The 2015 NHL Trade Deadline is now only a week away.
What do the Vancouver Canucks need, what chips do they have to play with and how much cap space is available to them? Let’s launch our 2015 Canucks Trade Deadline preview series by conducting a thorough inventory.
Areas of Need
Long-term this club’s biggest need – by far – is high-end young talent. They’re not getting that at the trade deadline though. It’s important to note and keep in mind for context: for the Canucks, their long-term needs should take precedence over filling any short-term holes.
The short-term needs that really stand out for the Canucks are blue-line depth and additional scoring punch. The club’s defensive depth wasn’t anything to write home about, and its been exacerbated recently by injuries to Chris Tanev, Frankie Corrado, Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa. The club could also use some additional scoring punch, something management has reportedly been focused on in recent weeks.
Let’s begin with the scoring issue. The Canucks are nowhere near the offensive train wreck that they appeared to be a year ago. Scoring 2.79 goals per game this season, the Canucks are actually an above average offensive team.
Above average doesn’t equate with a “potent” or “dangerous” offensive attack though, and it’s not at all surprising that the Canucks have reportedly been on the lookout for a scoring forward who can slot into their top-six.
For most of February, the Canucks have been rolling with a Radim Vrbata, Chris Higgins and Linden Vey second forward-line. Obviously once Nick Bonino returns, he’ll supplant Vey and return to his usual slot in the lineup.
If we assume the Canucks aren’t going to be able to find a top-six centreman, which seems like a very safe bet, then they’re likely looking at a scoring winger of some sort – perhaps an upgrade on Chris Higgins, a solid player who has been MIA offensively for a while now.
Higgins is one of Vancouver’s most efficient even-strength point producers and he’s also not exactly paid like a scoring forward, so counting on him to do more than put up the 37 points he’s on pace for is a bit unreasonable. Higgins is an under-rated playmaker and a solid two-way piece that can fill a second-line role credibly without hurting your team, but he’d be thoroughly excellent if he were a regular third-liner.
If the Canucks could land a piece that would push Higgins further down the lineup, that would be ideal.
As for the defensive issue, the Canucks could absolutely use some some blue-line help, especially on the left side. They’ve reportedly kicked the tires on under-rated Boston Bruins defender Matt Bartkowski this season, but are sensibly unwilling to part with any major future assets in a deal to bolster their blue-line in the short-term.
We’ll see if that changes should the respective timelines for the return of Edler and Tanev become extended further in the coming week.
We don’t really know what the market at the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline will look like, and it’s particularly hard to judge because there’s been so few trades this season. So let’s proceed with caution by making a few reasonable assumptions.
It seems likely, for example, and the falling Canadian dollar and escrow-related salary cap uncertainty will have a chilling effect on trades, particularly trades that include long-term salary commitments. Whether or not that trickles down and increases the demand for rental players remains to be seen, but it’s possible.
Will the top available forwards net first-round picks this season? At the trade deadline last year, players like Marian Gaborik, David Legwand, Matt Moulson, and Thomas Vanek moved without a first-round pick changing hands. If the Canucks are really shopping for a top-six forward, they’ll be hoping the deals look more like those trades, and less like the transaction that sent David Perron (and his non-expiring contract) to the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this year in exchange for a first-round pick and Rob Klinkhammer.
As for depth defensemen, we saw players like Mike Weaver and Andrej Meszaros move at last year’s NHL trade deadline for mid-round draft picks – prices which seem unlikely to be significantly different this time around.
Earlier this month the Toronto Maple Leafs netted a first-round pick in a deal that included rental defender Cody Franson – though Franson came in a package along with a very good rental forward in Mike Santorelli – but it’s becoming increasingly rare for blue-liners to net top-30 draft picks on the trade market (not even Johnny Boychuk or Nick Leddy netted their respective clubs a first-rounder this past fall).
It seems conceivable that Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Andrej Sekera – the top rental blue-liner available – could net a first-round pick in a deadline day deal. Aside from that, we should probably expect serviceable NHL depth defenders like Bartkowski, Buffalo Sabres defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Andre Benoit, or Columbus Blue Jackets defender Jordan Leopold to be available at the cost of a mid-round draft selection at the deadline.
The Canucks have less than $1 million in available cap-space, according to NHLNumbers.com. The situation is actually somewhat more complicated than that though, because of LTIR and the way the salary cap is calculated daily.
So while $1 million in cap-space makes it seem like the Canucks don’t have a tonne of room to maneuver, in fact, they have a fair bit of space to play with – as much as $3 million without factoring in LTIR, according to Pierre LeBrun.
“The Canucks have about $950,000 of cap space, but because they’ve managed it well most of the season, they have accrued about $3 million of available space, and that’s what really matters come March 2,” LeBrun wrote last week in a piece for ESPN.com. “The cap shouldn’t be an impediment to a deal.”
If it becomes apparent that one or both of Bieksa and Edler will be unable to return before the conclusion of the regular season, then the Canucks could have ever more cap space to play with. Remember: the salary cap isn’t a factor in the NHL playoffs, so if – hypothetically speaking – Edler goes on LTIR from the deadline on, and is activated immediately prior to game one of the Stanley Cup playoffs, then the Canucks can roll with a roster that exceeds the cap come playoff time.
Draft Picks and Future Assets
The Vancouver Canucks own most of their own draft picks for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, with two exceptions. The Canucks don’t own their third-round pick, which they sent to the Anaheim Ducks as part of the Ryan Kesler trade, nor do they own their seventh-round pick which they sent to Tampa Bay as part of the Jason Garrison deal (the Minnesota Wild now own the rights to that seventh-round pick).
The Canucks also have an extra draft pick in the fifth-round, courtesy the New York Rangers, who sent the pick Vancouver’s way as part of the 11th hour Raphael Diaz trade at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline.
So that’s six draft picks for the Canucks, and realistically, they should be doing everything they can to keep them or even add some more. Jim Benning has talked at length about building through the draft, and having a decent quantity of middle and late-round picks is key. You have a better chance of winning the lottery with four or five tickets than you do with one.
“We need to draft well, we need to develop well, and it’s important that I get out there in the field and see the players play so when we’re talking about the players at the meetings I can give (Canucks scouts) my perspective,” Benning said in a radio interview earlier this month. “I think it’s important.”
In terms of Vancouver’s prospects, they weren’t willing to part with any of Jake Virtanen, Bo Horvat, or Jared McCann in a possible Evander Kane trade – and Kane is a 23-year-old power forward and local boy, so if Vancouver’s posture in that exchange tells us anything, and it probably does, it’s that Benning intends on stockpiling the majority of his future assets.
There are a few other low-end trade chips that the Canucks may try to cash in, most notably in goal. With Jacob Markstrom and Eddie Lack both in the system, the club could dangle one of their depth netminders in trade talks. Actually, we should probably expect them to.
Considering how weak the trade market for goaltenders is though, it seems unlikely that the club will be able to recoup more than a mid-to-late round draft selection for the services of either Lack or Markstrom.
When you dive into Vancouver’s inventory and their organizational fundamentals heading into the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline, it seems likely that this club isn’t perched to go all-in, or make waves with a surprise move.
We might reasonably expect the club to behave conservatively in the first trade deadline of the Benning era. If anything, the Canucks seem like they will look to make player-for-player type hockey deals rather than moving a high draft pick or a significant prospect for a splashy rental piece.