The Vancouver Canucks are slated to play the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 10 in their 40th game of the season. Halfway through the season, the club is in the midst of yet another disappointing campaign. They sit 25th in the league standings with a 17-19-3 record.
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With the Canucks’ ability to make a run at any point during the season, thanks to the amount of talent they have up front, the club may cost themselves a top pick in the 2023 Draft. In 2021-22, the organization was able to string together wins throughout the second half of the season but missed the playoffs and landed the 15th overall pick. Some of those players that played a part in the team’s success are top trade chips for the Canucks. Therefore, the organization needs to start selling those pieces soon before they go on a run in the second half and cost themselves a chance at drafting in the top 5 in this year’s draft.
Canucks Can’t Be in the Middle of the Pack
Last season, the Canucks finished in the middle of the pack, which isn’t the best place to end. The team missed the playoffs and landed a draft pick outside of the top 10. Not only did the organization miss out on an opportunity to add a top-10 talent to their poor prospect pool, but they also had a lower chance of landing a top-3 pick through the draft lottery.
Fast forward to the 2022-23 season, and the Canucks are eight points out of the second wild-card spot and five points out of the bottom five in the league standings. The team is talented but not good enough to be a cup contender if they even make it to the postseason. Therefore, offloading some of their productive players as soon as possible will put the team in a better spot for future success.
Offloading Top Players
The Canucks have multiple trade pieces that will allow them to not only acquire assets in return but help make the team a little worse. The biggest trade chip is captain Bo Horvat, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Due to J.T. Miller’s seven-year, $56 million extension, Horvat is on his way out. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently noted the two sides will talk once more, but it is extremely unlikely Horvat will sign an extension with the club.
Trading Horvat soon is important as it’ll allow the Canucks to add a few assets, and he’s a big reason the club has had any success this season. He’s scored a team-leading 29 goals in 39 games this year. Addtionally, Horvat helped keep the team’s playoff hopes alive late last season, scoring 18 goals and posting 29 points in 28 games after the All-Star break. Although the Canucks will likely trade Horvat by the March 3rd trade deadline, they should try to get it done as soon as possible. The captain can catch on fire and help the Canucks rise in the standings. Finding a trade within the month might be the best move for the front office.
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Additionally, players like Brock Boeser and Conor Garland, who haven’t been quite productive as expected, provide the team with depth and should also be moved soon. Offloading as much talent halfway through the season puts the team in a better spot to land a top pick instead of a draft pick outside the top 10.
Landing Top 5 Pick
The 2023 NHL Draft is loaded with talent, especially at the top. The Hockey Writers’ Logan Horn believes the top five has special talent. Horn says Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and Matvei Michkov would have been the consensus first-overall pick in each of the last three drafts, while the fourth-ranked Leo Carlsson would have been in the top-two conversation in each class.
Adding one of the four players would provide a massive bump to the Canucks prospect pool. Additionally, an improved chance at drafting Bedard, the North Vancouver native, should be welcomed by the organization and fan base, especially after his performance at the 2023 World Junior Championships.
Following Stretch Should Be the Final Straw
The Canucks are headed into a tough stretch of games in January. They are slated to take on the Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes during a four-game road trip before returning home and taking on the Lightning once again and the Colorado Avalanche. The next six games will show whether this team has hope this season. If the club struggles, the front office should start making moves instead of trying to make a late-season playoff push and ruining any chance they have at acquiring one of the top players in this year’s draft.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.