Why trading for Evander Kane didn’t make sense for the Canucks

With the Evander Kane trade now squarely in our rear-view mirrors, Canucks fans have had time to digest missing out on bringing a high-octane and exciting hometown boy back to where he played his junior hockey. More importantly though, bowing out of the Evander Kane sweepstakes might have also meant missing on a Tyler Seguin-like situation – an opportunity to improve your team for the next five years by adding a young and dynamic player to the roster.

Evander Kane is a high-end shot generator and a first-line goal scorer at just 23, and the Canucks don’t have a prospect in their organization that’s likely to be that. Management hopes that Jake Virtanen could turn in to that player one day, but based on what history tells us about the Jake Virtanens of the world, that’s unlikely. Still, even if Vancouver missed out on a better player, the structure of the current roster and ages of the prime assets in the organization indicate that Jim Benning made the right call in refusing to part with a top prospect, and therefore passing on Kane.

So why didn’t a Kane to the Canucks trade make sense for Vancouver? And what does this mean for Vancouver’s approach to the upcoming trade deadline? We’ll get into it after the jump.

Evander Kane and Player Aging

Born in 1991, Evander Kane is currently considered “young” by NHL standards, though this isn’t entirely accurate. In his study looking at a given player’s scoring rate, ex-MIT scientist and current Carolina Hurricanes employee Eric Tulsky determined that a given player’s scoring rate per minute peaked around 22-26 years of age, while their Corsi was strongest until about the age of 27

Given this normal expected aging curve, we can infer that Evander Kane will be more or less what he is today for the next 4-5 years, before dropping off in quality somewhat.

This means that if you acquire Evander Kane this season, you will have to enter your compete-for-the-Stanley-Cup state sometime within the next 3-5 seasons if you hope to maximize the utility you derive from Kane’s strong play. Of course, in order to do that, you will have to have the assets in your organization that will be peaking at about the same time. In other words, you have to have an elite core group of players who will mostly be between the ages of around 22-28 at some point before 2019-2020.

If you make the fairly safe assumption that most young high-quality pieces are acquired through the entry draft, picking up Kane implies that you think you have most of your future core drafted and developing already, or they will be acquired this year. With Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Nikita Zadorov, and Rasmus Ristolainen joining other young players like Tyler Ennis, Mark Pysyk, Marcus Foligno, and a host of other prospects currently playing in minor leagues across the world, as well as either Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid on the way, it’s safe to make the assumption that this timeline works well for the Buffalo Sabres.

With their current core and given what’s in the pipeline, the same cannot be said for the Vancouver Canucks.

Vancouver’s Five-Year Outlook

Long story short, it’s not very encouraging. 

Given that they’re battling for a playoff spot in the no-longer-very-good Pacific division and that their performance by the predictive shot-based metrics has been mediocre this season, it’s safe to say that the Canucks are not realistic Stanley Cup contenders this season.

That would be fine if they had a young core group of steadily improving players that looked poised to carry them into the future. 

A pair of nearing prime-aged Swedish twins for the West Coast Express to pass the torch to, for example:

Instead, this is a team that very much leans on a veteran core of forwards, and a relatively long-in-the-tooth group of D. Nick Bonino is the only player under 30 years of age in Vancouver’s top-6 forward group, and only Linden Vey, Zack Kassian, Bo Horvat, and Ronalds Kenins project to be near their primes by the time we can expect Evander Kane to start declining. 

Even if you genuinely believe Bo Horvat will be Patrice Bergeron and that Zack Kassian will be Todd Bertuzzi, that’s not nearly enough talent to build a legitimately competitive group of forwards for the next 3-5 seasons. There needs to be more and while there are guys on the way, that more still won’t be ready until the very tail end of this next five-year period.

Furthermore, there’s really nothing of great promise coming through the pipeline on the back-end and we can reasonably expect Vancouver’s top-end D to begin to erode in their play. Heck, this process has already begun with Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis too. From late January:

Bieksa1

Chris Tanev is really the only top-4 guy who is a reasonably good bet to be the same player as he is now by the time we expect Evander Kane starts to decline, and while Adam Clendening and Frank Corrado may grow in to quality players, they’re likely not going to be foundational pieces to a legitimate competitor-quality blueline.

Long story short, Kane is a player built for the next 5-6 seasons, but the Canucks aren’t a team built to compete within that time frame. A decade of poor drafting starting around 2000 has caught up to them and there’s no immediate succession plan to the Sedins welling up from within the organization. 

Vancouver has amassed a decent group of steady talent that may grow into filling prominent roles on a contender, but a) that won’t happen in the short term, and b) Bo Horvat, Jared McCann, Jake Virtanen, and Hunter Shinkaruk need to be surrounded with more premium talent for even their timeline to prove successful.

Planning for the Future

No one would question whether Evander Kane and other young-ish prime aged players like Ryan O’Reilly would’ve definitely helped the Vancouver Canucks in the short to mid-term, but the question shouldn’t be simply “how do I get better?” Rather, Jim Benning should be asking “how do I build a group of players who will help me be the best all at the same time?” 

While adding good players in their mid-20s is extremely tempting, Vancouver doesn’t have the other assets necessary to compete now, they don’t have the assets to compete for the next five seasons, and they can’t afford to give up the assets that will help them compete beyond that.

The Blackhawks (bottomed out at 28th in 2006) and Kings (finished 30th in 2008) should be proof that there is no substitute for a diligent and focused rebuild that nets you enough assets to either build yourself an elite core from within, or build yourself enough assets to trade for high-end talent. The two teams that look poised to take over the balance of power in the East – the Lightning and the Islanders – were the 5th and 6th worst teams in the entire league just 5 short years ago too.

If they want to compete for the Stanley Cup sometime in the foreseeable future, Jim Benning will have to tear down this iteration of the Canucks eventually, and since the structure of the NHL entry draft – the best way to acquire elite talent – incentivizes losing, adding players like Evander Kane (or Ryan O’Reilly) will not bring the Canucks closer to the Stanley Cup by improving the team in the mid-term. This isn’t NHL 15 where you can sell off every B-prospect and draft pick until 2026 to build a Stamkos-Crosby-Ovechkin top-line in one off-season and laugh your way to eight consecutive championships. Building a competitor requires a lot of patience and time.

The good news is that Jim Benning, moreso than any other GM in recent memory, appears laser-focused on the entry draft. From Jason Botchford’s Provies on February 19th:

“There is no excuse for us not to have a good draft year-in, year-out,” Benning said. “You can build a team through the draft you can’t do anywhere else. You can’t do it through free agency. You can’t do it through trades. The draft is paramount for us going forward. We’re going to spend our time to make sure we do a good job.”

This is extremely encouraging to hear as a guy that loves draft analysis, but it’s also absolutely paramount that the Canucks continue to improve the amateur scouting department that let them down so often since the Sedins were acquired. 

Going into the trade deadline, it seems like a bad idea for the Canucks to pick up a rental player at the expense of future assets too. They’ve positioned themselves nicely to make the playoffs as it is, and as tempting as it may be, a quality veteran middle-6 forward like Sean Bergenheim in no way helps Vancouver win a Stanley Cup now or in the future. A third round pick though? Maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance of that becoming a 4th D, or a LW for Jared McCann.

  • Another problem with all these MIT stats is they assume 23 yr old players like Evander Kane and Johnathon Towes are the same and they are not!!!

    Kane sitting out the rest of the season is a bonus for a Embarrassing Buffalo team because they get a top pick. Giving up on a season isn’t in Linden or Benning’s nature so I don’t see a giving up chart anywhere.

    Kane has proven only to be a baby.. A talented baby, but a baby. My question to you and DR MIT is where do the LA Kings and their “team” concept of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts mentality….. And if this MIT cat is soooo hockey knowledgable…

    Why does Carolina suck so bad!

  • Henrik is 8th in the west in points and Daniel is 11th.

    In points-per-game, they are 10th and 15th in the west, respectively.

    This points/60 of 5-on-5 time has them about the low to mid 100s compared to their NHL peers this season.

    That puts them at low 1st-liner or high-2nd liner.

    I’m not saying they haven’t dropped off in many ways, but they are not 3rd liners like this writer claims they are.

  • andyg

    Rhys, I think you just made a case why we SHOULD have gone for Kane.

    >>
    Long story short, Kane is a player built for the next 5-6 seasons, but the Canucks aren’t a team built to compete within that time frame. A decade of poor drafting starting around 2000 has caught up to them and there’s no immediate succession plan to the Sedins welling up from within the organization.

  • Fortitude00

    Rhys, I think you just made a case why we SHOULD have gone for Kane.

    Long story short, Kane is a player built for the next 5-6 seasons, but the Canucks aren’t a team built to compete within that time frame. A decade of poor drafting starting around 2000 has caught up to them and there’s no immediate succession plan to the Sedins welling up from within the organization.

    Exactly right. There’s currently no succession plan and realistically speaking the Sedins will be retiring within 3 – 5 years. If the Sedins retire in 3 years, this leaves a 3 year window before Bo Horvat turns 25 and can presumably develop in to a real first line player.

    And all of this is more reasoning why players like Virtanen, Shinkaruk and McCann should easily have been on the table to secure the services of Evander Kane. The Canucks may not be a team built to compete for the Stanley Cup within 5-6 season but we DO still want to remain competitive right?

    If the Canucks don’t make any deals for potential first liners in their early to mid twenties, the Canucks will turn into the Florida Panthers when the Sedins retire. A whole bunch of inconsistent but very talented kids on our first line.

  • Fortitude00

    Excellent article can’t argue with any of your logic really. I wanted them to go after Kane but i do kind of agree it might not have been good long term.

    The problem I have is only a few Canucks first rounders have had an impact in the NHL since 1970 who were drafted out of the top 5.

    History isn’t on the Canucks side and there is a real probability Gaunce, Jensen, Shinkaruk, Virtanen and Mccann could never crack our top 6 forward group.

    Remember Jason Herter the next Al MacInnis? Booming slap shot?

    So when I think of the Canucks scouting department I think sometimes it is better to get a proven commodity rather then wait on their draft picks success.

  • Fortitude00

    Wow, this is an excellent article. Interesting info about the peak ages of forwards and how it relates to the current Canucks. It doesn’t make sense at all for the Canucks.

    I’m just waiting for someone smart in the Canucks front office to realize that it’s time to shut this stuff down. Yes they can *possibly* still make the playoffs, but they ain’t getting past the 1st round. And that means they’re not good, and they haven’t been for years now. IT’s time to tear the roof off and rebuild this team. We want a Cup Aquilini, we don’t want a 1st round playoff exit.

    • pheenster

      Let’s pretend for a second that your statements aren’t at odds with reality. I’m gonna go ahead and guess that your interest in the Canucks is primarily emotional just like the rest of us. It exceptionally unlikely that you’re a season ticket holder or corporate sponsor. Given this, you seem to be suggesting that your emotional investment in the team be placed before the Aqulinis’ financial investment. Am I correct?

  • pheenster

    This is yet another CA piece that seems to be predicated on a bunch of foundational theories that most if not all of the staff bloggers have bought into.

    1. The Canucks have no organizational depth.
    2. The team is structurally terrible and is destined to be so for the next 6-8 years.
    3. None of the team’s current prospects have any chance of contributing in any significant way.
    4. The Sedins are for all intents and purposes a spent force and a dim shadow of their former selves.

    All of these theories are either in the process of being exploded before our very eyes (if the organization has no depth the team should be in the midst of a Leaf-like swoon given the current injuy situation, the Sedin stats as already referred to above) or are predictions of the future that are based purely on statistics and nothing else.

    Do they have some structural issues that need to be addressed? Sure, but most pieces here seem to assume that that’s not possible until 2020 or so. This all smacks of echo chamber thinking to me.

    • Fortitude00

      Really everything comes down to how much the Sedins produce. I think what is trying to be said is there is no one out of the current prospects who are A+ prospects to back fill the Sedins when they fall off the bus.
      Hypothetically, if Horvat becomes the first line centre of the future who else out of current prospect group will be able to play on his wings on the first line in three years?
      The Canucks have lots of bottom 6 forward and 5-6 d men in the system. I think they are ok in goal. Canucks are defiantly shocking me with the recent wins and their 5th seed.
      You have to see the Sedins aren’t producing top end first line numbers anymore?

  • Fortitude00

    What a load of bs this article is. First, the Canucks are not as bad as you state, or why would they be in a playoff spot. I can think of at least 20 teams in the league who would love to have the Sedins. Horvat looks legit. I don’t know why you like to dis Virtanen, but he seems a heck of a lot more mature than Kane. They have a solid nucleus of young guys coming, so lets wait and see how long it takes them. I think they could contend in 2 to 3 years, as teams are getting highly competitive with younger players.

    The reasons why getting Kane would be a big mistake for Vancouver, it would have cost them a first rounder who might end up being better than Kane. Second, if people have trouble with Kassian’s lack of maturity, Kane would be a disaster, he is not a professional and Vancouver is run by professionals. Third, Kane is not playing like a 30goal superstar this year and some question his willingness to do what it takes, rather than just take a big paycheck. He quit on the Jets, he is likely to quit on his next team. If Vancouver makes any moves it should be for another younger defensman, as I would say Bieksa is done. Keep him around his last 2 years as the 7th dman, but don’t expect performance.