By this humble writer’s reckoning, Jim Benning and the Vancouver Canucks should be working, more-or-less, with the following set of qualifiers, in roughly this order, when making their list of blueline trade targets:
1) The defenceman should be available for trade, or at least acquirable without significant overpay.
2) The defenceman should have a contract that will not impede the Canucks’ attempts to sign Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes to long-term extensions.
3) The defenceman should be of at least top-four quality, preferably with the ability to spend at least some time on a top pairing.
4) The defenceman should be on the upswing of their career, in line with the core of the team, or at the very least not on the downswing.
5) The defenceman should be right-handed, or at least comfortable playing on the right side.
You may notice that the much-rumoured Oliver Ekman-Larsson only checks two those boxes — or maybe only one, depending on how far you believe his game has fallen off. That’s why we’ve put together our own list of potential D trade targets that make more sense for the Canucks.
Honestly, it wasn’t even that hard.
RHD, 23, 6’2”, 212lb, Boston
One year @ $2.85 million
Available?: There have been whispers that Carlo may be available in the right deal, and they’ll only increase if the Bruins end up acquiring OEL.
Reasonable contract?: He’s due for a raise after this contract, but not too much of one. Right now, he’s excellent value.
Top-four or better?: Carlo plays top-four minutes on a pretty strong blueline in Boston. He probably lacks the offensive ability to be a true top-pairing guy, but he may be a long-term upgrade on Chris Tanev if paired with Quinn Hughes.
On the upswing?: At 23, Carlo probably hasn’t even entered his prime quite yet.
What Might They Cost?: The Bruins don’t need to trade Carlo, and so any deal for him would have to be fair value or better. Dreams of flipping Jake Virtanen for him are far-fetched. Expect Carlo to cost next year’s first, and then some.
LHD, 24, 6’3”, 221lb, Carolina
Available?: Someone’s got to go from a crowded blueline in Carolina. They’ll try to move Jake Gardiner first, but it seems likely that one of Fleury or Jake Bean will also move in return for more talent elsewhere in the lineup.
Reasonable contract?: He’s an RFA without a ton of leverage, so probably.
Top-four or better?: This one’s tricky. Fleury hasn’t got a consistent top-four chance with the Hurricanes, but only because of their depth. Wherever he’s played, he’s excelled, and all indications are he could step into a permanent top-four role immediately.
On the upswing?: At 24 and only on his fourth NHL season, most definitely.
Right-handed?: He’s not, but he played most of his minutes this past season on the right side, and looks more than comfortable there.
What Might They Cost?: Fleury is cost-effective, which makes him a desirable target under the flat cap. He’s still more potential that product, though, and one wouldn’t have to break the bank to acquire him. Carolina will ask for Demko, but the Canucks should hold out for a better deal like a second-rounder and change.
RHD, 26, 6’2”, 205lb, New Jersey
Three years @ $4.167 million
Available?: Severson’s name has definitely made the rumour rounds of late as the Devils continue to rebuild their roster.
Reasonable contract?: It’s not exactly bargain bin, but Severson is paid a fair wage for his services and has plenty of term left.
Top-four or better?: Severson’s defensive inconsistency is well-known, and some of those gaffes won’t disappear even if he’s playing on a superior blueline. Offensively speaking, however, Severson would represent an upgrade on every Canuck defender not named Quinn Hughes.
On the upswing?: Kind of. There’s room for growth in Severson’s own end, but he’s more-or-less a finished product at this point. He has plenty of “prime” years left in him.
Right-handed?: He sure is.
What Might They Cost?: New Jersey needs young NHL talent more than they need more picks and prospects. A swap for Virtanen or Adam Gaudette could make some sense, with the Canucks likely adding a little based on Severson’s more valuable position and track record.
RHD, 27, 6’5”, 233lb, New York Islanders
Three years @ $1.45 million
Available?: Possibly. If the Islanders are unable to dump Johnny Boychuk — a likely outcome — they may have to part with Mayfield to make more room for Ryan Pulock and Noah Dobson. Still, with his contract, he’s valuable to any team in the league, and so there’d be a bidding war for his services.
Reasonable contract?: And how! With three years left on a slightly-less-than-$1.5-million deal, Mayfield has one of the best value contracts in the league.
Top-four or better?: The Islanders did better than most expected in the postseason, and they did so with Mayfield playing top-four minutes. He’s not flashy, but he is effective.
On the upswing?: Not really, but at this age, Mayfield is firmly within his prime and still a ways off from declining.
Right-handed?: Yes, and they’re big right hands, too.
What Might They Cost?: The Islanders are another team looking for talent elsewhere in the lineup. Again, a swap for either Virtanen or Gaudette makes sense here, but the Canucks would have to add something because of that amazing contract. If New York puts Mayfield on the block, expect 30 teams to put in a bid — which could quickly price him far out of proportion with his actual talent.
LHD, 27, 5’11”, 180lb, Philadelphia
Three years @ $4.5 million
Available?: Gostisbehere’s name has been the source of speculation for a while now, and he seems to have worn out his welcome in Philadelphia.
Reasonable contract?: That depends entirely on how well he rebounds from a shoddy 2019/20 season, but at least it’s not a boat anchor.
Top-four or better?: He definitely has been in the past. Gostisbehere has gostisgone from 65 points to 37 to 12 over the last three seasons, so it’s tough to know where he’ll be moving forward.
On the upswing?: He’s done developing, but there is the possibility that he’ll bounce back this year, which could be considered an upswing of sorts.
Right-handed?: Gostisbehere is a lefty, but he’s been pushed over to the right in Philadelphia thanks to the emergence of Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and other Flyer defenders. He’s played most of his minutes there for the last three years, so offhandedness isn’t to blame for his regression.
What Might They Cost?: With the Flyers looking to shuffle their roster and cut salary anyway, Gostisbehere is definitely being shopped around, and that could lower his price-tag. Again, Virtanen seems like a natural fit for Philly and a reasonable swap with a small addition, but the lure of that 65-point season might drive Gostisbehere’s value beyond that.
RHD, 23, 6’3”, Tampa Bay
Available?: The Lightning need to cut cap more than anyone, but they’d prefer to do it elsewhere in the lineup. More on this in a bit.
Reasonable contract?: Cernak is an RFA, but he doesn’t have the offensive cachet to break the bank quite yet. He’ll sign for something reasonable…unless…
Top-four or better?: He just played the fourth-most minutes on a Stanley Cup-winning blueline, so yeah.
On the upswing?: Cernak hasn’t even hit his prime yet. This was only his second NHL season.
Right-handed?: Yes, indeed.
What Might They Cost?: Tampa Bay isn’t eager to move Cernak if they can avoid it, and if they do move him there will be plenty of suitors for his services. The Canucks’ best bet might be the offer sheet route. It would cost only a second-rounder to offer sheet Cernak to a $4.36 million deal, but Tampa would likely match that. To get him, Benning would almost certainly have to go into the next tier, which means a first and a third round pick heading to Tampa in compensation.
RHD, 22, 6’2”,185lb, Colorado
One year @ $925K
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Available?: If the Avalanche add a right-side defender this offseason, as is rumoured, they could look to move Timmins, though they don’t really need to as he is waivers-exempt.
Reasonable contract?: He’s in the last year of an ELC and isn’t in line for much of a raise at all.
Top-four or better?: Not yet. This one would be a gamble, as Timmins missed all of last season with concussion-related issues, and spent most of this past season between the IR and the AHL. The potential is there, but Colorado may decide they don’t have the room to develop him there.
On the upswing?: Couldn’t be more on the upswing, honestly.
What Might They Cost?: Who knows? It all depends on further roster moves for the Avs, how much Joe Sakic still believes in Timmins, and how many other teams are in on him. Olli Juolevi for Timmins doesn’t not make sense.
LHD, 25, 6’6”, 235lb, Colorado
Available?: Zadorov was said to be on the move all last year, and an offseason transaction seems inevitable.
Reasonable contract?: He’s an RFA without the numbers to demand anything higher than $2-3 million.
Top-four or better?: Ideally not. Zadorov played the fifth-most minutes on the Avalanche blueline in the regular season, and the sixth-most in the playoffs, and that’s about where he belongs on a contender. It must be said, however, that his blend of skating and physicality is mighty appealing.
On the upswing?: There’s some upside still in there, but not much.
Right-handed?: No, but Zadorov has always been a switch-hitter. Played a bunch of minutes alongside Cale Makar this season.
What Might They Cost?: Zadorov might be the cheapest defender on this list. You might even be able to get him for a second or a “B” prospect straight-up.
RHD, 27, 6’3”, 208lb, Edmonton
One year @ $4.167 million
Available?: After another disappointing finish, no one south of McDavid and Draisaitl is truly safe. Larsson seems more likely to move than any of Oscar Klefblom, Ethan Bear, Darnell Nurse, or Evan Bouchard. If they don’t move him, how else are they going to shake up the blueline?
Reasonable contract?: Larsson would basically replace Chris Tanev, both in terms of role and salary. He is, however, a pending UFA.
Top-four or better?: Larsson’s not the top-pairing talent Edmonton thought they were getting when they traded him straight-up for Taylor Hall, but he’s definitely top-four material.
On the upswing?: Larsson seems like he’s been around for forever, but he’s only 27. Not a youngster, but a player with many good years remaining.
What Might They Cost?: Any deal with the Oilers is going to incur a rivalry tax. If Edmonton really wants to improve their roster this offseason, as they pretty much have to lest Connor McDavid demand a trade, they’ll also be interested in cutting cap. Larsson won’t cost a Hall, and as a pending UFA he may cost a lot less than expected. A second rounder and change seems reasonable.