Photo Credit: (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
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 next Wednesday’s deadline. 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 2013 trade deadline. All five of them.
Today, however, we’ll start our 2013 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!
In years past we’ve cautioned our readers to expect a "conservative" approach from Canucks management at the deadline. Before the Cody Hodgson/Zack Kassian stunner almost thirteen months ago, Mike Gillis seemed to have a pretty predictable modus operandi at the deadline: swap a midround pick (or two) for a depth defenseman or a depth forward, and be sure to consumate the trade in buzzer beating fashion right before the clock strikes twelve.
But this deadline week has a different feel to it. Between the continued presence of Roberto Luongo and the club’s desperate need for some help at centre, the Canucks could be – hell, maybe even should be – both sellers and buyers this time around. The Canucks could be busy which would be great, or they could stand mostly pat, which would also be fascinating.
With that, let’s look into what areas of their roster in particular require some bolstering shall we?
Areas of Need
Some depth at forward perhaps?
If former Clinton political operative and master cobra impressionist James Carville were a Canucks beat writer, and you asked him the question, "what does this Canucks team need to add at the trade deadline?" He’d surely respond with "It’s a centreman, stupid!"
Like every other Canucks fan (or Canucks news outlet for that matter), we’ve been talking about the team’s need for a third-line centre since June. Up to this point the Canucks haven’t addressed this glaring area of need, although Jordan Schroeder’s emergence as a bonafide NHL player this season has helped ameliorate some of our desperation.
In truth, the Canucks have been without a staple third line pivot ever since Manny Malhotra’s freak eye-injury in the Spring of 2011. In the meantime a rotating group including the likes of Maxim Lapierre, Cody Hodgson, Samme Pahlsson and Andrew Ebbett have filled the vacancy. Some of them have done reasonably well, but for a variety of reasons – age, being better suited to the fourth line, an allergy to defense, or being Andrew Ebbett – none of those centreman were of the "put Vancouver’s forward group over the top" variety.
An additional top-nine centreman – and a quality one, not just a bandaid – would’ve been critical area of need for the Canucks even if Ryan Kesler hadn’t broken his foot in his first game back from multiple offseason surgeries. With Kesler’s broken foot still healing and his prognosis still somewhat uncertain, there’s presumably an additional degree of urgency for Mike Gillis and the Canucks. If this team wants to make some noise this spring – or get out of the first round, even – stabilizing their centre depth in advance of the playoffs is nearly a prerequisite.
Beyond the Canucks need for a centreman, some added bottom-six forward depth couldn’t hurt. At the moment the Canucks are without Steve Pinizzotto, Dale Weise and Zack Kassian which has left the club with a patchwork bottom-six. Vancouver’s bottom is so patchy right now that it’s the President of the SpongeBob SquarePants fan club.
Gillis doesn’t need to hit a homerun to address this bottom-six forward depth issue. Regardless of what he told Botchford and Rintoul on the Team 1040 late last week, I’d expect some additional insurance on this front could be a secondary item on Mike Gillis’ shopping list.
One final area of need might be "moving Roberto Luongo before other star netminders become avaialable this summer," and also getting cap-relief. The fact that Jussi Jokinen cleared waivers today should illustrate just how reluctant NHL General Managers are at the moment to take on additional cap commitments, especially with the cap falling this summer. I’m not sure I entirely buy the notion that it’s "now or never" for a Roberto Luongo trade, but that strain of thought is out there and it’s reasonably compelling.
Douglas Murray and Keith Ballard make funny faces in a puck battle.
Photo credit: the Globe and Mail.
There have been pretty much no major trades this season, with most player movement happening instead on the waiver wire. But we can get a sense of what the market is like just by looking at the deals that Ray Shero made this week:
Brenden Morrow and 2013 5th round pick for Joe Morrow and a 3rd round pick
Douglas Murray for a 2013 second round pick and a conditional 2nd round pick in 2014 (the condition being that Douglas Murray re-signs in Pittsburgh).
So to recap, that’s a very good blueline prospect for a guy who has played and produced like a third liner over the past two seasons (albeit with an outsized reputation). Or, two second round picks for a third pairing defenseman who is very much a defensive liability. To paraphrase a legendary comedy filmed locally in Furry Creek, "the price is wrong, bitch!"
It’s a sellers market and the main culprit is the Bettman point. Not only does the Bettman point keep the standings artificially tight, but it’s also primarily responsible for all the boring, conservative hockey NHL fans are getting used to in third periods… Pretty much the Bettman point is the worst.
At the deadline there might be only seven or so sellers, and that’s about it. Every other club has a reasonable enough shot at making the postseason to make like Jay Feaster and go for it. Depth forwards can probably be had for mid-round picks – based on what teams paid for the likes of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt D’Agostini and David Steckel – so long as they’re not desirable enough to start a bidding war. But any game changing pieces (or even middling top-six forwards like Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy) are likely to cost a pound of flesh.
The only area that the "seller’s market" description doesn’t apply to? Expensive goaltending.
Uncredited via VanHockey.com
Here’s another area where the trade deadline this year feels a whole lot different from trade deadlines of the recent past – at least from a Canucks perspective. Usually the Mike Gillis era Canucks are pressed right up against the salary cap. Usually it’s part of the fun of deadline day to see exactly how Laurence Gilman will make it all work. In 2010-11, for example, the Canucks ended trade deadline day a meagre $1000 below the salary cap after acquiring Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre.
But Hogwarts’ resident capologist professor presumably won’t even have to use his "Accio Cap Space" hex this time around. The rash of injuries, David Booths’ in particular, in addition to Manny Malhotra’s forced retirement have given the Canucks a fair bit of flexibility under the salary cap for the 2013 deadline.
While the Canucks only have 400k in space as of today, if Booth and Malhotra are placed on long-term injured reserve (and they presumably will be, if they haven’t been already) that gives Canucks management a tick over seven million in cap-space to play with (per Capgeek.com).
If the Canucks can find a deal that make sense for both sides this week, they’ll have the flexibility to add whomever. It’s the former part of that proposition that is dicey.
Trading Picks and Risk Management
For the first time that I can remember, the Canucks own their full arsenal of draft picks for the 2013 entry draft. They actually traded their 2013 third round pick for Chris Higgins a couple of seasons ago, but reacquired it as part of the David Booth deal.
Vancouver’s prospect pipeline is somewhat barren but it’s not quite as thin as some might have you believe. There are some intriguing depth players in the pipeline, sure, but at the top-end there are only four prospects with projectable NHL upside in my view (Lack, Gaunce, Jensen, Corrado). Of those four I’d imagine that only Gaunce and Jensen would have much in the way of trade value.
Future assets are the currency that lubricates transactions in a salary cap system. It’s a currency the Canucks are largely devoid of. Because of this reality, I’d be pretty shocked to see the Canucks deal any of Lack, Jensen, Gaunce or Corrado. Also, while I’d be mildly surprised if the Canucks held on to all of their draft picks, I’d be willing to bet that the club does keep at least their 2013 first and second round picks and five out of seven overall.
Secretly the Canucks have gotten a lot younger over the past couple of seasons – what with the graduation of Chris Tanev, Zack Kassian and Jordan Schroeder to the big league roster, as well as the addition of pieces like Jason Garrison (rather than Sami Salo) and David Booth (rather than Mikael Samuelsson). Lots of the moves that the Canucks have made over the past year to two demonstrate that Mike Gillis’ frequent rejection of a "window to win" is more than just idle chatter.
That’s important context here, and I’d expect the Canucks to be very reluctant to trade one of their top-end prospects or even one of their top-two picks at this June’s draft, for a rental player.
On the Block
Here’s where I see this deadline being complicated for the Canucks. The organization doesn’t have enough prospect wealth to net a game changing piece, and they don’t have many players on the roster whom they can afford to move (or who possess sufficient value anyway). If the Canucks are going to find a way to acquire a serious contributor as opposed to a Chuck Kobasew type(*), it’s almost surely going to have to be with a goalie trade.
(*) That’s not to knock Chuck Kobasew. I think he’d be a quality rental, frankly.
Roberto Luongo is the second best goaltender in the NHL. He is under-rated and fairly paid. But whichever team acquires him will acquire him for life (seemingly). Teams seem to be very reluctant to commit salary cap space even to useful players at the moment, which presumably neuters Luongo’s value significantly.
We’ve been writing about this saga for nearly eleven months now. Will it end this week? That Luongo hasn’t started a game in a blue moon certainly causes us to raise an eyebrow, but I truly have no idea which way the wind is blowing on this front.
Mason Raymond, the pending unrestricted free-agent in the midst of an impressive bounce back season, has been the first name to come up in every Canucks fan HFboard fantasy trade for several years now. Just call him Mason Trademond.
It’s hard to imagine that Raymond will re-up with a Canucks team that has limited cap-space and who took him to cut-back arbitration this past summer. Then again, he did lobby Jason Garrison on the Canucks behalf only a couple of weeks after the team attempted slash the value of his qualifying offer by the maximum amount – so who really knows?
I don’t think a Mason Raymond trade makes a lot of sense at this point, frankly, unless the Canucks are convinced they’ll lose him for nothing on the open market this summer. Even then, Mason Raymond is a valuable contributor who helps drive Vancouver’s possession game and he’s also easily been the club’s most dangerous offensive player over the past couple of weeks. For all of that, Raymond won’t have much trade value since he’s coming off of two tough seasons – one that was actually bad becasue of his injuries, and one that was a career year in reality, but looked bad by the counting stats. I’d imagine that at this point, Mason Raymond is more valuable to the Canucks on the roster than he is in a trade.
I don’t think the Canucks would consider moving Jordan Schroeder in a trade for a rental player. But if they get a shot at a tried and tested top-nine centre who is signed beyond this season at an affordable clip (like say, Steve Ott), might the management team consider it?
From his zone-start deployments, it doesn’t appear that Schroeder has been "Hodgson’d" this season, for whatever that’s worth. If he were dealt it would surprise me, but it wouldn’t cause me to fall out of my seat like the Cody Hodgson deal did a season ago.
What are your thoughts on the Canucks’ standing going into next week’s NHL trade deadline? Let us know in the comments!