It’s been almost a full calendar year since the Vancouver Canucks introduced Patrik Allvin as their general manager, and over a year since Jim Rutherford took over as president of hockey operations. This new regime brought a fresh wave of optimism for Vancouver fans who were relieved to be witnessing a changing of the guard.
The situation that was inherited was a mess. Allvin, Rutherford, and the rest of the management group definitely had their work cut out for them. During introductory press conferences, it was clear that there might be some tough moves that needed to be made to get this team going in the right direction.
“There’s a lot of work to be done here. So that’s why I’m here,” said Rutherford just after he was hired. “I’m going to give it my best and I’m going to do my best to change the culture and get to a point where we have a consistent playoff team that can grow into a contender and give us a chance to get to the ultimate goal.”
Rutherford spoke about issues with roster construction, was later open about the fact that their goaltender often bailed out the team’s lacklustre defence, and instilled hope in a fanbase that had been void of it for far too long when he first took over.
However, a few months after the change in regimes, we started to hear a different narrative. Rutherford and Allvin started to espouse a faster approach, perhaps partially because of the Canucks’ great record after hiring Bruce Boudreau.
“If we add the right players, we can be a playoff team pretty quick,” said Rutherford at the end-of-season press conference last year.
The Canucks shift in macro strategy can also be seen in the failure to accomplish some of the smaller components of the plan outlined. After just a year, there are some warning signs that this new management group is falling into the same trap as the previous one and trying to rush the team-building process.
From the moment that Allvin took over as the 12th general manager in franchise history, he’s had a few values that he’s stood by closely. These are some of the areas where he’s best made good on his vision thus far.
European and NCAA Free Agents
Because of their lack of prospects and draft picks, the Canucks need to use alternative methods of player acquisition beyond the draft or traditional free agency to bolster the organization’s depth.
“For us to become a consistent playoff team and a consistent contender we need to develop the depth of the organization, and that’s through the draft and signing of European and college free agents,” Allvin commented.
After 12 months, the Canucks have signed multiple European players to contracts. Some of them are already paying off, such as Nils Åman, who has played this entire season in the NHL. The Canucks also managed to land the biggest fish in the European free agent market, Andrei Kuzmenko. Outside of the NHL, signings like Filip Johansson have added to the team’s prospect pool.
“I think that this organization, with fewer picks coming up, I think this is a great landing spot for a lot of European and college free-agent players. They’re going to get opportunities,” Allvin commented as he described this plan.
The Canucks will definitely be interested in a few of the big-name NCAA prospects this spring. One that stands out is Jake Livingstone, a right-handed defenceman that will attract a lot of attention from teams around the league.
Using Abbotsford as a Development Tool
When the Canucks organization moved its AHL affiliate to Abbotsford, it represented a big win for the organization. Having the minor league team only a short drive away means that players can easily be sent up or down for a short stint.
Over the past decade, the Canucks have not been successful at developing players through their AHL system. This was something that Allvin outlined as a priority when he took over.
“To establish a culture for the younger players in Abbotsford, set the standard, and have a lot of homegrown players, I think that’s something we’ve been successful with in Pittsburgh. I think every player has their own path. It’s not a sprint to get to the NHL, it’s a marathon. So you got to be patient with the players and you got to support them.”
To their credit, the Canucks have been using the AHL team. Vasily Podkolzin is currently doing a stint with the Abbotsford Canucks right now and it’s a great way to make sure he stays sharp and gets reps while not in the NHL lineup.
On the other hand, there have been some areas where Allvin and Rutherford’s actions have not matched up with their words. These are different situations where the Canucks seem to not be following the plan that the new management group sold fans on when they arrived.
The Salary Cap Situation
The salary cap has been the bogeyman subject for the Canucks in recent history. The former management group struggled to manage its money, handing out multiple bloated contracts that have ramifications to this day. When the new group took over, creating salary cap space was mentioned right away as a main focus.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to get a little cushion on the cap. It’s always difficult, but being up against the cap and a team that’s not in the playoffs at this point in time is not a good thing,” Allvin said at his introductory press conference.
Now that it’s been 12 months, the Canucks have utterly failed at this goal. They re-signed J.T. Miller to a large contract, paid Ilya Mikheyev in free agency, and failed to unload any significant salary commitments.
The Canucks have not managed to clear any significant salary over the last 12 months and still find themselves in this difficult situation.
Trading Draft Picks
One of the most blatant disregards for previous plans has been the Canucks’ stance on trading draft picks. One of the biggest criticisms of the last management group was their willingness to deal draft picks without being a true contender, leaving the Canucks lacking in the prospects department.
“I don’t want to trade draft picks unless they’re later-round picks. It’s not the cycle we’re in to trade high draft picks,” said Rutherford at one of his first press conferences.
Rutherford’s strong stance against trading high draft picks echoed the thoughts of many fans. However, this season the Canucks dealt Jason Dickinson and a second-round pick for Riley Stillman, giving up a pick that’s likely to land within the top 45 to dump some salary.
One of the hardest quantities to measure for any professional sports franchise is culture. Everyone can agree that its a key component to a team’s success and finding players that contribute to a winning culture is important. Changing the mood around the team was a goal outlined by the management group.
“It’s a winning attitude. Culture is a collective belief. It’s a standard. It’s a bar that you set, and you say everybody has to meet this standard and I just felt we just didn’t have that,” said Rutherford.
It does not feel like the Canucks have made much progress on this goal. To make matters worse, there’s a very real chance that the Canucks could be losing both Bo Horvat and Luke Schenn in the near future. These are two of the best character guys on the team and leaders in the dressing room.