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Photo Credit: Jason Benhken - AP

Deep Dive: Is a Noah Hanifin Trade Feasible?

There’s no question that the Canucks need help on the blueline.

Management, media and fans alike are well aware of the cesspool that’s become the team’s defence group over the past few seasons. Unfortunately, reinforcements are few and far between when peeking at the team’s prospect pool — one that appears concerningly thin after Olli Juolevi.

Most expect that the Canucks are leaning towards selecting a defenceman with their seventh overall pick in June, but that alone won’t be enough to shore up the backend moving forward.

Another avenue the team could explore is the trade market, with Sportsnet writer Elliotte Friedman’s report of Vancouver as a stealth destination for Noah Hanifin perking the ears of many fans. The ambiguity behind Friedman’s story brings into question the feasibility of a potential Hanifin acquisition for the Canucks. Why are the Hurricanes shopping Hanifin? What kind of return might they be looking for, and more importantly, do the Canucks possess those assets?

A deeper look into the matter can help us fill in some of those blanks to establish whether there’s a potential trade to be made.

What Does Carolina Have In Hanifin?

There’s a lot to unpack on the topic of a potential Hanifin trade, but the forefront of the discussion has to be led by an evaluation of the value he presents.

Hanifin was the first defenceman taken at the 2015 NHL Draft, selected fifth overall ahead of top-pairing fixtures Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov. Hanifin may not be at the same level as those names above, but he’s a good defenceman in his own right.

Player GP G A P CF%
Noah Hanifin 79 10 22 32 55.9

Offensively, Hanifin continued his linear progression, setting a career-high in points for a third consecutive season. The bulk of his production was at even-strength, where he was able to finish among the top 25 NHL defencemen with 23 five-on-five points.

Peel back the layers of Hanifin’s production, and it becomes abundantly clear that he did most of his damage on transition plays. Not only did he finish among elite company when looking at controlled zone exits, but he was a top-five NHL defender at leading controlled offensive zone entries.

At the same time though, Hanifin’s impressive microdata indicates that there likely isn’t much room for offensive growth.

Hanifin has already actualized his potential as a premier breakout player — delivering excellent results at both rushing the puck up the ice and finding his teammates on the fly for effective outlet passes in the neutral zone. For him to take the next step as an offensive defenceman, he’ll need to improve significantly on the three primary points he produced in nearly 150 power-play minutes.

It’s fair to wonder how much he can really improve in that regard though. Hanifin doesn’t possess a great point shot, nor does he have the same vision as the best power-play quarterbacks in the league. Furthermore, his mobility, solid first pass, and ability to jump up in the rush as the late trailer are all largely mitigated on the man advantage, where the majority of offence is created from stagnant formations.

Shift the focus to Hanifin’s overall underlying profile, and the results certainly support his gaudy even-strength production.

SKATR Comparison Tool via Bill Comeau, data courtesy Corsica

Hanifin’s year over year progression stands out and for good reason. Anyone following the Hurricanes over the past three seasons would know that he underwhelmed in his first two years in the NHL, though it appears he finally broke out this season.

It’s not all good news though — buried behind Hanifin’s impressive statistical profile are extremely favourable deployment factors. The context section at the bottom of the graph tells us that he played sheltered bottom pairing minutes while receiving extremely favourable zone starts.

With the help of Bill Comeau’s SKATR tool, I was able to find defencemen league-wide with similar statistical and contextual profiles as Hanifin.

Most of this cohort consists of young offensive defencemen that have yet to establish themselves as responsible players away from the puck. They’re oozing with offensive potential, but lack the requisite defensive acumen to play in a traditional top-four role.

I was curious to see if there were any defencemen in similar scenarios last year that made the transition to tougher minutes this season and my searches yielded two matches — Brady Skjei and Nate Schmidt.

Skjei took on a larger role for the Rangers this year after an impressive rookie season and the departure of Ryan McDonagh, while Schmidt moved to Vegas’ top pairing following the expansion draft. The contrasting results for each player highlights that acclimating to big minutes isn’t as easy as one might think.

Despite a highly touted two-way game, Skjei struggled on both ends of the ice in a larger role.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have Nate Schmidt, who coped well when considering the shutdown role he played this season.

In Hanifin’s case, his defensive play will need to improve for him to succeed in a more significant role. He was less than half a goal above replacement level when looking at five-on-five defensive GAR.

As we all know stats don’t tell the full story, so I turned to The Athletic’s Corey Sznajder for his take on Noah Hanifin’s defensive play.

[Hanifin’s] play in his own zone is where I’ve been concerned the most. He had quite a few misreads there that led to goals and gets lost in coverage quite a bit. Also needs to get better at winning puck battles along the boards since that was a problem last year too. He was decent at reading plays off the rush, it’s just the play [in his own zone] that’s been the problem. Peters was reluctant to use him above the third pair becuase of that.

It’s kind of hard to know whether or not it’s the system being too confusing or if he just has a problem in knowing where to be, but there were a lot of breakdowns when he was on the ice.

There’s certainly room for improvement given Hanifin’s age (21) and solid frame (6-foot-3, 205 pounds), but the extent of his possible defensive progression is anybody’s guess. Ultimately, it will be the strides that he makes in fixing his own zone play that dictate whether he peaks as a first or second pairing defenceman. At this point, I’m far more comfortable projecting Hanifin as a future number three or four defenceman than I am labelling him as a top-2 option.

Why Does Carolina Want To Move Hanifin and What Return Are They Looking For?

With a new owner and GM in the fold, the Hurricanes have publically expressed their desire to make moves to shake up the roster. Do not mistake this for a fire sale though — Carolina isn’t going to flip their trade chips for anything less than full market value.

As it pertains to Hanifin, Carolina’s willingness to move the All-Star defencemen is less about wanting him gone, than it is about trying to deal from a position of strength. The Hurricanes already have budding stars on the blueline in Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce in addition to Justin Faulk ahead of Hanifin on the depth chart.

The natural inclination for a lottery team might be to acquire picks and prospects, but the Hurricanes appear more interested in win-now pieces after missing out on the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season. One would think that they would then be interested in a swap akin to the Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones trade.

Unfortunately, the Canucks don’t have the expendable pieces to make a deal of that ilk possible. What they do have is the seventh overall pick — a piece that Friedman speculated to be part of a possible Hanifin trade.

Would a one for one swap for the seventh pick make sense for the Canucks? It depends on who’s available. If either one of Quinn Hughes or Oliver Wahlstrom is on the board at seven, I lean towards no. Hughes and Wahlstrom are riskier bets than Hanifin, but in my estimation, they provide greater chances of becoming top-line players.

Having said that, it’s improbable that either one is still available after the first six picks, in which case it’d make sense to pull the trigger on a one-for-one trade. The second tier of defencemen including Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson, and Adam Boqvist all have question marks that could hold them back from developing into bonafide top-pairing blueliners. Hanifin has similar upside relative to these prospects but presents far less risk considering how far he is in his developmental cycle.

The problem is that the seventh pick alone is unlikely to coax the Hurricanes into parting ways with Hanifin. In fact, Vancouver would probably have to overpay with additional roster pieces given Carolina’s win-now mindset.

Conclusion

Noah Hanifin is exactly the type of defenceman the Canucks should be targetting — he’s a sublime puck-moving defenceman that can provide even-strength offence in spades from the backend. Unfortunately, Carolina’s desire to compete complicates negotiations; with an ask that likely exceeds the seventh overall pick.

The inclusion of the first rounder is a tough pill in itself to swallow, let alone the possibility of having to sweeten the pot with additional assets. The Canucks do have the pieces to swing a deal should they have a particular affinity for Hanifin, though it’s unlikely that the ends would justify the means.



  • argoleas

    So, it has been suggested elsewhere that Hanifin is just a better version of Hutton. And Hutton wilted when playing in a less-sheltered role after his 1st season, IIRC. Could happen to Hanifin here too. Very, very wary of this.

  • Sami Ohlund

    Carolina is looking for a goalie. Maybe the Canucks can move Markstrom and another piece without moving the pick? Definitely keep the pick for Hughes or Wahlstrom. But they could sign a short-term free agent goalie like Bernier until Demko is ready. The Islanders are looking for a goalie too. Move Markstrom – sign the UFA goalie – wait for Demko.

  • Steampuck

    Hanifin strikes me as a welcome bird in the hand, compared with how the 7th pick pans out. Also: since D tend to be slower in their development, having one of your top two fast-tracked by being a little older isn’t a horrible idea. And having a D-man as part of the leadership corps isn’t a horrible idea: Hanifin reduces the age separation between the new-generation forwards (Horvat, Boeser, et al.) and the defensemen.

    I’m not altogether sold: it depends on the asking price. But if the Canucks can hold onto their 7th pick, Horvat, Boeser, and Pettersson, then you almost pretty much have to jump with both feet, don’t you? That might be a pipe dream, but if the Canes are looking to compete now: what does a package of decent/promising players look like? Markstrom/Nilsson? Baertschi? Lind? Hutton? If I’m Carolina: I’m laughing at that, but maybe they see a few guys who could use a fresh start and can incrementally improve multiple parts of their lineup.

    • DogBreath

      Couldn’t agree more. We get caught up in this need to participate in the draft. While I do love it, its overblown. It makes more sense to assess a young players trajectory, whether its a draft year player or D+1, D+2 player. We have more data on Hanifin because he’s been around longer, so can better project his future. Anyone we draft has higher risk because there’s less data, and they’re teenagers.

      I’d trade the 7th for him, because the Canucks desperately need more of that age cohort on defence. If we needed to could include Hutton and Baertchi in that, I’d do that. He, Joulevi and Stetcher would be a good start. Bo, EP, BB and Demko are off the table for me as trade partners.

      • Holmes

        Yep, that’s the playbook I think.

        Canucks have a core group (Bo, Brock, Jake, Petterson, Demko) who will all be material contributors in a couple years. If they hold onto the 7th pick and take a d man, that player could be four years out from being a good NHLer.

        Noah is ready to join the group now so the nucleus can move ahead as one strong team.

        The other thing – Noah will cost the Canucks $5-$6 million in cap space soon. Whereas if the Canucks deal the pick and Carolina scoops up Wahlstrom, he’s cheap and will probably contribute quicker.

        Really don’t think the Canucks would have to pay more than #7 for Noah

        • Dirty30

          Except, if you look at his stats, Hanifin has played predominantly sheltered minutes in O-zone starts against 2nd tier opponents… not exactly a strong contribution to this team.

          If Carolina can soak another team for a great trade return, then good on them. The Canucks giving up needed and scarce assets for a player that needs sheltering (see Gudbranson, DMZ, Gagner) doesn’t make sense.

  • apr

    I’m curious to why Carolina would want to get rid of him, though I get that Bean and Fleury are coming up. I just feel like Hanafin maybe is being sold like Hodgson was; strike while hot given that he is coming from an all star season (though every team has to send someone).

    If I’m Carolina, I am asking for either Brock or EP; or the 7th and Demko/Dipietro; or Juolevi, Demko/Dipietro, AND Baer/Goldobin/JV. Canucks simply can’t give up that many assets; but if they were, the most I would give up would be Markstrom, Baer, Stecher, and Demko and take on Darling (and another salary dump).

    • argoleas

      Bottom line. This team cannot afford to be giving away prospects and picks. It needs to develop them to their fullest value, then trade them at that higher value to get pieces that fill other needs. For example, if the cost is 7th and Lind, how much more may Lind be worth in 3 years? Or that 7th? If drafting is about upside, why are some asking to chicken out on the process? Sure, neither the 7th and Lind may work out, and in 4 years such a trade may look good, but that’s two assets and two shots at way higher value.

      Canucks need to stick to drafting and developing at this time. Fill that Hanifin urge in a different way.

      • DogBreath

        I’d consider taking Hanifin for 7th and one of Baertschi/Goldobin. They need to get more high-end young D in their system. Drafting them now (+ usual defence development time) is almost too late for the established nucleus.

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    Anyone else experiencing occasional performance issues with CanucksArmy.com. In my Google Chrome browser, the site is consuming 2.5 gb of memory whereas all other browser tabs are using a reasonable amount of memory. It’s making me wonder if a bit-coin harvester is processing when I visit the site. There are no viruses or malware on my workstation, and all other web browsing is unaffected.

  • Rodeobill

    Seems awfully risky to be buying high on him. I agree that he looks better than all our future D core so far, but those favorable deployments sure look a lot like a good job polishing. It is true that even if we hit a bunch of home runs this draft on D they will be “peaking” in development later than our forwards group, and that’s not a sure thing either, so the need to get good D further along is a valid concern and maybe in that circumstance you almost always are going to be buying high. Eesh. this is a tough one. I guess I kinda gave up on a great D core by drafting for the next few years and just thought we may have to sort that our with trades/UFAs when our forward core is coming into their own. Guess we really need to see who is on the table, but the 7th is a tough ask, and with CAR in win now mode, shouldn’t be their first consideration anyway, they should be looking at win now pieces unless they are planning to use that to make another trade to that end.

  • Puck Viking

    I wouldnt trade the 7th for him but I would trade Tanev to get the parts needed to make the trade work. We could maybe add markstrom for Darling as a cap dump too.

    Another deal that might make more sense is trading them a guy like Goldobin for Fleury.

  • Nuck16

    Regarding Hanifen…I really hope over the next 2 season in the lead up to the Seattle expansion draft, our management does NOT make any trades for players that will need to be protected if going the other way are assets that will not to be protected (ie. picks and prospects). We should be doing the opposite. You can say all you want about how we don’t have that many players that are worthy of being protected but that can change…plus the year after next, vacant protection spots will be very valuable as teams try to unload their unprotected players at a discount.

    • Kanucked

      This is an excellent point. Even if it is a 1 fo 1 trade (7th for Hanifin), the team loses a protected spot which is another asset. Plus, we would have to pay him about $4M which takes more cap space.

      Finally, the team wouldn’t solve their defensive issues on the right side or the power play.

    • LiborPolasek

      Ditto: “Draft and develope.” Unless the 7th picks is used for more picks, moving up or for a generational player the Canucks should pass. As stated by another poster, Hanifin will need to be protected for the expansion draft and will also require to be sign to an expensive contract by next year. Carolina seems to be the only winner if a trade is made with current asking price.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    The Nucks should keep the 7th pick, if they are able to draft Adam Boqvist or Quinn Hughes that would be great.
    Build through the draft the way Winnipeg has done it.

  • Holmes

    Canucks Army writers…. when you write a sentence like this about a 21- year, #5 draft pick…It’s fair to wonder how much he can really improve in that regard though…it’s a forest through the trees thing. Kid is 21. He’s going to improve a lot in all facets of his game.

    This website relies way too much on fancy stats. Put you abacus back in your pocket and make some legit industry contacts who can talk with you about the NHL.

    • Sandpaper

      I am not a big stats guy, but, I still check out too see if stats match the eye-test. In this case they do, Hanifin reminds me of Bret Hedican of yesteryear, good skater, decent at moving puck up ice in a few different ways, but clueless when on defensive side of the puck.
      Good article Harman.

    • Harman Dayal

      I said right in the article that stats don’t tell the full story. That’s the whole reason I asked Corey Sznajder for his take on Hanifin’s defensive game.

  • I am Ted

    This was a nicely put together article. You don’t see that too often on CA! It’s great to see something leaning towards a more professional article as opposed to something written by the likes of Butthole Burke (did that guy even finish high school??).

    Anyway, a nice piece here and provides lots of good info (assuming the sources etc are all accurate). I also hear Ray Ferraro and Craig Button are not huge Hanifin fans so lots of info and credible sources saying similar things. I think the ask would be too high for Hanifin – no way on the 7th or that pick +. Pass.

  • RobG

    You guys are looking at this backwards. Carolina has missed 9 years in a row. They have a new owner who wants to make a splash and turn things around quick. Trading a young up-and-coming guy like hanifin for a 1st round pick (who won’t be ready for 3-6 years) is going backwards and doing the opposite of “winning now”. Carolina will be targeting experienced proven players to step into, and solidify, their lineup. If they are doing a deal with Vancouver it’s going to be for Tanev not a draft pick! If Tanev is involved then it will be Vancouver getting the “and more.” Hanifin a 2nd rounder and a prospect. Or hanifin and a mid to late 1st if Carolina can find a way to get it done.

    • liqueur des fenetres

      I’ll agree with your premise, but not the conclusion. They might want a Tanev but why would anyone waive to go to Carolina? What about Virtanen plus the first rounder? The first rounder is a fair chance at picking a cost controlled Hanifin replacement while Virtanen has some change of scenery upside making him a bit of a lottery ticket.

      • RobG

        Put yourself in Carolinas shoes. Is JV the answer to shaking up the roster and giving the team a push in the right direction? No offense to JV but the answer is no and it’s highly unlikely that JV is the center piece of a deal.

        Tanev has a modified NTC where he can submit a list of 8 teams where he doesn’t want to go, and I could think of 8 teams right now in worse situations than Carolina.

        Tanev is going to be traded at some point, the Canucks have a glut of wingers, and they desperately need high end prospects and young defensmen. If I’m the Canucks and Carolina calls looking to make a deal for hanifin first thing I’m looking at is swapping first round picks because there is no way I’d be giving up the 7th. It likely takes Tanev and a little bit more depending on Carolinas wants/needs. It might mean a roster player like Bear or JV and a prospect like Lind or Palmu.

        • liqueur des fenetres

          Well in my defense, the 7th selection was the centerpiece, Jake was just to give the deal some possible mystery upside. You’re right though, neither shakes up the roster or gives the team a push. Tanev would count as a “push” and I am not sure who else, Bo and Brock, as the term suggests some degree of accomplishment already.

      • Mattias

        Reminds me of Grabner for Ballard deal.
        Guys like Virtanen (speed and size) don’t grow on trees.
        He has the exact skillset you’ll want in 2 years when Pettersson is ready for centre.
        JV is due for his breakout year- Canuck fans would be supremely pissed if it happened on another team.

        Hanafin deal is a mirage anyways. Unless the Canucks are taking on an unwanted contract and or Markstrom/Nilsson- we have nothing to offer to make Carolina a better team next year. We need that 7th pick as much as anyone, and Tanev has more value to about a dozen other teams.

        Deal is highly unlikely.

  • Spiel

    An angle that is not being discussed is if this is a budget issue for Carolina.
    Looking at their roster on cap friendly, they have lots of cap space but just 12 players signed.
    Hanifin and Lindholm as significant RFAs and Aho and Teruvainen due for new contracts and big raises next year.
    Slavin and Pesce are both signed long term.
    Hanifin as a former 5th overall pick, and being younger than Pesce and Slavin, is no doubt asking for at least the same money and term. Canes ownership and management could be taking the position that they just don’t want to spend that much on their defense given their own internal budget and already having 3 significant contracts on the books for their D with Slavin, Pesce, and Faulk. If Hanifin is asking to be paid more than those players, I can definitely see the motivation for Carolina to make a move.

  • EBS

    the only way I trade #7 is if Carolina gives us #2 . Something like Hanifin and #2 for Demko and #7. I would prefer Juolevi, Hutton and Goldobin and get a second pick back with Hanifin. Hanifin is probably a safer bet than Juolevi, we get another pick, Hutton seems to be done here, Goldobin is expendable, lots of wingers coming.

  • Tennyson Woodcock

    Canucks need 5 D who can move puck and play solid D. They need 1 guy to do both and QB the PP. They have Elder to do that, be it not at an elite level. Tanev is the only guy who fills the former need. He ‘s not a top puck mover, but gets the job done adequately. He is, however, sublime without the puck. Stetcher is proving to be adequate without and is developing with. I keep him. The other roster players can only do one thing, and its arguable that a couple can’t do either; all expendable to the point I do not even want to see them on my TV screen.

    Hanifin appears to have issues playing without the puck. I want no part of it at anything close to market value. Canucks have an abhorrent D corp, but this is not an answer. The Canucks need 3 more guys on D, with one of those guys to push Eddie down the depth chart. That is a massive open pit mine to fill. Good luck with that.

    • LAKID

      I agree the nuks are missing a first line defence, a second also and are lacking one on the third line so why not do what Treliving has done and trade your 1st and two seconds for Hanifon?