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Photo Credit: © Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

An “unappreciated” John Klingberg might look like the perfect fit for the Canucks, but they can’t afford him right now

The Canucks’ ongoing search for quality right-side blueliners is an everyday topic of discussion in Vancouver, so when top-pairing RHD John Klingberg put himself on the trade market this past week, it drew plenty of attention.

Rumours of a trade request started to swirl in Dallas earlier in the week, only to be more-or-less confirmed by Klingberg himself on the weekend.

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On the ice, Klingberg brings exactly what the Canucks are looking for. Off the ice, however, are several complicating factors that combine to make the acquisition of Klingberg not worth the Canucks’ while — no matter how much they might want to make it work.

Why Klingberg is a fit

The Canucks have been looking for a top-pairing RHD since Kevin Bieksa exited his prime, and Klingberg is exactly that, at least in terms of quality of play. Klingberg’s place on the Dallas depth chart may have been usurped by the younger Miro Heiskanen, but that can’t really be held against Klingberg, as Heiskanen is a true dynamo.

Still, the 29-year-old Klingberg performs admirably as a 1B RHD in what has become a difficult situation.

  Games Goals Assists Points PPG Avg. TOI 5v5 Corsi
2021/22 26 1 16 17 0.65 21:46 49.2%
Career 504 66 278 344 0.68 23:02 52.4%

Klingberg’s most eye-catching statistics will always be his offensive ones. He’s paced for 50 or more points in every single one of his eight NHL seasons, including this one. Klingberg can be a go-to option on the power play if needed, but his production at 5v5 is admirably consistent. This is a defender who can drive play.

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The Canucks, however, already have an offensive-potent centerpiece on their blueline in the form of Quinn Hughes. That’s where Klingberg’s other attributes really start to shine.

He may not be a traditional “defensive defender,” and, while solidly physical, he’s not exactly a bruiser; but Klingberg shouldn’t be mistaken for a one-way blueliner. He still pulls down 20+ minutes against opposing top-sixes on a nightly basis, and he’s been doing that for his entire career.

Under coach Rick Bowness, the statistical results have not been there for Klingberg, but most who pay close attention to the Stars will attest that that has more to do with Bowness’ system than any failing on Klingberg’s part. It’s telling that, despite what looks to be questionable analytic results, Klingberg still gets thrown out against the best and brightest of the Western Conference on every shift.

Data from hockeyviz.com

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It’s also worth noting that, prior to this past season-and-a-half, those analytics were very strong, and probably will be again once Klingberg is in a different situation.

From NaturalStatTrick.com, reflecting 5v5 play with Klingberg on ice

Klingberg’s team tends to control the play when he’s out there, and he’s fantastic at transitioning the puck up the ice, whether via first pass or through lugging it up himself. Once up in the o-zone, Klingberg and his linemates tend to maintain possession…and, when all else fails, he’s pretty darn handy in his own end, too.

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Put all that together, and you might just have the perfect future partner for the aforementioned Hughes. A sizeable, defensively-responsible veteran who can skate well enough to both cover Hughes and not slow him down offensively? That’s the stuff dreams are made of. Klingberg could be the sort of partner to actually elevate Hughes’ game — or, he could put together one heck of an All-Swede shutdown pairing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Unfortunately, actually getting Klingberg onto the Canucks’ roster will be decidedly complicated, to say the least.

What he’ll cost

As of right now, Klingberg is a pending UFA, who will be almost 30 when he signs his next contract. On top of that, Klingberg has mentioned in the past that he felt under compensated over the course of his current contract, signed in 2015 and paying him a $4.25 million AAV over seven years.

In other words, Klingberg will be looking to cash in as a UFA, he’ll almost certainly be testing the market this summer, and anyone who acquires him now will have to view him as a rental.

Right there, that’s contradictory to the vision that new President of Hockey Ops Jim Rutherford has already laid out for the Canucks. Rutherford has pledged that the Canucks will no longer be trading picks and prospects for short-term gains, and that’s exactly what trading for Klingberg as a rental would entail.

Looking around the league, there are perhaps two pending UFA defenders with more value than Klingberg in Kris Letang and Hampus Lindholm, but there’s no guarantee that either of them will be made available. It seems quite likely that Klingberg is the single most talented blueliner available at the 2022 Trade Deadline, and his pro-rated $4.25 million cap hit means that virtually every playoff-bound team can put in an offer for him if they want.

Expect the bidding war to get silly, and expect Klingberg to return a first and a premium prospect at the very least.

Then there’s the notion of actually keeping Klingberg around beyond the 2021/22 season, and that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Everyone has seen what has happened to the D market over the past couple of years. Top-pairing defenders, even those with questionable resumes, are being handed contracts in excess of an $8 million AAV off of RFA negotiations.

In a world where Hughes makes $7.85 million, Darnell Nurse makes $9.25 million, and Seth Jones makes $9.5 million, Klingberg isn’t exiting the summer of 2022 with a contract that doesn’t start with an “8.” And we can also expect the term on that contract to be six years at a minimum, and probably seven.

Keep in mind, that contract will cover Klingberg from ages 30 to 36 — not traditionally thought of as a defender’s peak years.

Why the Canucks can’t afford that

If you’ve read this far, you already know, but we’ll lay it all out for you.

Rutherford and Co. have committed to not trading future assets for short-term gains. Acquiring Klingberg as a rental is going to cost a first round pick and a Jack Rathbone-level prospect at a bare minimum. So, by Rutherford’s own reasoning, that option is off the table.

And, even if it were on the table, the Canucks really can’t afford to go three years without a first round pick, anyway.

There’s also the option of trading for Klingberg with an extension already in place, which would make him a non-rental, but would incur an even higher cost. One can safely add at least one premier asset on top of the rental price if Klingberg comes with a pre-negotiated long-term contract. Not only would giving up that much in future assets be a bad idea for the rebounding Canucks, it’s also worth wondering whether the Canucks even have the sort of assets required to get the deal done. That cupboard is still looking mighty thin…

Finally, the Canucks could always skip the whole trade process and just make a pitch to UFA Klingberg in the summer. This would not cost them any assets, but it would still cost them greatly.

As they’re currently structured, the Canucks cannot fit another high-priced defender under their cap, no matter how skilled they might be. Hughes, Ekman-Larsson, and Tyler Myers already clock in at more than $21 million in combined cap. Throw Klingberg into the mix at $8 million+, and the Canucks suddenly have a top-four that’s taking up about 3/8 of their cap. That’s not a great balance.

To even fit Klingberg, the Canucks would have to shed some serious salary first. Trading off one of JT Miller or Brock Boeser would be a start, but even that wouldn’t clear up enough space. The Canucks would have to somehow ditch one or more of Tanner Pearson, Tucker Poolman, and Travis Hamonic without taking much salary back.

And even if they manage to do all that, the Canucks would be hamstrung into Klingberg being their one-and-only significant offseason addition to a roster that, to be perfectly honest, needs more help than one singular player can provide.

So, is Klingberg to the Canucks an impossible outcome?

No, not quite.

But it’s impossible enough to not be worth their while.