With the Seattle Kraken’s 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday, the Vancouver Canucks are now last in the Pacific Division with an abysmal record of 6-14-2. They have only two wins in the month of November and are spiralling fast to the bottom of the NHL as a whole. The only teams with worse records are the Ottawa Senators, Arizona Coyotes, New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens.
It’s only a matter of time before a big shakeup happens in the form of a trade and/or general manager (GM) Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green getting fired. At this point, all options are on the table as trade rumours have picked up in recent days and talk of the Canucks researching options for both a new GM and head coach has come to light as well.
So, in the spirit of those trade rumours, I thought it would be fun to run through some teams that could potentially come calling should the Canucks decide to sell off some assets. Starting with Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Trade Assets of Interest to the Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have ample talent in their top six at center and right wing with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Not so much at left wing with Alex Kerfoot, Michael Bunting and Nick Ritchie. J.T. Miller would solidify that top six and provide versatility on the power play and penalty kill. He can also win faceoffs, which would take the pressure off Matthews and Tavares who take a large portion of the draws.
The Maple Leafs might be hesitant to do another trade involving a high-profile player after the Nick Foligno debacle of last season. They ended up losing a first-round pick for only 10 games of the veteran forward after he signed with the Boston Bruins in the offseason. The key difference with Miller is that he has one more year on his contract after this season. So, even if he doesn’t help push the needle in the playoffs, they still have him for one more year before he hits free agency in 2022-23. With his history of production and leadership, he might be worth the price of a first-round pick and maybe even a mid-range prospect.
Even though Brock Boeser denied the latest rumours of being on the trade block, his name keeps coming up as someone that could be moved. With only seven more months left on a bridge contract he signed in 2019, he will be in line for a big payday come July 1. After the massive contracts given out to Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson in the offseason, the Canucks might be forced to trade a core piece like Boeser to help manage the cap hell they are currently in.
On a team desperate to make some noise in the playoffs past the first round, Boeser would be another weapon in their arsenal to deal with past the big four of Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Tavares. The postseason is all about offensive depth and the Maple Leafs still don’t have enough of it. With him patrolling the wing beside Tavares or Matthews, they might just have enough to win that elusive Stanley Cup, if they can find a way to fit his $5.875 million under the salary cap.
Which Assets Should the Canucks Target?
1st Round Pick
If the Canucks do in fact start trading significant assets like Boeser and Miller, a first-round pick needs to be included in the package. They haven’t had one since 2019 when Vasily Podkolzin was chosen 10th overall. In 2020, they traded it to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Miller and in 2021, they dealt it to the Arizona Coyotes for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland.
Now, with Podkolzin closing in on the 25-game mark in the NHL, the Canucks no longer have any bluechip talent in their pipeline. If they would have kept their 2021 first-round pick, they could have drafted Edmonton Oil Kings standout Dylan Guenther, Columbus Blue Jackets rookie Cole Sillinger or Harvard University star Matthew Coronato. With the 2022 Draft set to be a strong one, especially in the first round, another pick in the top-32 would do them a world of good.
Arguably one of the Maple Leafs’ top prospects, Nick Robertson has all the tools to be a top-six scoring threat in the NHL. He was a menace in junior with the Peterborough Petes where he finished with 97 goals and 174 points in 162 games, which included a career-high 55 goals and 86 points in 2019-20. His hands and elite puck handling abilities are probably his two biggest strengths along with a high-energy motor that runs hot more often than not.
Unfortunately, since that tremendous final season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Robertson has only played 29 games split between the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL). He suffered through multiple injuries last season and after a strong showing at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in September, he was injured again after only two games with the Toronto Marlies. He is currently rehabbing a broken leg that will keep him out until January at the earliest. Despite the injuries, he is still only 20 years old and has a bright future in the NHL as a 20-30 goal scorer.
Timothy Liljegren has been slow out of the starting blocks since being drafted 17th overall in 2017. Touted as a strong two-way defenceman coming out of the draft, he has not shown too much of that so far in the NHL. He has steadily improved since his draft year with two encouraging seasons in the AHL with the Marlies, but to this point, has not been able to translate that success to the Maple Leafs.
As of this writing, Liljegren has two assists in 14 games while averaging 15:18 of ice time. His Corsi-for percentage is solid at 53.6 and he has only been on the ice for three high-danger goals against. With the Canucks’ defence core being one of their many weaknesses this season, they could use a young right-shot defenceman like him to help prop up a right side that does not have much in terms of future depth.
Canucks Would Need To Take Salary Back in Any Maple Leafs Trade
Unfortunately for the Canucks, in any trade involving the Maple Leafs, they would have to take back salary for it to work. The Leafs are currently right up against the cap with only $2.046 million available to work with. Players like Nick Ritchie ($2.5 million in average annual value (AAV)), Alex Kerfoot ($3.5 million AAV) or Justin Holl ($2 million AAV) would need to be included in the package.
Adding one of Ritchie, Kerfoot or Holl would not be the end of the world as they are all serviceable players in the NHL. Especially Kerfoot, who could replace the scoring lost in a trade involving Miller or Boeser. As of right now, he is only five points back of Miller in scoring and five points clear of Boeser. Believe it or not, he would actually be an upgrade on Boeser.
In the end, the Canucks and Maple Leafs may not be the most ideal trading partners. Though, it’s always fun to speculate especially when trade rumours are swirling. The salary cap might ultimately get in the way of any deal being consummated. That being said, stranger things have happened. If the Canucks put up the for-sale sign, and the Leafs feel the need to make a deal to increase their chances of making it past the first round, all bets are off. Somehow deals get done, despite the roadblock of the salary cap. Just ask the Vegas Golden Knights.
Who do you think the Maple Leafs should target from the Canucks? What would the return look like for those players? Let us know in the comments below!
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout 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.