“We’re not looking towards a rebuild, I’d rather call it a retool.” - Jim Rutherford, Vancouver Canucks President of Hockey Operations, speaking to the media on Jan. 16, 2023.
With that comment, Jim Rutherford let it be known that he wasn’t going to succumb to the pressure from most Vancouver fans who wanted the organization to go through a rebuild.
Yet when Bo Horvat was traded to the New York Islanders on Jan. 30 for Anthony Beauvillier, Aatu Raty and a conditional first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, Canuck fans began to think that Rutherford and company were going to do what most had suggested – get as many draft choices as possible for a very deep 2023 NHL Entry Draft and take a long-term approach.
That notion was quashed a few days ago when the Canucks used that first round pick acquired from the Islanders and sent it to the Detroit Red Wings along with a second round pick in the ’23 draft to acquire defenceman Filip Hronek and a fourth round pick in ’23.
In Hronek, the hockey club addressed a glaring need by acquiring a top-four right-shot defenceman who has a palatable contract at $4.4 million through next season.
It also cost them draft capital.
After the Hronek trade, the Canucks went from three picks in the top 40 of this year’s draft to one.
Most of Canucks nation lost their collective mind on social media over this transaction.
Yet should they be surprised given what Rutherford said on Jan. 16?
Whether it be proven performers such as Hronek, or reclamation projects such as the newly-acquired Vitali Kravtsov, Rutherford has made it clear the organization’s priority is acquiring young NHL players to supplement the duo of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
What Rutherford isn’t doing is making the draft a priority in revamping his hockey club.
It’s too bad because when you do some due diligence on how Stanley Cup championship teams are built you will see just how important the draft is.
I’ll always remember what ESPN’s Ray Ferraro would tell us regarding the NHL Entry Draft. It’s like a lottery, Ferraro would state, there are no guarantees but the more tickets you have, the better your chances of winning.
Before the Hronek trade, the Canucks could have hit a home run going one-for-three or two-for-three in the first two rounds. Now they have got to go one-for-one.
The other concern is that this move does nothing when it comes to alleviating Vancouver’s salary cap crunch.
According to Capfriendly.com, the Canucks have 20 regulars under contract heading into next year at a sum of $82,605,417 with RFA’s Kravtsov and Ethan Bear needing to be re-signed plus depth players needing to be added. The Canucks are in a bind considering the cap is projected to be $83.5 million.
Then there is the context of the trade.
The 25-year-old Hronek will become a Restricted Free Agent at the end of next year. According to reports, the qualifying offer will come in at $5.28 million. If Rutherford’s plan of a two-to-three year retool comes to fruition, Hronek’s value won’t be as good for a team that is contending.
Trading first and second round picks for a proven NHL player is what a contending team would do.
Unfortunately, the Canucks couldn’t find the playoffs with Google Maps right now.
So why do it?
Well as we mentioned, Rutherford wants to retool and not rebuild.
Most fans and observers will always point to owner Francesco Aquilini as the reason why the club has chosen this tack, and that’s a fair assumption, but don’t ever discount the fact that the organization has to keep Pettersson and Hughes engaged.
I highly doubt that both would want to be part of a tear down in the midst of their prime years and Hughes’ comments this week solidified that.
“Obviously we don’t want to be here for a rebuild and have to wait and do all that,” Hughes stated after the morning skate prior to the 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Thursday.
Hughes also added that he believes the club isn’t that far away from “competing and doing well.”
Yet Hughes’ last comment also is a red flag.
It’s not about “competing and doing well” – it’s about winning championships.
Until that becomes the organization’s mantra, expect more of the same.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.