In acquiring Ethan Bear, the Canucks made the exact sort of trade they should have been making for the past eight years
Photo credit:© James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
10 months ago
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A week ago, fans were clamouring for the Vancouver Canucks to do something to fix their blueline, no matter the cost.
Then the Canucks went out and acquired Ethan Bear from the Carolina Hurricanes, proving that the cost in question was…a fifth round pick?
It couldn’t be that easy, could it?
In all honestly, while Bear is an excellent pickup for the Canucks’ specific needs, he is not the saviour that the Vancouver D-corps needs. No one player, short of an absolute superstar, will or could be. This is not, in other words, a solution. But the Bear trade is an example of the exact sort of trade that this team should have been making all the way through the so-called rebuild, because it’s the exact sort of trade that well-rebuilt teams make. And it’s also another sign that the Canucks are now in better managerial hands, at least, than they used to be.
The full transaction included Bear, $400K of retention on his contract, and AHL tweener Lane Pederson all heading to Vancouver in exchange for that singular, non-conditional fifth round pick.
Bear immediately steps into the Canucks’ top-six defenders, and possibly right into their top-four. But while that’s all incredibly important, just as important is how the trade went down.
First and foremost, let’s look at the Carolina Hurricanes themselves. Off to a 5-2-1 start, the ‘Canes are making good on their promise to be among the NHL’s elite in 2022/23. Their blueline, featuring four all-star defenders signed at $5.3 million AAV or better, might just be the best in the entire league. If it isn’t, it’s close.
The Hurricanes, then, are the kind of team that the Canucks always should have been targeting in their additional-talent-seeking trades. The kind of team that, despite itself, can’t seem to help but develop and acquire more NHL-quality talent than it needs, and that always ends up giving away some of that talent for next-to-nothing.
These teams have always been around and available for plundering, but the Canucks have largely failed to target such situations in the past. Under ordinary circumstances, a player of Bear’s quality would not be available for such a low, low price. But because the Carolina roster is already bursting at the seams, and because Bear’s opportunities to play have been shortcut by that same overloaded depth chart, the Canucks were able to apply a significant discount at checkout.
Contrast that with the actions of the previous regime, which also targeted players who looked to have upside and be stuck in disadvantaged situations, but not necessarily from the same sort of team situations as Bear just came from. You had your Andrey Pedans, your Linden Veys, your Jason Dickinsons. All traded for after being squeezed out of their lineups, but none from rosters quite so loaded-up as Carolina’s. None came from teams that desperately needed to clear out cap and roster space in the immediate moment. Thus, all were acquired at a fairly premium price, and all the more consequential for having not panned out.
The Bear trade, on the other hand, almost can’t help but pay off nicely.
Of course, in order to even be able to make such a tidy transaction, the Canucks needed their own books to be as free and clear as possible. Thankfully, they were.
We already covered in great detail how the Canucks absolutely maximized their own LTIR relief at the outset of the season with some ultra-clever cap management. Throughout the young season thus far, that little bit of extra space has helped the Canucks make the appropriate call-ups and avoid ever having to ice a lineup of fewer than 18 skaters.
Now, it’s also made the acquisition of Bear possible.
The Hurricanes retained $400K of Bear’s $2.2 million contract for the 2022/23 season. In order for them to have enough room to eventually activate Max Pacioretty from LTIR and still leave space for a deadline acquisition or two, that’s basically the most they could have reasonably retained.
On the Canucks’ end of things, they would not have been able to fit Bear’s full AAV under their cap and had room to activate their injured players had the retention not occurred. Even then it was a tight squeeze, requiring some timely demotions and, again, the full totality of that maximized LTIR relief. One dollar out of place in the wrong direction, and this whole deal would have been off.
One can’t help but feel that, in the very recent past, the whole deal would have just been off.
Instead, for once, it was the Canucks in a position to take advantage of an elite, but temporarily-desperate, team.
How do we know that the Canucks were one of the only teams capable of clearing up the space required to fit in Bear? Because if there were more teams out there, he probably would have gone for more than a fifth round pick.
Is Ethan Bear guaranteed to work out for the Canucks? Definitely not. Just like there were no guarantees for Andrey Pedan or Linden Vey or Adam Clendening or Jason Dickinson or whoever else you want to throw on the island of misfit projects. But whereas those players cost premium assets to acquire, and thus put the Canucks’ rebuild further behind the eight-ball when they didn’t work out, Bear was picked up for a draft selection that has about a 7.5% chance of ever playing 100 NHL games.
That’s a gamble that the Canucks can afford to make again and again.
Imagine, for a moment, if it was the sort of gamble that the Canucks had made throughout the duration of the pseudo-rebuild that has taken up much of the last decade, and how much further ahead of the game they might be as a result.
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