Earlier this month, the Vancouver Canucks traded Alex Biega to the Detroit Red Wings for a return that amounted to essentially nothing—a move that GM Jim Benning portrayed as nothing more than a good faith decision to give Biega one last crack at an NHL job after he failed to make the Canucks’ roster. It’s not the first time Benning has made a decision that places a player’s wellbeing ahead of the organization’s bottom-line, and it probably won’t be the last time.
The wisdom of such charitable transactions can be debated endlessly, but it’s inarguable that sometimes they can have some pretty direct consequences. In the case of Biega’s departure—and in conjunction with Oscar Fantenberg’s early-season injury woes—the consequence has been a Canucks team left without a reliable extra defender in the pressbox.
In other words, they’re lacking an Alex Biega.
The Canucks’ most-promising young defenders on the farm—namely Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty—are in need of more developmental time in Utica. Guillaume Brisebois and Ashton Sautner still represent solid, if unspectacular, call-up options. But Vancouver traditionally suffers from an inordinate amount of injuries on the blueline, and so they might want a higher-quality option or two on standby for when their top-six defenders inevitably miss time.
Ideally, that higher-quality option would still be Alex Biega. But since he’s moved on to Motown, it might behoove Benning to start browsing the bargain bin for the next Biega. Just like the Bulldog was when he first signed with the Canucks, this replacement Biega should be an unheralded defender in their mid-20s who is currently on the fringe of an NHL roster—and they should be fairly cheap to acquire.
Below are some current candidates from around the league, making this the first edition of Trade Market for the 2019/20 Season.
(Note: Stats are current as of the morning of October 18).
No formal team announcement, but believe the #Canucks Opening Roster is: 23 (14F/7D/2G) on Active Roster & $167K Cap Space.
IR: Roussel ($3M)
Buried Cap Hit: Baertschi ($2.292M)https://t.co/kcfp6wQuo6
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) October 2, 2019
Madison Bowey, Detroit Red Wings
$1 million cap hit
Bowey’s name has been around the league for what feels like forever, but he’s only skating into his third NHL campaign in a career that has been split between Washington and Detroit. Ironically enough, the Red Wings’ acquisition of Alex Biega is what has forced Bowey to the pressbox once again—and he’ll only be pushed further down the lineup when Danny DeKeyser returns from injury. The former Kelowna Rocket has made his reputation on skating ability, and carries both a large frame and some limited offensive potential.
What would they cost?: As Bowey is no longer exempt from waivers, Detroit may have to flip him for a mid-round pick in the near-future—or just try to sneak him through.
Slater Koekkoek, Chicago Blackhawks
$925k cap hit
Koekkoek comes with quite a reputation—both as the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and as the possessor of one of the best names in modern hockey. The lanky defender has largely been a disappointment in both of his big league stops, but he has shown potential at times—notching eight points in 35 games for the Lightning in 2017/18. Koekkoek is another mobile defender with puck moving skills—but also some major deficiencies in the defensive end. If he can iron those out, he still has time to salvage his career.
What would they cost?: The Blackhawks are loaded up with young defenders waiting to burst onto the scene—and their long-term defenders aren’t going anywhere quite yet. There’s a good chance that Koekkoek is waived at some point in 2019/20, but Chicago will try to flip him for a small return first. Think a 6th round pick.
Ilya Lyubushkin, Arizona Coyotes
$874k cap hit
Lyubushkin is just coming off his rookie season with the Coyotes, but his time with the organization may be close to its end. The sizeable Russian is best-known for his crushing checks, but he’s also a reliable blueliner with strong skating, positioning, and defensive vision. His very limited offensive potential has resulted in him losing his spot early in 2019/20 to Kyle Capobianco. If Nikita Tryamkin never returns, Lyubushkin looks like a fine consolation prize.
What would they cost?: Unlike others on the list, Lyubushkin is still waivers-exempt—and will be for the remainder of the 2018/19 season. That should increase his market value, but it’s hard to imagine him garnering anything more than a 3rd round pick. Still, Arizona could just opt not to trade him.
Sam Morin, Philadelphia Flyers
$700k cap hit
Morin is the player who inspired this article. His size—6’6” and 205 pounds—is obviously his most noteworthy attribute, but there’s a lot more than that to like in Morin’s game. Morin is a beast in the defensive end that opponents have learned to fear, and he definitely knows how to use his wingspan effectively. When healthy, he’s also shown great offensive promise—scoring at a nearly 0.5 PPG pace in the 2017/18 AHL season. It’s the staying healthy that is the issue, with Morin suiting up for just 24 total pro games over the last two years.
What would they cost?: Morin is also caught up in a numbers game in Philadelphia—an organization with a strong blueline and one of deepest stable of prospects in hockey. He’s already a healthy scratch, and Philippe Myers will be pushing him ever further down the depth chart in the near future—so he could be had for as little as a mid-round pick.
Nelson Nogier, Winnipeg Jets
$700k cap hit
Nogier is the youngest individual on this list, and yet he’s been around the periphery of the Jets long enough to no longer be waivers-exempt. While his age and right-handedness make for an appealing option, Nogier is definitely a player with limited upside—which is probably why he still can’t crack a decimated Winnipeg blueline. That being said, his physical game and defensive acumen have translated well to the pros, and he’s got room for growth—so he could be worth the pickup.
What would they cost?: Nogier already cleared waivers once this preseason, and so the Canucks could have already had him for free. With that in mind, it won’t take more than a late pick or a contract swap to acquire him now—but only if the Vancouver pro scouting department has seen something in his game they like.
Juuso Riikola, Pittsburgh Penguins
$850k cap hit
Lozenge-related puns aside, Riikola is an intriguing case. He’s caught up in an awful situation on a Pittsburgh blueline overloaded with bad defenders, and his only game of the season thus far saw him taking shifts at forward. Riikola is an all-around talent who plays a smart game in the defensive zone—with an active stick and sound positioning. He’s also physical and can move the puck to an extent, though he hasn’t put up serious numbers at any level.
What would they cost?: The Penguins have to trade a defenseman at some point, but they’d almost certainly rather deal someone like Erik Gudbranson or Jack Johnson. Assuming they struggle to move those two—as they should—Riikola could end up being a casualty of the roster squeeze, and he’d probably only cost a mid-round pick.
Nick Seeler, Minnesota Wild
$725k cap hit
Seeler is another defender who feels like they’ve been around for a while, but that could be because this author is prone to confusing them with Nate Prosser. Seeler plays a tough, simple game that is centered around physicality and occupying lanes—and he’s been known to toss knuckles with some of the baddest individuals in the league. He doesn’t make a lot of poor decisions in his own zone, but he is prone to taking ill-timed penalties.
What would they cost?: Seeler’s availability depends on how quickly the Wild decide to burn it all down and rebuild. If they choose to move veterans in the near-future, they’ll want to hang on to him—but if they stay mired in mediocrity he could wind up on waivers or the bargain trade market pretty quickly.