Photo Credit: Vancouver Canucks / Twitter

Michael Del Zotto Should Be On the Trade Block

Now that the Canucks have locked up Erik Gudbranson, their most valuable asset from a deadline perspective (concerning what he could have netted in return), their ability to accrue pieces for their ostensible rebuild at the deadline has been compromised.

I mean, you can’t blame them. Everyone knows rebuilding teams that are at least three to four years away from contention need 26 (or was it 25?) year old “physical” defensive defencemen more than they need silly things like draft picks. (Yes, go straight to the comment section to tell me how wrong I am and that you don’t appreciate my snark.)

With Gudbranson off the table, the question becomes: what do the Canucks have that could net them something at the trade deadline, when good teams are looking to make upgrades before embarking on playoff pushes and subsequent runs?

Pending unrestricted free agent forward Thomas Vanek immediately comes to mind, but on Tuesday, Canucks general manager Jim Benning told Sportsnet 650 that he’s still open to dealing a defenceman (which he considers an area of strength) in exchange for a forward — specifically one with size and a measure of toughness.

As an aside, I’d take umbrage with two premises here: that the Canucks should be acquiring plug-and-play players rather than picks or prospects, and that the defence is a position of strength. But neither of those are the topics I plan on discussing here.

The assumption of many is that the expendable defenceman Benning is referring to is Ben Hutton. He seems to be the natural option. Hutton’s in the age range where potential suitors will assume they can garner some untapped upside,  not signed to an outrageous contract, and he’s already on TSN’s trade bait list (which in itself probably indicates that there’s been some league interest). But most of all, he’s been a healthy scratch in 10 of the last 26 games, including the last three in a row, and most recently his focus has been subject to pointed criticism from the coach. It certainly appears that the organization might deem him expendable, or at the very least are highly dissatisfied with his performance so far.

Well, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I don’t agree with the notion that Hutton should be available. I’ve gone to bat for him before, and I’ll continue to do so. There’s no doubt that Hutton has been subject to glaring mistakes and lapses in judgement, and yet he continues to be on the right side of shot and scoring chance differentials. Maybe there’s a case to be made that he could become even more valuable if he buckled down and cleaned up those mental errors, but I have serious doubts that shattering his confidence by continuously scratching him and calling him out in the media is the right way to go about that.

Anyway, on to my actual point: one defenceman that the Canucks should be shopping is Michael Del Zotto. Before you decry this as a witch hunt, this isn’t about me not liking Del Zotto, or thinking that he’s an outright bad player. I’m certainly of the opinion that he’s not as valuable as Travis Green seems to think he is, but I’m also of the opinion that he’s a very serviceable defenceman who can excel in the right role, with some reasonable minutes, sheltered deployment and perhaps second unit power play time (Del Zotto actually leads Canucks defencemen in 5-on-4 points per hour, believe it or not).

So why get rid of him then? It’s alarmingly simple: he’s 27-years old. That’s three years older than Hutton, not to mention that he’s played 350 additional games in the league. If you read Ryan Biech’s post the other day, then you already know that Del Zotto is exiting the stage that should be considered the prime of his career, and is approaching the age where we’d expect a drop off in value.

Frankly, I’m surprised that Del Zotto’s name isn’t mentioned as a trade option more often. He’s signed to a reasonable deal that pays him $3-million this year and next, without any no-trade protection. When the Canucks signed him on July 1st, the talk of the town was that even with a two-year deal, he’d be moveable at the trade deadline, and it seems that people have since forgotten that that was initially on the table.

Because of the extra year, he wouldn’t be considered a pure rental, but the scuttlebutt these days is that teams are a little more wary of giving up decent assets for quarter-season rentals and might not mind players with a little extra term. At last year’s deadline, the Canucks managed to find a taker on Jannik Hansen despite him being signed through the following year at a reasonable rate (I mean, that backfired on San Jose, and the Canucks made out like bandits, but I digress).

Then there’s the Canucks defensive depth. Above I took issue with Benning’s assertion that defence is an area of strength, but there’s a substantial difference between trading away a 27-year-old who already certainly is a bottom-four defenceman, and a 24-year-old who very well could be (and in my opinion, already is) a top-four defenceman. While trading away Gudbranson would have been the move I would have made; I can at least admit that it would open up a hole on the right-hand side. There’s no such worry on the left: you move out a bottom four left-handed defenceman, there are a number of options available to move up and take his place, such as:

That doesn’t even get into options for next season, like Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks likely hope can make the team out of camp; Evan McEneny, who won’t be available this year due to season-ending surgery, but really should get a sniff next season when he becomes waiver eligible; or Guillaume Brisebois, who the Canucks seem inordinately high on. They could move Del Zotto out in the summer to make room for these last few players, sure, but teams are sometimes more willing to give up more when they get to use players for two possible playoff runs instead of one.

The name of the game for a team in the Canucks’ life cycle is asset accumulation. If Benning truly wants to help his team get younger and add picks for the upcoming drafts (which are both things he has frequently claimed to want), then shopping Del Zotto seems like a tap in. Yes, not just waiting for calls, but actively looking for takers. Last year’s trade deadline was a resounding success, and if Benning wants some more of that sweet, sweet praise (as opposed to the anger and vitriol that followed the 2016 deadline), he’d be wise to start looking for takers on some more of his assets. Michael Del Zotto should absolutely be available.

  • NeverWas

    Love that second paragraph. The sarcism is so heavy i can’t even get mad.

    Good points though… I wonder why del hasn’t been shopped more. He seems like a logical move

  • Did Benning straight-up say the Canucks’ defence was an area of strength?

    This is a team that has two legitimate top-four defenceman (Edler and Tanev) and a wealth of players who would be bottom-pairing guys on a better team. The team’s top defensive prospect is getting scratched for poor play in the Finnish league and there’s hardly anyone in the system behind him. How is this an area of strength?

    • Cageyvet

      I think it’s an area of extreme depth at a level below what we require…..so, in the context of moving a defenseman or two, we can afford that.

      Then again, rising to the Jeremy snark bait, apparently we have one more top 4 defenseman than I thought…..Ben Hutton a top 4 d even though he’s scratched on this team because of the glaring errors?

      Jeremy that’s not a defensible position, even if you can make a case for his inclusion on this team, he’s nowhere near the level required to be considered a top 4 dman in the league in general.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    I’d like to know if the data on peak age corrects for the quality of players involved. Does it include any player that has played a game in the NHL (which would logically skew the data towards a younger peak age)? What if you only included players that played a certain game threshold (say 200 games?), or select for type of player (e.g. scored at least x number of points in a season)? I’m no statistician, but it seems to me that aggregating all players might have the advantage of large dataset, but the disadvantage that it treats all players as the same. Do offensive defenseman peak earlier later? What about scoring wingers? Or checking centers?

    • The data I’ve seen usually only includes players who have played a large number of games. You don’t get any useful information at all by looking at a player who has only played one season, since the whole point of the task is to look at play over a long period of time.

      There’s actually a bias in the opposite direction, in some ways – there’s survivorship bias, in that players who play well into their 30s tend to be very good to elite, potentially screwing up the aging curve somewhat. A player who could barely hack it at 25 in the NHL is going to look at lot worse at 37 than Joe Thornton or Nick Lidstrom or Henrik Sedin, but the guy who could barely hack it at 25 isn’t playing anymore, so his data isn’t included.

  • Holly Wood

    How observant of you to pick up on it that not everyone appreciates your snark. You make valid points in your articles but in my opinion crossed the line when you posted two pics of Gudbranson with a child on his lap while you were griping about his signing. Just wondering if advertisers on this site ever question the standards of the editorial staff.

      • Gino's 3rd Cousin

        I dont care about the baby pic. It’s not his kid and it was a small dig at his mentorship role on the team. No one wants DJ MDZ though. Hutton will net a 4th or 5th at best. Jeremy, I don’t think it’s the snark lately it’s the salt. Hoping for brighter days for you young man. You are a talented writer/thinker, but you seem to be letting your emotions get in the way.

      • Silverback

        Jeremy, It’s your 3rd row, back of the class, throwing spitballs level of maturity that people take exception to. Furthermore, as someone else alluded to, you don’t use children as props in your articles. You may understand when you have children of your own and you’re finally all grown up.

  • Puck Viking

    This management group is terrible and have no clue what there doing. They would rather keep MDZ for the playoff push and loose a player on waivers(McEney) next season.

    They basically used a 2nd and a 4th to acquire Gudbranson at the deadline and then sign him to a terrible contract. This is how fans should be looking at this deal.

    • DJ_44

      Just to point out the stupidity of the logic you just applied; are you saying McDavid’s extension also cost the Oilers like 8 future first round picks because if traded that’s what he could have got them? Of course not, they can trade McDavid tomorrow for equal or more value.

      The Canucks did not lose Gudbranson, he is still here. In fact, they increased his value with contract certainty ( and reasonable a reasonable contract according to other GMs around the league).

  • Puck Viking

    Why was Gudbranson signed now and not after the deadline. What happens if a team has an injury and would have made a good offer for a pending UFA but wont for a player under contract?

    This team is garbage and the management team cant forward think if it was there jobs(which it is)..

    • Dirty30

      Any team can still trade for Gudbranson and more important, they know what he will cost over the next three years, and he has no trade restrictions and can be put on waivers. What assets it would cost to get him in a trade is not known, but he can be moved easily now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.

  • neal

    The Sedins have been great players for the organization. Nothing happens in Vancouver until they retire. The Canucks need youth and speed on defence as well as forwards. Fans will accept youth and effort.

    • truthseeker

      That’s ridiculous. Plenty can happen while they are here. The Sedins aren’t stopping Boeser or Horvat. They won’t stop Pettersson or anyone else who can play. What they will do is be great options if some of the lower end prospects can’t get the job done.

      • Dirty30

        That’s true about the Sedins but not about management and ownership. Torts was fired for saying the team was stale and tired — which was and is still true. WD had the ‘miracle on ice’ 101 point season and management decided to try one more time to give the Sedins a shot at competing. And here we are … stale, tired and making changes at a glacial pace. So I agree that until the Sedins retire or management takes off the blinders, rose-coloured glasses, beer-goggles or whatever it is that stops them from seeing the truth in front of them, there will be a lot of false assumptions of what this team really is at this point.

  • TD

    I couldn’t agree more with trading Del Zotto. I would trade almost everyone if I received a reasonable offer other than Horvat and Boeser. I just wish every article from every writer didn’t repetitively slag Benning and Gudbranson. It takes away from the otherwise good article.

    Del Zotto is not a corner stone player and could be replaced through free agency in the summer. I think the Canucks have lots of NHL caliber defencemen, they just lack high end NHL defencemen. Benning is right about it being a position of strength if he is talking numbers, not if he is talking quality. That was not the case with forwards in recent years. So to trade a bottom pairing d man, which the Canucks have plenty of, for a third line forward who adds some elements the Canucks lack seems reasonable. There is no point having Pouliot and Hutton sitting in the press box.

    • crofton

      Apparently Green sees the point in having them in the press box. Somehow it ties in with Biega playing instead. I won’t get to see the game tonight, but now that he’s finally giving Holm his chance, which may actually last more than one game, but I won’t hold my breath, who sits to get him in?

    • Kanucked

      Any pick for MDZ is good because he’s replaceable. Same for Biega, Gagner, and Dowd.

      I can’t think of a good argument to keep any of those guys if you can get anything for them.

  • truthseeker

    I have to agree about Hutton. Seems pretty stupid to trade the kid. Like people selling their investments at the low end.

    And I like the argument for trading Del Zotto. Another reason to do it would be to force Green to have to play guys you want to see have a chance in the line up. I wouldn’t put too much faith in those player decline charts as another person in the comment section posted a very convincing argument showing the flaws in them and the fact that even if we take them seriously, the drop from age 25 to 30 is a insignificant change, but seems to be over stated by the writers on this site.

    Still though, Del Zotto’s other situational factors, contract, “reputation”, etc…could mean a relative decent return. So I’m all for trading him for futures.

  • Fred-65

    Frankly after watching MDZ for the season I can’t in good conscience say he’s brought a lot. How much worse would the team be with say Juolevi, McEneny or indeed Sautner playing his spot …marginal at most. The saddest part of this season will be the fact we will be no closer to solving the future of the club when the season ends. Me thinks both Green and Benning are insecure and more about looking after themselves then securing and understanding of where we’re heading. Basically we’ve wasted a season

  • RobG

    I would like some of the kool aid Jim Benning is drinking. This group of defensemen is probably one of the worst in the league outside of Arizona and Buffalo. Each player has some good qualities individually but as group they are a complete mess – no chemistry, no cohesion – and the whole thing should be blown up and rebuilt.

      • RobG

        That would be a start but the problems run way deeper than that. I’ve said it before each player has the potential or the skills to be a compitent player on his own but it takes more than that to build a team. You need cohesion and chemistry. You need players who’s strengths and weaknesses compliment each other. This current has none of that. In fact, and as much as management denies it, has none of that. They don’t partner well together, they don’t have chemistry, the don’t function as a single unit. A coaching change might help but that would be a band aid solution to appease the masses and cover up the fact that is 100% player problem.

  • Vintage

    “Yes, go straight to the comment section to tell me how wrong I am and that you don’t appreciate my snark.”

    I appreciate the snark, and can say you don’t go far enough with it! There is literally no player on the current roster that should be untouchable. Who cares if Utica has to finish out the season with an ECHL team because all their regulars are in Vancouver? The team should be actively trying to trade Sutter, Del Zotto, Tanev, Gudbranson, Eriksson, Beartschi, Gagner, Vanek. They should entertain offers on Edler and ask him if they get an offer they like, and ask again, and again. If they get blown away on an offer for Horvat they should pull the trigger.