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Ask it to Bulis: Trading J.T. Miller, fixing Canucks' right defence, and favourite albums of 2021

You have questions. Pass it to Bulis has answers.
J.T. Miller
J.T. Miller is leading the Vancouver Canucks in scoring.

The Vancouver Canucks don’t play another game until Saturday, January 8, assuming that game doesn’t get postponed. 

That gives us a little bit of downtime to ponder the great questions of life, like “Is there life on Mars?” and “Should I stay or should I go?” and “Are we human or are we dancer?”

With that in mind, I put out the call on Twitter for Canucks-related questions, to be answered by an incredibly handsome, smart, and witty writer. Regrettably, said writer was unavailable, so I will have to answer them instead.

Who are some dream players that Jim has had on his teams in the past that would come to play for him again?

- from Don

I mean, if we’re dreaming, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would be nice. If we’re going to dream, may as well dream big.

More realistically, maybe the Canucks could target John Marino, a young right-handed defenceman who Rutherford once acquired for a sixth-round pick. He’d cost more than that now.

Or how about Kasperi Kapanen, a player Rutherford drafted in 2014, traded away in the Phil Kessel deal, then reacquired in a multi-player deal that cost the Penguins a first-round pick. Kapanen would certainly come at a cost but he’s still relatively young and puts up points.

To be honest, I’m hoping Rutherford doesn’t pay any attention whatsoever to “his guys” or anything like that. I’m hoping he looks to acquire the best possible players, whether he has a previous connection to them or not. 

During the previous regime, the Canucks went after far too many players with a past connection to the team’s management or coaching staff, including the likes of Markus Granlund, Derek Dorsett, Linden Vey, and Matt Bartkowski. No more, please.

Do you think the core as you see it today is capable of winning a cup?

- from Andrew  

There was more to Andrew’s question but let’s tackle this primary one: is the Canucks’ core capable of winning the Stanley Cup?

Absolutely. The Canucks have the key components of a Cup winner in their core already. 

Assuming Elias Pettersson bounces back, and I believe he will, the Canucks have a true number one centre. They have an elite number one defenceman in Quinn Hughes. ​​They have a true number one starter in Thatcher Demko. They have a pair of high-end wingers in Brock Boeser and Conor Garland. And they have a strong second-line centre in Bo Horvat.

Along with that core, they also have J.T. Miller, who can fill in as either a top-end centre or elite winger, and young up-and-comers in Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin.

There are two primary issues for the Canucks: defence and depth. Tyler Myers and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are playing well this season but I’m not sold on either as a solid number two behind Hughes long-term and Jack Rathbone is still unproven at the NHL level.

The defensive depth falls off a cliff after that and their forward depth is also suspect. Elite teams have the depth to survive the loss of key players to injury during the season and that just isn’t the Canucks. 

So yes, their core is capable — the key now is building around that core with cheap, competent depth.

What do you think will be the most likely long-term solution to the Canucks’ right defence woes? Trade, fast-tracking a prospect/draft pick, signing a free agent (e.g. from NCAA), or none of the above?

- from David  

Quality right-handed defencemen seem to be the most difficult thing to find in the NHL and the best bet for getting one for your team is the homegrown option: draft and develop. Acquiring a right-handed defenceman in a trade — particularly a young one that fits into a young core — is difficult: teams don’t want to give up those players, so it's likely to cost you a lot.

Likewise, you can expect to pay a premium in free agency for a right-handed defenceman and you’re typically getting a player that’s already a bit — or a lot — older. 

Of course, their best right-handed defenceman in recent years came via college free agency but it's rare to get someone as good as Chris Tanev. Still, it’s worth a shot. 

One of the most intriguing names is Jake Livingstone, a 6’3” right-handed defenceman who played his junior hockey in the Canucks’ backyard for the Langley Rivermen. He’s got 19 points in 22 games for Minnesota State this year. There’s also a pair of undersized right-handed defencemen in Nick Blankenburg and Zach Metsa, who are both worth a look. 

Are any of these three surefire top-four NHL defencemen? Well, no, but adding to the Canucks’ prospect depth at right defence has to be a priority.

Jett Woo is their top prospect at right defence and he still looks a long way off from being NHL ready and isn’t likely to be a top-four guy if he does make it. After Woo, the Canucks have Madison Bowey and Noah Juulsen, both players who have had a taste of the NHL and struggled. The odds are against them figuring it out and becoming everyday NHLers. 

Viktor Persson is an intriguing prospect: he’s playing pretty well for the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL in his first season in North America and some in the Canucks organization are high on him. Jonathan Myrenberg got some games in the SHL at the age of 18 earlier in the season, even if he played limited minutes. He has 15 points in 20 games in Sweden’s junior league — not too shabby but also nothing that screams “future top-four NHL defenceman.”

Brady Keeper turned some heads at Canucks camp but then he unfortunately broke his leg. When he gets back on the ice, there’s a chance he could become a bottom-pairing guy in the NHL but, again, the Canucks need top-four guys on the right side.

Long-term, the Canucks might need to look to the draft next year and try to find a top-tier right-handed defenceman, either in the first round if he’s the best player available or with a shotgun approach in later rounds.

Should the Canucks trade J.T. Miller?

- from Atomic Frog and many others

This is a big question that deserves a full article but let’s take a quick crack at it here.

Let’s get this out of the way first: J.T. Miller is a fantastic hockey player. He’s been great for the Canucks. If the Canucks were to trade Miller, it wouldn’t be because he’s bad or they don’t need him; it’s because he’s good and would fetch a large return.

In addition, Miller has just one year remaining on his contract after this season. The Canucks have to figure out what to do with him within the next year because they can’t afford to see him go to free agency and lose him for nothing. 

The argument for trading Miller is that he has the most value of any player on the Canucks’ roster but is also the oldest member of the team’s core. If the Canucks’ window of Cup contention opens in the future, then maybe Miller doesn’t fit within the bigger picture. Trading him would potentially bring back valuable pieces that would fit in that window.

The Colorado Avalanche traded Matt Duchene when it seemed like he was a key piece of their young core; it ended up being a major component of the team’s path to Cup contention.

The argument against trading Miller is that he’s a heart-and-soul player, a leader on the Canucks that can’t be easily replaced. For a team that has already lost a lot of veteran leadership over the past couple of years, losing Miller might do more damage than just losing a first-line forward. In addition, he’s scored at a point-per-game pace with the Canucks — who’s to say he can’t keep scoring as he enters his 30’s?

Personally, I lean more towards the trade camp. The Canucks could get themselves into some serious cap trouble if they re-sign Miller and his play declines as he ages and the possibility of adding blue-chip prospects in key positions — say, right defence — is too hard to overlook.

Any word on Sutter?

- from knuckles

While I’ve seen Sutter at the rink a few times, taking in the games from the press box, he has yet to hit the ice himself, unless he's snuck some on-ice sessions in away from the prying eyes of the media. Last I heard, he still has long COVID symptoms, which should give everyone pause when they dismiss COVID as just a flu or cold. 

Have you ever spoken to Jan Bulis? 

- from Jeff

I have not. I do know that he’s aware of the blog — he was asked about it in an interview way back in the blogspot days, I believe after we initially earned some notoriety for challenging Tanner Glass to a game of Scrabble. He seemed nonplussed but also fine with it.

How close is DiPietro? And if the answer is close, do they consider moving Demko and keeping Halak as a bridge?

- from Lucas  

I absolutely love this question because it’s so out of the blue. Thatcher Demko is on an incredible run right now, with a .955 save percentage over the last nine games, a .920 save percentage on the season, and some truly stunning advanced analytics.

And in comes Lucas off the top rope with “Should the Canucks trade Demko?” Love it.

The answer is no.

Mikey DiPietro is a good goaltending prospect but he’s also having a tough season in the AHL with the Abbotsford Canucks, posting a .901 save percentage and giving up some ugly goals. He’s not close to playing regularly in the NHL let alone being in the conversation to replace Demko.

The better question is perhaps whether the Canucks should consider trading Jaroslav Halak before he plays ten games and activates the $1.25 million performance bonus in his contract. Because the Canucks can’t use LTIR money for that bonus, it will instead carry over to next year’s cap, giving the Canucks $1.25 million in dead cap space — $1.5 million if he has a save percentage over .905 at the end of the season, as he likely will.

Jim Benning wasn’t fazed by that dead money; Jim Rutherford might be.

Halak has played 8 games for the Canucks so far this season. Will he play two more? We’ll see.

If the Canucks trade Elias Pettersson, what do they realistically get or should get in return?

- from Ella

This is a very different question from whether they should trade Pettersson. The answer to that question is a resounding “No.”

I mean, you never say never, obviously. Maybe the Edmonton Oilers offer Connor McDavid, one-for-one.

The trouble with trading Pettersson is that the odds of winning the trade are frightfully slim, particularly if you trade him now, while he’s in a major slump. Pettersson has the potential to be one of the best players in the NHL, hard as that may seem watching him this season. The chances of getting a similarly-talented player back in a trade are unlikely.

More likely, you would get back multiple assets, no one of which is as good as Pettersson. 

It’s hard to find a comparable trade for someone like Pettersson because teams don’t typically trade players like him — they sign them to long-term deals. The closest in recent times is Jack Eichel. Obviously, Pettersson isn’t quite at Eichel’s level — though it’s closer than you might think — but it’s probably as close as we’ll get.

Eichel brought back a bounty for the Buffalo Sabres in the trade with the Vegas Golden Knights: Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch, a second-round pick and a top-ten protected first-round pick, with Vegas also getting a third-round pick in the deal.

Krebs is a very good prospect, Tuch is a legitimate top-six winger, and the Sabres got a first-round pick. Odds are, however, that the pick will be late in the first round, diminishing its value.

So, let’s take that as a baseline for Pettersson, but move everything down a notch because Pettersson isn’t as good as Eichel. A lesser prospect than Krebs, a worse roster player than Tuch, a later first-round pick than that of the Golden Knights, and a third-round pick instead of the second-round pick.

Yeah, that’s not worth it.

I feel like I know the answer had I asked two months ago, but currently, what brings you more joy, hockey writing or songwriting?

- from Lucas

For those who don’t know, I’ll be releasing my first album, The Neverknown, in the coming month. I financed mastering the album via Kickstarter and there are just a few final steps left to get it released.

I love writing of all types and I truly love my job writing about the Canucks but, let’s be honest, it’s a job. Even people who love their jobs have days when it becomes a chore.

Songwriting for me, on the other hand, is something I do when the mood hits me. If I’m not enjoying it, I don’t do it. So, kind of by default, songwriting brings me more joy. I’m sure if songwriting was my job, there would be days when I just didn’t want to do it and it became a slog.

But I’m very fortunate that I get paid to do something I love that — most of the time — brings me a lot of joy. Hopefully, the Canucks can keep the good times rolling and keep writing about them joyful.

Favourite albums of 2021 and who is the most likely on the Canucks to dig Turnstile?

- from Matt  

There was a time when I intently followed music blogs and was up on all the latest and greatest indie music and great new albums. Between work, kids, and hobbies, I’ve run out of time to discover new music the way I used to.

Truth is, in a year with so much turmoil, I found myself turning more and more to old favourites: I listened to a lot of Jimmy Eat World, Saves The Day, Harvey Danger, and Sleater-Kinney this year.

When I did listen to new music, it was just new to me: music that slipped past me before or oddball stuff that I had no reason to know about before. I listened to a lot of this Russian midwest emo band called Bird Bone, for example. Тени is a really good album from them but it came out in 2019. Still, I listened to it a ton in 2021.  Great stuff.

As for albums from this year, I really dig Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s project Silk Sonic. Pure fun but there’s more depth in their chord progressions, melodies, and harmonies than you might think. “Skate” is a friggin’ jam.

Snail Mail’s Valentine is killer. Wonderfully-crafted songs, cutting lyrics, and a wonderful mix of lush and gritty. Incredible next step from 2018’s Lush.

My favourite album that came out in 2021 is Until This Shakes Apart by Five Iron Frenzy. One of my favourite bands continues to meld retro ska with rock and punk, while somehow sounding intensely modern. They’ve always delved into political topics in the past with songs like “Banner Year,” “Get Your Riot Gear,” and “Zen and the Art of Xenophobia” but Until This Shakes Apart brings politics right to the forefront, relentlessly and cleverly dismantling the marriage between evangelical Christianity and the political right in the U.S. 

It’s also just banger after banger. Highlights for me include “In Through the Out Door,” “Tyrannis,” and “Renegades.”

As for Turnstile, I’m honestly not sure what current Canuck would be most likely to listen to the Baltimore hardcore band and their fantastic genre-bending 2021 album Glow On. Most hockey players have dreadful taste in music, sad to say. 

Alex Edler was known for listening to some harder music, I know. Maybe J.T. Miller, who is frequently known to take over the stereo for the Canucks and has a decently diverse taste in music, so maybe he’d take a turn on the Turnstile. Hard to say.

Nils Höglander’s Spotify is public ​​and he listens to a pretty wide range of music. No sign of Turnstile but maybe he could be convinced to add a song to his “träning” playlist.