It would be difficult to discern why the Canucks would consider parting with Ben Hutton from afar. The affable blue-liner is but 24-years-old, has another year on his contract, and all his underlying metrics pass the smell test.
.@FriedgeHNIC "They would move Hutton if there was interest. $2.8M is a big number, so it might take some creativity, but Hutton is available."
— Scott Rintoul (@ScottRintoul) February 21, 2018
So, what gives? By the sounds of it, it’s Hutton’s off-ice antics and commitment level that have drawn the ire of first-year head coach Travis Green. I’ve heard from countless secondary sources (take that for whatever it’s worth) that those concerns are warranted, and that Hutton does indeed need to step up his professionalism if he’s to get back in Green’s good graces.
Yesterday’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights marks the 11th time the Canucks have sat Hutton in the last 25 games. Speaking to TSN’s Jeff Paterson today, Green said of Hutton’s chances of getting into the lineup “there are certain things I want out of Hutton, and he knows exactly what is expected of him. And when that happens, he will play.” So he’s not there yet, and that’s why his name is out there as a potential trade candidate.
By the sounds of it, Hutton is starting to get frustrated with this situation too. Speaking to TSN’s Farhan Lalji, Hutton expressed as much and didn’t seem all that put-off by the notion of a change of scenery. That’s far from requesting a trade, but it’s fair to wonder how much longer this situation lingers until we get to that point.
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) January 17, 2018
From the Canucks perspective, a Hutton deal could make sense. Their left side is loaded with depth players, and each of them is signed into next season. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for Olli Juolevi if he’s ready to make the jump, or Philip Holm, who has earned the chance to sink or swim at the NHL level. Obviously, it seems more sensible that they move on from someone like Michael Del Zotto to make room, but that just seems incredibly unlikely at this stage.
The only problem is that Hutton is playing on a deal that most feel is a bit rich for his production. Last season, the Canucks jumped ahead of restricted free agency to sign Hutton to a two-year extension at $2.8-million annually. Whichever team trades for Hutton will then have to grapple with whether to qualify Hutton at that number at the end of next season, which could negate some of the value that usually comes with cost-controlled players like Hutton.
If Thomas Vanek is the Canucks most obvious trade chip in play, then I think it’s fair to suggest Hutton isn’t that far behind. With that, let’s check out three teams that have distinguished themselves as potential landing spots for his services.
The first team to explore the possibility of adding Hutton via trade was the Boston Bruins. They’re as legitimate a Stanley Cup contender as you’ll find, but if there’s one area where there is room for improvement, it’s on the left side of their blue line — it makes sense that they’d want to add a player like Hutton.
The Bruins watched the #Canucks in Florida last night, they had interest in Vanek 2 years ago but I have been told they are 1 of the teams interested in Hutton.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) February 7, 2018
Thus far in the deadline, the Bruins have been one of the more active teams, adding Nick Holden and parting with Frank Vatrano just days apart. Still, they have a pick in each round but the fifth of this year’s entry draft, a good bounty of prospects and ample cap space for Hutton with room to spare. Of course, all that is subject to change on a moment’s notice if we’re to believe the multiple insiders linking them to Rick Nash… but as of writing this, that’s yet to materialize.
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) December 4, 2016
There’s also the possibility of the Canucks looking to acquire a full-time NHL’er. Canucks general manager Jim Benning was a member of the Bruins staff when they drafted Ryan Spooner, and he’s been rumoured to have interest in the middle-six forward going back two or three years now. The Bruins are low on cap space, but a Spooner-for-Hutton swap is essentially cap neutral.
Under normal circumstances, the Buffalo Sabres probably wouldn’t be looking to add anyone at the trade deadline. They’re last in Eastern Conference with 47 points, and by all accounts ready to sell veterans for futures. Hutton isn’t a rental, and he’s relatively young, so he’s not what you’d call a rental — he could, in theory, be a part of their resurgence.
Surprised Hutton sits tonight again, the Bruins had shown interest in him. Hearing Buffalo might have interest, How do you trade guy sitting out and whose confidence is at an all time low. #Canucks
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) February 17, 2018
One potential roadblock is that the Sabres have a tonne of left-side defencemen already on the roster. According to CapFriendly, the Sabres have five left-side defencemen on their active roster (one on injured reserve, too). One has to think that the Sabres interest in Hutton at this deadline is predicated on their ability to move Josh Gorges and Victor Antipin.
The Sabres have all of their draft picks in the upcoming entry draft save for the third-round selection they parted with for Nathan Beaulieu last summer, and a decent prospect pool to boot. They also have Matt Moulson on the books for another season at $5-million. Perhaps the Canucks can pry something of value for their rebuild if they offer salary relief along with Hutton?
Full disclosure: this is a shot in the dark. I’ve yet to see anything connecting the Winnipeg Jets to the Canucks for any of their players, much less Hutton. It is clear, though, that they’re looking for depth on the left side of their blue line. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman made as much clear as he connected Winnipeg to the aforementioned Antipin.
Couple other quick notes: if WIN looks for a depth LD, one possibility is Viktor Antipin from BUF. He played for Paul Maurice in KHL…also FLA, which snared a huge win tonight, showing serious interest in Ryan McDonagh from NYR.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 25, 2018
The Jets are primed to make a serious run this post-season, and all reports indicate they’re ready to dig into their treasure chest of prospects if that’s what’s necessary to bring in help at the deadline.
The Jets left side isn’t necessarily a weak link, but it could be better certainly. In Josh Morrisey, Dmitry Kulikov and Tobias Enstrom, they have a capable trio of defenders. That’s probably why they’d have some level of interest in a depth defender like Antipin.
If they want to take a big picture approach, though, Hutton could be of some value. Enstrom is a pending unrestricted free agent, and the Jets aren’t expected to re-sign him. That leaves a hole on the left side that none of their prospects are quite ready to fill. The Jets have a notoriously difficult time attracting free agents, so perhaps they’d see this as an opportunity to get a step ahead of that situation in buying Hutton.
The Canucks could try and make such a move appealing by taking on the final months of Shawn Matthias’ contract, as the former Canuck has struggled to stay in the lineup for much of the season in Winnipeg. The Jets are an internal budget, so little things like that matter.
There are so many prospects in Winnipeg that are right on the cusp of breaking through. If not with Hutton, the Canucks should find a way to get in on at least one of them, if possible.