- The Canucks have added some defensive depth at the AHL level as their farm team in Abbotsford announced the signing of Quinn Schmiemann to a two-year deal. The 20-year-old was actually a sixth-round pick of Tampa Bay back in 2019 but wound up not signing and remained in the WHL this season where he picked up 14 goals and 40 assists in 58 games during the regular season while finishing third in scoring for the Blazers in the playoffs with 18 points in 17 contests.
Despite the fact that J.T. Miller is coming off a career year, he has been in trade speculation for several months with the Canucks alternating between making him available and not. As CHEK’s Rick Dhaliwal reports (video link), it appears that Vancouver is back in the camp of listening to offers for the 29-year-old. Miller has one year left on his contract with a $5.25MM AAV but after collecting 99 points in 80 games this season, he will have a strong case for a significant extension, one that can be signed as early as mid-July. However, Dhaliwal notes that Vancouver’s internal limit would be an AAV in the high-$7MM range and that will likely come in lower than Miller’s camp will be looking for. Barring a change of heart on how much they’re willing to offer, it would appear that Miller’s name will remain in the rumor mill for a little while yet.
The Vancouver Canucks have announced several changes to the hockey operations department, as general manager Patrik Allvin continues to overhaul the front office. Ryan Johnson has been promoted to assistant to the general manager, but retains his status as GM of the Abbotsford Canucks. Scott Young will now be director of player personnel, while Frank Golden has joined as a college free agent scout.
The big addition that will grab headlines is Dale Tallon, who is joining the organization as a senior advisor and professional scout. Notably, he is returning to where it all began, as Tallon was the Canucks’ very first draft selection, second overall in 1970. The 71-year-old executive has several decades of experience in high-leverage front office roles, including most recently as general manager of the Florida Panthers.
Johnson, who continues to rise up the organizational depth chart, has been praised at length by Allvin and team president Jim Rutherford at every chance for his work with the AHL squad and other duties. A clear candidate to become an NHL general manager at some point in the future, he’ll take on this new role that works “closely with Allvin on all hockey-related matters.”
Young is coming over from the Penguins, where he worked with Allvin and Rutherford previously as the director of player development. He has extensive international experience, having played in three Olympics and coached in the past two for Team USA. Young also hoisted the Stanley Cup twice during his long playing career, which spanned more than 1,100 games at the NHL level.
The organization continues to expand and change the front office, as they look to turn the page on the last group and start a new chapter of Canucks success.
It’s no secret that the Vancouver Canucks are looking to build a more dynamic team worthy of contention. With new management installed, the team has already made some waves this offseason by signing top European free agent Andrei Kuzmenko. Vancouver still remains a popular name in trade talks, though, as the team is sitting on a pair of high-profile forwards that don’t seem to fit into the team’s long-term plans. TSN’s Darren Dreger said on Insider Trading today that the team is wide open to trading both J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, noting that the Canucks are listening to strong market interest.
Dreger also notes that the Canucks aren’t interested in accumulating draft picks as parts of returns for Miller and Boeser. With the organization looking to make a playoff push as soon as possible, they prefer to acquire NHL-ready young talent in place of futures.
While Boeser is a free agent this offseason, he is under team control as an RFA. With a $7.5MM qualifying offer due to him, though, that’s too rich for the Canucks’ taste, especially considering his subpar 2021-22 performance (23 goals, 46 points in 71 games). In Miller’s case, the team is hesitant to give the 29-year-old forward too much term on a contract extension after a career season. Miller has one year remaining on a deal with a $5.25MM cap hit and is a UFA next summer.
If both Miller and Boeser are moved, it will undoubtedly be some of the biggest trade news of the offseason (save for all those Chicago Blackhawks trade rumors). It certainly seems as though Vancouver is more intent on trading both players as time passes by, making it seem more like an eventuality at this point.
3:50 pm: The deal is now official, the Vancouver Canucks announcing it via press release.
12:30 pm: The chase for the latest Russian free agent has ended, and the Vancouver Canucks have won. According to his agent Dan Milstein, Andrei Kuzmenko has agreed to sign with the Canucks to begin his career in North America. The free agent forward had interviewed with several teams after his eye-popping 2021-22 campaign for SKA St. Petersburg. Milstein notes that contract details are still being worked out. Because of his age and playing status, Kuzmenko will be limited to a one-year entry-level contract.
Kuzmenko, 26, had 20 goals and 53 points in just 45 regular season games, before then adding another 14 points in 16 postseason contests. He was named to the First All-Star Team at the end of the year and had teams falling over themselves trying to land his services for next year. Importantly, it will for now be only that one year, as Kuzmenko was limited to a one-year deal and will be an unrestricted free agent at the expiry of the contract.
That will limit the risk for the Canucks but also give him complete control over the direction of his NHL career, should it last longer than some of the other highly-touted Russian forwards in recent history.
A very skilled forward that has been a strong contributor for years, Kuzmenko’s game improved dramatically this season, to the point where he was one of the most dominant offensive forces in the league. Just five of his goals came on the powerplay, and he did all of his damage while averaging fewer than 17 minutes a night. It will be interesting to see what kind of opportunity he is given in Vancouver and whether or not he can bring that kind of production overseas.
The Canucks, led by president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin, have put an emphasis on adding talent to the organization from non-traditional avenues such as undrafted international and college players. This is a major win for that direction, though it still remains to be seen how much of an impact Kuzmenko can really make at the NHL level.
A pair of former NHLers are staying across the Atlantic Ocean for the 2022-23 campaign. Swedish winger Pontus Aberg has signed a one-year agreement with BK Mladá Boleslav in the Czech Extraliga, while Canadian forward Ryan Spooner is remaining in the KHL with Dinamo Minsk.
Aberg, 28, attempted an NHL comeback last season when he signed a one-year deal with the Ottawa Senators. However, he was waived prior to the season and spent 17 games with the Belleville Senators before mutually terminating his contract to return to Sweden with Timrå IK in the SHL. He netted two goals, nine assists, and 11 points in those 17 games with Belleville. Aberg’s last taste of NHL action came in 2019-20, where he got a five-game look with the Toronto Maple Leafs, registering one assist. A second-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2012, Aberg could really never hold onto a full-time NHL role, shuffling between the NHL and AHL in nearly every season he spent in North America.
Spooner hasn’t been in the league since 2018-19, when he split the season between the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks. He’s been one of the best scorers in the KHL since then, and after one year in Yekaterinburg, he returns to Dinamo Minsk where he led the club in scoring in 2019-20 with 37 points in 43 games. Spooner had a few NHL stretches where it looked like he could become a great middle-six depth piece, especially when he scored 41 points in 59 games between the Rangers and Boston Bruins in 2017-18. His offense disappeared the next season, however, and he hasn’t returned to North America. Now 30 years old, it’s unlikely he ever will.
- KHL forward Andrei Kuzmenko’s decision on where to sign for next season has been a bit of a drawn-out process, with interviews and multiple weeks of engaging NHL suitors in negotiations. With that said, though, Kuzmenko’s decision is one that will have major consequences for his career, so he has every right to take as long as he needs to make the decision that’s best for him. Even so, we could be nearing the end of the process. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Kuzmenko is interviewing with both the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks this week, along with two “U.S.-based” teams. Dreger adds that Kuzmenko is “hoping” to make his decision in the next ten days. Kuzmenko was brilliant for SKA St. Petersburg this season, scoring 53 points in 45 games. Some believe that Kuzmenko will step into the NHL and become an instant top-six scoring forward, meaning Kuzmenko’s decision process has some real stakes attached.
The Vancouver Canucks have nabbed one of the more interesting European free agents on the market this offseason. The team today announced the signing of defenseman Filip Johansson, a first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild, to a two-year, entry-level contract. Financial terms are unavailable at this time.
Drafted 24th overall in 2018 by Minnesota, the now-22-year-old’s development in the SHL had stalled over the past few seasons, leading the Wild to the decision to not offer Johansson an entry-level contract as his exclusive signing rights expired on June 1. The 6′ 1″, 176 lb defenseman’s best hockey came in the 2022 postseason, notching five goals and two assists in just nine games with Frölunda HC.
Vancouver general manager Patrik Allvin evidently disagrees with the Wild’s assessment of the player, saying in the team’s release that Johansson “plays a solid defensive game and has shown consistent improvement over the past three seasons.” Allvin also noted that the team will loan Johansson back to Frölunda for the 2022-23 season, meaning Canucks fans won’t get a chance to see their new prospect on North American ice just yet. However, Johansson will attend Canucks development camp next month.
Johansson joins a Canucks prospect pool on defense that lacks much to be truly excited about other than Jack Rathbone and Jett Woo, and he’ll become a giant wild card for the organization. If Johansson can regain his development and reach the defensive ceiling he had when the Wild drafted him, it’ll be a gamble worth taking for the Canucks. If not, Vancouver gave up no assets to obtain the player other than a contract slot. It’s a solid bet from Allvin and the Canucks organization to take a chance on the Swedish defenseman.
- The Abbotsford Canucks, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, announced they have signed defenseman Alex Kannok-Leipert to a one-year contract extension that covers the 2022-23 season. Originally a sixth-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals in 2018, Kannok-Leipert spent five years with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, where he was team captain for two seasons before turning pro and signing with Abbotsford ahead of the 2021-22 season. The defenseman had a solid rookie campaign in the AHL, putting up five points to go with a plus-5 rating in 41 games. An interesting note on Kannok-Leipert is though a Regina, Saskatchewan native, he was born in Thailand and is the first Thailand-born player in AHL history and the first to be drafted in the NHL Entry Draft.
The offseason has arrived for half of the league’s teams that weren’t playoff-bound plus those who were eliminated in the first two rounds. It’s time to examine what they will need to accomplish over the coming months. Next up is a look at the Canucks.
It was a season of change for Vancouver. The big move to add Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland last summer didn’t help, resulting in GM Jim Benning being shown the door with Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford coming over from Pittsburgh to lead the front office. They underachieved under Travis Green, resulting in Bruce Boudreau taking over behind the bench and while they didn’t get to the playoffs, they were much more competitive in the second half. Now, Allvin has some big files to tackle this summer as he looks to get the Canucks back into the playoff picture.
Free Up Long-Term Cap Flexibility
The Canucks have enough flexibility that they can navigate through this summer, keep the core intact, and give it another go next season. But that doesn’t make the team any better and maintaining the status quo will only make it harder to make their cap situation work a year from now. They have $48.5MM in commitments to ten players for 2023-24. On the surface, that would appear to be manageable. But J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser aren’t in that group while Elias Pettersson will be extension-eligible at that time as well. If those players all sign for market value, that really will limit them in terms of upgrading their roster. That’s at the forefront of their offseason planning.
With that in mind, Allvin needs to find ways to create some extra space. Tanner Pearson isn’t on a terrible contract at $3.25MM for two more years but they could save some money by replacing him with a cheaper piece, perhaps Russian free agent Andrei Kuzmenko who they’ve been linked to. Jason Dickinson was brought in to solidify the third-line center spot, receiving a commensurate contract in the process, one that pays him $2.65MM for the next two seasons. He didn’t fit in well in his first season with the Canucks, scoring just five goals in 62 games. Finding a new home for one or both of them would give them a bit of wiggle room next summer when they’ll really feel the cap crunch.
To that end, one other route they could look to go is finding a taker for the final year of Micheal Ferland’s LTIR contract. Yes, his $3.5MM AAV is an expiring deal next summer but if they can clear him out and stay out of using LTIR, they might be able to avoid the bonus overage penalty for 23-24 with Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander carrying sizable incentives in their contracts; Kuzmenko will likely have plenty as well if he winds up joining the Canucks. They can manage the cap situation this summer but they will need to be aggressive in freeing up some flexibility from there.
Decide Miller And Horvat’s Future
Let’s dig into some of those players that are about to get a lot more expensive. Miller is at the top of that list. He’s coming off a breakout season that saw him lead the Canucks in scoring and narrowly miss out on reaching the 100-point plateau. He also has spent a lot of time down the middle which will only increase his value. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and impact centers rarely become available. Those that do get significant paydays and it’s safe to say Miller will be heading for one of those compared to the $5.25MM cap charge he’ll carry next season. That expected contract is what had him in plenty of trade speculation leading up to the deadline.
Rutherford (who has made the rounds in the media lately) has made it clear in recent interviews that the team expects to be able to keep Miller in the fold. Some of the recent comparable centers that have signed long-term deals (Mika Zibanejad, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture) all signed for $8MM or more while Sean Couturier came in just under that. All received eight-year deals. Miller’s production was higher than theirs this season but that was the only time he was over the point-per-game mark which should keep the AAV on a max-term extension somewhere in the range of those comparables.
If they go ahead and sign Miller to a deal like that, it’s going to make it harder to keep Horvat in the fold. With Miller in the $8MM range and Pettersson needing a qualifying offer of $8.82MM in the 2024 offseason, can Vancouver really afford to have another high-priced pivot in Horvat? While he won’t command the type of money their other two centers make, he’ll be in line for a raise on his $5.5MM AAV on his next deal and it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if he surpassed the $7MM mark.
While they may want to keep both of them in the fold, it will be very difficult for them to do so. Accordingly, they’ll need to find out who is willing to stay and what the asking prices are and then decide whether to start shopping one now or keep both into the season in the hopes of getting back to the playoffs. Some big decisions are on the horizon, to say the least.
Most of Vancouver’s cap space this summer is heading for Boeser. Unlike Pettersson, he’s subject to the old qualifying offer rules which means his salary from this season is his qualifying offer which puts the required tender at $7.5MM. While the team certainly hoped that the winger would be able to emerge as a legitimate front-line winger, Boeser has yet to reach the 30-goal mark or record more than 56 points in a single season. On the surface, that type of production for $7.5MM isn’t ideal.
If the Canucks tender Boeser, the winger can simply accept the offer and become UFA-eligible in 2023 or try his luck with salary arbitration and hope for a small bump up. Neither is an ideal scenario for Vancouver as it would make him expensive and a rental all at the same time. It doesn’t seem like there’s any chance they’d non-tender him but they could opt for club-elected arbitration to try to get him a little cheaper as the required offer would be 90% or $6.75MM.
Knowing that, Allvin will be wanting to try to get this one resolved sooner than later. A long-term deal at or around this rate wouldn’t yield much in the way of savings but would ensure one of their top wingers will be around for a while. If discussions on that front don’t go well, however, it’s reasonable to expect Boeser will be in trade speculation as well.
Revamp The Back End
On top of all of these decisions up front, Vancouver has some work to do on their defense as well. Quinn Hughes has become a top offensive option and Ekman-Larsson is still a top-four rearguard even if he is no longer the player he was a few years ago with Arizona. After that, however, things thin out quickly.
The Canucks don’t have much in the way of offensive options behind Hughes (Travis Dermott might help a little in this regard), nor do they have a lot of depth on the right side. Tyler Myers is miscast in a top role while Luke Schenn is a capable depth blueliner but not someone who should be higher than the third pairing in an ideal situation. That’s it for righties they can count on with Tucker Poolman’s availability being in question after missing basically half the season with recurring headaches and migraines. There’s a case to be made that Vancouver needs a couple of top-four defensemen as a result although they’ll be hard-pressed to afford even one unless they can find a way to free up some short-term money for next season and some long-term money knowing what lies ahead in the 2023 summer. Allvin certainly has his work cut out for him.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.