June 7, 2023

It must feel like deja vu for Canucks Nation because at this time last season, the Vancouver Canucks were struggling too, sporting a 5-6-2 record (12 points). While that is one more game than they have played this season, they currently hold a record of 4-7-3 (11 points) going into a key weekend set against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. With a 6-4 win over the Ottawa Senators and a 5-2 setback against the Montreal Canadiens on their current five-game Eastern road trip, it’s looking more and more like they are closer to starting a rebuild rather than a push to the playoffs.

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If things continue to go sideways, president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin could be shuffling the deck, roster or otherwise, very soon. Whether it is a coaching change – again, more deja vu – or a major trade, the Canucks could look very different by the time 2023 rolls around. I guess it could all depend on the results of this road trip. Nevertheless, I have a sinking feeling that I will be writing more trade partner pieces in the coming weeks and months.

So, with the Canucks landing in Toronto for the start of Hall of Fame weekend and Roberto Luongo and Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s induction ceremony on Monday, let’s take a look at the Maple Leafs as a potential partner – both now and moving forward.

Trade Assets That Could Be of Interest to the Maple Leafs

Bo Horvat

Unlike J.T. Miller of 2021-22, Bo Horvat would likely be a rental a la Nick Foligno. Having said that, he is from nearby London and he did play all of his junior career with the London Knights, so he might actually entertain an extension with the Maple Leafs. But that begs the question, why wouldn’t they just wait until the offseason to sign him, rather than give up premium assets right now? Getting past the first round and potentially capturing a Stanley Cup, that’s why.

Bo Horvat Vancouver Canucks
Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

From scoring goals (12, second only to Connor McDavid) to taking an insane amount of faceoffs, Horvat has done it all for the Canucks this season. He’s definitely not the reason they are struggling to stay above water. In fact, he’s probably why they have four wins in the standings at this point. Without his production and faceoff wins, I shudder to think where they would be right now.

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If the Canucks actually put Horvat on the trade block, which has been hinted at by Rutherford himself, Kyle Dubas should be on the phone trying to get a deal done. As THW’s own Shane Seney suggested with Ryan O’Reilly (another pending unrestricted free agent), Horvat would give the Maple Leafs a powerful three-headed monster down the middle capable of matching up against the best the NHL has to offer. The only obstacle in the way is how he will massage the salary cap to make it all work. But like O’Reilly, a player like Horvat isn’t available via trade every day, so he should try his best to make something happen.

Conor Garland

Speaking of Canucks fans feeling a sense of deja vu, writers and beat reporters must be feeling it too as Conor Garland was the subject of trade rumors almost all of last season, and even into the offseason. His budget-friendly contract of $4.95 million in average annual value (AAV), and the fact that he can play up and down the lineup and on the power play make him a valuable commodity for a lot of teams.

Conor Garland Vancouver Canucks
Conor Garland, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While the Maple Leafs are in dire need of a goaltender, they are also still looking for a consistent presence in the top six alongside John Tavares and William Nylander. Enter Garland. While he hasn’t produced at the same clip as last season (11 points in 13 games), he does have eight points so far and could have even more if paired with a couple of dynamos in Tavares and Nylander. His slippery edges and tenacity on the forecheck might just be what the doctor ordered for a duo that has struggled to find their third musketeer recently.

Which Maple Leafs Assets Should the Canucks Target For Horvat?

First-Round Pick (Ideally 2023)

It’s unlikely the Canucks can demand a first-round pick for Garland, but for Horvat, definitely. With his goalscoring prowess and mastery in the faceoff circle, he is worth that and more. Ideally, it would be a pick in 2023, but given the quality of talent even in the 20s and 30s, the Maple Leafs will likely want to hold onto it. However, stranger things have happened. If Dubas feels Horvat is the missing piece to the Stanley Cup puzzle, he might think it’s worth the risk. Regardless, in any Horvat trade, Rutherford and Allvin need to snag a first-round pick even if it’s down the road in 2024 or 2025.

Topi Niemelä

It’s no secret that the Canucks need help on the right side of their defence. It’s been a story going all the way back to last season, and it’s still one today. Acquiring Ethan Bear from the Carolina Hurricanes was a good start, but his addition does not negate the fact that they have no reinforcements coming from the pipeline any time soon. Arguably the Maple Leafs’ top defence prospect, Topi Niemelä would help change all that. Now, he won’t be a saviour by any means, but he’s got elite potential that could one day pair with Quinn Hughes on the top pairing.

Topi Niemelä Team Finland
Topi Niemelä, Team Finland (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

I wrote a piece last season on the Canucks getting Niemelä from the Maple Leafs, but in a trade involving J.T. Miller. Shifting to Horvat, it’s the same narrative, Niemelä needs to be included in any package coming back to Vancouver.

Which Maple Leafs Assets Should the Canucks Target For Garland?

2024 Second-Round Pick

Again, if the Canucks start to trade away veteran roster players like Garland, they need to get draft picks and prospects in return. As mentioned before, I doubt they will get a first-rounder for him, but a second-round pick is definitely a possibility. Unfortunately, the Maple Leafs don’t have one until 2024, but I’m sure Allvin and company will take it regardless.

Roni Hirvonen

In addition to the lack of right-side defence prospects, the Canucks are in dire need of depth down the middle. Roni Hirvonen, who projects as a solid two-way center in the NHL could be a perfect addition to help shore up that weakness. He’s not overly big at 5-foot-9, but he’s strong on his skates and has been known to win battles along the boards against much bigger opponents.

Roni Hirvonen Team Finland
Roni Hirvonen of Team Finland (Pasi Mennander / Finnish Ice Hockey Association)

To go along with all that, Hirvonen has an excellent shot, which he showcased frequently at both the 2021 and 2022 World Juniors. A prime example of it was seen in Finland’s 4-3 comeback win over the United States last December when he absolutely ripped the overtime winner past American goaltender Dylan Silverstein. Currently playing for HIFK in the Finnish Liiga, he has three goals and seven points in 20 games after posting a career-high nine goals and 26 points in 46 games last season.

Canucks Will Unfortunately Have To Take Back Salary

As it was with Miller, moving Horvat or Garland to a team like the Maple Leafs, or any contending team for that matter, the Canucks will have to take back some salary. He comes up all the time, but Alex Kerfoot and his $3.5 million contract is the most likely candidate in these discussions. He’s a UFA at the end of the season, so even if the 28-year-old Vancouver native doesn’t work out, the Canucks won’t be on the hook for his salary come 2023-24.

Another option could be Pierre Engvall ($2.25 million), the 6-foot-5 utility speedster who has gotten off to a slow start after missing the beginning of the season with a foot/ankle injury. Being Swedish and only 26 years old, he might actually appeal to Allvin as a piece for his rebuild rather than just a salary dump to make a draft pick/prospect trade work.

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

All in all, the Canucks and Maple Leafs might be better trade partners than they were a year ago when Miller was the primary piece being discussed. The one thing that still remains is the pesky salary cap as Horvat’s $5.5 million and Garland’s $4.95 million will be tough to fit in unless the Canucks are willing to take back a roster player or retain some salary in the deal.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still believe the Canucks should do everything in their power to re-sign Horvat for all the reasons outlined above. Unfortunately, after they prioritized Miller and reportedly low-balled Horvat’s camp with their first offer, that might not be in the cards. If that ends up being the case, Allvin and Rutherford need to get something substantial for their captain before he walks in free agency. And while the Maple Leafs might not be the team that gives them the best offer, they should still pick up the phone if/when Dubas calls.

As for Garland, he’s probably the easiest asset to move for a quality prospect and draft pick. Given the Maple Leafs’ reported interest in the past, that trade is more likely than one involving Horvat. In the end, if Allvin and Rutherford open their doors for business, Dubas won’t be the only GM calling.

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