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Rutherford: Kuzmenko will score 'in Vancouver or in another NHL city'

Will Andrei Kuzmenko get traded by the Vancouver Canucks this season?
Will the Vancouver Canucks trade Andrei Kuzmenko this season?

Jim Rutherford is in Vancouver for another three years. Some other members of the Vancouver Canucks organization likely won't be around that long.

At the press conference announcing his contract extension, the Canucks' president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford and owner Francesco Aquilini fielded questions on a wide range of topics from the media. They talked about how the season has gone better than anticipated and how that might affect the team's approach to the trade deadline, the possibility of winning the Stanley Cup, and the progress toward a dedicated practice facility for the team.

The answers to these types of questions were about what you would expect, with little in the way of new information. But Rutherford did have something unexpected to say when he was asked about Andrei Kuzmenko.

The beleaguered winger scored 39 goals last season and signed a two-year contract extension with a $5.5 million cap hit. This season, he's on pace for 16 goals and has frequently found himself in head coach Rick Tocchet's doghouse for missed assignments in the team's system.

"He's lost his confidence," said Rutherford. "He's a good player and he can score and there's no doubt in my mind, whether it's in Vancouver or in another NHL city, he will score."

It's that aside that stood out: "in Vancouver or in another NHL city." That's about as frank a mention of the possibility of a trade that you can expect from Rutherford in this situation without outright stating that Kuzmenko is on the trading block.

Kuzmenko's slump this season was always a possibility. His 39 goals last season were fueled by one of the highest shooting percentages in NHL history while riding shotgun with an elite playmaker in Elias Pettersson. All it would take was his shooting percentage regressing towards the mean and Kuzmenko's goalscoring would wither.

What's wild is that Kuzmenko's shooting percentage of 13.3% this season is still above average among NHL forwards. The median shooting percentage for forwards who took at least 100 shots last season was 11.9%. It's not that Kuzmenko's shooting percentage has cratered — this is just what it looks like when he scores on a percentage of his shots that is more typical of a top-six forward.

The Canucks could have traded Kuzmenko last season when he was at the peak of his value and he had a minimal cap hit that any Stanley Cup contender could have fit under the salary cap. Instead, they re-signed him — likely something they had already agreed to when they initially signed him out of Russia — and trading him at this point means getting significantly less value on the trade market

But if the Canucks want to add to their team at the trade deadline — if they feel they owe it to the team to go for it this year — then moving out Kuzmenko's $5.5 million cap hit might be necessary. 

It's a frustrating situation for Rutherford and the Canucks, who feel like they've done everything they can.

"I don't know what we do more than what the coaching staff's been doing," said Rutherford. "Tocc has worked with him and the other parts of the coaching staff have worked with him...It's a tough game and when you have confidence, everything just feels good and it goes right, like it did last year for him. And when you lose your confidence, you start pressing, and then it's hard. I just believe that's where he's at now."