If you’re like most people, playing armchair general manager is almost as fun as watching the games themselves. Hell, who am I kidding, it’s way more fun!
That’s why most of us have spent the better part of this season waiting for the trade deadline and the real fun to start. The deals are starting to come in one after the other, and with mere hours left before the clock strikes noon and business stops, everyone’s waiting for the Canucks to make their move.
CanucksArmy Roundtable: Setting Expectations https://t.co/M6xPbZZlG8
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) February 24, 2018
A cursory glance at the TSN.ca Trade Tracker reveals that 19 transactions have already come together in the last two weeks, and if last year’s deadline is any indication, that number is suspect to grow exponentially in the next couple of hours. Yet, so far, the Canucks haven’t a single deal to their credit.
The assumption is that Thomas Vanek will be the first domino to fall in Vancouver. From the moment Canucks general manager Jim Benning signed the 34-year-old playmaker in the final stages of free agency he’s been earmarked for futures at the trade deadline. Now it’s up to the Canucks to execute.
Beyond that, expectations are at an all-time low for movement at this year’s deadline. The Canucks locked up their premier trade asset in Erik Gudbranson to a three-year contract extension effectively taking him off the market for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t leave many bullets in a chamber that was already running dangerously low. If they can move Vanek, I think most would view that as a relative success.
For the Canucks to get anything else done they’re going to have to wander outside of their comfort zone and move some players with term. That doesn’t seem likely given their history at the deadline, and the reluctance they’ve shown to even part with players destined for unrestricted free agency — though, to their credit, they’ve done exceedingly well when they have gone that route.
It’s all shaping up to be a quiet trade deadline, even by Benning’s standards. Whether that’s for the best remains to be seen. They’ve gone to great lengths to express their desire to build through the draft, so at the very least one hopes they’ll be able to acquire one or two picks tomorrow.
Areas of Need
Where to start? The Canucks struggle to score goals (23rd in goals per game) prevent goals (26th in goals against per game) and stop pucks (20th in 5-on-5 save percentage). They need help, and they need it in almost every facet of the game.
For the Canucks part, they’ve been chasing a tonic to bring some muscle into their game for the better part of the season. The loss of Derek Dorsett to a career-ending neck injury stressed an area of the Canucks’ roster composition that was already thin. They’ve since signed Darren Archibald to an NHL contract, and he’s handled the role relatively well. The hope is that Gudbranson will start to better fill that void of team toughness too with a new contract in tow.
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) February 18, 2018
Clearly, Benning still sees that as an area of need. Speaking to Hockey Night in Canada just days after the Canucks signed him to a multi-year contract extension, Benning said the Canucks are looking for a forward with size and toughness that can make plays. Don’t worry though because Benning added days later that the Canucks aren’t chasing any rentals — they’re looking at hockey trades.
What do the Canucks really need? Draft picks. In the four years that Benning has been at the helm in Vancouver, they’ve made 28 selections at the NHL Entry Draft. That’s the exact amount of allotted picks each team has over a four-year span barring any moves. Whether you think the rebuild is going well or not, everyone can admit that’s a painstakingly low number given the state of this organization.
It’s time the Canucks invested heavily in the area where this front office is strongest: the amateur draft. That means parting with players that might be of some utility now for a shot at a player that can be a part of the core tomorrow.
The Canucks aren’t going to enter the market for rentals, so that should keep them on the sidelines for most of tomorrow’s action. They do seem to have some degree of interest in making a hockey trade. Word is the Canucks might be willing to part with some of their skill for a little more muscle.
I’m just not sure where that’s going to lead the Canucks. The type of player they’re looking for isn’t usually available in a hockey swap at this time of the year. It’s possible that the Canucks could find a suitable partner near the bottom of the standings, but that type of team usually wants draft picks and futures, so again, where does that leave the Canucks?
It doesn’t sound like the Canucks have any desire to make the type of moves that expedite futures with prospects and players further along in their development curve — moves like the Derrick Pouliot acquisition, Sven Baertschi deal, etc. That’s always been one thing we could count on, but not for any longer it seems.
Even by the Canucks’ standards, they are short on deadline assets. Like I said, Vancouver has players that they should probably be more eager to part with than they are currently, but for now they’re not so we’ll operate accordingly.
Contract: expires 2018, $2-million
Vanek is the one player the Canucks have to trade. There’s no other alternative, and I don’t want to hear anything about re-signing him — now is not the time. Vanek is 34-years-old, on an expiring contract and without any trade restrictions. This should be a tap-in for Benning.
Most of the league’s insiders are suggesting that a Vanek trade could come down the 11th hour. By the sounds of it, the league views Vanek as a Plan B.
All the same, the Canucks should have no issue creating a market for Vanek. He’s affordable (Vanek carries about a $450,000 deadline cap charge), and his 41 points are the third most on the TSN’s Trade Bait board where he ranks as 10th best asset. The Canucks also can retain salary on one transaction to the end of this season, so if they need to get creative to make the dollars work, they can do just that.
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) February 23, 2018
Contract: expires 2018-19 off-season, $2.8-million
I’m not sure the Canucks are actively shopping Ben Hutton, but teams around the league are calling, and they’re listening. That’s no surprise. Hutton’s missed almost a dozen of the Canucks last 25 games to healthy scratches and seems to have fallen out of favour with first-year head coach Travis Green. The conditions are ripe for a change of scenery, whether that’s in the Canucks best interests or not.
Deep Dive: Ben Hutton is Better Than You Think He Is (Unless You Already Think He’s Really Good) https://t.co/Zsucc8J2AH
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) October 26, 2017
If the Canucks can’t get an offer they deem acceptable for Hutton, they don’t have to trade him. Hutton is 24-years-old and has one more year on his deal at $2.8-million. As many have argued on CanucksArmy, they probably shouldn’t move on from Hutton either.
The argument for moving Hutton has some merit to it, though, I think. The Canucks have a logjam on their left-side and have to clear space for Olli Juolevi or Philip Holm to at least have a chance of making the team next year. That’s going to be difficult, as Hutton, Alexander Edler and Michael Del Zotto are all signed for next season. Eventually, they’re going to have to move somebody, one might think.
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) February 25, 2018
Michael Del Zotto Should Be On the Trade Block https://t.co/iz8DwuYoP8
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) February 23, 2018
Nic Dowd, Alex Biega, Anders Nilsson, Michael Del Zotto, Patrick Wiercioch, Nikolay Goldobin, Brendan Gaunce, Chris Tanev
According to CapFriendly, the Canucks have $2.26-million cap space available to them. If you account for long-term injured reserve, that number jumps a little closer to $2.5-million. Vancouver has 46 of their 50 salaried player contract spots in use, though, one has to think they should treat that number like 47 based on the likelihood that Adam Gaudette will sign at the end of his NCAA season. They also have 63 of their 90 available spots on their reserve list in use.
The Canucks hold six of their seven draft picks for this year’s entry draft, having parted with their fourth-round selection to acquire Derrick Pouliot from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They have ample flexibility for next season if the Canucks want to take on an ugly contract for a bounty of futures. So far, they have 25 contracts on the books for next year at just under $50-million against the cap.
If you want some Podcast content for your trade deadline day, I had The Athletic Vancouver’s Israel Fehr as my co-host for the trade deadline edition of Nation Network Radio on TSN 1040 AM.
Nation Network Radio: February 24: Hour 1 https://t.co/CSa6aY950w
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) February 25, 2018
Nation Network Radio: February 24: Hour 2 https://t.co/ABJdP5AYoM
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) February 25, 2018
You can also download the show on iTunes, or wherever else you get your podcast fix, under Nation Network Radio! While you’re there, leave a rating or a review — it helps the show!
The Canucks can do very little and survive the trade deadline. As I argued in my piece for The Athletic Vancouver on the topic, though, they should strive to do a lot more than just survive this year’s deadline. They have more moveable assets than just Vanek, and they need to find a market for those players and execute on a trade. It doesn’t mean they can move every one of their pending UFA’s, but it’s not unreasonable to think they could move a Dowd or Biega too.
NHL insiders are suggesting that the Bruins and Rangers might need an intermediary for cap purposes to make a Rick Nash trade work. That's just the type of move I advocated the #Canucks make if they want to the win trade deadline. Here's the blueprint:https://t.co/GKBBRnzqUr
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) February 25, 2018
Perhaps the Canucks can use their cap space to help teams up against the limit in exchange for picks and prospects? Or perhaps they can move on from a player that’s signed beyond this season? Whatever the case, they shouldn’t have any reason to be attached to the majority of a roster that’s destined for a bottom-three finish for the third straight season. Only Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat qualify as untouchables, in my estimation.
Last year’s deadline was a masterful display by Benning and co., and that work looks better with each day. Now they have to build on it with a second straight year of success at the market.