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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

CanucksArmy Monday Mailbag: Weaponizing Cap Space, Trades, and of course, the Draft

Here’s something I’m sure you weren’t expecting to hear: I still think David Backes can contribute to a hockey team at a reasonably high level. Whether I think that level is commensurate with the $6-million that the Boston Bruins owe the two-way centre for the next three seasons is another story entirely. What I’m trying to establish is that Backes isn’t quite dead weight just yet.

At 34-years-old, Backes isn’t likely to get better. It’s possible that he represents a significant value-negative mark on the books. Then again, the term is short enough that it’s not much of a threat. And in the short term, Backes could make sense as a third-line centre. He’s not someone I would surrender an asset for, but definitely worth the trouble to acquire one.

I think there’s some desire within the Canucks front office to ‘weaponize’ their cap space — it’s just not in the sense that we might imagine. To them, weaponizing cap space means acquiring a good player that’s on a contract which is just a little bit rich for the team that’s currently on the hook for it. I wrote about this for The Athletic Vancouver a little while ago.

There’s a reason that insiders have connected the Canucks to Ryan O’Reilly — he’s exactly how they picture weaponizing their cap space.

I think so, yes.

That’s a loaded question. I think the Canucks should rebuild their franchise without taking any shortcuts. There’s my loaded answer.

If Elias Pettersson can put up about 35-40 points, that should be viewed as a successful first season. Anything after that is icing on the cake.

Any of those three players would be perfectly reasonable with the Canucks’ second-round pick, 37th overall. Of those three, I would choose Jonny Tychonick. He’s built to play the modern game and has second-pair upside. If you can find that type of player 37th overall, that’s nothing short of a draft day success.

I don’t see Lou Lamoriello and Josh Ho-Sang getting along well in Long Island, no. If the Islanders want to part with their eccentric, productive right winger, then the Canucks should be all too eager to take that “problem” off their hands. Ho-Sang can be a top-six winger at the NHL level as soon as next season, and he’s proven that every time he’s had the chance in the big leagues.

The Canucks are big fans of Boston University winger Brady Tkachuk; based on what I’ve heard, they’d just about sprint up to the podium to select him. I’ve heard mixed reports on University of Michigan defenceman Quinn Hughes. That’s about all that I can offer at this time.

I don’t know if I’d trade up in those circumstances, truthfully. It’s usually a value-negative bet. That said, I wouldn’t begrudge the Canucks if they made that decision either. If they’re trying to move up in the draft, then Sven Baertschi makes sense as a chip worth putting in play.

I do, yes. As for Tkachuk, see one of my earlier answers on the topic of who they’re interested in at the draft. Suffice to say, Tkachuk is quite high on their list.

I could see that happening, yes, and I’d hope the Canucks take advantage of that situation if it presents itself. Then again, if Halifax Mooseheads winger Filip Zadina is there for the Canucks at seventh overall and teams aren’t willing to part with the farm for the privilege, then just draft the guy and count your lucky stars that he was available in the first place.

Yeah, I could see that — the Canucks having interest in New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes. I’ve always been a fan of his game, but I’ve never contemplated the possibility of his joining the Canucks through a trade.

At first glance, I’m intrigued. The Canucks aren’t going to get a two-way, shutdown centre out of Hayes, but perhaps they can get a middle-six forward with positional versatility and size who can produce offence for them. I’m struggling to see a way the Canucks can make this trade happen though — not in a way that doesn’t hurt their rebuild.

This is a tough one. I’d want Jesperi Kotkaniemi if I was going to stand pat with the seventh overall pick, but at that point, it’s hard to say if I wouldn’t feel better off with Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Noah Hanifin.

It’s that time of year — expect to hear a lot more about possible trades in the coming days and then actual trades to materialize as we get closer to the draft itself.

It’s hard to believe, but Zadina falling to seventh is starting to seem like a distinct possibility.

Zadina shouldn’t make it out of the top five, but it’s seeming more possible with each passing day. If he gets to the Detroit Red Wings and they pass on him at sixth, they’ve made an egregious mistake — unless Oliver Wahlstrom is there, because that might be a justifiable player to take ahead of Zadina. If he’s there for the Canucks at seven, they have to take him if they hold their pick.

I’m confident that Zadina can step into an NHL lineup as soon as next season and make an impact. He’s the type of player that can develop into a consistent 30-goal scorer at the NHL level.

Wahlstrom.

Dobson.

Hughes.

I’m a strong believer in always taking the best player available, so whether or not Nikita Tryamkin returns or Olli Juolevi and Troy Stecher improve, it really doesn’t matter. I’d take Noah Dobson in this scenario, assuming I couldn’t trade down.

I feel like last year you could have reasonably made a case for Hughes to go second or third overall; in the year prior, probably closer to fifth overall; the one before that, fifth overall too.

I have no clue, man. They’ve gone on record saying they won’t let positional priority get in the way of taking the best player available to them. It seems like they might be able to get both birds with one stone, but really, it’s hard to say at this stage.

Now that Alexander Polunin is no longer draft-eligible, I’m going to shift gears to Chicoutimi Sagueneens winger Justin Ducharme (formerly of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan). He didn’t put up a tonne of offence this year, but he was playing so far down the Titan lineup for most of the season. Every now and then I’d see these great combinations of speed and power that suggested he has a lot more to offer. I doubt he’ll get drafted this year, but he’ll be an interesting player to follow.

I don’t think it’s fair to characterize Boston University winger Brady Tkachuk as someone with poor analytics. Tkachuk scored at a decent rate in a difficult league despite surrendering a fair amount of developing time compared to most of his peers. We’re not ready to consider Tkachuk a top-five talent in this space, but top-ten seems about right.

The Coyotes obviously make sense because of the family connection, but I’d think that the Canadiens and Senators seem like they might jump the gun on Tkachuk.

There just isn’t room for Ashton Sautner to crack the Canucks’ defence corps next fall barring a major overhaul this offseason. That said, I could see him being the eighth or ninth defenceman on their depth chart, and that almost certainly means he’ll see game action at some point.

Hughes.

Yes.

They either overdraft Kotkaniemi or Tkachuk.

Sorry, but I just don’t have access to that type of information.

I’d like to see the Canucks do a complete overhaul of their jerseys. Bring back the stick-in-rink logo as the full-time jersey, and then do something with a similar colour-template to the Utica Comets third jersey. That’s what I want to see, anyway.

Definitely not. The back-end of their prospect pool is looking painfully thin.

If the Canucks can even get a second-round pick in this scenario from the New York Rangers, I’d think that it’s worth the trouble.

It’s all relative. To me, a bust is someone who doesn’t live up to what their talent level suggests they should be. That’s why I’ll probably never consider Jake Virtanen a bust. He might not ever perform like a sixth overall pick, but he never should have been one in the first place. If he continues on his current track, he’ll look more or less like the player I expected coming into his draft year.

I like whites and reds and stuff.

I’ve always had a soft spot for San Jose Sharks winger Mikkel Boedker in spite of his uninspiring underlying numbers.

I don’t think this will have any impact whatsoever on the NHL’s participation in the Olympics.

I feel like Alex Edler probably isn’t worth a top ten pick in a trade at this stage in his career. Then there’s the matter of having to convince him to leave Vancouver for Edmonton.

Ben Hutton.

I’ll take the Wahlstrom – Lundkvist duo, please and thank you.

  • Killer Marmot

    Following an NHL team is like watching an ice berg. Most of the interesting stuff is out of sight, and we can only guess at what’s going on underneath.

    Although Ben Hutton’s underlying numbers might be decent, there is something going on that people aren’t discussing. I suspect that he’s partying too much and training too little. He’s not making the most of his talent.

    So what’s really going on with this guy, and what would it take to fix it? The Canucks likely don’t want to trade him because they won’t get full value for his talent, but that might be what it takes to get his attention.

    • GMT+1 !!!!

      I don’t think it is so dramatic as some social issue… coach sees potential, wants to extract it. The method maybe has unsettled BH too much, to be considered constructive but one size does not fit all (see %*&&^ tirade on AN).

      Maybe a change of scenery suits both sides, but I hope TG settles to finding another way with the guy.

      • canuckfan

        I remember an interview with Stecher last season when some injured d men were coming back he had mentioned that Green talked to him and two other young d men asking them to step their game up or else they were going to be sitting out. Stecher took the challenge and got better Hutton and Pulliot did not. I don’t think it is anything more than Huttons compete level. He may be just accepting losing and just going out on the ice and playing, not to improve each shift just goes out and puts a shift in. He needs to up his compete level to win each and every battle. If he has an awakening and wants to become a better player he will have a spot. As soon as he gets comfortable and thinks he has a spot and doesn’t go out and try and better his last shift he will lose his spot. We will see if he wants it or not. Where he was taken in the draft may not have been due to his talent it may have been his attitude.

  • Rodeobill

    I guess with Hoffman gone to the sharks big K will stay with the Sens, that means more likely than not they will try to draft a forward, I can’t see Zadina being there for us now, was kinda a pipe dream anyway to begin with.

    Also, Sharks don’t seem concerned with off ice troubles, first Kane, now they got the Hoffman thing too. Maybe it will work out for them, who knows?

    • Well, you’re clearly not looking at the analytics. If you go to OwnThePuck, you can clearly see Hutton is…worse than an archtypical 3rd pairing defenceman. Ahh, but if we look at his Corsi and Fenwick from the official NHL website, we see…he’s always been less than 50% (45-49%). Nevermind…

  • Freud

    Mailbag question: Doug Wilson just acquired a larger net positive amount of draft picks in one move then Benning did in 4 years. He also did so by flipping another’s team’s publically known poison while clearing cap space. Benning told us draft picks are hard to acquire. The question is, how will Team Lemming justify this…

    • Killer Marmot

      Hoffman had a modified no-trade clause, where he could list ten teams that he could not be traded to. It’s possible that Benning made inquiries, but Vancouver was on Hoffman’s list.

    • Mattias

      Your negativity towards Benning, and praise of Wilson is lost on me..

      Should Hoffman’s fiance be acquitted, Dave Tallon is the clear benefactor, not Doug Wilson.

      Being a Canadian team, the Canucks are not in a media/market position to be involved in a Hoffman/Karlsson cyberbully controversy, on any level.

      Please also consider on the Canucks roster who is of equivalent value to Hoffman- (Horvat, Petterson, Boeser) Would you sincerely consider it a beneficial move to unload a bonafide top-6 talent for a 2nd round, 4th, and 2x 5ths?
      To me, this could only benefit an internal cap team.

      More importantly, the Canucks would be far more likely to be waiting to see if they can acquire Karlsson for a song. As has been mentioned by many media sources, the Canucks are one of the few teams who can actually afford to acquire Karlsson. And whoever does acquire him, will likely be giving up significantly less than market value.

      • Holly Wood

        Ottawa sold Hoffman for 50 cents or less on the dollar. If they are looking to sell Karlsson the Canucks should definitely make a call. Trade and sign him with some Sedin money. E.K. and his family need a relocation and Vancouver needs a #1 D. Draft a Dobson or Bouchard this year and the pieces start to fall into place

        • Moosekayak

          The trades were:

          Boedker for Hoffman (clear salary dump for SJS),
          A non-prospect for a non-prospect
          SJS6th for Ott5th (so moving up a round and a half)

          They then dump Hoffman for a 2nd and a fourth and a seventh for a 5th. So they netted 2 picks and moved 2 picks up by a round and a half each.

  • liqueur des fenetres

    In the latest change of direction, Linden is on record as saying that it’s rare to trade for core players (he uses the example of Luongo, I guess he forgot about Sutter) and instead you draft them. Unless he’s blowing smoke, this suggests that the Canucks are looking to trade up in the first round because you don’t snag core players by having them drop to you, nor do you plan to grab them in the 3rd or 4th rounds.

    That begs the question, is Virtanen a core player? And what’s he signing for in the off season?

    • DJ_44

      you don’t snag core players by having them drop to you

      Sure about that? No core players have dropped to team beyond 6th Overall All — which is your assertion since stating the Canucks would have to trade up. See how stupid that statement is? Or should we start listing them.

      • liqueur des fenetres

        I’ll defer to your experience re: stupid statements. But if a bottom feeder, lacking core pieces, is hoping to establish a core through the draft, it can either identify suitable candidates and trade up to get them, or hope and pray that those valuable pieces are still around at spot number seven. Heck, if no suitable pieces are available at seven, there’s always next draft!

        • DJ_44

          …and the bright light shines brighter! So all teams hoping for core pieces should trade up by that reasoning. It is absolutely asinine.

          Teams identify players they want, in order; you assess the value of one over the other and the price (if there is a price) to move up. You hold or move (up or down) depending of the relative value paid/received versus quality of player.

          The Canucks got a core piece in Boeser in 20s, they probably got the best player in the draft last year at 5, Horvat was 9th, Demko was a second rounder. There are lots of suitable pieces at seven. See how it plays out.

    • Dan the Fan

      I think you’re treating media talking points as reality. What is Linden going to say, that we’re going to go out and trade for some core players? With what assets? He’d get laughed out of the room.

      Have a look at any team’s core, and count how many of them are top 6 picks. From the 2011 team, off the top of my head, it was just the Sedins and Luongo – who they traded for. Hamhuis and Kesler were first rounders. Ballard was a first too, but I’m not sure if he’d count as a core player.

      There are several core players that the 2011 Canucks traded for… Salo… Erhoff… Luongo… Hamhuis…Higgens…. Malhotra…..

      I could be missing players from 2011, I’m not going to look them all up, but for the most part, you can get core players from anywhere, with good scouting and good luck.

      So you’re reading far too much into Linden’s comments.

      • liqueur des fenetres

        Linden didn’t have to equate core pieces with the draft though, he could have kept things vague and said something like “we’ll pursue opportunities wherever we find them”. His pronouncement is actually quite different than the “strategy” the team has been following during his tenure.

        • Defenceman Factory

          It is far more common core players on every team were drafted by that team rather than traded for. This is a general statement that does not exclude trades and in no way implies anything about whether the Canucks are considering trading up.

          Your minute dissections of every work ever spoken publically by Canucks management is petty, boring and almost always wrong.

          • liqueur des fenetres

            But since day 1 of the Linden Benning era they have been pursuing the pieces via trade, with it even alleged that the pick that became Boeser was offered up in exchange for Lucic. Or is Virtanen considered part of the core, because Linden seems to have forgotten his name.

    • tyhee

      Perhaps you haven’t noticed that the Canucks do have first and second round picks so they don’t need to grab their foundation in the 3rd or 4th rounds. There’s no reason to think they’ll trade up.

      As for your earlier comment about players walking away from contracts, you included Tryamkin, who left after fulfilling his contract.

  • TheRealPB

    I think the ‘weaponizing cap space’ argument needs to be a lot more nuanced. There are different reasons and ways to do it — the most successful have almost always been through taking on contracts that aren’t insured or are otherwise unaffordable to their teams — Pronger, Savard, or Horton are good examples. The Leafs are always a terrible example of a model because they have a fanbase that won’t abandon them no matter what and they have all the money in the world. So even when they screw up as with Clarkson, they can afford to flip him for the real money of an uninsured Horton contract. I don’t see the Backes situation as being equivalent. You already have an overpaid but probably mostly unlucky player in Eriksson. Putting two of them on the roster seems a poor move. And it’s unclear to me what you’d actually get for taking him off the Bruins’ hands. If it were a 2nd or 3rd round pick then maybe. But if it’s a low pick I think it’s not really that helpful. Most of the contracts that the Leafs picked up and buried netted them a few lower picks and none of them that I can remember have panned out. It’s not as though teams are going to give up a bunch of prospects or draft picks to get you to take their mistake signings off their hands; if that were the case it would happen more often.

    And for all the praise for Doug Wilson, I think this is seriously overblown. His net gain is not as high as it sounds. He’s gained a fourth and a fifth this year and a 2nd next year and a fifth in 2020. He also got Boedkker off the books. But he also gave up a seventh this year, a sixth in 2020 and a former 2nd rounder in Bergman who was one of their younger and steadily improving prospects on D in the AHL. And let’s remember why SJ doesn’t have a 2nd or 3rd round pick in this year’s draft — because Wilson traded the 2nd (along with a second last year) for Nick Spaling and ROMAN POLAK and the 3rd for 16 games from James Reimer. So maybe using Wilson as a great example of anti-Benningness isn’t the best idea.

    • Dirk22

      Why is it that acquiring draft picks and/or using cap space to acquire assets is such a reach for Benning?

      Why does he always have to be excused with “there’s no precedent for that” (even though there is)?

      When if ever is he going to make something happen that would actually be deemed bold and proactive for a rebuilding team? (No Shinkaruk for Granlund doesn’t count)

      Argue with Wilson’s track record all day but the fact that his moves today aren’t even in Benning’s ballpark speaks volumes.

      • DogBreath

        Wilson is being widely lauded for his moves today, and rightly so. Yes, we wish our GM had stepped up and done that. I’m pretty sure the fans in the remaining NHL cities are thinking the same thing….

      • DogBreath

        “when if ever is he going to make something happen that would actually be deemed bold and proactive”… The Jets fans were saying that about Cheveldae during the rebuilding phase. It seems patience is really the key during this phase.

        • Dirk22

          Pateince as in building through the draft yes. Jets also traded Kane and Bogosian and ended up with an extra 1st rounder. They traded their captain Ladd and ended up with an extra 1st rounder.

      • TheRealPB

        Except that it’s not such a reach. He has acquired draft picks for vets (Kesler, Bieksa, Garrison) and in some cases gotten rid of ‘unmovable’ contracts. It’s just that he flipped a lot of them for young players who didn’t pan out like Vey. I don’t think that Benning’s been particularly great in trades or in evaluating UFAs (most of those signings are meh at best). But I also don’t think he’s much worse than most of the rest of the GMs (and he’s certainly better than Edmonton or Montreal’s GMs). They all seem to have similar kinds of mixed records when it comes to these things. How many of the draft picks that Benning has given up over the years, even for bad acquisitions like Gudbranson have actually come back to haunt us? McKeown got flipped in the Sekeraj trade. Asplund got traded for Mascherin who has now decided not to sign with the Panthers. I do think having more draft picks makes sense and as many others have said it can only improve the Canucks’ chances to have more cracks at an inexact science. But in the same way that I don’t think Benning should be lauded for moves they SHOULD make — like unloading vets at the deadline — I also don’t think we should pretend that he hasn’t done that. The Hansen and Burrows deals are very good examples of that — as a quick answer to your question of when has he ever made a move that is appropriate for a rebuilding team. I would also say that we — like every fanbase — seem to think that all of our crappy players are way more valuable than anyone else does. Is it really shocking that Vanek only fetched the equivalent of a fourth round pick? They guy who had to wait till September to sign a $1 million contract? Even if he’s likable and produced well last year, was he really that valuable as we seemed to think? Everyone seems to believe that there’s just a magical well of picks to be had out there, but what did Florida really give up to acquire Hoffman, even if he comes with a crazy fiancee? 3 draft picks, the highest of which is a year away, for a guy who on the ice at least is a consistent 25 goal scorer and just cresting his prime. In truth all the teams came out of this with something, though Ottawa probably the least. To my mind it’s not that Doug Wilson is that great, it’s more that the Senators are a tire fire and the Panthers continue to be aimless.

        • Dirk22

          “How many of the draft picks that Benning has given up over the years, even for bad acquisitions like Gudbranson have actually come back to haunt us?”

          You only need to look at the state of the Canucks defence to see how it has haunted the Canucks. It’s hard to say who they would have picked with the picks they traded away – but it 2015 the Flames got Rasmus Andersson who would be right there with Juolevi as a defensive prospect. The 2016 second round had a ton of talent. Asplund was drafted in their spot although guys like Samuel Girard or Debrincat (who the Canucks liked) were available. These are just the picks they had – let alone could have acquired with a little more aggresive rebuilding.

          On another note, if there is nothing of value to trade at this point how does that reflect on the management team who’s been in charge for 4 years?

  • DogBreath

    Back to the draft talk … looking around at different draft experts order, and the inconsistency of order between 3 and about 10, its clear that we the observers cannot get overly worked up about the player actually selected at #7 (assuming they don’t go too far off the board). There’s an amazing lack of consensus in this years draft.