It’s that time of year again, where we suggest that the Canucks travel the path clearly laid at their feet. It happens every year but this year is a little different, so hear me out.
Over the last few months of last season, the organization followed through on their plan to acquire young players and additional draft picks. When the Canucks followed through with the additions of Nikolay Goldobin and Jonathan Dahlen at the trade deadline in separate deals, it was met with excitement from their fans. Both players still have a prominent role in the organization’s prospect pool.
Vancouver also entered the 2017 NHL Entry Draft with four picks in the first 64 selections. It allowed them to add Elias Pettersson, Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich and Michael DiPietro. All four have had fantastic starts to their careers in the organization. There are no guarantees, but the outlook on their 2017 draft class is extremely encouraging.
Those are just some of the transactions that leap off the page as steps in the right direction. They can easily continue down that path this year.
Moving pending UFA
The most obvious and crucial part of this plan is the Canucks moving their pending unrestricted free agents prior to the February 26th deadline. That includes Erik Gudbranson, Alex Biega, and Thomas Vanek. Even if the return is just a pick, it’s a worthwhile venture.
As of Tuesday, the Canucks have a 4% chance of making the playoffs:
That number represents second-lowest odds in the entire NHL for making the playoffs after the Arizona Coyotes. Keeping these players with the hope of winning a handful of games over the final couple of weeks is a fruitless endeavour that hinders their ability to stockpile assets. TSN recently did an update on their trade draft board, and the Canucks were well represented with Gudbranson at six, and Vanek at eight.
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) January 11, 2018
For Gudbranson specifically, it appears that the Canucks will move him prior to the deadline as the fit long term doesn’t make sense, and given the price they paid to acquire him, they can’t lose him for nothing. He represents their best chance to acquire assets from their unrestricted free agent group. Obviously, they won’t recoup the entire cost that they paid for him, but to let him walk in free agency without recouping any assets would be a disaster. There have been rumours that a second-round round pick and a “B” prospect would be the return. If that is the case, you take it.
The Canucks signed Vanek on September 1st to provide depth in the forward ranks and give them a tradeable asset at the deadline. The first part has worked out well, as Vanek has paired well with Brock Boeser over the last couple weeks and has 32 points in 45 games. But you can’t let his recent hot play dictate the long-term direction of the organization. If you can get a draft pick for Vanek at the deadline, you jump at that opportunity. It allows you to give an opportunity to younger players as the season winds down. Vanek turns 34 on Friday and doesn’t fit into the life cycle of this team. Move him, get a pick, find another Vanek in the summer… or just re-sign Vanek again on July 1 when he becomes a UFA if you like him that much.
Lastly, if someone wants to trade for Biega, you take it. The Canucks will have Olli Juolevi making the leap to the organization next year, and if you have any hopes of keeping Philip Holm in the mix, you have to give him some games. Moving Gudbranson and Biega opens up space for the Swede this year, and then makes the picture a little clearer for next year.
Off the hop, I mentioned that the Canucks had a very encouraging 2017 draft. One of the main reasons for that was because they had more than the allotted seven picks, and four in the top 64.
That is what rebuilding teams do.
You pick early and often to build up the prospect pool. You ignore the final 15-20 games of a lost season, add as many picks as possible, and then makes your moves accordingly in June. At this moment, the Canucks have six picks for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft:
The Derrick Pouliot trade is the reason for why the Canucks don’t have a fourth-round pick at this moment – it was an excellent trade that has easily earned more value than what the fourth-round pick likely would’ve reaped. By being decisive in their direction, the Canucks should be able to recoup more value than the fourth-round pick that they have already traded away.
Just purely speculating, let’s say they can acquire a second-round pick for Gudbranson, and a third-round pick for Vanek. Suddenly they have five picks in the top 93. Combine that with the four from last year’s top 64, and you’ll see even more excitement for the prospect pool. There will be tangible skill and upside that an organization can build around.
This path continues to be a selection because the organization has never actually followed this plan. Last year, they were gifted a second-round pick from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a now-defunct rule and made a trade on the draft floor to move down and acquire an additional pick. If that did not happen, they would’ve ended up with only six picks. Which is an alarming trend for a team that is rebuilding:
A rebuild that picks twice in the top 139 is incredible. pic.twitter.com/TAIRIETMuu
— dellowhockey (@dellowhockey) January 10, 2018
To be fair though, the Canucks did decide to sell assets at last deadline and went the route of adding Goldobin and Dahlen. That’s basically the same idea with a different outcome. If that is what they want to do, that is defensible.
An obvious rebuttal to the lack of pick accumulation is “well, the Canucks have Judd Brackett and Jim Benning.”
This suggests that the Canucks scouting staff is so good as to produce NHL’ers at an above average rate with a below average asset base. To some degree, I can understand that thought process. But if they are adept at finding players, wouldn’t you want them to pick as many times as possible? If they can find two players with six picks, why not try to get 8,9, or 10 picks and really create a wave of talent.
Personally, when someone is good at something, I want them to have as many opportunities as possible to excel.
Another avenue that they have gone down in the past is trading for reclamation projects with hopes that the skilled players can rebound and provide value to the organization.
The organization has seen varying degrees of success with this tactic, but there is little arguing that the Canucks got good value on acquiring Sven Baertschi. The jury is still out on Derrick Pouliot, but he has shown flashes of what made him an 8th overall pick.
There are two ways the organization can do this for this year. They can target players who have fallen out of favour with playoff teams and leverage their tradeable assets to those teams looking to make a run at the playoffs. We obviously aren’t privy to who is available right now, but there could be a few of these type of players available. You do have to be careful with this though, as you want to ensure you are not paying full value for these players. You can’t be swayed by their draft position, their past success, or “untapped potential.” You need to leverage the market, time of year, and other team’s need to extract value.
If there aren’t options available now, by accumulating picks at the deadline, it allows you to have the flexibility to make those moves at the draft. Teams are basically built that weekend, so if you come armed with a plethora of picks, it provides flexibility to make moves for players that can play for you the upcoming year.
Every year, players that shouldn’t become available do. Given where the Canucks are in the life cycle, being able to make moves with additional assets is a fool proof way to supplement your core. If a deal doesn’t present itself, you make picks and continue to build the pool as suggested above.
It’s clear that I am beating the same drum that has been beaten the last two years, but a few things have changed since that time.
Two years ago, they dragged their heels and it arguably cost them the ability to move Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata for futures. Last season, they knew the path and made the correct moves. They were made the decision early and made the appropriate steps to execute it. They need to be those same decisive sellers again this year.
Even if the organization won’t openly admit to being a rebuild, it’s clear they are in one now. They started down that path last February, and the excitement was palpable. Fast forward a year, and the fan base is excited about the prospects that they have acquired and what they could build in the future.
It has to continue.
If they don’t, they run the risk of just constantly replacing players that are ageing out or having their current prospect pool not have enough of a supporting cast to push this organization upwards. There is a lot to like in their current system, but it needs more, and this upcoming deadline is another chance to continue to down that right path.