The Vancouver Canucks are now the only winless team in the NHL. The club has struggled to pick up a win in their first seven games, posting a record of 0-5-2. Since the 2013-14 season, the organization has made two playoff appearances. In those nine years, the team has continued to add assets in an attempt to become a winning club. Instead, they’ve failed to make consistent post-season appearances and have built a losing culture.
The last time the Canucks made the playoffs was the 2019-20 season. The club relied heavily on its top six and stellar goaltending from Jacob Markstrom during the regular season and later from Thatcher Demko in the playoffs. That formula no longer works for the Canucks, as the team has failed to put together a winning campaign in the past two seasons. As a result, the best course of action for the Canucks seems to be a rebuild. A change in the locker room is needed to create a winning culture. To do so, the club will have to move multiple veteran players and keep a few young stars. Additionally, the 2022-23 season is one of the best for a rebuild, as the 2023 Draft is stacked with top-end talent.
The Canucks have a few players they should keep if they decide to rebuild. Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Demko are untouchables for the club. Pettersson is one of the team’s bright spots to start the season, scoring three goals and posting seven points in seven games. Meanwhile, Hughes has proven to be one of the league’s best puck-moving defenceman in his young career. Last season, he completed 300 more passes than the next closest defender in the league, Victor Hedman. Additionally, he ranked inside the top 10 in passes that led to zone exits, exit carries, and stretch passes. To top it all off, he had a record season statistically through 76 games, posting the most points by a Canucks defenceman in a single season (68) and the most assists by a defenceman in franchise history (60).
Demko is another player the Canucks should keep around. Despite his rough start to the season, he has proven to be a reliable starting goaltender at 26 years old. Additionally, he’s on a great contract, which has four years left and an average annual value (AAV) of $5 million. The only other players the Canucks will likely keep are Vasily Podkolzin and Jack Rathbone. Both are young players and are the type of players the front office wants.
The Canucks have a lot more players to move for draft picks, prospects and cap relief. Players such as J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat, and Conor Garland will likely have the best return. However, Miller, who posted a 99-point season in 2021-22, will likely not earn the return the club expects. The 29-year-old will start his seven-year contract next season with an AAV of $8 million. As a result, the Canucks will receive a lesser return for the forward.
Meanwhile, captain Horvat is due for a contract extension and can be traded for a good return this season if the front office believes a deal will not be reached. He is coming off a career-high 31-goal season. Additionally, if the Canucks choose to rebuild, the 27-year-old likely won’t want to continue playing on a losing team. Horvat deserves to play for a competitive team at this point in his career, and that may not be in Vancouver. Garland is another player who could earn the Canucks a good return. At 26 years old, he is in the second year of his five-year contract with an AAV of $4.950 million. The winger could be a productive middle-six winger for a contending team and comes with a pretty good cap hit. The Canucks could move him for a first-round pick or a promising prospect.
The tougher pieces to move include Oliver-Ekman Larsson, Tyler Myers and Tanner Pearson. Ekman-Larsson and Myers are veteran defencemen with high cap hits. The Swede is locked up for five more seasons with an AAV of $7.260 million. Finding a team willing to take on his contract will be tough unless the Canucks retain some salary. Dealing Myers is a little easier, as his contract only has two seasons remaining. Therefore, other clubs will be more likely to add the right-shot blueliner, and if the Canucks cannot trade him, they can wait out his two-year deal. As for Pearson, the Canucks have attempted to trade him before and likely will try again in a rebuild. A trade may be easier next season when he only has one season remaining on his contract. He would provide veteran experience and depth scoring to a contending team.
Related: Canucks’ Trade Candidates if Losing Streak Continues
Two young players who could be dealt are Brock Boeser and Nils Hoglander. Both players are no strangers to trade rumors and would have good returns. A trade involving Boeser currently seems unlikely, as the club recently signed him to a three-year deal instead of trading him. As for Hoglander, he is someone the team could move even if they don’t rebuild, as he could fetch a piece that could help the team this season.
2023 Draft Would Allow the Canucks to Copy Avalanche
There is no better time for the Canucks to rebuild than this season as the 2023 Draft is a deep draft class, highlighted by North Vancouver native Connor Bedard. Matvei Michkov and Adam Fantilli are also considered special players in an impressive group.
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The Colorado Avalanche are a great example of an organization that rebuilt its club and had success. The Avalanche made the playoffs in Nathan MacKinnon’s rookie season in 2013-14. However, the club failed to make the playoffs in the following seasons, capping their struggles off with a 22-win season in 2016-17. Despite the best odds to land the first overall pick in the 2017 Draft, the team dropped to fourth overall. However, they landed Cale Makar and have seen success since, including a Stanley Cup win in 2021-22.
The Canucks could land an impressive prospect in this year’s draft and pair him along with Pettersson, Hughes and Demko to build the future. If they’re lucky, they win the lottery and select the hometown kid in Bedard. If not, they’ll still have an opportunity to add a special talent and build for the future. Addtionally, trading away a few players to add draft picks and prospects should allow the organization to fill the cupboard.
Fresh Start Allows for Change in Culture
Trading away multiple veterans and adding a top pick in the 2023 Draft allows the new regime in Vancouver to change the culture. Players like Pettersson, Hughes and Demko are young enough to help change the culture in Vancouver, similar to how MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and co. were able to do. The organization needs a fresh start after years of losing and disappointment.