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The Arguments For And Against Trading Ben Hutton

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.

Keep 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.

Trade Hutton

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.

Keep Hutton

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.

Trade Hutton

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.

Keep Hutton

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.

Trade Hutton

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.

Keep Hutton

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.

Trade Hutton

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.

Keep Hutton

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

Trade Hutton

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.

Keep Hutton

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.

 

Trade Hutton

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.

Keep Hutton

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?

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.

Trade Hutton

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?

  • Great article, Stephan. I do question whether Hutton would automatically qualify for a big raise. He and the Canucks could agree on a short-term deal in the low $3M range that takes him to free agency. Here are some recent examples who had similar career games/points: In 2017, Calvin De Haan did a 1 year deal for $3.3M that took him into free agency. Last summer, Ryan Murray signed a 1 year bridge deal at $2.825M and will still have 1 year of RFA status left. If Hutton signs a 1 or 2 year deal and then walks, Juolevi or another bottom 4 prospect like Brisebois, Rathbone or McEneny could be ready to take his place.

    • I would probably sign Hutton if he’s willing to do short term and under $3.5 million. That’s definitely a moveable contract if and when Juolevi begins to outplay him. But I think Hutton’s adequate time on the top-pairing this year will be used by his agent to argue for either short-term, high-salary or long-term, low-salary contracts.

  • Goon

    As with any player, whether he should be traded really depends on the return. If you can swing a deal that makes the team better, you take it. If you can trade Sidney Crosby for Connor McDavid, you trade Sidney Crosby!

  • Killer Marmot

    Edler might not re-sign, Hughes might not be as big of a splash as predicted, and Juolevi might never become a bona fide NHLer. When a course of action assumes a lot of other things go right, the risk is probably too great.

    In a year, we can talk.

      • DogBreath

        Yes, this is the key. One wonders whether the delay in signing Edler is they don’t want to include a no movement clause so they can trade him later. If that plays out, Edler is eventually signed, traded and the left side could look like Hutton, Hughes and Juolevi.

  • wojohowitz

    I think you have been a little too kind to Hutton. When Edler and Tanev when down Stecher and Hutton became the first pairing. Stecher relished that role and upped his game but Hutton`s game deteriorated. The only positive might be that opponents saw Stecher`s importance to the team and started to mug him and Hutton stepped to protect his smaller team mate. I`m not seeing upside but only a stop gap until someone better can replace him – and hopefully soon.

    A side note would be Biega not playing a single game in January – the forgotten man but now these last few games; Edler, Stecher and Biega are the go to guys.

    • Goon

      The fact that Hutton couldn’t handle playing almost 30 minutes a night isn’t really a mark against him – most players can’t, and he shouldn’t be expected to play elite 1st-pairing minutes. He’s decent as a 2nd-pairing guy with the right partner, and excels in a depth role. That’s worth keeping around, as long as he can be kept around for under $4 million.

  • TD

    Who will be better long term, Edler or Hutton? The pro assessment abilities of this management team has not given fans confidence they can make that assessment correctly. I don’t know if they can sign Edler to a contract that makes sense. Anything longer than 2 years and the Canucks will have to protect him in the expansion draft.

    The easy answer if they also sign Edler is to sign Hutton now and trade him if Juolevi’s play makes him expendable.

  • LTFan

    Most of the time I am all for keeping a player who is playing in the NHL for someone who might play in the NHL. Hutton will be 26 in April and IMO he has another 5 or 6 years of being able to play in the League. Everyone else who is a prospect is a “maybe” and that includes Hughes and Juolevi. You don’t know until they start playing in the NHL as to whether they are as “marketed” or otherwise.

    Trading for prospects or draft picks is, most of the time, a gamble. I wouldn’t do that with Hutton.

  • Defenceman Factory

    Good article, thanks Stephan.

    The article has lots of information to justify why Hutton isn’t due a “big” raise. Mediocre point production, some unimpressive metrics and a terrible performance last season. Yes he did play some first pairing minutes but I think he proved he shouldn’t rather than really driving up his value. I think Hutton likes Vancouver and has a good relationship with Green. That said it should be possible to sign him to a contract that in a year, two or three could be traded. I don’t mind 4 years at $3.5 mil.

    With Hutton on a tradable contract he can be moved whenever the return looks good or prospects demonstrate they are better than he is. That hasn’t happened yet. Hughes may take over the 1st unit powerplay but it is likely a couple years before he gets top 4 minutes 5v5.

    Hutton re

    • Adamemnon

      The point would be, if you read the actual article, that Hutton is one of the reasons our defense is so weak. Thus, he’s overvalued, thus, if you can flip him for a better return than he’s worth, if you’re a smart manager, that’s something you do. Add to it that the left side of the Canucks’ defense is actually a potential strength with Edler, Hughes, Juolevi and Teves and Sautner as fill-ins and the fact that if Edler re-signs Hutton will be taking minutes and valuable development time from both Hughes and Juolevi, and there is a pretty darn good argument for trading him. At the very least, it ain’t no stupid debate.

        • Adamemnon

          I like Hutton a lot, I wish the smart thing to do was not to trade him, I’d rather keep him — but being a good manager means being willing to do things you don’t necessarily want to do for the good of the team.

          PS – Great article Stephan

  • Kanuckhotep

    I wrote Ben off admittedly after his 17-18 horror show but he responded well to coach Green’s tough love principle and is one of our better defencemen actually now. I wouldn’t trade him and can be a good asset going forward. Why dump a draft choice who finally hits his stride? Great article though but I’m all for keeping the affable Ben.

  • Puck Viking

    Good article. Lots of points of view.

    I keep him for next year. See how Hughes and Joulevi play. At the end of next season or TDL you either move Edler, Hutton or Joulevi. Keep in mind you have Rathbone who needs to be signed in 2 years as well. His timing might be perfect for when Edlers next contract expires.

  • DJ_44

    I advocating trading Hutton last year after two brutal seasons. This year, to his credit, he came into camp in shape and played well. Very well in fact, and formed a solid, albeit unspectular pairing with Stecher.

    What to do? Trade him. Last year I would have said this out of anger; this year it is because Ben raised his value, maybe as high as a second-round pick, or in a package for a younger, higher end player.

    He is a 4/5/6 guy. Hughes will be fine, Sautner and Briesbois can both play that role as well as Ben. Edler will be resigned. Left side done.

    Now for the right side…….

  • Dirty30

    Great article and format — in future you might consider having another writer take point or counterpoint.

    Keep Hutton. He costs nothing but salary and a roster spot. This team has had an egregious procession of failed trades and signings and Hutton, despite some shortcomings, has survived them all.

    Garrison, Sbisa, Bartowski, Three minutes of Clendening for Forsling, MDZzzzzz, Guddy, Pou and others that are simply best forgotten before the terrible pain becomes unbearable.

    Depth at D is good — so is asset management (a skill one hopes Jim learns one day) — and giving up a decent though underwhelming young D for picks that could become nothing but another bad memory isn’t a good plan.

    This team needs to be overstocked with good and great players so Hutton is an asset to retain for now. We’ve seen time and again what happens when Benning tries to find a D outside the draft … keep Hutton just to avoid JB trying to sign someone.

    • canuckfan

      Hughes can also play the right side which can open up some options. Keeping Hutton makes the team stronger and much better, as well as signing Schenn perhaps he doesn’t make the team but is a great option for depth.
      Nice to see things unfold as were hoped now for Oli Juolevi to complete the plan up to now and add a couple more pieces in this years draft.

  • Holly Wood

    Great problem to have. After watching Hughes debut last night the D will have a very different look moving forward. Most will agree that you need at least 8-9 competent D men to get through a season and a playoff run. Which ones that fit in under the cap will very interesting

  • Ronning4ever

    Always a pleasurable read for these series. One thing I never understand about much of Canucks analysis is how injuries are more or less ignored. IMHO you keep Hutton if only to help with inevitable injuries. Sautner, Brisebois and Teves probably aren’t ready to step in if Edler/Hughes goes down, but guys like Hutton and Juolevi might be and as the Nux use minimum 10 D every year, the more you can wedge into the roster the better. Team is already down to their last 3 RHD this season and have zero D NHL available in Utica right now. In that vein I hope they re-sign to a depth deal, add a RHD in FA and even qualify and waive Pouliot just in case:

    Hughes – Tanev
    Edler – ???
    Hutton – Stecher
    Sautner – Biega

    Juolevi – Schenn
    Pouliot – Chatfield
    Brisebois – Eliot
    Teves

  • Kootenaydude

    Sign Hutton. As of today we have a rookie in Hughes. Edler is a UFA and there are no guarantees. Juolevi hasn’t proven anything. Brisebois didn’t look that great. Sautner played like a bottom 6 defender. Come next season hopefully we have 4 defencemen fighting for 3 spots. Start Juolevi in Utica. If he plays well he can be the call up guy if we get injured. If he plays really well then we can talk trading Hutton

  • Burnabybob

    I agree that the play of Juolevi will probably be a major factor in the future of Hutton in Vancouver. If Juolevi is clearly better, and they sign Edler to an extension, it probably makes sense to trade Hutton for some offensive help.

  • Fred-65

    Hutton is a strange situation for both himself and the club. The situation for LHD is really a spot where the club is overloaded with players and prospects. I suspect he may be a sign and trade candidate. Give him a couple of years but no NTC clause

  • tru north

    Interesting and thoughtful article. Very pleased to note that the usual Canucks Army snark is missing … thank you! It gets so tiresome reading how inept/short sighted/stupid the Canucks management is. Compared to the brilliant insights and intellectual powers of some of the writers here.

  • tru north

    While I’m at it, IMO … sign Edler, sign Hutton, play next year as it unfolds and then make the choice of what route is best longer term.
    Don’t forget Edler is 30+ years old. He may be the player to trade.

  • Beer Can Boyd

    Yeah, great idea. Because the Canucks are so flush with NHL defenseman that they can trade a 25 year old who’s just had his best season. Julolevi has proved nothing, Edler hasn’t signed yet, and theres not a lot after that. Only in Vancouver would this even be discussed. Unbelievable.

  • Hockey Bunker

    A short term contract is cheap insurance. Left D strength can turn into a weakness in a very short time if assumptions about Juolevi and Hughes are made without real evidence. Look at Canucks goaltending when the team had the strong Schneider Luongo duo and then had a big hole. Yes team got Bo but until this year goaltending has been a weakness.