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Canucks will need good health to succeed with current defense: Rutherford

July 30, 2022, 2:49 PM ET [124 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
During my run through the Pacific Division earlier this week, I wrote about how Anaheim was extremely short on NHL-calibre defensemen. Then, on Thursday, I speculated that John Klingberg's new agent might encourage him to take a one-year 'prove-it' deal, with cap space at a premium around the league and an already-cool free-agent market getting downright frosty.

So I can't say I was surprised when word came out on Friday that Klingberg was signing a one-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks.

He gets $7 million for the year — a nice raise from $4.25 million on his previous contract, and also more than the $6 million cap hit he was reportedly looking for on a longer-term deal. The Ducks add some depth to their right side, where Klingberg will line up with Kevin Shattenkirk and Jamie Drysdale. Combine that with the team's earlier signings of Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano on Day 1 of free agency, and the roster doesn't look as stripped down as we might have expected after Pat Verbeek got aggressive at the trade deadline last spring.

Even after the Klingberg signing, Anaheim also has nearly $19 million more available cap space, according to CapFriendly. So Verbeek can do more shopping in August if the urge strikes.

Klingberg's one-year deal will also give Anaheim the opportunity to deal him away to a contender later in the season. CapFriendly shows that he has a full no-trade clause through January 1, which will then convert to a 10-team no-trade clause. When Verbeek traded Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Rickard Rakell at the last trade deadline, all three players ended up signing extensions with their new teams. A late-season deal could still give Klingberg a chance to show that he can be an impact player in the playoffs, and the right landing spot might end up being his long-term home as well.

For his troubles, Verbeek will bring in more trade assets. Anaheim already has three second-round picks and two thirds in the 2023 draft, and two seconds in 2024.

That's some impressive asset management. Looks like Verbeek's apprenticeship under Steve Yzerman has paid dividends.

I was a bit surprised that Jim Rutherford was asked about Klingberg when he guested on Bob McCown's podcast earlier this week.

"We were not in a position to go after a player like that," stated Rutherford bluntly, while admitting that "looking for a right-shot defenseman — that would be ideal right now."

He then goes on to point out that the defense could be improved internally next season, if Jack Rathbone and Tucker Poolman can deliver.

On Rathbone: "He deserves the opportunity to be in Vancouver this year. If he comes in and plays the way he played the American League last year and stays healthy, that's going to improve our defense."

On Poolman: "When he's playing, and without any injuries, is a good solid defenseman and can actually play on our top four," Rutherford added. "But there's question marks around his health, and that's going to be something we're going to have to watch."

While Rutherford was able to tweak his forward group in free agency, he admitted that changes to the defense will most likely have to come through trades. And that could take some time.

"If all those guys stay healthy, our team is strong enough to be a playoff team," he said. "But if something goes wrong in that defense — which we know could — that's going to be an issue.

"So we'll continue to look at our defense. We've got to rebuild that right side, getting younger over time. We'd like to do it today. Those opportunities aren't there.

"It always sounds like I'm preaching patience. I'm just preaching reality. If the right person's there, we can plug them into the Canucks. We're going to do it as soon as we can."

The podcast is an interesting listen, as Rutherford goes into detail on a number of other topics as well. Here's the link if you're interested:

Most of the talk around J.T. Miller is familiar, summed up like this:

"I know Patrick Allvin talks to the J.T.'s agent periodically, and we'll just see where it goes. But hopefully we can figure out a way to keep him, because he is a very, very good player."

As I mentioned in the last blog, having the salary cap go up by only a small amount again next summer will most likely put a damper on the 2023 free-agent market. Klingberg's situation may be sounding some warning bells for Miller and his reps — and for Bo Horvat too, for that matter. Playing the same position, both players are probably watching with interest to see how the Kadri situation gets resolved.

Another interesting comment from Rutherford on Miller:

"I believe the way he takes care of himself, he's going to be able to play for a long time."

At first, I interpreted that as a sign that the Canucks would be open to signing Miller to a longer-term deal than, perhaps, the fanbase might expect. But I suppose it could also be a sales pitch to a potential trade partner.

Not every player craters as soon as he hits his 30s, but not everybody is Joe Pavelski, either. He turned 38 in July and just signed another one-year contract with a $5.5 million base salary and $500,000 in bonuses. He played all 82 games last season, averaging 18:28 of ice time, and led the Stars with six points in the playoffs after hitting a career high with 81 points in the regular season. Fantastic to see from a player who was originally plucked out of the seventh round by the San Jose Sharks. Out of that rich 2003 draft, he's now fourth overall in scoring, behind only Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf and Patrice Bergeron.

A couple of other interesting topics that Rutherford touches on in the podcast includes the Canucks players who have impressed/pleasantly surprised him, a fairly lengthy discussion about Vancouver's new Russian invasion and a little more insight into the changes in the coaching staff.

It's worth a listen if you have some free time over the holiday weekend. I may loop back around with more quotes and thoughts next week, particularly if the news cycle stays quiet.
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