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Canucks: Foundation has been built, there’s the future to consider

Here are some things to consider with the team’s top three players locked in for the next three seasons

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Getting Elias Pettersson’s name down on paper for the next eight years did more than just clarify the short-term planning of Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford, it’s laid a map for the longer-term future of this team as well.

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Call it the Pettersson-Miller-Hughes era.

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We know that Pettersson and J.T. Miller are going to be the Canucks’ two main centres for the rest of the decade.

Miller’s deal, which started this season, runs through 2030, while Pettersson’s goes until 2032.

Now, captain Quinn Hughes’ contract runs until 2027. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at that point and who knows what happens from there.

So at the very least, we know what the core of the next three seasons looks like. Finding a top flight centre, let alone two, plus an elite, Norris Trophy-quality defenceman is just about the hardest task in roster building.

But it’s what you do around them that can prove to be just as hard if your ambition is truly to win the Stanley Cup.

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Here are some things to consider with the team’s top three players locked in for the next three seasons:

Targets for right now

Of course, Canucks management has already decided to start pushing their chips in. They traded for Elias Lindholm — more on him in a moment — in January in the first step toward bulking up the current squad for a playoff push.

They are still on the hunt for a top-six winger and perhaps another puck-moving defenceman.

As a player, Lindholm hasn’t fit as well as most of us though he would, so perhaps he’ll be moved on again; TSN insider Chris Johnston mooted this as a possibility on Wednesday, with Lindholm perhaps headed to the Boston Bruins, clearing up cap space to add Jake Guentzel from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a player that head coach Rick Tocchet and president Jim Rutherford are big fans of from their days in Pittsburgh.

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Even if they don’t land Guentzel and flip Lindholm the team is still on the hunt for another top-six quality winger. They’d also like to find a puck-moving defenceman — but what team wouldn’t want such a player?

There’s also the Phil Kessel question. The veteran has been skating in Abbotsford for two weeks now; the first impression wasn’t good, but for him to still be there means there’s a chance he still gets signed. His conditioning has never been great in the first place and his conditioning program before starting to skate with the Canucks’ AHLers clearly wasn’t as rigorous as you might hope.

If he does sign, he’s far from a lock in the lineup, though you can see him serving as a fourth line winger who really is there to be a power play specialist.

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Will unrestricted free agent Phil Kessel find fitness and pace to earn a Canucks contract? Photo by Ethan Miller /Getty Images

Questions about the bigger picture

Whatever happens now, there will be more questions in the summer.

The salary cap is going up next season, but next season is the first season where the Oliver Ekman-Larsson buyout penalty first starts to go up.

A good number of Canucks will be free agents, unrestricted or otherwise.

In order of importance, the list goes a little something like this: Filip Hronek, Dakota Joshua, Teddy Blueger, Tyler Myers, Nikita Zadorov, Ian Cole and Casey DeSmith. (Yes, there’s also Sam Lafferty and Mark Friedman).

Most of those players are after raises. And because of that, some likely will have to be moved.

Can the Canucks afford the raise Filip Hronek is after? He’s not a great defender but he’s had an amazing season, posting points at both even strength and on the power play. (Quick, who has actually played more five on five minutes: Hughes or Hronek?)

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Or will he be too expensive and instead a trade chip at the draft?

What about Zadorov? He’s after a raise too. Hard to see there being enough room in the budget for both of these defencemen.

Tyler Myers wants to be back and he and his agent know his next contract won’t look like his current one. How does a salary reduction affect the rest of the team’s budget?

Dakota Joshua has solidified himself as a third-line winger but you can see him progressing into a quality second-line power forward. He’s going to get a small raise too. How does that affect Teddy Blueger?

Brock Boeser has had a great season but is heading into his last season before he can be an unrestricted free agent. Does that make him a trade chip in the summer?

Finding new reinforcements

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Jim Rutherford has never sat still. Throughout his career, he’s constantly reshaped his roster. GM Patrik Allvin has followed in Rutherford’s aggressive footsteps.

Allvin has made 0.83 trades per month since taking over the Canucks two years ago, one of the busiest rates in the league.

So you know Rutherford and Allvin will be aggressive in building next season’s roster.

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Rick Tocchet, Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford address the media at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C., January 22, 2023.

They also know, with the Ekman-Larsson cap penalty increasing even further in 2025-2026, they need some homegrown young players to step up. There are the obvious top-line prospects like Jonathan Lekkerimaki and Tom Willander, two players who will be on relatively cheap cap hits the Canucks really need to be ready by 2025, but they need some homegrown depth players to hit as well, like Arshdeep Bains, Cole McWard and Elias Pettersson (the defenceman).

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The work to make next season’s team (and the year after and so on) at least as good as this year’s will be a challenge, but at least they know they won’t have to chase after the hardest chips to find for many years yet.

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