With the Vancouver Canucks employing a new front office led by Jim Rutherford, Stan Smyl, Patrik Allvin, Émilie Castonguay, Cammi Granato and Derek Clancey, there are bound to be changes to the roster during their first offseason at the helm. After years of Jim Benning and John Weisbrod at the controls, fans and media alike don’t really know what to expect from this group moving forward. There could be blockbuster trades, which Rutherford has been known to take part in (see Phil Kessel), or just minor-to-medium deals that further tweak this team into a contender.
If reports coming from NHL insiders Nick Kypreos and John Shannon are true, fans could be seeing more of the former rather than the latter, which would make for a very interesting and exciting draft day and offseason when it comes to trades. So in the spirit of that, let’s continue the 2022 Offseason Trade Targets series and take a look at who the Canucks should be targeting from the Toronto Maple Leafs if they do decide to make some changes.
The last time Rutherford made a big splash with the Maple Leafs it was for the 27-year-old Kessel, who was just coming off six seasons in Toronto where he scored 30 or more goals four times and hit the 80-point plateau twice. This time, he could be going after 26-year-old William Nylander who just finished a campaign with a career-high 34 goals and 80 points in 81 games.
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If the Maple Leafs want to shake up the core after yet another first-round departure, Nylander would probably be the easiest to move since his contract is only for the next two seasons at a manageable $6,962,366 million in average annual value (AAV). The Canucks already have an asset in J.T. Miller that was talked about at various times last season, so Rutherford and Allvin might revisit those talks if the negotiations around his extension go south this offseason.
Rutherford hasn’t fully committed to re-signing Miller either, saying, “Yes, that’s the goal. We’ll see where that goes and then decisions will be made at that time. Everybody thought he was going to be traded at the trade deadline and he wasn’t and he continued on. He had a great year for the Canucks, a career year for himself, and he’s got a lot of good hockey left in him.” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for his long-term future in Vancouver. Therefore, could the Canucks dangle Miller to the Maple Leafs for a top-six talent like Nylander who is three years younger than him?
While Miller wouldn’t alleviate the Maple Leafs’ cap concerns for the future, he would help the present as his contract is almost $2 million cheaper right now. He would require a big payday should he repeat his 99-point season from 2021-22, but general manager Kyle Dubas might be okay giving him that if he ends up being the missing piece to a Stanley Cup puzzle that has proven to be difficult to assemble thus far.
The Canucks would of course be getting a more expensive asset, but a younger one that doesn’t have to be dealt with contract-wise until the 2024 offseason. Nylander is also firmly in his prime with hopefully more to come offensively beyond the 80 points he recorded in 2021-22. In the end, he fits more into the core of the team age-wise than Miller and could rediscover the chemistry he and Elias Pettersson showcased at the 2019 World Championship where the “super duo” put up eight goals and 28 points in eight games. In the end, it could be a deal that benefits both sides.
It didn’t take long for Alex Kerfoot‘s name to be returned to the trade speculation/rumor pile after the Maple Leafs were dispatched by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2022 Playoffs. The speedy 27-year-old Vancouver native had a career-high 51 points in his first 82-game season in the NHL, along with an impressive plus-19 in the plus/minus column. He also saw his most ice-time to date with an average of 15:13 per game and a career-best 75 hits. Despite all that positivity, he’s still on the trade block, mostly due to his playoff performance and contract.
The Canucks need two things in their forward group, speed and someone that can win draws. While he likely won’t help them in the faceoff department, he will add speed and pace to a lineup that desperately needs it. Especially if they hope to compete in the playoffs in 2023 and beyond.
As for what the Canucks would have to give up to get Kerfoot, it’s hard to say, as they probably don’t want to give up prospects or picks for a guy that might bolt in free agency next season. He also has a rather hefty cap hit of $3.5 million, so unless the Maple Leafs are willing to retain salary or take on Tanner Pearson or Jason Dickinson’s contract, which is unlikely given their own cap situation, this deal might be dead before it’s even discussed. However, that doesn’t mean Rutherford or Allvin won’t be calling about him, since he does check a lot of the boxes they are looking for in age, speed and “sandpaper”.
One of the major things Rutherford talked about at the end of the season was the need for the defence to play with more structure and pace coming out of their own zone. That starts and ends with blueliners that are mobile and have a good first pass. Basically, like franchise defenceman Quinn Hughes. Unfortunately, there is only one Mighty Quinn, so the Canucks will either need their coaches to employ a more structured defensive system or management will have to add more defencemen that are able to move the puck quickly up the ice. Or better yet, both.
That brings us to 22-year-old Rasmus Sandin, who was likely part of every trade negotiation involving Miller last season. He is everything the Canucks are looking for in a blueliner: speed, mobility, passing and the ability to fill in now with the potential of emerging as a legitimate top-four defenceman in the future. If Karlsson isn’t the primary return in a Miller trade, Sandin definitely would be a good consolation prize in a package involving picks, another prospect or a roster player like Kerfoot or Ondrej Kase.
To further the “adding more defencemen” discussion, that exact thing was talked about before the trade deadline by The Athletic‘s Thomas Drance and Rick Dhaliwal.
“Over a 12-18 month time horizon, the Canucks’ priority is to add at least one blue chip young blue line prospect — and ideally two — capable of filling in immediately and emerging over time to help address the back-end, which remains the Canucks’ most significant flaw” (from ‘What we’re hearing about the Canucks’ priorities 17 days out from the NHL trade deadline,’ The Athletic, 3/4/21).
While the Canucks did add 25-year-old Travis Dermott in a trade with the same team we’re talking about in this piece, he really isn’t what you call a “blue-chip” defenceman. So, I would expect them to keep turning over rocks in hopes of acquiring one of those in the future. Sandin could end up being the one they find.
Canucks Could Be Very Active This Offseason
Usually, the offseason brings a lot of rumors and speculation, especially when it comes to teams that miss the playoffs. It is further compounded when those same teams undergo front office and coaching changes. The Canucks did both in 2021-22 and the only change to the roster came in the form of Dermott. While Linus Karlsson, Arshdeep Bains and Nils Aman bring depth to the organization, they likely won’t make a difference in whether the team makes the playoffs or not.
As a result, expect at least one major trade in the coming months, probably involving a name like Miller, Brock Boeser or Conor Garland. So, buckle up Canucks Nation, the ride has only just begun.
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Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.
Matthew also co-hosts The Hockey Writers Prospect Corner on YouTube.