The Hockey Writers held our version of the Seattle Expansion Draft, and our very own Tony Wolak was responsible for selecting the new Seattle Kraken roster. Meanwhile, I took on the role as the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks.
As the GM of the Canucks I first had to see if I could make any trades. Although the team’s current cap issues and the upcoming extensions for Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes should’ve led to a few trades, I decided to hold on to the players the club has as the Canucks are in a tough spot to unload some of their overpaid contracts.
As for protection, I took the route of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie.
Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Tanner Pearson, Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich
Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Pettersson and J.T. Miller are no-brainers as far as protecting forwards goes. The four are crucial players in the club’s top six as all four have been the team’s top-scoring forwards over the last two seasons. Tanner Pearson is the fifth-highest scoring forward and recently signed a three-year extension with the Canucks. All five forwards make up the Canucks’ top-six and led the club to the second round in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich were protected as well. The two were drafted in the 2017 NHL Draft and made their NHL debuts with the Canucks, this past season. The two had impressive starts with the Utica Comets last season. Lind scored five goals and posted eight points in eight games before being out with a facial injury and joining the main roster at the end of the 2020-21 season, playing seven games and registering one point. As for Gadjovich, he played in 19 of the AHL team’s 28 games and led the team in goals with 15 while posting 18 points. The two young forwards will likely play on the main roster next season in a bottom-six role.
With the seven forwards protected, multiple veteran players were left exposed in Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel. Notable young players in Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte and Zack MacEwen were also left unprotected.
Nate Schmidt, Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty
The three protected defencemen were on the list for different reasons. Nate Schmidt was brought in last season by the Canucks in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights for a third-round pick, and although there are rumours for a potential trade, exposing the defenceman and letting him go for nothing when there is some interest in acquiring him around the league wouldn’t be a great idea. If the club can’t find a trade partner for him, they can still keep him as he is a useful player to have on the roster. Schmidt is versatile as he can play on both the right and left sides, and he’s a good two-way defenceman.
Olli Juolevi should have played a lot more played more games this season but was held out due to the Canucks’ cap issues. He looked pretty good as a bottom four defenceman through the 23 games he played in last year. As a 23-year-old, holding on to him makes a lot of sense for the club as he could become the player the Canucks had hoped when they drafted him in 2016 with the fifth overall pick.
Lastly, Brogan Rafferty was also protected. Though he is set to become a free agent, he is worth re-signing and should be given the opportunity to play on the main roster as a right-handed defenceman. After an impressive 2019-20 season in Utica, where he scored seven goals and posted 45 points in 57 games, Rafferty didn’t play much hockey in 2020-21. He only played in one NHL game, registering one assist.
The one defenceman that stands out as unprotected is Tyler Myers. I elaborate more on that decision in another article on why the club should not protect the veteran defenceman. Allowing Seattle an opportunity to pick up Myers could potentially help the Canucks acquire another offensive defenceman in Tyson Barrie or potentially Dougie Hamilton with the additional cap space the team earns.
The Canucks have two good goalies in net, but protecting Thatcher Demko was a no-brainer. After his stellar performance in three games in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and he played pretty well in 35 games this season. Demko posted a 16-18-1 record, with a .915 save percentage (SV%), a 2.85 goals against average and one shutout. Although his stats may not be impressive after a rough start in January and February, he improved in March. He posted a .937 SV% and a 2.15 GAA, along with his first career shutout. At the end of the month, he was rewarded with a five-year, $25 million contract extension.
Although there were hopes of the Kraken selecting Myers and ridding the Canucks of his high cap-hit, GM Wolak decided to select Braden Holtby instead. The Canucks signed Holtby last offseason to a two-year, $8.6 million deal. Although losing the veteran goalie doesn’t have the same financial impact as losing Myers and his $6 million cap hit, it still benefits the club.
Not only does the club free up $4.3 million in cap space, but they also may have a player to replace him in net next season. Demko showed that he is ready to start in the NHL, and Michael DiPietro should get a good look as the team’s backup goalie. The 22-year-old didn’t play much, so in case he needs time to play in the AHL, the Canucks could sign a veteran goalie at a cheap deal for next season.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.