Last summer’s trade for J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning has been a divisive issue among Canucks fans from the day it was announced. Some lauded Jim Benning’s aggressive move to improve the top six, while others deemed it an inappropriate move given the team’s development cycle. Regardless of one’s opinion on the deal and its timing, J.T. Miller — with 72 points in 69 games — proved to be an excellent addition to the club. There is also one caveat that has yet to be resolved: what will happen to the conditional first round pick the Canucks dealt for Miller? The pick was conditional on making the playoffs — were they to miss in the 2019-20 season, the pick would move to the 2020-2021 season.
Of course, we don’t quite have an answer to what happens to the pick, given the pause and likely end of the campaign. It’s a question that could have major ramifications for the franchise, and there’s a compelling case either way as to what the desired outcome should be. Would keeping the pick this year put the team at a disadvantage next season? Or would it maximize their ultimate draft value? It’s impossible to say definitively, but there are arguments to be made on each side, leaving reason for optimism — and pessimism — regardless of the eventual outcome.
The Case for Keeping the 2019-20 Pick
The majority of fans — from an unscientific, cursory view of Twitter and the Canucks media landscape — seem to think the Canucks should hope to keep the pick this year. The crux of the argument is largely that this is a club on the rise and that the 2020-21 pick will ultimately be lower than their eventual placement this year.
It’s a defendable take, certainly.
Elias Pettersson could very well take another step next season, jumping from a point per game player to somewhere in the 90-point range. Brock Boeser may stay healthy and enter 70-point territory, and Bo Horvat could make a similar offensive jump. On the blue line, the hope would be for Quinn Hughes to hit yet another level and emerge as an even more potent two-way presence from the back end. Aside from the young core, the team may also hope to have a full season of Tyler Toffoli, who proved to be a dynamic offensive weapon with 10 points in 10 games. They’ll also hope that depth players like Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen take another step, certainly conceivable with both being just 23 years of age.
Advocates for keeping the pick may also argue that by drafting a player this season, they’ll be ready to join the club sooner, and presumably be impactful by the time the team is in their Stanley Cup window. This view depends on how close you think the Canucks are to contention or how fast you think a hypothetical draft pick would develop. These are big question marks, but also ones that could tilt the scales in favor of wanting to keep the selection.
Overall, wanting to keep this year’s pick is determined by how optimistic one is about the team’s immediate future and how big of a step they can take next season. If one holds a distinctly positive view on the 2020-21 Canucks, it’s easy to see why the case for keeping this pick seems obvious.
The Case for Giving Up the 2019-20 Pick
While the case for keeping the pick is an inherently optimistic one, the case for giving it up is in many ways pessimistic. A compelling case for giving away this season’s pick is built upon the idea of key players not being able to repeat their 2019-20 performances moving forward. The most notable in this category would be J.T. Miller, the team’s leading scorer, and Jacob Markstrom, who put up Vezina-caliber number this season. Is it realistic to expect Miller to score at an 86-point pace again? Or for Markstrom to remain a top five netminder? For that matter, with Markstrom being a pending Unrestricted Free Agent, will he even be back next season? These are all far from sure things, and without high end performances from these core pieces, it’s entirely conceivable that the team finishes at a lower position than they did this year.
The blue line also looks to take a major hit or two this season. Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher are pending free agents (UFA in Tanev’s case, RFA in Stecher’s). Both may be tough to bring back, given the team’s current cap limitations, and even losing one leaves a major hole on the team’s right side. Tyler Myers, while a fine player, cannot singlehandedly save the right side of the blue line. For a team that already ranked in the bottom ten of CorsiFor% and ranked 20th in shots allowed, any further decimation of the defence could spell bad news, particularly if Markstrom regresses from being a goaltender who is among the league’s best and is top ten in high danger saves. Yes, Hughes could, and likely will, take a step forward. The rest of the defence could also take a major step backwards.
While there is reason for hope with the Canucks and their young core, this roster is also far from a sure thing. Not-as-young core players could very well take a step back and free agency could hit the defence hard (and also lead to the departure of Markstrom or Tyler Toffoli). With this in mind, the organization may be better off just giving the pick away this season and quite possibly bear the fruits of that decision in the summer of 2021.