It is no secret that the Canucks coaching staff does not consider Keith Ballard a top four defenseman. There are a few reasons as to why (his level of play, most notably). Ballard is a great skater, but he gets lost in defensive coverage, and often times struggles with gap control against rushing forwards. He can’t play the right side, which makes it tough for him to move up the depth chart with Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler firmly entrenched as the top two left side defensemen.
With the past (and present) injuries to right-sided defensemen Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo, a lot of pressure is put on the likes of Aaron Rome and Andrew Alberts to step in and play a larger role on the right side. The Canucks need to add at least one defenseman before the trade deadline this season, and one that can preferably play a top four role on the right side. I’d go as far to say it is the only real weakness the team will need to shore up (depending on the injury situation up front).
Chris Tanev may step back in and assume an important role down the stretch like he did last season, but relying on an unproven sophomore is far from a foolproof strategy. The Canucks could very likely swap out Ballard and bring in a more stable defensive defenseman. They could also keep Ballard and bring a defenseman in, but I can’t see them continuing to justify paying a bottom pairing (at best) defenseman over $4 million annually. So who are some of the potentially available defensemen the Canucks could target?
With the injury to Tobias Enstrom, Oduya has been moved on to the top pairing with Dustin Byfuglien. He is prone to horrific defensive blunders at times, but from game two of the season to now, he has probably been Winnipeg’s most dependable defenseman. He’s a good skater and he makes smart reads up the ice. He plays primarily on the left side though, which doesn’t fit the exact need in Vancouver. He’s slated to become a free agent this summer. If the Jets are out of contention, he could likely be had for a pick.
A left side defenseman through and through, but the nostalgic factor makes this one worth mentioning. Mitchell was one of the best defensive defensemen this organization has ever seen. Injuries were a concern, as was a slap shot that took 20 seconds to complete. The Kings will likely be in playoff contention, so the odds of them trading a top four defenseman away are very low.
Bryan Allen/Tim Gleason
These two impending free agents on the freefalling Hurricanes will likely both be available via trade at the deadline in a few months. The Hurricanes are likely going to be after a top six winger or center, and I don’t see the Canucks as a team willing to part with one of those as they gear up for the postseason. Gleason is a better defenseman than Allen, and could fill a top four role quite easily. The Canucks have been scouting Carolina extensively this season (as have many other teams), and Gleason is a very likely target.
Allen is a better defenseman than he was when he left the team, but he still has offensive and mobility-related shortcomings. He would be an upgrade on Ballard or Alberts on the bottom pairing, though.
Eaton is a prime candidate to move at the deadline. He’s a proven veteran who plays a steady, dependable game. He wouldn’t be the ideal minute-eating defenseman who could chip in with some offense, but he wouldn’t cost a whole lot to acquire. He’s currently out with an MCL sprain (which comes with a four-to-six week recovery).
The pipedream of all pipedreams. Weber is a restricted free agent this summer, and the Predators are going to exhaust every avenue before even considering trading him. If he is moved, look for it to be at the Entry Draft in June. The Canucks would definitely be among the most interested teams. I am still convinced they didn’t break the bank for Christian Ehrhoff last summer partly because of the possibility of Weber being available down the line.
McBain has played better as of late, but overall his NHL career has been one full of ups and downs. He’s a skilled young defenseman who can move the puck and play on the power play. He would be more of a long-term investment (like David Booth) than a deadline rental, but he is a player who could fill a need with this club for both this season and beyond.
Colaiacovo and Salo would keep Vancouver’s training staff busy, to say the least. Colaiacovo is a solid two-way defenseman but he’s much too injury prone to rely on. The interest could be there if the cost is low.
Pavel Kubina/Brett Clark
Both of these veteran Tampa Bay defensemen are right-handed shots and play on the right side. Kubina has regressed quite a bit in the last few seasons, but he would flourish playing more of a supporting role with a good hockey team. Clark does a little bit of everything – he can skate, shoot, and he blocks a ton of shots. Both are free agents next summer and will be available if the Lightning continue to start Dwayne Roloson most nights.
Clark would be near the top of my realistic defenseman wish list at the deadline.
Lydman is a less physical, more durable, younger version of Sami Salo. The Sabres really missed his steady play and puck moving ability last season. Lydman has another year left on his contract (at a very reasonable cap hit of $3 million), but he could slide in and replace Salo for next year. Like Clark, Lydman isn’t as ‘sexy’ as Weber, but he’s a much more realistic acquisition, and he would complement the defensemen on Vancouver’s roster quite nicely.
Gorges is one of my favourite defenseman in the league. He plays a lot like Bieksa – undersized but unafraid. He never bothered to get his torn ACL fixed until last year (an injury that he sustained over seven years ago). Gorges is a left-handed shot, but can play the right side. He is primarily a defensive defenseman, as evidenced by his beastly performance with Hal Gill during Montreal’s 2010 postseason run. He is also a free agent this summer, and the Habs would love to bring him back. He spent his junior career in Kelowna (his hometown, as well).
Gorges, Clark, and Lydman are most realistic defensive targets who could be available. Gorges, in particular, would be a great long term fit on the back end. He is a versatile and physical defenseman and a proven playoff performer. The fact that he is a British Columbian would likely factor in to any signing/re-signing potential, as well.