The tides are shifting in Vancouver. The Canucks have a new general manager in Patrik Allvin and have made sweeping changes to their front office and coaching staff. With those turning tides could come changes to the Canucks’ roster. Last night on 32 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman reported they’re having discussions with a number of teams around the league about forwards not named Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat. One of those forwards is Conor Garland, who the New Jersey Devils may be interested in.
Not only did Friedman link the Devils and Garland, but he mentioned New Jersey could be in on other Canucks forwards with term and team control. It’s no secret the Devils need scoring; last night’s 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes was yet another reminder. Garland would certainly help the Devils’ scoring depth, but the Canucks may have other forwards who could interest the Devils too.
Garland a Fit for the Devils
Though the Canucks only acquired Garland from the Arizona Coyotes this past offseason, general manager Jim Benning is no longer at the helm. That was his move, and it seems Allvin is willing to listen to any player on their roster not named Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Horvat or Thatcher Demko.
Garland has been a steady player top-six contributor over his last three seasons in the NHL. He’s averaged close to 23 goals and 54 points per 82 games, and that’s with having played on some poor Coyotes teams before the Canucks acquired him. Not only has he produced, but his underlying numbers at five-on-five have been quite good as well.
Since the start of the 2019-20 season, Garland has a Corsi-for percentage (CF%) of 51.64 percent and expected goals percentage (xG%) of 53.45 percent. He’s averaged 2.24 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five, ranked 47th in the league for forwards with 1000-plus minutes at that game state. That puts him ahead of Andrei Svechnikov, Jakub Voracek and Gabriel Landeskog, to name a few other wingers.
Not only is Garland an underrated scorer, but he’s a solid defender as well. He’s a decent shot suppressor and has had a positive two-way impact at even strength. He’s the type of winger the Devils could very much use in their top-nine:
Multiple reports last offseason indicated the Devils were interested in Garland, so it’s not a surprise to see them involved again if he’s available. As with any trade, the price is always key. If a first-round pick is what the Canucks are looking for in return for Garland, that may be a price too steep to pay. But a second-round pick and a couple of other assets, and there may be a deal to be had.
Patrick Johnston, who covers the Canucks for The Province, believes Ty Smith and Damon Severson would interest Allvin and Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford (from ‘Flames 1, Canucks 0 (OT): Thatcher Demko carries defence as offence goes silent’, The Province – 1/30/22).
Severson is an expensive price for Garland, not one the Devils would or should be willing to pay. But parting with Smith may be something they’re OK with doing. The Devils have Luke Hughes, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Kevin Bahl, Daniil Misyul and Reilly Walsh coming up on defense in their prospect pool. It’s a position of strength for them, so they could probably absorb trading Smith for a scorer. Johnston also indicated Smith could be of more interest to the Canucks because he’s only 21 years old and still on his entry-level deal. A second-round pick, Smith and another asset should get a deal done.
Garland could play on a line with any of Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes or Dawson Mercer, so he makes sense for the Devils. His contract is more than reasonable (four years remaining at a cap hit of $4.95 million), and he fits with the Devils’ core, as he turns 26 in March. It’ll be interesting to see how hard a push Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald makes to acquire him.
Which Other Canucks Forwards Could Interest the Devils?
Friedman noted that Garland is not the only Canucks forward with team control that the Devils may have interest in (he didn’t mention specific names). Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Höglander are only 20 and 21 years old and have plenty of team control. But the Canucks aren’t trading either unless they’re getting a top-line winger or top-pair defenseman in return. That’s where Severson could come into play, but I still have a hard time imagining the Devils trading him now.
J.T. Miller will be an unrestricted free agent in 18 months, so it’s hard to imagine the Devils are interested in him. If he had more term, it’d probably be a different story. With those players, plus Pettersson and Horvat off the table, the only player that seems to fit what the Devils are looking for is Brock Boeser.
Boeser has only 11 goals and 22 points in 38 games this season. However, he’s picked it up since the Canucks hired Bruce Boudreau as head coach, totaling seven goals and 12 points in 16 games. He certainly has a track record as a high-end goal scorer too.
Since the start of 2019-20, Boeser has averaged 28 goals and 68 points per 82 games. He’s not as efficient a five-on-five scorer (1.75 points/60) as Garland, but he is a shooting threat on the power play, where he averages 1.93 goals per 60 minutes. In general, Boeser is a high-volume shooter, averaging 224 shots on goal per 82 games. That’s a touch better than Garland, but Boeser is the better finisher.
Garland has a higher goals above replacement (28.3) than Boeser (19.6) over the last three seasons. But more often than not, these types of moves come down to counting totals. Boeser has the edge over Garland in that regard, so he will likely cost more in a trade. He has a cap hit of $5.875 million but will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this offseason. That should have some kind of impact on his trade value. But one way or another, he will cost a pretty penny.
Related: Canucks: 5 Worst Jim Benning Trades
It’s hard to imagine the Canucks wanting anything less than a first-round pick for Boeser, and that’s just a starting point. The Devils are going to have a top-10 selection in the 2022 draft, so would they be willing to part with it? Eventually, they need NHL players rather than picking in the top 10 every draft. It’d likely take a prospect or a young player with team control in addition to a first-round pick to complete a deal.
The Devils’ 2021-22 season may be as good as over, but it is good to see Fitzgerald already active and looking to make long-term scoring upgrades. They will be sellers come the March trade deadline. But if there’s an opportunity to acquire a young winger under team control, as the Detroit Red Wings did with Jakub Vrana at the 2021 trade deadline, Fitzgerald shouldn’t hesitate to make the move.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017