Retool. It’s a word some franchises use to avoid signalling to their fans that years of missed playoffs and losses are on the way as part of a formal rebuild. In the Vancouver Canucks’ scenario, they stand firm to the idea that the organization is retooling not rebuilding, although their opportunities to retool will be drastically inhibited by a lack of cap and contract flexibility.
“We don’t want to be here for a rebuild and have to wait and all that stuff.” Those were the words of star defender Quinn Hughes following his team’s recent acquisition of Filip Hronek from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for draft picks.
Leading up to the deadline, the Canucks jettisoned captain Bo Horvat, defenders Luke Schenn and Riley Stillman, and forward Curtis Lazar in exchange for young players and picks. They then acquired Hronek from the Red Wings using a first- and second-round pick.
On paper, the moves look fine until you examine the structural issues within the Canucks organization and how they’ll be limited in any “retool” effort moving forward.
Trade talk will continue for Miller and Boeser
After trading their leading goal scorer in Horvat, primarily because the organization did not have financial space to re-sign its star, the ongoing trade chatter surrounding J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser should signal that this will become a rebuild, not a retool. Miller’s massive contract extension doesn’t even kick in until next season, so the discussion of trading a player the franchise only recently tied itself to for seven years before that term even kicks in should show how dire this situation is.
At the moment, the Canucks will not be cap-compliant next season, so the trade of Miller, Boeser, Tyler Myers or a buyout for Oliver Ekman-Larsson will be necessary — with the buyout being a last course of action due to the long-term cap implications. The Canucks are currently among the league leaders in dead cap space, and adding more to that would not be ideal.
There is no one to blame for this situation other than the Canucks themselves, who continue saddling bad contracts to their books.
Call it what you want, but this is a rebuild
The Philadelphia Flyers long used the term “retool” until it became evident this year they’d slowed their own progress by delaying the inevitable. With that in mind, the Flyers announced to their entire fan base that they should not have called it a retool, and that it’s now time to rebuild. The Canucks would be wise to follow suit.
Only Hughes and Elias Pettersson are players at the peak of their careers with time to go. Beyond this duo, youth and prospects are at a premium in Vancouver. Vasily Podkolzin is trending toward being a bust, and there’s not a lot ready to step in, aside from the recently acquired Aatu Raty. Perhaps newly acquired Vitali Kravtsov can reach his potential in a Canucks jersey? Top prospect Jonathan Lekkerimaki, selected 15th overall last year, has had a dismal season in Sweden, struggling to produce and now dealing with injuries.
With only a single pick in the first two rounds of this year’s draft, immediate help is not coming either.
What comes next in Vancouver?
Perhaps general manager Patrik Allvin bets on himself and his players and banks on Boeser and Miller having rebound seasons. That’s unlikely, however, given his post-trade deadline comments about the status of his roster.
“Where we are sitting right now I believe there is more to do here. We're not happy where we are,” Allvin told the media. “We still have some work to do in order to get this team to where we believe they deserve to be, to be a competitive team moving forward and hopefully taking a big step next.”
All signs point to another major trade, but finding a partner for the big contracts he’s looking to offload will not be easy, and getting full value for those players will be a challenge.
In reality, Vancouver has never rebuilt. When Henrik and Daniel Sedin retired, the team should have jumped fully into the process. Instead, it retooled. With Horvat, Hughes, Boeser, and Pettersson on board, the team tried to make moves to position itself as a contender, but those moves flopped and have left the Canucks where they stand today.
The most pressing issue is how the Canucks will get under the cap. They added more than $10 million in commitments for next season, and in the process failed to acquire picks and future assets. To even field a roster, the Canucks need to sign RFAs Ethan Bear, Travis Dermott, and Kravtsov. Bear and Dermott are particularly crucial with only Myers, Hronek and Hughes under contract as NHL-calibre defenders for next season.
Call it what you may, but the longer the Canucks use the term “retool” and avoid an inevitable fire sale leading to a full rebuild, they will risk floating in mediocrity and further ostracizing a fan base desperate for a winning team.