The Vancouver Canucks don’t have any intention of engaging in a long-term rebuild. They’re going to complete the playoffs, right to the bitter end, year in and year out. It’s just that simple.
So Canucks general manager Jim Benning’s aversion to dealing Jannik Hansen is a none too surprising revelation. Speaking to The Province’s Ben Kuzma, Benning made as much perfectly clear, revealing that the club is “not moving Jannik”. In the context of the Canucks stated goal, his follow up to that comment goes a long way towards explaining why.
“I thought he was excellent for us last year and with the way the game is going with speed and skill, he fits that description perfectly. And we have him under a good (cap) number the next couple of years, so we’re not looking to do anything.”
Benning is, in a vacuum, entirely correct. Hansen is fast, a proven scorer and on the cheap for this season and next. He’s also on the other side of a career year, in which the Danish speedster lit the lamp a career high 22 times. Which is exactly why the Canucks should, if possible, find a way to trade Hansen.
It’s not so much an issue of whether the Canucks can or cannot live with Hansen in their lineup. He makes the team better and relative to his contract (Hansen makes just $2.5-milllion annually) might be among the team’s best bargains. Losing Hansen is a net loss. Let’s get that out of the way.
His contributions aren’t irreplaceable, though. And that’s at the crux of many a hockey decision, Canucks or otherwise. Decision makers are still at a place where they’re driven by what they know — the devil you do, versus the devil you don’t, and so on. The Canucks know, intimately, what Hansen brings to the table.
But if the Canucks lost Hansen tomorrow to some freak Sami Salo esque summer injury, they could, if pressed, find a comparable player on the open market. The difference lies in the person. What they bring to the Canucks locker room or the innate chemistry that likely belies the players contributions as a whole.
In Hansen’s case, it’s chemistry with the Sedin twins, in particular. Using Henrik Sedin as a proxy for their line, the Sedins and Hansen have combined for 2.77 GF60 at even strength since the 2010-11 season. That’s the highest such mark among any semi-regular winger the Sedins have skated with over that span.
That’s about the going rate for a steady, competitive first line in today’s NHL.
And if the Canucks had designs on playing Hansen in that role, then bob’s your uncle. There isn’t any reason to part with your $2.5-million first line winger with special teams chops. The Canucks aren’t playing Hansen in that role, though. Not next season, anyways.
The plan, for now, is to let Loui Eriksson, he of the massive free agent contract valued at $6-million annually into his age 37-season, ride shotgun with the twins and see what happens. That moves Hansen one, hell maybe even two lines down the Canucks’ depth chart.
At that point, Hansen isn’t the middle six winger with an uncanny ability to step into a first line role and draw out the best that the Sedins have to offer. He’s just another middle six winger. That’s just this coming season. In the one that follows, it’s just as likely he’s a bottom six winger.
There’s value in that. Most especially as insurance for Eriksson, whose age and concussion history suggest he’s not a solid bet to make it to 82 games in any given season.
I’m not sure that value is commensurate with what the Canucks could secure for the final two years on Hansen’s contract, though. Especially not in a landscape where players like Andrew Shaw and Lars Eller go for a pair of second-round picks, respectively.
It’s not always possible to set the market, but given what we’ve seen this summer, there’s every reason to believe the Canucks can have a part to play. Especially if the going rate for a player of Hansen’s ilk nets draft picks in bunches. Vancouver is already without their fifth and sixth round picks in the 2017 draft and the season hasn’t even started. If the Canucks can poach an extra mid-round pick or two, not having those picks will be much easier to stomach.
Completing these deals is always easier said than done, though. For all we know, the market has indeed run its course and teams are no longer paying a premium for middle six wingers with speed. It’s a distinct possibility and one we shouldn’t dismiss out of hand.
Assuming that’s not the case, though, the Canucks have an opportunity to exploit a market inefficiency for a type of player still available on the open market. They can have their cake and eat it too. If the goal is to get younger while competing for the playoffs, it would serve Vancouver well to hop on every one of those opportunities.