Should the Canucks trade their pending unrestricted players at the deadline?

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Canucks’ loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night inadvertently offered an sneak peek into the future of the franchise.

The weary road warriors iced a lineup that did not include Radim Vrbata, Brandon Prust or Yannick Weber—all unrestricted free agents (UFAs) at the end of this season. Will it be in Jim Benning’s best interest to dangle his future UFAs as trade bait in an attempt to build up his future prospect pool? Let’s take a look.

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Last season, Benning elected to stand pat at the trade deadline with two key forwards headed towards free agency. Brad Richardson was sidelined with an ankle injury at the deadline so he would have been tough to move, but Shawn Matthias was coming off the best month of his season, scoring seven of his 18 goals in February.

At the time, it looked like Benning was making a prudent move in keeping Matthias for the Canucks’ potential playoff run. But Matthias was banged up and a non-factor against Calgary, collecting just two points in six games and finishing the series with a minus-3 rating. 

In hindsight, it wouldn’t have been a big loss for the Canucks to have moved Matthias for a draft pick at the deadline rather than getting nothing in return when he signed with Toronto on July 6. 

Benning won’t get a do-over on Matthias, but his experience last year may influence his thinking when it comes time to make decisions on this year’s crop of pending unrestricted free agents.

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Right now, the Canucks’ outlook is gloomy after their 1-4-2 road trip. But there’s plenty of hockey yet to be played and for the moment and Vancouver’s still in the mix for a playoff spot in the weak Pacific Division. If the team can conjure up enough puck luck to string together some wins, Benning’s bound to be tempted to hang on to his assets. For the long-term good of the team, he should make every effort to trade the UFAs that he isn’t planning to re-sign—playoffs or not.

Radim Vrbata

When Radim Vrbata missed Wednesday’s game-day skate before the Canucks faced the Jets, more than one Canucks follower floated the idea that a trade could be imminent.

Jason Botchford of The Province reported later on Wednesday that Vrbata is sidelined with a minor groin tweak and is listed as day-to-day. In his place, Alex Grenier collected four shots on goal against the Jets and looked dangerous during 8:52 of ice time in his first NHL game.

Vrbata’s in the second and final year of a contract with a $5 million cap hit but has been having a terribly unlucky season. The 34-year-old converted on a solid 11.1 percent of his team-leading 267 shots to also lead the Canucks with 31 goals in 2014-15. This year, he had been leading the Canucks with 74 shots before Wednesday’s game, but had scored just three times, giving him an ice-cold 4.1 shooting percentage.

It feels like Vrbata should snap out of his scoring funk at any moment, but given his frustrating results during the first six games of the road trip (0-2-2, minus-5), it wasn’t a big loss for him to sit out against Winnipeg. With so many young players now in the mix, it’s not a stretch to imagine taking him out of the top six permanently.

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Vrbata has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, so he’ll have some control over where he goes if the Canucks decide they want to deal him. With the challenges that he has faced so far this season, at this point, it seems possible that he might even be enthusiastic about the thought of moving on.

Offensive depth is always in demand as the postseason draws near. Though Vrbata hasn’t scored well in the playoffs (he’s 8+10=18 in 42 career playoff games), which doesn’t help, he could be useful to a team that’s looking for a boost to its top six or power play. Scoring woes aside, it seems likely that Vrbata will be Benning’s most valuable trade chip.

Brandon Prust

With the first quarter of the season in the books, it’s still not clear exactly how Brandon Prust meshes with the Canucks or whether he’ll fit into their future plans. Prust has been sidelined since October 27 with an ankle injury, but he’s expected to get back into the lineup this weekend.

Known as a gritty hard worker and exceptional team player, Prust is not as skilled as many of his teammates, but he had picked up five points in nine games before his injury—and the Canucks were 4-2-3 in those same nine games. They’ve gone 3-5-3 since Prust went down.

It’s still too early to say definitively that the Canucks are a better team with Prust in the lineup, but it’ll be interesting to see whether or not the team’s fortunes shift when he returns to action.

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Prust will have trade value at the deadline. His gritty tenacity, strong penalty killing and solid two-way play would make him a useful player for a team that’s looking to make a playoff push.

Since his summer trade, Prust has been a consummate team player in Vancouver despite the publicity surrounding his long-distance relationship and his strong community ties in Montreal. If the Canucks get back on track when Prust gets back in the lineup, you have to wonder if Benning could be more likely to try to sign him to a contract extension than to try to deal him at the deadline.

Yannick Weber

Yannick Weber played just once in the Canucks’ first seven games this season, but a streak of 12 straight appearances ended against the Jets on Wednesday. During those games, Weber collected no goals, three assists, fired 23 shots on net and was a minus-7.

Weber finished the 2014-15 season with 11 goals, the same number as sharpshooters like Kris Letang, Mark Giordano and John Klingberg. The Canucks were thought to have gotten good value when they signed him to a new one-year deal at $1.5 million but so far this season, Weber has struggled—defensively, offensively and where he’s supposed to earn his keep, on the power play.

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The Canucks’ lack of blue-line depth may force Jim Benning to keep Weber around for awhile. If the opportunity arises to trade Weber for a draft pick when the deadline draws near, there should be no hesitation to pull the trigger.

Dan Hamhuis

Unlike the three players listed above, Dan Hamhuis did play on Wednesday in Winnipeg. 

Hamhuis is also in the last year of his deal and could be a lucrative trade chip if Benning decides to move him. The steady 32-year-old is wrapping up the six-year contract that he signed with Mike Gillis’ Canucks during the summer of 2010. He’s been a useful mainstay on the Vancouver blue line throughout that time, often a credible first-pairing blue liner.

For a long time, I believed that Hamhuis would retire a Canuck. He’s a B.C. native and a devoted family man, with plenty of roots in the community and a strong emphasis on his overall quality of life. Then again, I also believed Kevin Bieksa when he said he would go “down with the ship.” 

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Circumstances do change and after Bieksa’s offseason trade, it’s no longer impossible for me to imagine Hamhuis agreeing to move on if he’s allowed to have input on the terms of his trade.

The Canucks are trying to get younger, but the team’s prospect pool is most shallow on the blue line. Hamhuis could be re-signed as a mentor figure, but we haven’t heard one word about a possible contract extension since the season started. 

Whether or not he’s dealt at the trade deadline, Tt me, it feels like the organization is planning to move forward without Hamhuis.

I don’t think Hamhuis is ready to hang up his skates. If he’s not in the Canucks’ future plans, he’d be best-served to move to a Cup contender before the trade deadline, ideally with a contract extension in place or soon to follow. Otherwise, he’ll be taking his chances next summer in a free-agent market that’s no longer a guaranteed gold mine in today’s tricky hockey economy.

Of course, Benning will need to believe that the value he gets by trading Hamhuis exceeds the value he’d generate by staying. If the Canucks are anywhere near a playoff spot when the deadline draws near, it would be tough to say goodbye to one of the team’s most consistent defenders. 

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Hamhuis’ departure would leave an immediate, gaping hole on the blue line, especially if the team is dealing with any injuries. Unless they’re well out of playoff contention, the Canucks would have to receive a quality draft pick in order to make a Hamhuis deal worth their while.

  • Ruprecht

    I think you have it pretty spot on, Carol. I think Vancouver quite misses Prust right now, (along with Sutter), defensively and on the PK. I think both players in the line up against the Jets would have helped immensely. Weber at this point is definitely playing his way out of a contract offer next year. Then again, he and Bartkowski are both playing poorly, with Bartkowski at least moving the puck better, although not always safely. Hutton has shown some cracks, which we should expect, and Edler has committed some terrible blunders. My point is that defensively responsible players like Prust (and Sutter, but just to keep on the UFA topic) along with his other qualities, are very difficult to find, so definitely try to re-sign him, unless they are able to find as good a replacement.

  • Ruprecht

    I will be extremely disappointed if Benning does not move these guys at or before the deadline. I wanted Hamhuis and Vrbata dealt last deadline when their value was higher. Each could have returned a 1st round pick or solid prospect last year. I still think Hamhuis brings back a good return but Vrbata’s recent struggles have probably hurt his trade value which is too bad.

    Prust, Weber and Bartkowski can also go but they won’t bring back a huge return. I think these guys can be replaced with guys from Utica (Blair Jones, Fedun, Biega).

    The Canucks are probably going to miss the playoffs and if they do make it then they’ll be tossed in round 1. So, why not add some assets. A contending team would love a Hamhuis and maybe even Vrbata. Prust is a nice piece to have for line 4. The deadline is when teams overpay so Benning needs to make hay then.

    If Benning stand pat and keeps these guys then I will have officially lost faith in him. I am still fine with Benning and he is making some smart moves. Gillis left him a mess and they’re starting to muddle through it.

    • Mantastic

      Damn, straight. We likely could have gotten two first rounders (or equivalents) for Hamhuis and Vrbata when GM’s were madly overpaying (e.g. Vermette, Yandle). Both players are too old to factor into long term plans and have huge cap hits. However, with the cap crunch, I doubt Benning could get the same haul this year. Opportunity missed.

      • Mantastic

        Yep. I agree. Opportunity missed. However, I don’t think Hamhuis is too old. He’s 32 and still a smart D man. His recent struggles are more of an indictment of his D partner/team than him. I would deal him and then possibly re-sign him to a 2 year deal in the summer.

        I’d also look at dealing Edler this season if the return was right.

        • Mantastic

          If other people don’t perceive Hamhuis as too old…perfect! It only keeps his trade value high. But do you think that Hamhuis would want to come back to this trainwreck after being rented out? I would think he’d want to sign with a team that has a shot at the Cup, that would be his prerogative.

          I agree on Edler too. I think we know his ceiling has been reached.

          • Spiel

            I think Hamhuis wants to stay here. It’s home and he is part owner of a BC minor-type hockey team. I suspect Hamhuis would like to stay and then re-sign here for those reasons.

            I’m hoping he does want to go to a contender at the deadline. His contract is a bargain and it won’t count much against the cap at deadline time so almost any team could take it on. He’s a good D man and is far from done.

            I think Edler is a solid player. He is one of the better all-around D men but he isn’t a superstar, Norris contender. He’s still young at 29 and would be an asset to any team. I’d deal him considering we’re in a rebuild situation.

  • Laxbruh15

    If the team was actually trying this wouldn’t be an issue. It looks like they don’t care. Sutter was good enough defensively that it wasn’t as muhc of a problem but now it’s ridiculous. The only player that seems like he’s consistently trying is mccann. The best way of measuring how much a team cares is by looking at their defensive play, defense requires effort. The oilers were always able to score but they didn’t care enough to back check which resulted in them almost always getting out scored. It happened when the Canucks played them last year. The players have to care if they want to have any success. Bennington and desjardins need to hold them to higher standards not make excuses. Henrik doesn’t think that the team has a problem, which is pretty concerning. Their work ethic is terrible and it’s pathetic.

  • Ruprecht

    I’m all for trading any of these guys as long as we don’t do something silly and take salary back. These guys represent financial freedom in the summer. Something we haven’t really had in a while. Getting a little space from the cap ceiling, with the unpredictability of it’s recent growth, is something I think that we need for the next wave of the rebuild.

    • Mantastic

      Eating some salary for some of these players means nothing as the contracts are over end of season. Sometimes eating salary on an expiring contract adds value. Vrbata at 3mil for the rest of the season is a steal of a deal.

      • Ruprecht

        I’m not talking eating salary, I’m talking getting a player with term and salary in return. Unless it’s a sweet deal, it could hurt us in the summer depending on what happens to the cap.

        Really, why eat 2 mill in salary now when waiting for the trade deadline lowers the cap hit naturally? The only reason I could think is there’s a deal with a cap ceiling team that can be made now for a player we need for the future, so we provide them with temporary relief. But then they get the double benefit of relief now, and the expiry in the summer to pursue players we might be after…it’s a double edged sword. So the trade has to be worth it to retain salary.

  • Ruprecht

    Assuming teams are interested then yes. Can always try get hamhuis back in off season if they want. Proust although a valuable player on 4th line may want to be closer to where his lady is and you can’t blame him for that. Vrbata could help a contender maybe. Weber would not get you much of a return but would free up a spot for Pedan or tryminchin who is playing in the KHL. Or maybe even Jakob Chychrun if we were to be lucky enough to get him.
    When rebuilding you need to be all in or forget it. Having capable veterans around that are already on team and under contract for next couple seasons will help with some of growing pains unless of course they get a nice offer for these players.

  • Ruprecht

    The Canadiens may be interested in Vrbata at the trade deadline, or maybe even sooner. The Semin experiment has not worked out in Montreal, so they will be looking for a top 6 RW. The Canadiens have an abundance of young defensemen, enough so that Tinordi and Pateryn are usually healthy scratches.

    I hope Benning and Bergevin have a conversation about this.

    • Mantastic

      Semin is signed to a dirt cheap deal, Vrbata is not…

      also Montreal is not relying on Semin for any offensive production at the moment, so I don’t see any urgency from Montreal at all to acquire a slumping expensive RW.

      • Ruprecht

        Semin is dirt cheap, yes. But the Canadiens have cap space if the deal is done right, especially with an expiring contract. The Canadiens are in a position to win now, and we all know scoring depth is crucial in the playoffs to go all the way. Tinordi is just sitting around, and he’s too good to not be playing. The Canucks would benefit from his ability to punish opposing forwards physically.

  • Mantastic

    Prust: Re-sign. We need more like him.

    Hamhuis: Re-sign. Only at a reasonable cap friendly contract. Hammer is needed as a mentor and is probably best suited to the third pairing as he ages.

    Vrbata: Trade. Something is wrong in the room with Vrbata and the twins and maybe coach. He may want out. If so, trade him at the deadline or keep him if he wants to stay. I would like him to stay.

    Weber: Re-sign. We need the depth, unless we pick up depth another way.

    One of Hamhuis or Vrbata has to go to make room for Lucic and his salary.

  • Mantastic

    Trade them all at the deadline and Bartkowski too. If you can, trade Sbisa, Dorsett and Miller too.

    This team is not a contender. Indeed, it is highly unlikely to make it to the second round of the playoffs if it is even lucky enough to make the playoffs. Sell assets and build for the future and open roster spots for prospects or undervalued free agents.

  • Spiel

    It is too early to be a seller now unless there is a team offering a crazy package for one of the pending UFAs.

    I just don’t see a Hamhuis deal happening until right at the deadline, if at all. The Canucks blueline depth of prospects is not as great as the forwards, so I can see a spot for Hamhuis for a few years if the Canucks want to keep him.

    Vrbata seems to be a very likely trade chip. We have some young snipers in waiting (Shinkaruk, Virtanen) that can make him expendable for the right price. I don’t see management bringing him back after last year’s playoff no-show.

    Prust is probably the most interesting case. He is the kind of player that teams will overpay to have on their playoff roster. If a team is willing to pay a premium, I think Benning has to move him given where the Canucks are in the life cycle of their team.

  • Mantastic

    Higgins – trade

    Vrbata – trade

    Burrows – trade

    There is no realistic scenario i can think of that would include the above three players in the long term plans for the Canucks.

    Mr. R.

  • wojohowitz

    To all of you hockey scientists above who want to liquidate every veteran on the team:

    1) You realize don’t you that we have very poor depth in defensive prospects and that if you trade an NHL regular defenceman someone actually has to play in that spot right?

    2) The draft lottery rules have changed and stinking no longer equates to a lock on a high first round pick.

    3) Turning the Vancouver Canucks into the Edmonton Oilers means playing like the Oilers.

    4) A losing culture does not breed a winning culture.

    5) We just saw how crappy this team is during a seven game road trip on which key veterans were injured.

    I have no problem with trading a player or two on an expiring deal if we are well and truly out of the playoff picture. Why wouldn’t you. But let’s relax a little on this “trade everyone” nonsense mkay?

    • Ruprecht

      Call me crazy, because clearly you have a far superior grasp on things, but isn’t the article being discussed soliciting differing opinions about trade options on UFA’s?

      No need to get off your high horse, I’ll show myself out.

    • Ruprecht

      I love how various idiots come here and twist words and tweak posts to suit their rants. If I wanted that logic, I’d listen to Big Fat David Pratt.

      Nobody wants a Coilers-type rebuild. I don’t know why every mental midget assumes that when people say move out the expiring contracts. Wow. If you move out Hamhuis, Vrbata and a couple other vets that still leaves you with the Sedins, Burrows, Edler, Higgins, Sutter, Dorsett and, to a degree, Tanev. They may deal Higgins but that still leaves a lot.

      Anyway, I wish the idiots would stay out.

  • Ruprecht

    I’m in favour of having a fire sale at the deadline. None of these guys should be part of our long term plans, so why have them at the end of the year? If the team is still third in their division with a record similar to the one they have now at the forty game mark then we need to trade our expiring assets for future potential. I really hope Benning feels the same way. If he doesn’t, then we will probably lose them in the Summer for nothing… and like Carol said, we already saw how that plays out last year.