Trent Leith / August 26, 2022
This is the first off-season for the Vancouver Canucks’ new management group and it was expected to be an off-season full of overhauls, but to this point, we seem to have reached a standstill. While some changes have happened, the elephant in the room, JT Miller, has seen no updates, only speculation, and rumours.
POHO Jim Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin made it abundantly clear that Canucks fans should expect to see a multitude of changes before the start of the 2022-23 season.
“We all know that we’re going to have to make changes at some point in order to get better and have a contending team,” Rutherford said. But have the changes, or lack thereof, been enough to consider this off-season to date a strong one?
The Canucks signed Ilya Mikheyev to a 4-year contract with an AAV of $4.75m. For as many times that the Canucks have been burned by signing UFAs, this contract is less likely to blow up in GM Allvin’s face, than signings like Tyler Myers and Louis Eriksson did in GM Jim Benning’s face.
Mikheyev had yet to play 150 games in the NHL and has had ups and downs in performance, but this year, Mikheyev’s goal scoring started to pop off. Mikheyev ended the season with 0.40 goals a game, tied with the likes of Kevin Fiala, Val Nichushkin, and of course JT Miller and Elias Pettersson. Strictly by that metric, Mikheyev’s deal is a steal. The risk with it however is that the point production hasn’t been there, and he has only truly had one strong season, that being last year.
While it’s often risky to sign UFAs, in this case, you aren’t betting on a UFA who is past his statistical prime, the Canucks are betting on one who seems to still be entering his prime.
For what seems like the first time in a long time, the Canucks won something of significance, the Andrei Kuzmenko sweepstakes. Kuzmenko is a 26-year-old former KHL star looking to make a name for himself in the NHL. He picked the Canucks as the team to start his career off with and signed a one-year contract with a cap hit of $925,000.
Kuzmenko and Podkolzin used to be teammates and actually were briefly linemates in SKA St. Petersburg.
Of course, no one knows how a European free agent will do in the NHL, will they be a Vadim Shipachyov? Or will they be an Artemis Panarin? Only time will tell. But credit where it’s due, Allvin and Rutherford convinced the young player with sky-high potential to come to Vancouver vs. any of the other 31 teams. This is a low-risk, high-reward signing that could help kick-start the contention window for the Canucks.
Curtis Lazar is a 27-year-old right-shot RW/C that will be able to take over some challenging assignments for the Canucks, after losing key fourth-line players, especially with Brandon Sutter’s health hanging in the balance.
Lazar signed a $1M deal that is three years long. While it’s a nice cap hit for a position that the Canucks desperately needed, the term makes me a little antsy. But for a reliable, defensively-minded player that can pull his weight in the faceoff circle, he fills a role the Canucks desperately need to be filled.
Lazar is coming off a career-high on goals, and the second highest total for points with 8 and sixteen respectively. But his point totals are not the reason you sign a guy like Lazar, you sign him for his defensive responsibility and grit. “Physicality is something I bring to the table,” Lazar said when being asked how he will help the Canucks.
One of the biggest items on the Canucks’ to-do list is figuring out the JT Miller situation, whether that is a trade or an extension something needs to be done soon with the player. Many expected Miller to be dealt with at the deadline, many others expected at the draft, and then again on July 1st, but now the expectation is that development will come during training camp next month.
Is this a case of management being patient to find the best case scenario for the health of the team? Or is this management letting their prized show horse’s value slip through their fingers? Only time will tell, but all this waiting is making things stressful for those who follow the team through the summer months. Fans want something done whether it’s a signing or a trade, no one wants Miller hanging in the balance for much longer.
While patience is a virtue, and it’s something Canucks fans have been clamouring for from team management, it seems it might be more stressful than expected.
Good or Bad?
So how do we grade this off-season to this point? It’s tricky because as mentioned above, there is speculation that whatever is going to happen with Miller is now expected to happen during training camp. Arguably JT Miller is the make or break for how we view this off-season’s changes. Yes, there have been some moves in less critical spots around the roster and with depth, but the big ticket item is still yet to come.
To this point, the new brass’ off-season has been fine. It’s nothing outstanding, but it hasn’t been awful. There have been some good bets and some riskier ones, but no home runs, and no clear failures. Again It’s been fine.
I do think that the team has improved on the ice, but I don’t think any of these moves have improved the future of the franchise. The Canucks may make the playoffs in the near future, but the biggest issues on the team remain, and the path forward still seems aimless.