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Can the Canucks actually swing a deal for Alexis Lafreniere? Don’t hold your breath.

The Canucks have reportedly shown interest in the 1st overall pick from 2020.

New York Rangers v Vancouver Canucks
Brock Boeser #6 of the Vancouver Canucks tries to check Alexis Lafreniere #13 of the New York Rangers during NHL action on November 2, 2021 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

New year, new Canucks?

Perhaps that should be the mantra for this organization after 2022 ended on a complete downer.

This time last year, we spent months theorizing about a potential blockbuster deal that involved trading JT Miller out of town — and the New York Rangers were the number one target.

Of course, Miller wasn’t traded. He was re-signed to a massive seven-year deal worth $56 million.

Ironically, that’s about where the good vibes for the Canucks in 2022 seemed to end.

After a strong push under Bruce Boudreau to end last season, nothing has really gone right for the Canucks this year.

From a piss-poor training camp, to Travis Dermott’s concussion, to a seven-game winless streak to start the season, the last few months of 2022 were kind of sad.

So yeah, I think most fans would accept a new direction.

Trading for a player like Lafreniere would certainly signal that.

Has the Rangers’ opinion of Lafreniere changed?

Although Patrik Allvin is a relatively inexperienced GM, it sounds like he’s already gotten to know Rangers GM Chris Drury quite well.

The Miller trade talks, according to reports, at least went to the level where the Rangers offered a first-round pick, centre Filip Chytil and defenceman Nils Lundkvist.

Those reports went on to mention that the deal fell through because the Rangers were unwilling to part with their more prototypical, big-bodied, young right-shot defenceman, Braden Schneider.

New York Rangers v Colorado Avalanche
The Canucks reportedly targeted defenceman Braden Schneider in a trade last season, but the Rangers were unwilling to part with the young, right shot defender.
Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

Fast-forward to now, and it’s interesting to consider whether Lafreniere was ever a part of those prior trade talks.

You’d have to think the Canucks at least broached the subject.

It’s common knowledge that Lafreniere’s former agent, Emilie Castonguay, is now the assistant general manager of the Canucks. Surely, she’s a believer in the player.

The Rangers were likely still big believers in the player at this time last year as well.

In 18 games prior to last year’s trade deadline, Lafreniere was arguably playing the best hockey of his career. He had five goals and 10 points in 18 games, while playing 15:04 per night. In those games, he was third among all Rangers in even-strength ice time, ahead of established stars like Mike Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

But now, in the third year of his NHL career, Lafreniere has yet to break through as a star.

So, have the Rangers changed their tune on the player?

Probably not.

This season, Lafreniere is still averaging the fourth-most even-strength minutes among Rangers forwards, which helps make up for his lack of time on special teams (even though he’s a PP2 staple). His points-per-game rate is also at the highest mark of his career (0.46).

Through three NHL seasons, his even-strength scoring rate has remained constant. He’s averaged 1.7 points per 60 at evens, which is right in line with a low-end second-line player.

There’s reason to believe a breakout is coming though. Lafreniere is shooting the puck more than he ever has but despite that, he’s only scored five goals in 37 games.

Still, he was a healthy scratch recently for the Rangers last week.

While patience could be wearing thin, there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that New York is giving up on the player, aside from a one-off scratch.

Potential Horvat for Lafreniere deal seems far-fetched

Reports this week from CHEK TV’s Rick Dhaliwal further confirmed that the Canucks are interested in acquiring Lafreniere.

Dhaliwal made the obvious reference to Bo Horvat being the centerpiece of a potential Lafreniere deal.

I mean...duh.

What other obvious centerpieces do the Canucks even have to make a deal like this?

If you’re a blindly hopeful Canucks fan, you’re probably praying that the Rangers bite on Horvat’s stunning scoring outburst, and agree to swap the Lafreniere for the Canucks captain without Vancouver adding too much to the deal.

The Rangers have also shown a propensity under Drury to target sturdier, big-bodied players. That’s why they traded Pavel Buchnevich away for Sammy Blais while signing a guy like Barclay Goodrow long-term.

While Horvat fits the mold of a talented, big-bodied player, this hypothetical deal just doesn’t make a ton of sense.

NHL GMs are getting savvier. It would be shocking to see a deal like this without the Canucks adding significantly.

Despite Lafreniere not performing like a typical first-overall pick, he’s still a talented player who only just turned 21 years old.

And, it’s no secret that Horvat, who turns 28 before the end of the regular season, is due for a massive raise.

Lafreniere, on the other hand, is a cost-controlled RFA at the end of this season.

The Rangers also have a decent 1-2-3 punch down the middle with Zibanejad, Vincent Trocheck and Goodrow.

Trocheck, who occupies the second-line centre role that Horvat would theoretically take, just signed a long-term deal with the Rangers this offseason. He’s also having a decent year with 30 points in 38 games. It’s not like the Rangers are in a spot where they feel like they need to add a player like Horvat.

While a Lafreniere deal would signal a refreshing new direction for the Canucks, it’s not something that seems realistic.

Although, I’d love to be wrong.