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THE MOJ: For Canucks to dig themselves out of this mess, sacrifices have to be made

Big, long-term contracts need to be offloaded, even if you have to pay to do it
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Vancouver Canucks’ JT Miller. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

“I had one team that reached out to me here this morning. I don’t think they were very serious. I never had an offer for J.T. Miller, so I’ll leave it at that.” - Canucks General Manager Patrik Allvin, commenting on rumors that the Pittsburgh Penguins made on offer on deadline day for the Canucks forward J.T. Miller.

Perhaps the biggest story surrounding the Vancouver Canucks on the March 3 NHL trade deadline day was what didn’t happen.

According to Rogers Sportsnet Insiders Elliotte Friedman and Darren Dreger, the Penguins were willing to part with draft picks to acquire Miller but the Canucks asking price also included a second-line center in the package and Pittsburgh was unwilling to accommodate that request.

It’s also been rumored that the Carolina Hurricanes were involved in a potential three-way deal, but in the end, Miller remained a Canuck.

Given that the Canucks have said that they are ‘retooling’’ and not ‘rebuilding’ it makes sense that they passed on the Penguins supposed offer.

Yet with Miller’s no-movement clause kicking in on July 1, rumors will continue about a possible trade.

The question is why are the Canucks now apparently willing to trade someone that they signed to a seven-year, $56 million dollar extension in September?

The obvious answer is that they desperately need to clear some cap space.

Right now, the organization is hamstrung in that players such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($7.2 million per season for the next four seasons), Brock Boeser ($6.6 million for the next two seasons) and Conor Garland ($4.95 for the next three seasons) are stapled to the roster.

Despite the best efforts of Allvin and Canucks President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford, these contracts have become immovable during the season.

It’s got so bad with Ekman-Larsson that some suggest a buyout could occur this summer. That seems highly unlikely with the term that he has left, never mind the fact that owner Francesco Aquilini would have to sign off on paying the 31-year-old defenceman close to $20 million dollars not to play. It would also mean a cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

Boeser will be moved in the off-season, and with the way the Calgary Flames are collecting ex-Canucks, don’t be surprised if he lands there given his relationship with the likes of Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli and Troy Stecher.

There is a path out of this mess but it would require some ‘major surgery’ as Rutherford would like to call it.

So, time for Dr. Moj to throw on some scrubs and head to the ER!

If there are teams that are willing to give the Canucks first round draft picks for Miller – take the picks.

First, you would rid yourself of a contract that is not going to age well. Miller will be 37 when his new deal ends at the conclusion of the 2029-30 season.

To use that famous Winston Churchill quote - those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Ekman-Larsson’s contract is an albatross, so why go through the same situation with Miller in four or five years?

Once Miller is moved, you would have to do some maneuvering that would make Maverick from Top Gun proud.

Even though he does have a no-movement clause, persuade Ekman-Larsson that his future is anywhere but Vancouver and use the newly-acquired draft picks as a sweetener to unload his contract.

Replacing Ekman-Larsson’s contributions wouldn’t be too difficult. Replacing Miller’s production would be a tougher task but the good news is that you would now have just over $12 million to figure it out.

A concern in this regard would be a very thin free agent class this summer. Some would argue, however, that would be in the Canucks favor, forcing them to make a trade instead of signing an overpriced UFA to replace Miller.

Given the organization’s commitment to a retool, the only currency they would have to offer would be draft picks.

Hey, I never said the plan would be perfect.

The bottom line is that no matter how the Canucks try to dig themselves out of this salary cap mess, there will be a price to pay.

It’s just a question of when.

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.

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