals (although he is struggling to do so this season) but what else can he do well for the Canucks? His pace is below average and his defensive detail follows suit. Although Boeser is younger than Tyler Toffoli was when Montreal traded Toffoli to Calgary, this feels like the same sort of scenario to me. The Habs received two players and (more importantly) a first and fifth round pick for Toffoli.
Cap hit: $6.65 million
Contract: Signed through 2024-25
Elias Pettersson: He’s part of the solution moving forward. European players always wear their emotions differently and can be misunderstood at times. Pettersson cares and he’s their most dynamic forward overall. There are some moments defensively that I would like better detail from him but he is more reliable than he gets credit for. Pettersson is a core piece moving forward.
Cap hit: $7.35 million
Contract: Signed through 2023-24
Note: Pettersson’s next contract is paying him a healthy raise no matter the circumstances. His qualifying offer is set at $8.82 million when this deal expires.
Andrei Kuzmenko: When the Canucks signed Kuzmenko, they knew exactly what they were getting and he’s played to his identity. He isn’t the fastest skater in the NHL and he has some holes defensively that he needs to clean up. What he does do is score goals, especially on the power play. I feel like there is something brewing behind the scenes with the coaching staff and the player. He can play more minutes. This is another delicate scenario the Canucks find themselves in with a free agent signing from Europe. Hopefully the player doesn’t sour on the situation in Vancouver and decide to go elsewhere next season. He’s not expensive compared to other contracts on this team that are performing below what he has produced.
Cap hit: $950K base, $1.8 million when factoring bonuses
Contract: Pending UFA
Recommendation: Keep unless the feeling is he’s not returning next season. He will have value in a trade. If trading the player, attempt to acquire further picks for 2023.
Vasily Podkolzin: It’s too early to pull the pin on this kid. He’s on his entry-level deal and he’s been surrounded with some team dysfunction early in his career. His stats are concerning so far this year (three assists in 15 games), but he needs time and a more reliable team around him before we decide what kind of player he can be. At the very least he’s competitive and will do whatever it takes to play a role.
Nils Hoglander: I’m lumping Hoglander into the same conversation as Podkolzin. We have to be realistic. His production has declined significantly from his first year in the league, but he does show occasional signs of potentially breaking through and contributing (at least) some secondary offence. It’s also important to factor in the reality that Vancouver’s pipeline isn’t flush with entry level prospects who could fill his minutes on the roster.
Dakota Joshua, Sheldon Dries, Jack Studnicka, Nils Aman
These players are hardly to blame for the position the team finds itself in right now. Each skater brings something different as a depth option. One thing that is consistent is these players can be counted on to work to the best of their ability on most nights, which is something much higher paid players on this roster cannot say.
Both players are on injured reserve right now so there is really no need to discuss them in terms of current roster alignment or future trade scenarios. Once they are healthy a better assessment can be determined.
Quinn Hughes: He’s one of the most elite distributors in the league. He also logs a ton of minutes. When you play as much as Hughes does there are bound to be some mistakes at times. I will take his offensive pedigree over his mistakes any day. This is a core piece the Canucks can use for years to come. He could, arguably, be the most dynamic defenceman the Canucks have ever had.
Cap hit: $7.85 million
Contract: Signed through 2026-27
Ethan Bear: The newly acquired Bear is an upgrade on the right side for the Canucks. He is going to have to play above his pay grade this season, but it gives him an opportunity to prove his worth. This is a player who could be a steady top four defenceman for the next several years. For me, in his current form, he is more of a high-end five on a good team than a top four. But that is where the Canucks find themselves on the back end. Bear skates very well and has some understated offensive upside. He’s historically been pretty reliable defending overall. He fits the group moving forward for me.
Cap hit: $1.8 million
Contract: Pending RFA
Tyler Myers: He is in the last two years of his contract and his no-move clause has become a modified no-move clause (10 team no-trade list). With other younger defencemen on the roster in need of minutes to mature, and the team likely out of playoff contention already, I would put feelers out to see if there is any interest in acquiring Myers, knowing full well I will likely have to retain salary in the deal. Myers can contribute some reliable minutes playing less than he does in Vancouver. A team looking for a veteran defenceman to fill a void as their No. 5 might be interested.
Cap hit: $6 million
Contract: Signed through 2023-24
Luke Schenn: I have to give credit when credit is due. Schenn has provided much more game than I expected at the beginning of the season. In fact, I personally thought the Canucks should try (and maybe they did) to trade him last season if possible. Consider his stats line: 16 games played, one goal, six assists, a plus-7 and 35 penalty minutes.
At this stage Schenn looks almost like a player assistant coach for the Canucks. He can be part of creating a solution to their ongoing culture issues. He might even be worth (gasp!) a one-year extension beyond this season (followed soon after by a role in player development)
Cap hit: $850K
Contract: Pending UFA
Oliver Ekman-Larsson: It’s complicated. On one hand (emotions aside Canucks fans!) OEL is contributing some reliable play and being used between 19-23 minutes per game. Is he a perfect player? Absolutely not. Would it look and feel different if he wasn’t counting for $7.26 million against their cap? If definitely would. This management group inherited his contract from the previous regime and it’s nearly impossible to get out from under. Not only is the cap hit ridiculous for a defender who is somewhere between a four and a five on a contending team, his full no-move clause gives the player complete control.
OEL is used in all situations and delivers varying degrees of positive, and negative, impact on a nightly basis. It has to be noted, however, that his stats line of one goal and six assists in 16 games with a minus-2 rating isn’t awful. The fancy stats will paint a different picture of course. But the reality is the forward group hasn’t exactly supported the defencemen in their end so far this season. And the goaltending has been below average. Both of those scenarios have to be considered when beating up OEL’s play.
Cap hit: $7.26 million
Contract: Signed through 2026-27
Recommendation: Trade if the stars align
Kyle Burroughs: Burroughs is a seventh defenceman on most NHL teams. He works his tail off and contributes to the best of his ability. He moves pretty well. He’s not going to provide much offensively. He is what he is – an affordable extra body who is likely to play out his contract this year and become a free agent in the summer.
Riley Stillman: Only 24 years old. We drafted him when I was in Florida (fourth round in 2016). He’s a competitive kid who plays with some edge and is willing to mix it up with opponents. I’ve observed Stillman trying to set the tone physically in Vancouver but it has come at a cost. He needs to pick his spots and allow the play to come to him more, instead of running out of the way to make a big hit. He’s signed through next season. As the team improves, he will be in a battle for ice time.
Jack Rathbone: His arrival on the Canucks roster has been talked about for some time. Now that he has played some games at the NHL level, I have determined he isn’t ready for full time duty. Rathbone’s pedigree is that of a transitional defenceman who can contribute offensively and play a role on one of the power play units. Not only has he not looked capable of offence, his defending has been abysmal some nights. He’s not ready.
Emergency room, defencemen edition
Tucker Poolman and Travis Dermott are both on injured reserve. I will “reserve” further judgement until they are healthy and back playing again.
Thatcher Demko: I’m shocked at how far off Demko has been this year compared to last. He looks entirely lost. He isn’t tracking the puck, shots are beating him from long range. Some are sneaking right through him. He’s been part of the problem for Vancouver this season. The team needs Demko to be better. He’s lost his confidence and I just hope he gets it back. Last season he carried the Canucks and posted a 33-22-7 record to go along with a 2.72 GAA and .915 save percentage. His entire career before this season Demko has provided a save percentage average of .915. He’s better than this.
Cap hit: $5 million
Contract: Signed through 2025-26
Recommendation: Don’t panic quite yet. Keep him.
Spencer Martin: He is an NHL backup goalie making $726,500 against the cap, on a team that can’t kill penalties and lacks commitment in their zone overall. So far this season he has posted a 3-1-1 record with a save percentage of .902 and a GAA of 3.38. While his numbers don’t look great on paper, he hasn’t been the problem.
Cap hit: $762,500
Contract: Signed through 20-23-24
The Canucks’ cupboards aren’t exactly flush with high-end prospects. The way the team is trending they will have an excellent opportunity to add to their depth next June at the draft in Nashville.
Their first-round pick from last season, Jonathan Lekkerimaki, has yet to play to his identity as a goal scorer this season. He has only produced one goal playing in Sweden’s second division (Hockey Allsvenskan) for Djurgardens (one goal, four assists) in 15 games.
One of their more intriguing college prospects, Aidan McDonough, continues to produce over a point per game for the Northeastern Huskies in Hockey East (12GP-7G-9A) He’s a senior, so hopefully the Canucks are able to get him signed at the end of the year. The unfortunate reality for Vancouver, though, is McDonough is in control of where he decides to sign when his college career ends.
A positive in the pipeline has been the play of 2022 second round pick Elias Pettersson (not to be confused with the NHL centre!). The 6-foot-2, 190 pound defenceman is handling himself well playing for Orebro in the SHL (Sweden). He moves well and isn’t shy about engaging physically. He’s a two-way defenceman on projection. A player who might provide some secondary scoring at the NHL level, but will more likely settle into the role of a match-up/penalty kill option for the Canucks.
The only untouchables on this roster are Pettersson and Hughes. Just about everything else should be considered and discussed.
With some creative roster management Vancouver has a chance to acquire some new players and add to their draft grid in the coming months. With the depth of the current draft class, the long-term pain of rebuilding the roster might be shorter than one would expect.
Message to the fanbase: It’s volatile right now. I understand. But reality has to set in at some stage. We have gone down this road before with this group. It’s time for a reset. Hopefully people will understand the strategy and appreciate some new, hard working, competitive, albeit developing players for the next couple years.