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Photo Credit: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

If the Canucks trade Nate Schmidt, where is the best fit and what might they get in return?

Folks, we don’t have to like the rumours, but we’ve all heard them.

Or, to be more accurate, Rick Dhaliwal has heard them and passed them on to the rest of us.

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On the surface, trading Schmidt is one of the last things the Vancouver Canucks should be doing right now. They already suffer from a dearth of talent on their blueline, and in particular the right side, which just so happens to be the side on which the left-handed Schmidt tends to excel.

Sure, his salary is a bit on the high-end, but it’s also a fair bit cheaper than a defender of Schmidt’s quality usually costs on the open market.

Prior to his arrival in Vancouver, Schmidt posted some of the best possession and defensive metrics in the entire NHL for the Golden Knights. This author highlighted him as the Canucks’ most optimal target for the 2020 offseason, and even opined that “Any prospect not named Podkolzin, Hoglander, or Rathbone and any pick beyond the first round sounds like an acceptable deal.”

The Canucks got him for a third in 2022.

Then, the 2021 season. Schmidt struggled in his debut campaign for the Canucks, but not nearly as badly as most think, and so did nearly everyone else on the roster.

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If one were to pick out the Canucks most likely to enjoy rebound seasons under the defensive eye of new assistant coach Brad Shaw, Schmidt would probably be at the top of the list.

If you haven’t got the picture yet already, we don’t want Jim Benning and Co. to trade Schmidt. Even if he has demanded a trade behind the scenes, we — believing in a pending bounce back — would greatly prefer the Canucks hang on to him until he’s re-established his value and can thus return more.

But as Mick Jagger once put it, “You can’t always get what you want.”

And if you try sometimes, you just might find, that you get what you need.

Well, what we need today is an article about potential trade destinations and returns for Nate Schmidt. So, here it is.

Sarcastic hooray!

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The Stipulations

A top-four defender who can play either side, and with a heart of gold, to boot? Who wouldn’t want Nate Schmidt?

Fortunately, we can whittle down the list of potential suitors from 31 to something more manageable.

As it was last summer, Schmidt’s contract is an impediment to any move. There will be some teams that simply cannot afford to add his $5.95 million in salary. So they’re out.

With the flat cap in place, it’s probably fair to say that having Schmidt anywhere but the top-four is a luxury that no team could afford. So, we’re looking for depth charts that only have three distinct top-four defenders in place, or perhaps one or more top-four defenders that are clearly worse than Schmidt.

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It’s also fair to say that as he approaches 30 (Happy Early Birthday, Nate!), Schmidt will primarily draw interest from clubs that are already competitive, or hope to be very soon.

Ideally, the Canucks would be dealing Schmidt out of the division, but that might not be possible.

Let’s get to it.

The Suitors

Arizona Coyotes

Cap Space for 2021/22: $31.4 million

Current Top-Four D: Jakob Chychrun, Oliver Ekman-Larsson

The Coyotes currently have just three NHL-quality defenders signed for next season, though rookie Victor Soderstrom is sure to make some noise. Up front, Arizona has a fine collection of young forwards that, combined with Darcy Kuemper’s goaltending, should be enough to push them back into the playoff conversation next year.

Schmidt would make a fine stabilizing partner for OEL, or he and Chychrun could team up on an all-situations shutdown pairing.

Cap-wise, Arizona can easily afford Schmidt, though their internal budget may say otherwise.

Boston Bruins

Cap Space for 2021/22: $30.3 million

Current Top-Four D: Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo, Jeremy Lauzon

Gosh, how we hate this team.

After yet another successful and competitive campaign, the Bruins are somehow entering the offseason with more than $30 million in space. Now, some of that will go toward re-upping Taylor Hall, and some will go to whomever they decide to roll with in net, but that still leaves more than enough for Schmidt.

With four good defenders already in the fold and some youngsters pushing for more time, Schmidt would be a borderline luxury for the Bruins. But they’re desperately trying to squeeze another couple of runs out of the Bergeron/Marchand core, and it’s a luxury they can afford.

Schmidt pairs finely with McAvoy, but he might do even better on a shutdown pairing with Carlo, who is a little bit reminiscent of Brayden McNabb, Schmidt’s long-time partner in Vegas.

Edmonton Oilers

Cap Space for 2021/22: $16.2 million

Current Top-Four D: Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom (?), Ethan Bear

The Canucks should definitely avoid trading Schmidt to somewhere so nearby, but the Oilers will still come calling all the same.

With Klefbom’s health still a question mark, Edmonton can’t really sit around and wait for him. The Oilers have got to right the ship before Connor McDavid starts picking out creepily-designed homes elsewhere, and Schmidt could be the rudder they’re looking for.

Even if the Oilers re-sign Adam Larsson, as they’re expected to do, there’s still room for Schmidt in their top-six. Cap space will be tight, however, and they also need more talent up front. It’s not the best fit, and that’s probably for the best.

Los Angeles Kings

Cap Space for 2021/22: $15.4 million

Current Top-Four D: Drew Doughty, Matt Roy, Sean Walker

The Kings have perhaps the best prospect cupboard in the league, and yet they’re still augmenting their roster so as to be more competitive in 2021/22. With the addition of Viktor Arvidsson, they’ve got a fine set of veterans that can insulate the young guns and perhaps carry them to the brink of a playoff appearance.

Whether Schmidt would be helping out a young defender or giving Doughty a worthy partner for once, he’d be a boon to what the Kings are trying to accomplish this season. They don’t have an excessive amount of cap space, but they already have most of their important players under contract already.

Even if they trade for Jack Eichel, the Kings should still be able to squeeze Schmidt in.

New Jersey Devils

Cap Space for 2021/22: $37.6 million

Current Top-Four D: Ty Smith, Damon Severson, PK Subban

The Devils are slowly, but surely, making the transition from rebuild to playoff aspirant. Up front, they’ve got a bevy of talented forwards, but their blueline is still a total mess.

Schmidt enters the situation as the second-best defender on the roster, and a natural partner for a young phenom in Smith — though the Devil’s play-by-play crew might disagree.

Only the Seattle Kraken and the Detroit Red Wings have more cap space heading into 2021/22 than the Devils. They couldn’t just afford Schmidt, they could afford six of him.

New York Rangers

Cap Space for 2021/22: $23.8 million

Current Top-Four D: Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller

Wherever one looks, the Rangers have a finely built roster that seems poised to compete for a long, long time. There are still some holes to be fixed as they shoot for the 2022 playoffs, however, and the blueline could be considered one.

Reigning Norris-winner Fox, Trouba, and Lindgren are all excellent top-four options, but the Rangers might prefer to ease the likes of Miller, Nils Lundkvist, and Matthew Robertson in a little more slowly. Schmidt would give them that option.

They have the cap space to accommodate him already, and they’ll have even more once they buy out Tony DeAngelo.

Ottawa Senators

Cap Space for 2021/22: $28.5 million

Current Top-Four D: Thomas Chabot, Nikita Zaitsev, Artem Zub

The Senators surged toward the end of last season, and it’s tough not to look at their collection of pre-prime talent and predict good things to come — so long as the organization is willing to pay what it takes to keep them all together.

Up front, the Senators are overloaded if anything, but their backend remains a bit of a disaster. Schmidt would bring instant reliability to an unreliable group, and it’s tough to think of a better potential partner for Chabot on the market.

Room has to be kept open for the likes of Jacob Bernard-Docker and Jake Sanderson to earn NHL minutes sooner rather than later, but that can still happen with Schmidt in the picture by sliding Zaitsev and Zub down.

Philadelphia Flyers

Cap Space for 2021/22: $13.1 million

Current Top-Four D: Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, Justin Braun

There once was a time when the Flyers were considered to have the best young blueline in the game, but that hasn’t quite come to fruition. They’ll be looking to add someone this offseason, and many in the Philadelphia mediasphere have already identified Schmidt as a fine candidate.

Cap space, however, will be an issue, as the Flyers still need to re-up key players like Sanheim and Carter Hart. If the Kraken end up taking a high-salary player like Jakub Voracek or James van Riemsdyk, however, that opens up more than enough room for Schmidt.

Seattle Kraken

Cap Space for 2021/22: $81.5 million

Current Top-Four D: TBA

Right now, the Kraken don’t own a single defender. Obviously, that’s going to change, and most are predicting that they’ll come away from the Expansion Draft with an abundance of them. That will naturally lead to some trades and exchanges, but don’t count them out of eventually ending up with Schmidt.

Schmidt already has a history of finding success with an expansion team, so that’s a major plus for Seattle. There might be a few higher-quality blueliners available in the Expansion Draft, but there won’t be many, so Schmidt still should end up a top-four with them.

They’ll be short on future assets to offer in return, but perhaps one of those excess defenders will catch the Canucks’ eye…

Winnipeg Jets

Cap Space for 2021/22: $20.6 million

Current Top-Four D: Josh Morrissey, Dylan DeMelo, Neal Pionk

The Jets are right in the middle of their competitive window, and their blueline is the only part of their roster in drastic need of an improvement. That could be doubly true post-Expansion Draft, where they could lose Logan Stanley or one of the aforementioned three.

The best Schmidt could offer the Jets is a calming presence for Morrissey, a high-priced former phenom who has fallen on difficult times of late. He could also help mentor some of the young defenders ready to crack the Winnipeg roster, like Dylan Samberg.

Best of all? Trading someone to Winnipeg no longer counts as trading within the division.

What will the Canucks get in return?

When the Vegas Golden Knights dealt Schmidt to the Canucks, it was under some heavily extenuating circumstances. On the cusp of signing Alex Pietrangelo, the Knights needed to find someone who had the cap space to accommodate Schmidt that very instant, and Canucks were one of only a handful of possible destinations.

That won’t be the case this offseason, as evidenced by the list of suitors we just provided you.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that Schmidt should return, at the very least, something more than the third round pick that Vancouver gave up for him.

But what exactly would an optimal return look like?

As was the case for Vegas, part of the “return” for Schmidt could be cold, hard cap space.

Removing Schmidt from the Canucks’ blueline, however, leaves them with a top-four of Quinn Hughes, Tyler Myers, Jack Rathbone, and Olli Juolevi, three of whom exclusively play the left side. In a perfect world, they’d be getting someone back for Schmidt who could essentially step right into the gap he leaves on the right-side of the top-four, though that doesn’t seem very likely.

Maybe a contender like Boston offers up a younger top-four defender like Lauzon in return, but probably not.

Instead, it seems far more likely that the Canucks will have to accept a futures-based return for Schmidt, and then attempt to parlay those assets and resultant cap space into an acquisition through some other means.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t exactly bode well for the Canucks, either. The recent trade that saw Viktor Arvidsson dealt to Los Angeles for second and third round picks is troubling. Arvidsson, too, suffered through a down season and, similar to Schmidt, he’s considered a safe second liner with the potential to rebound back to first line quality.

And yet he didn’t return all that much more than Schmidt did last offseason.

In any case, draft picks are nice, but they don’t really help the Canucks much in their stated organizational goal to return to the playoffs next season.

Perhaps a better futures-based target would be a RHD prospect on the verge of earning NHL minutes. Even then, it’s tough to find a good fit. Players like Bernard-Docker, Braden Schneider, and Evan Bouchard are far too valuable to consider. Maybe Erik Brannstrom or Lassi Thomson from Ottawa?

Neither is particularly exciting, but in true Pawn Stars fashion, it’s the best we can do.

Other than, you know, not trading Nate Schmidt.