By: Trent Leith / September 24, 2023
On Tuesday it was announced by Patrick Allvin that the Canucks had traded 31-year-old Tanner Pearson to the Montreal Canadiens along with a 2025 third-round pick. In exchange, the Canucks received veteran backup goaltender Casey DeSmith.
At first glance, this solves a lot of issues for the Canucks. Pearson has not played a game since November after sustaining a hand injury, multiple setbacks and multiple surgeries. The Canucks seemingly went into the summer under the impression that they were not going to have the services of Pearson, at least to start the season and as a result, they painted themselves into a corner cap-wise.
If the Canucks were to issue a 23-man roster to start the 2023-24 season they would have needed to shed salary, as Pearson’s $3.25M put them over the salary cap. That extra cap hit would likely mean either Nils Höglander or Vasily Podkolzin would likely have to start the year in Abbotsford, and Höglander is waiver eligible. There was a very real chance that either Pearson or Höglander wound up on waivers and got claimed before this trade. But moving out that money and bringing in only $1.8M keeps the Canucks compliant, while still right up against the cap.
Another issue this solves is the backup goaltending. It was no surprise that the Canucks’ backup goaltending situation was less than optimal following last season. Before DeSmith arrived in Vancouver, the Canucks were likely to choose between Spencer Martin or Arturs Silovs for the role of backup. While Martin has shown he can play stretches in the NHL, he struggles with an extended workload. Last season Martin played 29 games and ended with a .871 SV% and a 3.99 GAA. Silovs is a 22-year-old Latvian netminder who is by far the best goaltending prospect in the Canucks’ system. It is best that Silovs’ development that he gets another season in Abbotsford as the Canucks AHL affiliate’s starter.
Well, this trade seems to solve a lot of the Canucks issues right? What’s the problem? Well up close and in a vacuum, this is a great trade, it addresses a lot of issues with the team, while also giving Tanner Pearson a fresh start in another franchise. The problem with this trade comes only when you take a step back and contextualize it with previous trades the Canucks have made recently, along with Canucks’ position in their competitive cycle.
It is more than acceptable to use draft capital to make your team better, draft picks are currency to use to make an NHL team better by either trades or drafting. When a team is on the cusp of winning or has a chance to make a run in the postseason, it’s more than acceptable to trade futures to make that happen. However, a team that is not a top-end team in the league should not be mortgaging their future for marginal improvements.
Unfortunately, after over a decade of being a bottom-feeder in the NHL, the Canucks are still in a position where they should not be trading futures to get out of cap binds.
To start the 2022-23 campaign the Canucks traded Jason Dickinson and a 2024 2nd round pick for Reilly Stillman and $1.3M in cap savings. A year later, before the season even starts, the Canucks have been backed into a corner and forced to trade a player and a pick for more cap savings. While Jim Rutherford and Patrick Allvin did a fantastic job of addressing multiple issues beyond just salary cap issues, it still is a glaring reminder that the Canucks are constantly trading from a position of weakness in exchange for cap space.
Again, this is not inherently bad under the right circumstances. Top-end teams do this all the time to extend their winning window, but the Canucks aren’t doing that. The Canucks are navigating the salary cap and the trade markets from a position of weakness. Much of that comes from the trickle-down effects of the Jim Benning era, but not all of it. The Canucks need to find away to not be capped out with a sub-par team. But despite being pressed right to the top of the cap, the Canucks have nothing to show for it. It is a recipe for failure, and the Canucks need to find a way to get their cap situation more in line with their winning position.
The Canucks had gained cap space at the trade deadline by selling players like Stillman and Luke Schenn and gained much more by buying out Oliver Ekman-Larrson. They even acquired draft capital from those trades along with the Bo Horvat trade, unfortunately, instead of being patient with that space and those assets, the current Canucks management group went and acquired Filip Hronek, Ian Cole and Carson Soucey. The Canucks blueline needed to seriously be addressed following last season and now being down three large pieces (Ethan Bear being a free agent along with Schenn and OEL leaving), but all the valuable assets and cap space acquired are gone already, to the point the Canucks were forced to trade Tanner Pearson. Just like they were the year before with Jason Dickinson.
These signings and trades have certainly made the Canucks a better team, at least on paper, but does it make them good enough to still be in the cap-strapped position they currently are? Probably not.