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Canucks trade targets: who will stay and who will go?

The rumours are flying and trades could be coming soon.
Pettersson Miller Boeser training camp 2021 canucks twitter
Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, and Brock Boeser prepare for a drill during Canucks practice. Will one or more of them get traded?

Jim Rutherford has a reputation.

It’s not that Rutherford makes more trades than other general managers in the NHL but that he doesn’t shy away from big, bold, blockbuster deals. He’ll seemingly trade anybody, with names like Chris Pronger, Brendan Shanahan, and James Neal all traded away during his career.

Now, Rutherford isn’t the GM of the Vancouver Canucks but given the rumours that are already swirling about players potentially getting traded, it seems like his protegé Patrik Allvin is cut from the same cloth.

Perhaps if the Canucks had kept on a roll under Boudreau like their 8-0-1 start but they’ve now lost 7 of their last 10 games. Yes, there are some extenuating circumstances with players on COVID protocol but if Rutherford was looking for something extraordinary to convince him his team is better than his initial assessment, he didn’t get it.

With that in mind, it seems likely that WE’RE HAVING A FIRE sale. Who’s likely to get traded? Who’s sticking around? How panicked should Canucks fans be right now?

Let’s break down the roster into some categories.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

Let’s start with the obvious: J.T. Miller.

The pros and cons of trading Miller would take an entire article to break down but there’s a reason Miller consistently comes up in trade rumours. All the reasons not to trade him — he’s the team’s leading scorer, he’s a fiery competitor, he can play in all situations and in all three forward positions — are the same reasons why he would fetch a handsome return on the trade market.

His contract expires after next season and he’s due for a big pay raise, one that the Canucks either can’t or shouldn’t pay, depending on how you look at it. With that in mind, trading Miller before losing him to free agency makes sense for the Canucks, who are not legitimate cup contenders at this point.

There’s also no rush. Trading him at this season’s trade deadline — where Miller could join a team for a playoff run, a full season, and another playoff run — would get the biggest return but if the offers Rutherford and Allvin get are not good enough, there’s always the draft, the offseason, and next season’s deadline.

Or maybe it’s just smoke

Conor Garland, on the other hand, makes less sense to move. Garland popped up in trade rumours on the weekend, with Elliotte Friedman reporting that the New Jersey Devils could have interest in Garland.

Could the Canucks trade Garland? Of course. He’s not untouchable, by any means.

But Garland is only 25 and signed to a pretty solid deal through 2026, so should fit into whatever competitive window the Canucks have in the future. While he could get traded, it would have to be for a great return that offsets the loss of what he brings on the ice.

Then there’s Brock Boeser, who has perpetually been in trade rumours over the last couple of years. Boeser is a pending restricted free agent in line for a raise and hasn’t quite lived up to the lofty epectations created by his stellar rookie season.

Speaking personally — no source on this one — I don’t think Boeser will be moved. The Canucks are hurting for goalscorers and Boeser still has the potential to put up a lot of goals in the right situation. He’s well liked in the room to boot. He may not be untouchable but I think he stays.

Not going to be traded

Speaking of untouchables, there are really just three on the Canucks roster: Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko.

It’s not hard to understand why: those are the three core players at each position and they’re each an incredibly difficult player archetype to find. Every Stanley Cup contender needs a franchise centre, elite number one defenceman, and solid starting goaltender.

There are other needs beyond those three but those are key players that the Canucks have drafted, developed, and have under club control for the foreseeable future. Pettersson, Hughes, and Demko aren’t going anywhere.

Probably won’t be traded

These are the players that aren’t quite in the “untouchable” space but are pretty close.

That includes Bo Horvat, who is the captain of the team, a respected leader, one of the team’s top scorers. He’s also only 26 years old. The odds of him getting traded are slim. 

At the same time, Horvat is also an unrestricted free agent after next season, and the team has received numerous trade calls on Horvat in the past. If the right offer came along and Rutherford and Allvin wished to go in a different direction with the team’s leadership, maybe he could be moved?

Then there are the two youngest players on the roster, Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Höglander. They’re ostensibly part of the team’s future and, with few prospects coming up through the system, they’re presumably not going anywhere.

On the other hand, the Canucks have some distinct needs on defence. If a trade for an equivalent prospect on right defence could be made, would it make sense to move Podkolzin or Höglander? Maybe, but it would be a risky move. Podkolzin and Höglander have the potential to become very important players for the Canucks and they’re both under team control for a long time yet.

Expensive middle-six might be moved

Rutherford has traded Tanner Pearson before. He might do it again. 

The Canucks shouldn’t have re-signed Pearson in the first place and Rutherford has said creating some cushion under the salary cap is a priority, so finding a taker for Pearson would make a lot of sense. Pearson could have value to a contending team as a middle-six forward that can be moved up or down the lineup but it’s tough to say what he might get in a trade, particularly with a $3.25 million contract through 2024 to consider.

Another middle-six forward that the Canucks could move is Jason Dickinson, who hasn’t lived up to expectations as a third-line checking centre. He’s struggled on the penalty kill and has provided next to nothing offensively. Moving his $2.65 million contract and looking to replace him at centre with cheaper options next season would make sense.

Pending UFAs are always on the block

When a team is in a position like the Canucks are currently, pending unrestricted free agents are the most likely players to be moved. The Canucks only have a handful of such players, none of them stars, but could potentially get some assets to help them in the future.

The player with the most value on the trade market is Tyler Motte, who has become a fan favourite with his consistent effort on the ice and openness about his mental health off the ice. He’s the Canucks’ best penalty killer and the type of blue-collar, forechecking bottom-six winger with a pinch of skill that will likely be coveted by many playoff teams.

Some Canucks fans might balk at trading Motte, reasoning that he’s exactly who the Canucks need in their bottom-six. But that’s not strictly true. The Canucks don’t need Motte — they need at least three players equivalent to Motte on the fourth line and for a lot cheaper than what Motte might cost them on his next contract. Instead of re-signing Motte, they should be taking a shotgun approach to finding the next Motte with a series of league-minimum deals.

Other pending UFAs include Alex Chiasson and Brad Hunt, each of whom could potentially fetch a late-round pick or lesser prospect on the trade market for a team looking to add some depth in case of injury. They haven't exactly excelled this season, however, so the demand for their services might not be there.

There’s also Brandon Sutter, who regrettably hasn’t played this season while dealing with long COVID symptoms, and a handful of AHL depth like Phillip Di Giuseppe,  Nicolas Petan, and Madison Bowey, who are unlikely to garner much interest.

There are also two goaltenders but they deserve their own section.

The backup goaltenders

Both Jaroslav Halak and Spencer Martin are pending UFAs but are otherwise very dissimilar. 

Halak is 36, with a wealth of experience. Martin is 26, with only 6 NHL starts and one win to his name, but was outstanding in his three starts for the Canucks this season in difficult circumstances.

The Canucks need to keep at least one of them as backup to Thatcher Demko, as neither Mikey DiPietro nor Arturs Silovs appears to be ready. The other can potentially be traded.

The goaltender the Canucks likely want to trade is Halak, who gets a hefty $1.5 million bonus if he plays 10 games — he’s playing his ninth Monday night — and since the Canucks are capped out and into LTIR, that money will go onto next season’s cap. The last thing Rutherford and Allvin want heading into next season is more dead money on the books.

The trouble is, Halak has a no-movement clause, an absolutely wild thing to give to a goaltender on a one-year deal. That means Halak can veto any potential trade and can’t even be sent down to the AHL as a last resort in hopes that another team picks him up off waivers.

That $1.5 million poison pill also potentially makes Halak less attractive to trade partners — if they’re in LTIR, they’re the ones that will have dead money next season when he plays his tenth game. Even if they like the idea of adding a veteran backup as insurance, that contract could prove problematic.

Trading Martin is a possibility. Even if his three games turn out to be just a flash in the pan, he’s cheap goaltending depth for a playoff team. But what happens with Martin depends on what the Canucks can do with Halak.  

Awfully hard to trade

The Canucks have some expensive defencemen that are taking up a massive chunk of their cap space. Trading one or more would go a long way toward providing the cap cushion that Rutherford desires but those same contracts will make them difficult to move.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson has a cap hit of $7.26 million through 2027. While he’s provided better-than-expected defence, his offence has completely dried up. It’s hard to imagine him providing $7.26 million worth of value on the ice in the coming years but that’s exactly why trading him will be a major challenge.

Likewise, Tyler Myers has had a resurgence this season, playing some of his best hockey as a Canuck, but finding a taker for his $6 million contract through 2024 would still be a challenge. 

Then there’s Tucker Poolman, who is signed through 2025 for $2.5 million per season. That’s not a massive contract but Poolman has provided bottom-pairing value on the ice. It would sure be nice to have that $2.5 million available in the next three seasons to improve the Canucks in other ways but will other teams see value in Poolman on the trade market.

Finally, we have Travis Hamonic, signed for $3 million per year through next season. Not even Bruce Boudreau knows what’s going on with Hamonic. 

Cheap enough that they might as well stay

There’s not much point to trading players like Justin Dowling, Juho Lammikko, Matthew Highmore, Luke Schenn, and Kyle Burroughs.

In the case of Schenn and Burroughs, they’ve outplayed their contracts and been decent depth defencemen, with Schenn playing some solid minutes in a top-four role when called upon. 

Both are signed through next season for under $1 million each and provide a case study for how the Canucks can improve their defensive depth next season: look for more players like Schenn and Burroughs rather than paying more money for players like Hamonic and Poolman who provide similar value on the ice.

Dowling, Lammikko, and Highmore are fine depth and Boudreau seems to like Lammikko and Highmore in a shutdown role. Dowling is signed through next year and Lammikko and Highmore are RFAs, and all three are signed to league-minimum contracts. None of them would likely bring back much in a trade, so the Canucks may as well just keep them.

What’s the damage likely to be?

There are two months until the trade deadline and they could be very busy for the Canucks. It’s entirely likely that the Canucks will look like a very different team after the deadline comes and goes. Turning this team into a true Stanley Cup contender isn’t going to happen with one trade deadline but this is an opportunity to lay the foundation.

Here’s who will get moved, purely in my opinion: Miller, Halak, Motte, and Pearson, with Chiasson and Hunt depending on demand. Any other moves are more likely to happen in the offseason when teams have more flexibility.

Who do you think Rutherford and Allvin will trade?