When the Canucks resume their regular season schedule on February 4th, following the completion of the All-Star break, there will be two pairs of games being played in Vancouver for essentially the duration of February and they aren’t mutually exclusive.
On the ice, they’ll have 11 chances to continue their season-long rock fight with their Pacific Division peers. While the Sharks and Ducks appear to have started rounding into a form that’ll eventually distinguish themselves from the pack, there’s still enough wiggle room there for the improbable nature of hockey to throw a monkey wrench into the playoff race.
Maybe of more interest for our purposes is what’ll happen off the ice during that time, with the February 29th trade deadline looming large. While the Canucks have a couple of impending free agents on their books that could be on the way out in the coming weeks, a particular name that seems to be gaining traction these days is Dan Hamhuis.
McKenzie: “I’ve got to believe there would be significant interest in a healthy Dan Hamhuis.” Teams will want to see after break. #Canucks
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) January 26, 2016
When The Hockey Godfather speaks, you listen. Friend of The Blog Jason Botchford echoed similar sentiments in a radio hit of his own, taking it even a step further by suggesting that the team could potentially be able to retrieve a low first round pick from a contender were a trade to happen.
There’s a reason to be wary of the endowment effect whenever you’re in the business of evaluating the worth of a local product. While the first round pick may be a little bit of a reach given both the uncertainty regarding how Hamhuis will hold up following a devastating injury like the one he suffered and his impending free agency, history has shown us that serviceable defenseman always fetch a pretty penny around the deadline.
You don’t have to look far for precedent. Last year we saw the Blues give the Coyotes Maxim Letunov (who’s now over a point-per-game in the NCAA) and a 3rd round pick for a couple months of Zbynek Michalek. Andrej Sekera, Jeff Petry, and Cody Franson – all players who are younger and more effective than what this version of Hamhuis is, but similarly were set to hit the open market – all garnered either a 1st round pick, or in Petry’s case a 2nd and a 5th. The year before Andrew MacDonald got the Islanders a 2nd and a 3rd.
It’s all about supply and demand more than anything else, really. There generally don’t seem to be enough quality defensemen, who can be relied upon to play 2nd or 3rd pairing minutes without being liabilities in some noticeable way, to go around the league. Only magnifying that around this time of the year is the league’s point structure, with the loser point keeping more teams theoretically in playoff contention than ever before. With more buyers (or at the very least teams that are comfortable standing pat and seeing how things organically unfold) than sellers, the value figures to be there for the rare few that are auctioning off useful parts.
Which brings us to Hamhuis, who still needs to prove that he can be just that for whichever team he’ll wind up finishing the season with. By the time he makes his return to the ice in a game setting, he’ll have gone through hell and back in recovering from the gruesome injury that put him out of action all the way back on December 9th. He still needs to show that there aren’t any concerning lingering effects. Assuming he’s able to do so, the idea that he’d draw interest doesn’t seem far-fetched.
While he’s nowhere near what he once was at his peak as a legitimate top-pairing rearguard at this stage of his career, he’s actually looked reasonably effective in the minutes in which Matt Bartkowski’s defensive black hole hasn’t been dragging him down with him. Particularly in terms of his ability to defend his own blue line. When healthy he’s shown no reason to believe he doesn’t have some more hockey left in him, but it’s hard to reconcile the divide between the direction the team appears to be headed in and the one he’s trending towards as a player.
Trading a veteran asset like Hamhuis at the deadline might be a hard pill to swallow for a team that still appears to fancy itself as competitive one despite growing underlying evidence to the contrary. Especially given the difficulty they’ve had patching a usable defense corps together in his absence. But it would also be a prudent one, showing off a certain level of foresight and objective understanding of the position they’re currently in on the league’s food chain.
It would also hardly preclude them from having their cake and eating it too, assuming Hamhuis would be interested in coming back home this summer to finish his career. After all, that’s exactly what the Coyotes did with Michalek, to tie things back to that past example of a general blueprint they could follow if they choose to.
Fans are naturally fixated on the top end of the team’s prospect pipeline, but for the purposes of the people in the front office itself, tending to the depth beyond just those first couple names in the system should be equally as important of a mandate. The Canucks should be in the asset collection business by any means necessary, whether that means accruing young players or stocking up on draft picks. This is one of those opportunities that’s fortuitously presented itself for them to do just that.