Bacon and Eggs.
It’s a basic staple of breakfast.
When it comes to the contributors of that meal, it is said that the chicken is involved but the pig is committed.
When it comes to commitment, perhaps the Vancouver Canucks organization should take notice of the pig’s sacrifice for the cause.
To be perfectly clear, the point of this exercise is not to question the effort of anyone in the organization. From the top on down, these people eat, breathe and sleep hockey 24/7/365.
It’s about the plan on how to make this team relevant again in the National Hockey League.
Despite the Canucks crazy 7-6 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night at Rogers Arena, a game in which the Canucks overcame a four-goal deficit to win for only the third time in the team’s 52-year-old history, let’s focus on the big picture.
Dec. 9 will mark the one-year anniversary of President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford’s tenure in Vancouver.
Rutherford and his staff have made some nice moves acquiring key pieces such as Andrei Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev while also adding secondary pieces such as Ethan Bear, Dakota Joshua and Nils Aman but the painful moves that need to be made have yet to be executed.
Rutherford has inherited some tough contracts that don’t exactly scream “value” whether it be Tyler Myers ($6M), Connor Garland ($4.95M) or Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($7.2M). The latest developments have Brock Boeser possibly being on the move and given his current level of play, his contract ($6.6M) isn’t going to make Rutherford’s job any easier. Add up all these contracts and you are talking about 30% of your salary cap.
So how do you get out of this mess and start constructing a roster that can compete for a Stanley Cup?
Commitment to a plan – a plan that means going through a lot of pain.
The obvious solution for many is for the Canucks to clear cap space by moving some of the aforementioned contracts.
Myers (modified no-trade) and Ekman-Larsson (no movement) do have some say in the matter but until Rutherford jettisons some of these contracts, this team will continue to remain in purgatory, playing .500 hockey while trying to squeeze into the playoffs.
What’s interesting to me is that everyone is clamoring to move contracts but for the wrong reasons.
For some, freeing up cap space means an increased ability to sign free agents but free agency is where the market corrects itself to compensate for the value that is already under contract.
If you trace the steps, free agency is how this team wound up in the mess that it’s in right now.
To win you need foundational pieces, so where do you find such pieces?
It’s the NHL Entry Draft.
You can add complimentary pieces via free agency but the foundation of your championship teams always starts with draft picks and you need look no further than the Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche, who’s top four scorers in the playoffs last year were all products of the NHL Entry Draft in Nathan MacKinnon (1st overall), Gabriel Landeskog (2nd), Mikko Rantanen (10th) and Cale Makar (4th).
All four of those players were selected during a period in which the Avs missed the playoffs six times in a span of seven years.
The same claim can be made with their opponents in the finals in the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Steven Stamkos (1st overall), Victor Hedman (2nd overall), Nikita Kucherov (58th) and Ondrej Palat (208th) were all Lightning draft picks. And oh yeah, throw in goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (19th overall) into the mix as well. Stamkos, Hedman and Vasilevskiy were all chosen after Tampa Bay failed to make the playoffs.
It’s a pretty simple equation.
You make a commitment to the future by stockpiling as many draft picks as you can while being disciplined in free agency.
The conundrum that Rutherford faces is that while he would love to acquire draft picks, he will need to relinquish picks to get rid of certain contracts.
So how do you recoup those picks?
By trading away players with friendly contracts who are producing such as Bo Horvat, an unrestricted free agent at the end of year.
With Horvat potting his 20th goal of the season against the Habs, his value will never be higher. And with each goal, the smile on his agent’s face increases. Pat Morris apparently is seeking a contract that starts at eight million per year which will be tough for the Canucks to accommodate considering no big tickets are coming off the books – and remember Kuzmenko is also an unrestricted free agent who is on pace for 30 goals.
Yes, trading away your captain for futures is painful but given with what we’ve seen with Boeser, isn’t it a smarter play to move a player when he’s at his peak rather than trying to trade a diminishing asset?
And yes, trading away players at their peak for futures will see a team sink in the standings but it also means getting higher overall draft picks where those foundational pieces can be selected.
We all would love to see this team win a championship but it starts with a commitment.
Just ask a pig.
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.