Brock Boeser has been thriving in recent weeks.
The winger has 4 goals and 8 points in his last 7 games, finding a fit on whatever line he lands on, typically with J.T. Miller at centre. His underlying numbers are stellar — he's third on the team in corsi percentage behind only Quinn Hughes and Nils Höglander and he regularly faces tougher competition than Höglander.
But, no matter how well he's playing, Boeser can't seem to escape trade rumours, which have surrounded him for years.
The latest rumours come from Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli, the president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. According to Seravalli, trade interest in Boeser has increased in recent days.
"Trade chatter surrounding Boeser has grown louder in the last number of days as the Canucks’ newly assembled regime settles in ahead of the deadline," reports Seravalli, suggesting that the New Jersey Devils might be a fit.
Boeser has been a staple of trade rumours for the past couple of years as the team has struggled. Those rumours, however, have primarily been that other teams have shown interest in Boeser and contacted the Canucks about his availability, not that the Canucks have been shopping Boeser.
That's understandable — when a team is struggling, other teams are going to circle like vultures, looking to pick off a good player. That other teams are showing so much interest in Boeser speaks to his value as a player.
Even earlier this season, Boeser's name was flying around in trade rumours.
"I was confused," said Boeser at the time. "I think it’s just people looking for an answer out in the social media world with the team struggling, especially now. That’s part of it."
"I personally don’t think I’m going to get traded,” he added. “I feel like I’m part of the core here and a big piece. That’s just how I feel."
The situation has changed since then, of course. A new regime is in place for the Canucks, headed up by president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford, who has never been shy about pulling the trigger on a big trade. Boeser felt comfortable calling himself a big piece of the core under Jim Benning — does Rutherford feel the same way?
The big issue for Boeser and the Canucks is the final year of Boeser's contract. He was signed to a three-year bridge deal that saw his base salary go up to $7.5 million in the final year.
While the rules on qualifying offers have since changed, Boeser's contract is under the old rules: his qualifying offer on his next contract will be $7.5 million.
At the time he signed his bridge deal, it seemed certain that Boeser would be well worth a $7.5 million cap hit. Now, there's a little bit less certainty, as he has yet to take that next step to becoming the elite goalscorer that his fantastic rookie season suggested he could be.
That looming $7.5 million qualifying offer gives Boeser and his agent excellent negotiating position for his next contract. He could sign a long-term deal for a lower cap hit but if he and his agent are ever dissatisfied, they have the option of accepting the qualifying offer for a guaranteed one-year, $7.5 million contract.
That contract situation, more than anything else, makes it understandable why the Canucks might listen to trade offers for Boeser. But that doesn't mean Boeser is getting traded.
Rutherford has made it clear — the Canucks are not under any pressure to move their top players.
“We don't start those rumours, okay,” said Rutherford in regards to Miller, though it also applies to Boeser. “And then when a name is thrown out there, especially in Canada, it takes on a life of its own. So, I don't think that the names that are out there, people should automatically think that they're going to move.
"We do have to make some kind of moves to get some flexibility cap-wise, but it doesn't necessarily have to be with our top players.”
It's possible that's just posturing on the part of Rutherford, letting teams know that their trade offers will need to be better if they want to make a deal, but it also makes a lot of sense. The Canucks have few pending unrestricted free agents, so they can afford to be patient. Even if they do want to trade someone like Miller, Boeser, or another of their big names, they have the option of waiting until the offseason, when teams have more cap flexibility and more teams might be interested than just this season's Cup contenders.
If the Canucks are going to trade one of Boeser or Miller, it ought to be a difficult decision. Miller is having a better season than Boeser, but that also means his trade value is at its peak, while Boeser's might be lower. Boeser is younger, with plenty of potential, but Miller has realized his potential and is already elite.
As we've seen in the past, Boeser's name showing up in trade rumours does not necessarily mean he's going to get traded. For Boeser, it has to feel like deja vu, if he pays attention to it at all at this point.