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Canucks commit to re-tooling over re-building with Hronek addition

VANCOUVER — When he traded captain and longest-serving Vancouver Canuck Bo Horvat five weeks ago, it was a regime-defining moment for Patrik Allvin. The general manager created another one on Wednesday when he transferred the first-round pick he obtained for Horvat to acquire defenceman Filip Hronek.

The first trade was widely lauded, the second one almost universally excoriated. After the National Hockey League trade deadline passed Friday, Allvin looked equally comfortable with both.

“I’m not collecting picks just to collect picks,” Allvin told reporters at Rogers Arena. “I’m collecting picks to either draft hockey players or trade to get hockey players in here. I was not happy to give up Bo Horvat, but I was extremely happy with how the return turned out. Talking to the coaching staff here leading up to this week… the right side (of defence) was something we felt really strong to improve. When we had the opportunity to get that high-end player like Filip Hronek, we had the assets at this point to do it and we felt that this was an important move for our organization.”

Many people, fans and media alike, have disagreed over the last 48 hours.

Allvin made six deals during deadline week, including Friday’s trade of fourth-line centre Curtis Lazar to the New Jersey Devils for a fourth-round pick. But until the start of next season — and probably beyond — people will be debating the acquisition of Hronek, the 25-year-old defenceman who cost Allvin the New York Islanders’ mid-first-round pick acquired in the Horvat deal as well as the Canucks’ own second-round pick in June.

As with many things, draft picks are overrated. Until you don’t have enough of them, which has been the Canucks’ predicament for most of this century.

In isolation, it’s easy to argue that the mid-first-rounder, with the odds of drafting an impact player at that spot, is fair compensation for an established, cost-controlled, top-four defenceman who helps at both ends of the ice.

Allvin and Canucks president Jim Rutherford made it starkly clear this season that the Canucks are “retooling” not “rebuilding,” and adding Hronek is precisely the kind of move they’ve sought.

Pressed Friday for a playoff timeline, Allvin said the plan for next season is to make the playoffs — something GMs of deliberately-bad, rebuilding teams don’t get badgered much about.

But no matter where you are on the debate about retooling versus rebuilding (or if you own a dictionary), the Canucks also throwing in their top-40 second-round pick, minimally offset by getting the Red Wings’ fourth-rounder, feels exorbitant. The Ottawa Senators, after all, outwaited the perennially cheap and rebuilding Arizona Coyotes to get impact defenceman Jake Chychrun for roughly the same price Allvin paid for Hronek, plus an additional second-round pick in 2026.

At least Allvin didn’t offer Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman the all-you-can-eat draft-pick buffet that Tampa presented Nashville for role forward Tanner Jeannot. A little underplayed amid that sticker shock is what Lightning manager Julien Brisebois said afterwards about the actual value of draft picks.

“I know there’s a perceived value of those picks,” he said. “But we have a really good idea of what the actual value of those picks are. When we look at what it’s worth to us, based on the odds of those picks turning into good NHL players down the road, I’d rather have the good player right now for this season and next year and help this group win right now.”

Brisebois didn’t jangle his Stanley Cup rings as he spoke.

The Canucks, of course, are light years away from being a recent champion who are trying, as the Lightning are, to make their fourth straight Stanley Cup Final. But by accumulating and retaining other draft capital, neither has Allvin gone all-in as Brisebois has. But he paid an awful lot to get Hronek.

Whether it’s too much, we’ll see.

“I don’t know if the prices are high or low,” Allvin said. “I mean, the prices will always be high on high-end players. I don’t think you get a discount on the high-end players. To be honest, too, you never know if those guys are going to be available. We felt that this was a great opportunity for what we’ve been looking for.”

The last time a Vancouver trade generated this level of outrage, Canucks Twitter was right two years ago that Jim Benning’s acquisition of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland from the Coyotes in exchange for bad contracts and a top-10 draft pick could be disastrous.

In 2019, however, the howling proved misguided when Benning got J.T. Miller from Tampa for a late first-rounder. Miller became in Vancouver one of the NHL’s top power forwards and has scored 271 points in 262 games for the Canucks while the player drafted with the pick surrendered to Tampa, then traded to New Jersey — Shakir Mukhamadullin — was just packaged to San Jose and at 21 has yet to play a game in North America.

Yet, there are still people who insist the Miller trade was a bad one for Vancouver because the Canucks have missed the playoffs the last three years and are still a long way from becoming a Cup contender. If that’s your ideology, it’s difficult to argue. It’s like trying to talk the devout out of their religion.

Are the Canucks a better team with Hronek? Yes.

Would they be better off with Arizona draft pick Dylan Guenther instead of Ekman-Larsson and Garland? Oh, god, yes.

Understandably, everything that Allvin does will be measured against everything Benning did wrong. There is an unmistakable similarity in strategy: trying to improve the team on the fly.

The profound difference in managerial circumstances is that Allvin took over a team that already has young, foundational pieces in 20-something stars Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko.

Really want a complete rebuild? Then you can start by trading them because they have no interest in enduring another three years of being bad — on purpose.

“Obviously, we don’t want to be here for a rebuild and have to wait and do all that,” Hughes said after Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild. “I don’t think we’re… crazy far out with competing and doing well. So for them to do that (acquire Hronek), it’s obviously encouraging.”

“My expectation is to make the playoffs with the players we have here,” Allvin said. “And especially, you have an elite goalie in Thatcher Demko, and Filip Hronek, Quinn Hughes, Pettersson, Miller, (Andrei) Kuzmenko. I mean, we have good players here. But we need to learn how to play as a team. We have a lot of work to do in order to be a playoff team here. But I’m very confident in the coaching staff I’ve got in here now and what we’ve got to do in order to come ready next year.”

• After a media report that he had turned down a selection of high draft picks for Miller, Allvin categorically denied he’d had an offer from the Pittsburgh Penguins or anyone else. “I never had an offer for J.T. Miller, so I leave it at that. I never had an offer for J.T. Miller.”


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