The Vancouver Canucks aren’t eliminated from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs quite yet—but it’s a close enough thing that the focus of the fanbase has shifted entirely to the upcoming offseason.
The summer of 2019 won’t be one of franchise-altering transactions—at least as far as the roster is concerned—but there are still some important decisions to be made. One of those decisions will be regarding the future of one Ben Hutton.
Over four seasons with the Canucks, the 25-year-old Hutton has become one of the team’s most popular players—a result of his steadily-improving two-way game and the ever-present smile on his face. Still, Hutton enters the offseason as one of the team’s most tradeable assets and it’s time for the organization to decide whether he’s part of their long-term plans—or whether it’s better to cash him in now for younger assets.
Below, we’ll examine the pros and cons of trading Hutton.
The Canucks Can Retain His Rights With A Fair Qualifying Offer
As a 25-year-old player on an expiring contract, the Canucks don’t have to do much to retain Ben Hutton’s rights moving forward. By simply making Hutton a one-year qualifying offer equal to his current salary of $2.8 million, Vancouver will make him into a restricted free agent. This means that there’s no immediate impetus to trade Hutton—and that there’s no real danger of losing him for nothing anytime soon. If the team wants to hang on to them, it will be their choice.
He’s Due For A Major Raise
The Canucks might be able to retain Hutton’s rights with a $2.8 million contract, but actually getting him to sign such a deal is another matter entirely. Hutton has the right to refer his contract to arbitration, but even if he chooses not to he’s in line for a major raise—one that could drastically affect his value to the team moving forward.
With a long list of favourable comparables, the market dictates that Hutton’s new contract should fall somewhere between $3-4.5 million—depending on the term. With the re-signings of Brock Boeser and Alex Edler imminent—to say nothing of Elias Pettersson’s second contract somewhere down the road—paying Hutton that much to play in the bottom-four might not make a lot of fiscal sense.
His Two-Way Play Passes The Eye Test
Hutton had a dreadful 2017/18 season—no bones about it. He put up a measly six points in 61 games and consistently looked like a defensive liability on the ice.
That being said, Hutton deserves ample credit for the bounceback he’s experienced in 2018/19. As far as the “eye test” is concerned, Hutton looks a lot better out there—and he’s been rewarded with greater ice-time and responsibility by coach Travis Green. His average TOI has increased to the tune of more than four minutes per game—and his special teams time has nearly doubled.
Specifically, Hutton’s decision-making ability seems to have improved by leaps and bounds compared to last year. He’s taking the time to make smarter plays—and eating the puck effectively when he doesn’t have any better options. The eye test certainly reports that Hutton has become a better defender—but the stats might disagree.
His Offense Seems To Have Stagnated And His Defensive Metrics Are Poor
It’s hard to argue with numbers, and unfortunately the hard stats don’t really reflect well on Ben Hutton.
In terms of offense, he appears to have plateaued as a 20-25 point player—and at age 25, that’s probably where he’ll remain. That’s not poor production by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also not excessively impressive—and it suggests that there are probably other defenders in the organization with greater offensive potential.
On the defensive side of things, Hutton’s stats are highly questionable. Though his metrics shot up as soon as he stopped being paired with Erik Gudbranson, Hutton still doesn’t measure up well—consistently posting a negative Corsi For % no matter who he’s playing with.
According to HockeyViz, Vancouver allows shots at 15% above the league average rate when Hutton is on the ice—but at 1% below when he’s off. That paints a powerful picture of Hutton’s lack of effectiveness in the Canucks’ own zone. Or does it? Your mileage may vary on the veracity of advanced stats.
Philadelphia, here we come! pic.twitter.com/DfjFvQPgrb
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) February 3, 2019
He Can Provide Shelter For Quinn Hughes In His Rookie Season
The Quinn Hughes era has officially begun in Vancouver—and there’s little chance he won’t be holding down a spot on the Canucks’ blueline in 2019/20. The expectations for Hughes are currently sky-high, and he could probably benefit from a veteran defender or two to shelter his minutes on the left-side of the defense. With Alex Edler set to become a UFA on July 1, Hutton is the only veteran lefty that the Canucks can guarantee will be a part of the organization next year.
He’ll Invariably Eat Into Hughes’ Ice-Time
If the Canucks do re-sign both Alex Edler and Ben Hutton, there’s no conceivable way that the two veterans don’t eat into Hughes’ ice-time during his rookie season. This could be a good thing if Hughes struggles, but it could also quickly become frustrating if Hughes outplays his older teammates—especially if coach Travis Green sticks to his veteran-playing guns. If the Canucks think Hughes is ready for top-four minutes, Hutton could already be extraneous.
He’s Already Filled In For Alex Edler Adequately
It’s difficult to discuss the future of Ben Hutton without first discussing the future of Alex Edler. The Canucks’ all-time leader in defensive scoring seems to be a guarantee to re-sign—but Vancouver can’t really afford to move on from Hutton until Edler puts pen to paper.
Even if Edler inks a new contract with Vancouver, his health remains an ongoing question mark. Hutton already demonstrated an ability to pick up much of the absent Edler’s ice-time throughout 2018/19—and it might be wise to keep him on hand for Edler’s inevitable injuries in the coming seasons.
The Left-Right Balance Of The Blueline
Defensemen playing on their off-hand is becoming increasingly rare in the NHL, and most teams now aim for a relatively equal left-right balance on their blueline. Currently, the Canucks have a bit of an imbalance—with ample NHL talent on the left-side and very little on the right aside from Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher.
Trading Hutton could help even out the defensive imbalance—especially if he’s able to be exchanged for a right-handed asset of some sort.
There Are Few Better Options Available On The Free Agency Market
A couple weeks ago, this author took a look at the UFA market for defensemen—and found it to be decidedly unimpressive. If the Canucks do decide to trade Hutton, they should not count on picking up an adequate replacement via free agency—at least, not without the cost of an inflated contract. In other words, if the Canucks are planning on swapping Hutton out for a UFA, they’d almost certainly be better off just keeping him
There Are Cheaper Options Available Within The Organization
Though the UFA market is less-than-inspiring, the Canucks don’t actually have to look outside the organization for potential Ben Hutton replacements. The Vancouver depth chart is filled with left-handed defenders on the cusp of making it to the big league—and each of them comes at a cheaper cap hit than Hutton.
Quinn Hughes is obviously first on the list, but Guillaume Brisebois, Josh Teves, and Ashton Sautner will also be pushing for NHL time. That’s to say nothing of Olli Juolevi, who we’ll discuss in a moment.
He Can Throw Bombs On Occasion
While the departure of Erik Gudbranson was almost certainly a case of addition by subtraction, there’s no mistaking that he brought a few unique elements to the Canucks’ blueline—chief among them grit and toughness. Luke Schenn is filling that role adequately for the time being, but the fact remains that the Vancouver defense corps is a fair bit softer than the league average.
Hutton has been developing the physical side of his game over the past few seasons. He hits harder and more frequently, and—when the situation calls for it—he’s demonstrated the ability to throw some serious knuckles. It’s a trait that is becoming increasingly less-important in the NHL, but toughness still carries some value—and Hutton brings a moderate amount of it to the table.
He Could Garner An Impressive Return
Of course, the Canucks don’t really have much of a reason to trade Hutton if they’re not able to garner an impressive return for him. That being said, fans might be surprised at how high the market value of Hutton currently is. Two-way defenders are always a hot commodity, and Hutton reportedly garnered plenty of attention at 2018’s Trade Deadline—when he was in the midst of a six-point season.
If other teams were interested in Hutton in 2018, they should be even more so in 2019—and that could result in a trade package that includes multiple draft picks. With the 2019 Entry Draft located in Vancouver, the trading of Hutton could yield a few extra selections for the hometown fans to cheer for—and that’s something GM Jim Benning has already expressed great interest in.
Team Culture Considerations
There’s no denying that Hutton is popular—both in the fanbase and in the dressing room. His affable nature, charming smile, and willingness to defend his teammates make him easy to cheer for—but are these intangible qualities important to a hockey team’s success?
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) March 27, 2019
Yes, to a certain extent. The real question is whether Hutton’s positive contributions to the team’s culture outweigh his occasional lack of contributions on the ice.
The Olli Juolevi Question
The question of what to do with Olli Juolevi in 2019/20 is probably the single biggest factor in determining the future of Ben Hutton. If the Canucks re-sign both Hutton and Alex Edler, it will mean that there’s no NHL roster spot left for Juolevi next year.
Juolevi has missed the majority of the 2018/19 season due to knee surgery, and having him start in the AHL might not be the worst thing in the world. However, Juolevi will also be 21-years-old when next season begins—and he’ll need to get NHL minutes sooner rather than later. Having a veteran like Hutton blocking his access to the roster could be devastating to Juolevi’s development at this point in time—and Hutton might just need to be sacrificed to prevent the stagnation of Vancouver’s 5th overall pick from the 2016 Entry Draft.
So, what do you think?
— Stephan Roget (@StephanRoget) March 28, 2019