The Fabled Lost Pick
It’s a little under two weeks until the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, and the Vancouver Canucks are still pacing the Pacific Division and look well on their way to a playoff spot. This mathematical fact has the vast majority of the fanbase rightfully electrified, but there’s a small segment of supporters that can’t help but feel a twinge of regret when they see the standings – because they know it means that the Canucks’ first round pick in 2020 will be heading to the Tampa Bay Lightning as a result of the JT Miller trade.
We’re not here to relitigate that fabled transaction, which most would agree has turned out exceptionally well thus far, but it’s not so much the addition of Miller and more the subtraction of the pick that has prospect-hounds in their feelings – the victims of serious FOMO on a 2020 draft class that is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory.
Why The First Round Of The 2020 Draft Is Worth Getting Back Into
As the aforementioned section of the fanbase that always keeps an eye to the future could tell you, the 2020 NHL Entry Draft has been hyped up for a couple of seasons as a special one – and not just because of the presence of super-prospect Alexis Lafrenière.
Pundits and amateur enthusiasts alike insist that the 2020 draft class is going to be stacked well into the second round, which means that the Canucks – and those of their fans who live for the draft – are going to suffer watching quality prospects pass them by as they sit out the entire first round.
Vancouver isn’t that far into the post- era of their rebuild that they couldn’t benefit from another first round pick, especially one from a draft class as strong as 2020. Sure, they’re benefitting from having JT Miller more than they would a prospect years away from the NHL – but what if they didn’t have to choose?
What if they could have…both?
Can The Canucks Afford To Give Up Anything Worth A First?
If Jim Benning and Co. are going to buy their way back into the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, they’re going to have to pony up some significant assets. The list of Vancouver property that would be worthy of such a return is long (and definitely contains JT Miller, for the record). The list of Canuck assets that could return a 2020 first round pick and that they could actually afford to give up is much shorter.
We’ve covered this topic plenty of times here at CanucksArmy, but there’s every possibility that the Canucks decide to part ways with Chris Tanev this summer in an effort to cut cap. Even if that’s the case, Vancouver is probably still better off keeping Tanev as a “self-rental” for their run at the playoffs – but that depends on how wild the market gets at the 2020 Trade Deadline.
As it often is around Deadline Day, there’s a dearth of quality right-handed defenseman available for purchase. That should lead to intensified interest in Tanev – in the midst of a career season – if he is put on the block.
If another team offers a first round pick in return for an expiring contract the Canucks might not be able to renew, can Benning really afford to say no?
If there’s one “available” player on the Canucks’ roster who is worthy of a 2020 first, it’s Jacob Markstrom – but the idea of flipping the pending UFA for a draft pick has several things working against it.
Firstly, the market for goaltenders is fickle, and even top netminders very rarely returned first round picks in any draft – much less a supposedly legendary one. With no obvious contenders out there looking for a starter, there’s no guarantee of anyone offering a premium pick for Markstrom.
There’s also the fact that Markstrom would be being dealt as a rental, lowering his value even further.
Speaking of value, the last and biggest point working against the notion of a Markstrom trade is his value to the Vancouver Canucks. With Markstrom well on his way to another MVP season and his first trip to the playoffs, there’s just no way that Jim Benning would be able to justify such a move to the players, the ownership, or the fanbase – no matter how loaded the 2020 Draft may be.
Trading the Canucks’ young backup and prospective goalie-of-the-future for a 2020 first round pick might just be the most likely scenario – and it’s still a pretty long shot. It wouldn’t be entirely unprecedented for a team to offer up a high pick for an up-and-coming netminder – see Cory Schneider – but Demko is probably lacking the experience to garner such a return.
If Vancouver decides to stake their next few seasons on Jacob Markstrom by signing him through the 2021 Expansion Draft, and if another franchise decides to offer a decent 2020 first rounder for Demko, then it would make some sense for Jim Benning to accept. The odds of Demko ever returning more than that in a trade are not particularly high.
On the other hand, that’s an awful lot of “ifs.”
Pearson is having a career renaissance with the Canucks, and he’d definitely earn some attention if they were to put him on the block – but he’s only one Trade Deadline removed from being dealt straight-up for Erik Gudbranson. If a team is going to give up a pick in the 2020 Draft, they’re not going to do it for Pearson.
As a right-handed defenseman, Stecher might return more in a Deadline Day deal than most would assume – but he’s not going to return a first round pick. There’s just no chance.
If the Canucks were to offer up one of their young guns, like Adam Gaudette, for a 2020 first round pick, they’d have to weigh the chances of that pick ending up as a better NHL player than Gaudette. Even in a stacked draft class, it’s a tough gamble to make.
A Future First Round Pick
Jim Benning could always double-down on his draft pick gamble by flipping a future first round draft pick for one in 2020. Until the Canucks have clinched a playoff spot, Benning can’t trade the 2021 first rounder, but he could always make such a deal in the offseason – or offer up something from 2022 and beyond.
Of course, finding someone willing to bump themselves out of the 2020 first round and into a future year is another matter – and one that is not particularly likely to come to fruition.
Who Is Willing To Give Up A 2020 First?
The last point raises another important issue – none of the Canucks’ various assets are worth a 2020 first round draft pick if no one is actually willing to trade them away. Fortunately, there are a few different avenues to pursue in that regard.
Teams With Multiple Picks
The following teams have multiple picks in the 2020 first round already, and thus might be more willing to give one of them up:
Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils (conditional), Carolina Hurricanes (conditional),
Tampa Bay Lighting (conditional/awkward)
The following teams are 100% competing for the Stanley Cup in 2020, and could be enticed to trade a draft pick for a piece that puts them over the top:
Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals
Teams Desperate To Cut Cap
The following teams will be looking to cut cap either at the deadline or in the offseason, and might be convinced to give up a draft pick to get out of trouble:
Arizona Coyotes (possibly no pick), Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators,
St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs (no pick)
Is There A Fit Out There?
On the whole, not really. Or, more specifically, not in any way that will benefit the Canucks enough in the long-term to make the short-term costs worthwhile.
They could probably get a first back from Boston for taking on David Backes, but Vancouver’s own onerous contracts prevent that possibility.
A contender might be willing to trade a first rounder for one of the Canucks’ most tradeable assets – Chris Tanev to Toronto, Jacob Markstrom to Carolina – but such deals would constitute giving up on the Canucks’ own 2020 playoff aspirations for a fairly late pick. That’s just not very appetizing.
Trading Thatcher Demko for a first round pick would ultimately be the tidiest method of getting back into the first round, but he’d almost certainly have to build up his résumé a bit more before that’s a possibility – and by the time that’s happened, the 2020 first round will already be over.
It’s probably best for the draft-related aspirations of the fanbase to move past that point, too.