Despite a pretty good run of success since Bruce Boudreau was hired, it’s obvious the Vancouver Canucks will need to make significant moves to get to the next level.
And to become a Stanley Cup winner? Well, there’s more than just one level they need to climb.
The Canucks are 12-5-4 since Boudreau took over on December 6, good for the 12th-best points percentage in the league over that span.
But you can’t simply ignore the rest of what’s gone on here for the past 12 months, plus there’s no help on the way. After years of mortgaging the future in an effort to squeak into the playoffs, the Canucks now have one of the worst prospect pools in the entire NHL. They also have one of the league’s highest payrolls, meaning they’re limited in what they can do under the salary cap.
They’ve got great goaltending, but have a weak defence after Quinn Hughes. If Elias Pettersson could return to form, their top six forward group looks pretty good, but they still don’t have anyone that seems capable of killing penalties on a regular basis.
These appear to be facts that Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford and new GM Patrik Allvin are aware of.
Both Canucks executives have made it clear that changes will be coming, and clearing cap space and getting younger appear to be priorities.
“In Pittsburgh, we were all-in every year to win the Stanley Cup. It was at whatever cost, which was a high cost over and over. Giving up draft picks, and things like that,” Rutherford explained in an appearance on The Bob McCown Podcast. “And in Vancouver now, we’re in a different situation. We’d like to get more draft picks. We’re not trading our first-round pick. We’d like to build up the depth in the organization, we want to strengthen the NHL team.”
“This team gave everything they had on the ice. With that being said, we all know that we’re going to have to make changes at some point in order to get better and have a contending team.”
The Canucks are actually in an interesting position with regards to the relationship between many of their players and their fans.
While the Canucks have been terrible on the ice — tied for the 26th-best winning percentage since 2015 — many of their players have endeared themselves to the fanbase.
Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko — these are enormously popular players in Vancouver, despite just one playoff run together.
Some fans are still upset about Zack MacEwen leaving town, what do you think they’ll say if Boeser is traded?
J.T. Miller wasn’t drafted by the team, so he doesn’t have the same connection with the fanbase, but he is their leading scorer and a heart and soul kind of player. Conor Garland has only been here a few months, but he has become an instant fan favourite as well.
This doesn’t mean that these players should be off-limits to move, but it does raise the stakes.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has previously suggested that Pettersson, Hughes, Demko, and Horvat aren’t likely to get moved. But everyone else? Well, those are possibilities.
How those moves will be viewed will depend on the haul they get, though in the short term it’s likely to hurt — particularly if it’s Boeser that gets dealt.
They’re trades you can win, but they can also go horribly wrong as well.
“I’m in a market that’s passionate about their team, and winning,” Rutherford added. “It’s our responsibility to make this team better and get the team to be a contender on a regular basis. With that being said, there’s work to do. But there’s good players there. We’re certainly not starting from scratch.”
Expect a retool rather than a blow-it-up rebuild, and that’s probably the right call. There are enough good young pieces in place, so starting over probably isn’t necessary — provided the right moves are made.
How long will it take? Rutherford is looking at a two-year timeline.
“You want to [become a contender] as soon as you can, but you have to be realistic about it. There’s a lot of good teams in this league. If you look at the teams that did a total rebuild, it’s nice to see those teams doing well now, but everybody forgets about the four or five years they had to go through of tough years to get there.
“I would like to think with the players we have, that this team can be retooled, and that we can get it to a point that we get more comfortable with it over a two-year period to contend again. But I can’t sit here and guarantee that’s how long it’s going to take.”
Jim Benning was in charge for more than seven years and at no point during his tenure were the Canucks a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. If Rutherford can turn the Canucks into a contender in two years, it won’t matter who he moved, fans hearts will be mended.