So It’s a Retool, But How Is It Going?

By: Trent Leith / March 17, 2023  

Patrick Allvin and Jim Rutherford have been very clear that they have no intention of a rebuild and have their eyes locked on a retool. Fans have been crying for ages for a proper teardown and rebuild, but it’s evident that that is not what we are going to see, despite some brief hints that it might happen.

When the Canucks traded Horvat prior to the deadline, the team received a prospect, a protected first-round pick, and a player in return. Targeting futures gave fans a momentary flash of hope that the Canucks might be building through the draft and prospects and doing a rebuild properly.

But credit to them, management stuck to their guns and flipped that protected pick for Filip Hronek, a top-four RHD with two more years left on his deal. That is not a rebuilding move, but rather a clear re-tooling one.

A rebuild is currently off the table it seems, for better or worse, management has repeatedly stated their intentions, and has stuck to them. As a result of wanting a rebuild, or deciding one is the best path forward, it’s easy to view the Canucks’ latest transactions through that lens. But what if we take a look at the latest moves through the lens of a retool?

I am not going to argue for, or against rebuilding vs retooling. I will look objectively at how the Canucks are working their way through the retool by looking at their recent moves through the lens of a retool.

So, how is the retool going?

JT Miller Extension

The JT Miller extension is one of the most polarizing moves in the last couple of years. JT Miller is clearly a very strong and offensively productive player and lately has even been showing signs of a strong two-way game. So was signing him to a 7-year deal the correct move or not?

While looking at this through the lens of a retool, it’s hard to argue that a JT Miller extension was the wrong move. If you think that you will be competitive in the early few years of this contract, it’s one you have to do, especially if you plan on moving on from Bo Horvat.

Now the Canucks have their second-line center tied up through the end of his prime into the back end of his career. No one thinks Miller will be as effective in years five or six as he is now, but he will continue to be a threat for years and this is a deal you have to make. They have a first-line center in Elias Pettersson, and now they have their second-line center tied up through what management views as their entire window to compete.

Of course, you could have gotten assets in return for Miller in a trade as recently as the deadline that just passed, although they don’t help you win now the same way JT Miller would. JT Miller had a 100-point season last year so it’s understandable why the Canucks placed their bet on him rather than Horvat.

Horvat has gone on to score at a ridiculous rate this season, surpassing his scoring totals from previous seasons. Not many people would have predicted his breakout season last year when the decision to keep Miller versus Horvat was made. Strictly from a win-now perspective the JT Miller signing was not necessarily bad, in fact, it keeps the window that management sees open. Trading him would have closed that window. If a retool is what you are looking for, this signing is not a bad move to make.

The Andrei Kuzmenko Extension

Andrei Kuzmenko has absolutely shattered all expectations for him in the NHL. Many expected him to be a middle-six forward at best, but Kuzmenko has shown he’s a bonafide top-line winger who has the ability to score at a 40-goal pace.

Kuzmenko recently signed a two-year 5.5 million extension that will start next season. This is a huge bargain for the Vancouver Canucks during that timeline. Of course, Kuzmenko could have reaped a ton of assets as a trade piece at this deadline, but how often does a player of Kuzmenko’s talents fall into your lap the same way he did?

Keeping Kuzmenko was a very smart move if you intend on a short turnaround in getting this team back into a position of contention. What I don’t like about this move is that it is only a 2-year timeline. By the end of this two-year contract, Kuzmenko could show he is worth 9 or 10 million dollars if he keeps scoring at this pace. It would have been much more beneficial for the Canucks if they could have locked him in long term.

Signing a player of this ilk to a two-year deal seems like a move you make if you can’t decide if you were rebuilding or retooling. Allvin seems to have dipped one toe into the “win now” plan with this signing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense from Vancouver’s side of things, it’s not like you’re expecting to get two deep playoff runs in those two years of Kuzmenko’s contract.

Kuzmenko likely was betting on himself and only wanted a short-term deal, which is fair, and quite smart from a player’s perspective. Hopefully, by maintaining a relationship with this player and not trading him away, the Canucks are able to resign him again to a longer-term deal into years if the Canucks are as good as management hopes they will be, and if they aren’t, he will be a fantastic trade piece to help kick start a proper rebuild in two years if necessary.

The Bo Horvat Trade

When the Canucks decided to keep Miller in the summer, it marked the end of Bo Horvat’s tenure as a Vancouver Canuck. They could only keep one of the two players from both a financial and retooling aspect. The idea of a retool is to move some players out while surrounding the remaining players with new ones in hopes to find better combinations or marginal upgrades to support the foundations of the team you already have in place.

Many, including myself, saw Horvat as one of those foundational pieces. But Allvin and Rutherford clearly saw things differently. The return the Canucks got for their captain was likely the biggest return of any player at this year’s trade deadline. The Canucks got a top 12 protected 2023 first-round pick, Aatu Räty, and Anthony Beauvillier from the New York Islanders.

It could be a coin toss on whether the New York Islanders’ first-round pick will be moved to a 2024 unprotected first-round pick, especially now that Mathew Barzel is out with an injury. Räty is a former second-round pick in the 2021 draft. He is a centerman and has high upside as an NHL middle-six center. Beauvillier is a streaky forward who has shown fantastic chemistry playing alongside Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko. All three of these pieces in return for Horvat are great pieces that balance winning now with looking to the future.

Although it was not an easy pill to swallow for many fans, Horvat being traded was no surprise and the Canucks did a great job in returning assets for him and capitalizing on the market before any other major pieces had moved. As far as a win now, retool goes, this was a good move.

The Filip Hronek Trade

After the Horvat trade, the Canucks took their newly acquired first-round pick, packaged it with a second and sent it to Detroit in exchange for Filip Hronek and a fourth-round pick.

Hronek is a 25-year-old right-shot defenseman. As we all know, those are unicorns in the modern-day NHL. They are very hard to find especially talented ones. So it is no surprise that the Canucks went out and acquired one as soon as they could, especially for a pick that wasn’t even their own.

Many fans had sticker shock at the acquisition price for such a player, but management has re-iterated many times that they planned on retooling and not rebuilding so they flipped the pick. This garnered a lot of anger among fans because the Horvat trade initially looked like a rebuild-type move but management stuck to their guns and flipped the pick for a player that can help now.

It is no doubt at all that this team is better with Hronek on it than they were without him prior. The cost may be debated but it is certainly a move you make if you think you are close to becoming a perennial playoff team. Hronek is signed to a very palatable 4.4 million AAV. The issue is that he is due for a new contract at the end of next season, notably at the same time Elias Pettersson will be looking for a new contract.

This is certainly a retooling move and a good one at that. The price that the Canucks paid for a young RHD was not that astronomical in the grand scheme of things. It seemed like it was at the time because of the whiplash many Canucks fans experienced after getting their hopes up for a rebuild, myself included. Assuming a deal can get done for Hronek next year, Hughes will finally have a long-term, top-pairing partner to play alongside.

Just like the Kuzmenko contract, my biggest gripe with it from a retooling perspective is the term on his current deal. For the prices paid, you would have hoped that the Canucks would have been able to acquire Hronek’s services for more than just one year before negotiating a new deal. But if the Canucks are confident they can get him resigned with the team through his prime, this will be a good trade provided the retool goes to plan.


I still think a rebuild is necessary to properly build a contender and bring a Stanley Cup to Vancouver, but I don’t get a vote. If the goal is to retool, the Canucks are doing a fine job. They have moved on from Horvat and turned him into a right-hand defenceman that could be a long-term fit, a skilled winger who has chemistry on Vancouver’s top line and a young centre prospect by only adding in a second-round pick.

The goal-scoring hole that Horvat has left in Vancouver looks to be filled by Kuzmenko for at least the next two seasons. We haven’t seen Hronek in Vancouver’s colours yet due to injury, but on paper, he is expected to be a good fit and Räty instantly became this team’s best prospect.

Credit to Allvin and Rutherford, their retool seems to be going to plan. Let’s just hope a retool is what the doctor ordered.