Today is the big day. There’s thirty General Managers with five or so hours to improve their team before the trade window slams shut at 3 PM EST. As hockey fans everywhere tune in breathlessly, there’s the obvious likelihood that today’s deadline will go off with a whimper, rather than any sort of bang. It’s a frenzied atmosphere – and as every General Manager past and present will tell you, "more mistakes get made" on this day, than on any other.
Over the past week we’ve taken stock of what the Canucks need and how much cap-space they have. We’ve looked at the franchise’s recent history at the deadline and at what “winners” typically do at the deadline. We’ve also “targeted“ available forwards and defenseman. Now in the calm before the potential storm, lets think long and hard about whether or not it’s even worthwhile for Mike Gillis to make a major move to his current roster.
Read on past the jump!
I know what you’re thinking "not make a trade? At the TRADE DEADLINE booooo." *ducks tomato.*
Realistically though, prices are exceedingly high at this season’s deadline; largely the result of the leagues carefully manufactured parity. In the East, there are three teams that are more than six points out of a playoff spot: Montreal, Carolina and the New York Islanders. In the West, there’s only two: Edmonton and Columbus. That makes twenty-five possible buyers who are still dreaming of making the dance, and only five true sellers – several of whom have spent the last month re-signing their more valuable trade assets.
There are other teams, the Avalanche, the Sabres, the Stars and the Ducks – clubs who could yet decide to sell off assets. But these teams are almost certainly not in the market for just picks, or tier-two prospects, they’ll be looking for young roster players. Is it worth trading away a good young player to net the likes of Gaustad, Winnick or Steve Ott? Unless Joe Nieuwendyk is trading you Vernon Fiddler’s angry Kevin Bieksa face (value: priceless), the prices on this years “sellers-market” will make it hard for the Canucks to materially improve their roster today.
The team’s needs are well known: a number 4 or 5 defenseman who can play the right-side, and a top-9 forward who can bring a physical edge and thrive in tough minutes. Over the course of this week we’ve heard names like Steve Ott, David Jones, Jason Garrison and Dustin Brown bandied about. None of those guys are going to be pried away from their current clubs in exchange for habitual fan-base whipping-boy Mason Raymond and a pick.
There are impact players out there, sure, but from all accounts the asking prices are high and the market is slow. Prices will come down over the course of morning, but for the Canucks there’s maybe 10 guys on the market who would be worthwhile difference makers in the roles the team requires. And those guys are not going to be given away.
To acquire the sort of player the fans desperately want, Gillis would need to part with a young roster player, a first round pick (the draft is projected to be weak, so even Vancouver’s late first pick isn’t very valuable this season) and/or a young prospect (and the team is still rebuilding their prospect pool).
It’s worth remembering that, if the team goes into the postseason with the roster as is: the Canucks are still an exceptionally good club and a legitimate contender. They’re a good five-on-five team, they boast elite special teams units and between the pipes, Luongo and Schneider make for arguably the leagues best goalie tandem.
With Kesler and Sedin down the middle, the Canucks are a nightmare for most teams to match-up against. Bieksa and Hamhuis are as good of a defensive pairing as exists in the NHL. Lapierre and Malhotra help limit shots against off of defensive zone starts, and their presences legitimately allows Vigneault to deploy three "scoring lines."
Beyond that, the team is deeper now than it was last season. The emergence of Cody Hodgson, gives the Canucks scoring punch out of the bottom-6, something they were lacking last season. Meanwhile two-way ace David Booth has turned himself into the poor man’s Marian Hossa – he’s the "top-6 power-forward" Canucks fans were so desperate for over the summer. Finally, while any team with ambitions of making a deep playoff could use more defensive depth, the Canucks’ 8th defenseman is Chris Tanev – a guy who already looks capable of playing a significantly larger role on the club.
The continued emergence of Chris Tanev, and his increased competence in physical battles (he beat Johan Franzen in a puck battle along the boards this week) is a major reason I expect the team to be cautious today. Tanev’s presence means the team now goes 4 deep on the right side (Bieksa, Salo, Tanev, Rome) and when you consider the exorbitant cost defenders are likely to garner on the market – that’s probably better than over-paying for a veteran band-aid.
Adding a proficient tough-minutes forward like Steve Ott, or an Ehrhoff upgrade like Mark Streit or Stephane Robidas could put the Canucks over the top, no doubt about that – but at what cost? If the cost is any of the big three (Schneider, Hodgson or Tanev) you can bet that Gillis will walk away from the deal – as he should.
In three previous deadlines Gillis has sat tight once (2009), acquired a depth defender once (2010 when he acquired Andrew Alberts) and last year he added two depth forwards (Higgins and Lapierre). While Ballard’s injury gives the Canucks flexibility under the cap, Gillis remains a shrewd and conservative general manager and notably doesn’t view the teams "championship window" as imminently expiring. I’m sure Gillis will add a depth forward at some point this afternoon, probably at the buzzer, but We’ve never seen him move a top-end prospect, or even a roster player at the deadline While some were expecting (and are still expecting) this to be the year that changes: don’t be surprised or upset if it isn’t.