There’s a lot of trade chatter surrounding the Vancouver Canucks these days, and why not. We’ve seen general manager Jim Benning operate, and we know he’s a man of action.
Whether or not that action improves the team or not, well that’s still up for debate. The days of stay still Gill are gone though, and you can expect the Canucks to be active in the weeks leading up to the March 2 NHL trade deadline.
Two things in particular seem likely to be addressed, including the trade of a depth goaltender, and the acquisition of reinforcements up front. On Tuesday, ESPN and TSN’s Pierre LeBrun addressed both issues, and we’ll get into it on the other side of the jump.
Let’s start with the forward issue, because it’s significantly less complicated. The Canucks need more scoring and ideally more centre depth, and the Toronto Maple Leafs have a versatile forward on an affordable expiring deal. He’s a guy you might be familiar with. Certainly the organization is.
“I’m told the Vancouver Canucks where he played last year have reached out to the Leafs and have interest in Mike Santorelli,” LeBrun said on Tuesday, during an Insider Trading segment on TSN.
It would be a bit of an odd look for the Canucks, who could’ve easily re-signed Santorelli – a local kid who played well in his one year with the team – this summer, but opted not to.
Santorelli is a really good puck possession player, who is particularly adept at protecting the puck in the cycle game. He can generate offense, play any forward position, and he had excellent chemistry in the very recent past on a workmanlike second forward line with Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows, in particular.
The Canucks can fit Santorelli’s salary under the upper limit of the cap by simply demoting a player, so this deal could be an easy one to make. It’s a tougher one to swallow from an asset management perspective though, particularly considering that the Canucks could’ve had Santorelli for money and a contract slot in the summer and instead would have to give up a pick (maybe more) this month.
Moving onto the goaltenders, LeBrun appeared on TSN 1040’s mid-day show on Tuesday and suggested that the Canucks would prefer to keep budding American Hockey League star Jacob Markstrom, rather than current, rarely used backup Eddie Lack.
Here are LeBrun’s quotes in full (transcription my own, though I found the podcast link and was alerted to its contents by the second hardest working man in hockey – behind only LeBrun himself, and maybe Jonathan Willis – Chris Nichols of NicholsonHockey.com.)
I can tell you, I know of a couple teams that are kicking themselves that they didn’t take Jacob Markstrom off waivers in September… that’s the one that’s biting everyone now when you look at the year that he’s had.
The sense I get, from what I understand, I think the Canucks want to keep Markstrom now. Internally they view him as this late bloomer, almost Ben Bishop-potential type guy. So I’m not sure you’re going to see him move.
*Matt Sekeres asks Lebrun if the Canucks would prefer to deal Lack*
I think so, that’s my sense. Now it depends because of course Markstrom might get you the type of offer that might supersede anything you’ll get offered on Lack because of Markstrom’s age, his size. He’s starting to show in the AHL that maybe that’s why Florida took him in the first round. Its just taken a while. He’s an intriguing guy.
It’s the sense I got when writing up a Benning interview a few weeks ago too. From a piece I wrote at the time for theScore:
“Eddie’s been real good for us too, so I don’t want to put that out there,” Benning responded when asked directly about a prospective Lack trade.
“Eddie’s played – the games he’s got in – he’s been excellent for us. Having said that if a team comes along and we can make our team better, we’ll definitely look at something,” Benning continued.
“I don’t know which guy it is yet,” referring to whether or not he’d look to move Markstrom or Lack, “but if we can add a really good young prospect or something – we’ll look at it.”
Markstrom has been phenomenal for the Utica Comets this season, but he’s often performed very well at the AHL level. Maybe hasn’t been quite as unbeatable as he’s been this season, but he’s been consistently above average in the AHL and he’s playing behind a pretty great possession side in Utica.
Lack’s AHL performance, at a similar age, was also sparkling. He’s been roughly average this season in a classic backup role behind Ryan Miller, but I personally rate him as a decent bet to provide average or better goaltending in as much as a platoon role over the next few years.
Where this gets a bit complicated is when you consider the trade market for goalies (always very tricky), and the peculiar business-side mechanics of Vancouver’s goaltending situation.
Miller, as we know, is signed for two more seasons after this one to a contract with a big $6 million annual average value. Lack has one season remaining after this year at a reasonable clip. Markstrom’s contract expires after this year, and he’ll be a restricted free agent this summer – but a restricted free agent who will be prohibitively expensive to qualify ($1.4 million).
Vancouver is already dealing with $800,000 in dead cap-space in net as a result of Roberto Luongo’s retained salary, so bringing Lack and Markstrom to camp next fall would be an extremely inefficient allocation of resources.
Looking at it structurally, it’s clear that something has got to give here. It’s a situation that feels oddly familiar actually: Vancouver hanging on to a couple of goalies even as it makes no sense to employ them both much further, trying to trade one of them for value as their leverage on the trade market steadily erodes.
The more things change…