This year’s trade deadline was hotly anticipated in Vancouver. With a playoff spot far out of reach, the Canucks were expected to sell an asset or two.
When the team locked up their biggest trade chip in Erik Gudbranson to a multi-year deal, all eyes turned to Thomas Vanek. As expected, Vanek was dealt with just minutes to spare, heading to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte.
Less expected was their decision to jettison Swedish defender Philip Holm after playing just a single game with the big club. In return, they received 23-year old forward Brendan Leipsic from the Vegas Golden Knights. There’s a lot to chew on here, with five pieces in total changing hands; so let’s break down each trade individually.
First Look: Canucks trade F Thomas Vanek For Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte
With Gudbranson off the table, Thomas Vanek looked to be the Canucks’ biggest trade chip heading into the deadline. The moment he signed, this seemed to be the end game. Unfortunately, the return wasn’t quite what many had hoped.
With an expiring contract and just seven points on the season, Jokinen is essentially a cap dump. While his deal only pays him 1.1 million this season, he should be considered a negative value asset. The centrepiece of this deal from Vancouver’s perspective is the 22-year-old Motte, a former fourth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks. Motte’s gotten a cup of coffee at the NHL level, scoring 12 points in 64 games for his career thus far. At the AHL level, he’s been just under a half-point-per-game player, scoring 32 points in 65 games.
Motte’s totals don’t exactly jump off the page, but it’s worth noting he’s only averaged about ten minutes a night for his NHL career and split time between two very offensively challenged AHL squads. Still, it’s not exactly a great sign when you need to add an “it’s not as bad as it looks” disclaimer.
As far as bets go, you could do worse than Motte. He carries an expected likelihood of success by the new-and-improved Prospect Graduation Probabilities System (pGPS), with his most likely career assignment being that of a bottom-six forward.
There’s nothing wrong with Motte as an asset, but considering Vanek fetched a third-round pick last season and the Canucks had to take on salary to make the deal work, the return feels pretty underwhelming.
First look: Canucks acquire F Brendan Leipsic for D Philip Holm
In contrast to the Vanek trade, the acquisition of Leipsic from the Vegas Golden Knights was not only a surprise but a pleasant one, at that. In Holm, the Canucks had a 26-year old defender with but a single NHL game to his credit. Today, they were able to turn him into a 23-year-old forward with a bit of pedigree and considerable upside. In other words, they turned “probably nothing” into “maybe something.” You can count that as a win for the Canucks.
Leipsic’s NHL track record is a bit spotty, in very much in the same vein as Motte’s. There’s a significant caveat, however: he’s shot at an unsustainable 2.9% this season. Considering his low ice-time with the Knights, his 13 points in 44 games don’t look all that bad; unlike Motte, he carries a more impressive AHL track record. This is reflected in his 41% expected likelihood of success by pGPS:
According to pGPS, Leipsic’s most likely career assignment is that of a third-line winger. For whatever it’s worth, I think pGPS may undersell his upside. pGPS can’t account for how snakebitten Leipsic has been this season, and with the right deployment, there’s a non-zero chance this move turns out a bit like the Sven Baertschi acquisition. At best, they could maybe turn Leipsic into a decent second-line winger. At worst, he’s a depth forward or injury call-up option. Considering what they gave up, that’s pretty darn good.
Leipsic also brings an element the team has been lacking this season. He’s pesky, and he likes to get under the skin of his opponents.
I once saw Leipsic take an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taking a drink out of the opposing goalie’s water bottle after a net front scrum. He was a Brad Marchand type player in junior. Super pest who could score. #Canucks
— Brendan Batchelor (@BatchHockey) February 26, 2018
While the ship has sailed on Leipsic as far as being the next Marchand is concerned, his play style is likely to endear him to Vancouverites. My instincts tell me he spends more time in the lineup than not over the next few seasons.