More lopsided trades please (image via thestanchion).
Show me the hockey fan who doesn’t love hockey-trades – and I’ll show you a liar. With that in mind, Canucks Army will be bringing you an exhaustive trade deadline preview from now through Friday. We’ll look into Canucks deadline history, drool over unicorns, and circle menacingly over the cellar-dwelling carcasses of the "sure-fire sellers" at the 2012 trade deadline. Today, however, we’ll start our trade deadline preview series with some yeoman’s work: a thorough inventory of Canucks needs, assets, possible strategy and cap-space. What should the Canucks look to add, what chips do they have to play with, how much cap-space do they really possess and how much risk should the Canucks take at the deadline?
All that and more, just click past the jump!
Speculation is rampant at this time of year, with names like Rick Nash, Ales Hemsky, Jeff Carter and Jack Johnson on the tip of everyone’s tongues. While the frenzy of constant talk-radio speculation, fake Twitter rumours, and MSM rumour reporting is intoxicating; Canucks fans with dreams of seeing the team land a high-salaried game changer should probably re-calibrate their expectations. Based on Mike Gillis’ conservative history at the deadline, if the Canucks make any moves over the coming several days, they’ll probably be about as unsexy as sexy was before Justin Timberlake brought it back.
Let’s start with identifying the potential "areas of need" for the Canucks headed into the final week of trading.
Areas of Need
The team’s primary and most obvious, "need" is finding a depth defenseman. Ideally this depth defenseman can play the right side, and can comfortably bump up into the top-4 in case of injury. It’s a truism: every deadline "buyer" needs more blueline depth, and the Canucks, while deep enough along the blueline to boast Chris Tanev as their 8th defenseman, are no different.
At the moment, Vancouver’s club – a team with Stanley Cup ambitions – is relying on Sami Salo to play top-4 minutes. Considering the "Thomas Pynchon novel" length of Sami Salo’s injury history, Mike Gillis wouldn’t be doing his job if he wasn’t looking into plan B (and C, and D).
The team’s secondary need is a big-bodied forward who can slot into the top-nine in a pinch. Byron Bitz looked to be the "answer" in this role during an impressive seven game cameo over the past few weeks, but he’s already out of the lineup with soreness in his hip-flexor.
Prior to his run of recent success in Vancouver, Bitz had been out of the league for two seasons with a variety of hernia related issues, which he had multiple surgeries to try and fix. Of late, Bitz was winning fights, throwing massive hits and feeding the Sedins with an out-of-nowhere collection of backhand saucer passes, but behind the scenes he required an hour of treatment before games. Bitz is clearly a perfect fit when healthy, but I doubt the team considers that proposition dependable.
Even without Bitz, the Canucks do have options. Dale Weise isn’t the physical force that Byron Bitz is, but he’s quietly effective. Mike Duco has played relatively well in his brief stints with the team, and has some potential as a fourth line agitator. Steve Reinprecht will probably join the roster in time for the postseason, and one assumes he’s still reasonably dependable in tough minutes. Meanwhile Aaron Volpatti could, possibly, return from injury in time for the postseason.
All of those players could prove useful at some-point down the stretch, but none of them reasonably project into being effective in a top-9 role over the course of an extended playoff run. Along with a depth defenseman, it’s a safe bet that the Canucks will look to upgrade that fourth line right-wing spot on the open market.
The market for "depth defenseman" has already been set with Nicklas Grossman, Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill moving last week or over the weekend. Let’s look at the return these three rental players netted for their former teams:
- Hal Gill and a conditional fifth headed to Nashville in exchange for Blake Geoffrion (a nearly ready prospect with limited upside), Robert Slaney (probably a career AHLer) and a 2nd round pick (probably outside the top 50).
- Nicklas Grossman to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a 2nd round pick this year (probably outside the top 50) and a 3rd round pick next season.
- Pavel Kubina to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a conditional 2nd round pick (the Panthers can choose to give it away this year, or next year) a fourth round pick next season, and a twenty-four year old AHLer in Jon Kalinski.
Credit Paul Holmgren for filling his needs early, and at a reasonable price (two second round picks, a 3rd, a 4th and Jon Kalinski in exchange for a functional, if not standout, second pairing). With nearly every other contender and pretender looking to shore up their blue-line depth, and not many names remaining on the market – the cost of acquiring a depth blueliner should rise over the course of this week. I expect borderline top-4 guys like Jaro Spacek, Milan Jurcina, Sheldon Souray, and Bryan Allen to fetch at least a 2nd round pick, another later pick, and a second tier prospect this week.
The market for depth forwards was set to some extent by Tampa Bay when the traded Dominic Moore and a 7th rounder to the Sharks in exchange for a 2nd round pick. Dominic Moore is an effective tough-minutes options, but he doesn’t bring the sort of "size" the Canucks are likely looking for in a "big fourth line forward who can move up the lineup." The Canucks aren’t the only team looking for beef at this time of the year, and with increased demands, size will cost you a premium.
Possible targets for the Canucks at forward might include North Vancouver native David Jones from the Avalanche or possibly Daniel Winnick. There’s also Paul Gaustad of the Buffalo Sabres, Mike Knuble or maybe Travis Moen (depending on his injury situation). The Canucks and Dallas would seem to be a fit as trading partners, especially with the Stars possessing good tough-minutes options like Radek Dvorak or Adam Burish – but it’s possible that the rivalry between the ownership of the two team’s could prove to be too big of a road block. The Canucks could also take a shot at P-A Parenteau from the Islanders, Adam Hall from Tampa Bay, or Dereks Mackenzie and Dorsett from Columbus.
I suspect all of the players listed above, except possibly Mike Knuble, Adam Hall, Derek Mackenzie and Travis Moen (particularly if Moen can’t get back into the lineup before the deadline) – will cost significantly more than a 2nd round pick. It’s safe to assume that a 2nd tier prospect, and a couple of picks will be required to snag the sort of depth forward the Canucks are (probably) looking for.
Laurence Gillman is a wizard, and it looks like he’ll have a chance to flick his wand and use his patented charm spell "Exorior Cap-Space" again this week. Last year, the Canucks snuck past the trade-deadline a mere 1000 dollars below the cap. That’s the cap management equivalent of a jaw-dropping Datsyuk back-hand, and it’s just as valuable to the team – even if shrewd cap-management will never make it onto any highlight reels.
This season, much like last season, the Canucks are pressed up against the cap, yet they still have options. According to Capgeek’s estimated credits number, the Canucks have 420k in cap-space as the team is currently composed. Usually the team sends a couple of guys down to the AHL on deadline day (Tanev is the most likely candidate this year) which, would clear some space. The team also has guys like Andrew Ebbett, Aaron Volpatti, as well as possibly Keith Ballard and Byron Bitz eligible for LTIR.
When you account for the team’s myriad of options to maneuver under the cap, the Canucks could potentially acquire up to 6.2 million in salary at the deadline. That number of course assumes that Ebbett, Volpatti, Ballard and Bitz don’t dress again this regular season, that the team waives both Sulzer and Weise (highly unlikely), and that they sent Tanev back down to Chicago for the remainder of the regular season.
That’s the most extreme scenario, and I’d be amazed if the Canucks added that much salary over the next week. That said, if Keith Ballard (out with a suspicious concussion/"upper body symptoms") is held out of the lineup until the postseason, and the team adds 3-4 million dollars worth of salary to their lineup as a result, that really wouldn’t surprise me.
Trading Picks and Risk Management
Mike Gillis has done well to re-stock the prospect pipeline in his short time as Canucks General Manager. As a result he can deal from a relative position of strength this trade deadline. Keep in mind however, that Gillis has been loathe to trade his prospects for rental players, as evidenced by the fact that in four trade deadlines as GM, he’s traded a grand total of two prospects: Evan Oberg and Sean Zimmerman.
Are the Canucks likely to deviate from their usual conservative approach to the trade-deadline this season? It’s certainly possible. This season the Canucks are a very good, but not dominant even-strength side, but their special teams are the best in the league (in terms of overall differential) and their goaltending is otherworldly. While they’re by no means the favorites to win the Cup this season – I don’t think anyone would fault Gillis if we "went for it" at the deadline.
I’d say the prospect of Gillis swinging a big deal this week, while obviously "real" remains pretty unlikely. Gillis isn’t going to trade a core player, and he’s almost certainly not going to trade any of his three best young players (Tanev, Schneider, Hodgson).
Could a supporting cast member, like Mason Raymond, or a second tier prospect like Bill Sweatt or Yan Sauve find themselves dangled in a trade? Sure, but even that would represent a pretty major deviation from what Gillis has shown us over the past four years. Further, those just aren’t the types of assets that net you a game-changer.
As for draft picks, the Canucks have 2 picks in the first three rounds this season (their first, and second round picks), and I’d wager that one of those two draft slots will be dealt this week. Also, and this is just a hunch, but I’d be willing to gamble on Gillis holding onto every single one of his 2013 draft picks, so that he can potentially make some offers to a few notable RFA’s this offseason.
On the Block
Let’s finish off with a quick look at some of the players Gillis could potentially move at the deadline:
Raymond has fallen out of favour with the fan-base and with the media – but he brings more value to the team in the line-up than he would in a trade. While Raymond’s lack of "finish" and penchant for falling down has made him a lynchpin of the "scapegoat trio" (along with Luongo and Bieksa) – Raymond remains a useful defensive player and a solid possession forward.
All of that said, Raymond’s anemic offensive production isn’t going to cut it for a top-six forward, and Botchford’s point that he "tips the scales" on the third-line is well taken. It’s possible that Mason Raymond just doesn’t "fit" on this team long-term, especially When you consider that Raymond will cost 2.5 million to qualify this offseason. That’s an amount that even Raymond’s most ardent defenders (i.e. myself) would consider poor value. Frankly, it wouldn’t be too big a shock if the Canucks decided Raymond wasn’t in their future plans and dealt him this week.
The speculation about this is inane. Unless some team gets impossibly desperate and offers the moon – it’s just not happening.
Rival GM: "Is Cody Hodgson available?"
Mike Gillis: *hysterical laughter* *the unmistakable sound of a phone being hung-up* *dial-tone*
That would be a kick-in-the-nuts for Canucks Army writers. Chris Tanev is a solid young defenseman, and impressed on a big stage last summer. He’s been very good in his limited time with the Canucks this season, and as steady as any defenseman in the American Hockey League when he’s played with the Chicago Wolves. I highly doubt that Tanev is moved, he’s already a useful depth player and I can’t see Gillis trading someone with this much potential – unless the return is a legitimate top-4, right side defenseman.
But I doubt Gillis is able to find that legitimate top-4 defenseman, and I further doubt that Tanev has enough value on the market to be a cornerstone of such a deal. Tanev is a quietly skilled guy – he doesn’t have size, and he doesn’t put up big numbers, so you really need to understand advanced metrics, and the value of puck possession to comprehend his real and potential value. I’m not sure there a lot of General Managers who meet that description at the moment, so it’s probable that Tanev is undervalued on the trade-market, and likely to stay put.
I can’t imagine Gillis trading any of the big three (Hodgson, Tanev or Schneider) at the deadline, and I suspect that they’ll hang on to Jordan Schroeder as well. As a result, Kevin Connauton could be the best prospect the Canucks have who they’re willing to dangle this week. Connauton, a former Vancouver Giant, has put up points at every level and his two-way play has improved enormously this season. With his hard-shot and gaudy goal totals, he probably has some value on the trade market.
A package including Connauton and a 1st round pick would be a steep price to pay for a rental player. But could a package including Connauton be offered in exchange for an affordable, veteran right-side defenseman on a reasonable deal that lasts beyond this season? I could see that.