Analyzing the Vancouver Canucks’ trade deadline activity relative to their peers
Photo credit:© Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
8 months ago
Another NHL Trade Deadline Day has come and gone, and Canucks’ fans worldwide were left scratching their heads following the team’s trades of Curtis Lazar and Wyatt Kalynuk for a 2024 4th-round pick and future considerations, respectively.
To be fair, most of the Canucks’ Trade Deadline action occurred in the weeks leading to the big day. Historically, the team keeps it pretty low-key on Deadline Day. Since the 2013-14 season, Vancouver has made more than two trades on Deadline Day just once: 2020-21, when the team shipped out Adam Gaudette, Jordie Benn, and a 2021 4th round pick for Matthew Highmore, Madison Bowey, a 2021 5th-round pick, and a 2021 6th-round pick. Through three different general managers, the organization has typically done its Deadline work early ahead of perceived skyrocketing prices.
Despite sticking to their habits, this deadline felt confusing, concerning, and disappointing all at once.
“Confusing” that the 27th-ranked club in the NHL was one of three teams out of the playoffs acting as buyers at the deadline.
“Concerning” that a year after the club’s president said, “it’s not the cycle we’re in to trade high draft picks,” they were trading two top-40 picks at sky-high deadline costs for immediate “win-now” pieces.
“Disappointing” that the same President of Hockey Operations, who said that “being up against the cap and a team that’s not in the playoffs at this point in time is not a good thing,” became one of five non-playoff teams to add $10-million in cap commitments through next season and beyond.
Of the teams sitting above Vancouver in league standings but below the playoff bar by points percentage, only two other teams made “win-now” moves that incurred greater cap hits than what was given up, the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres. Of the teams below Vancouver in the standings, all five spent their deadline buildup acquiring picks and AHL “below-the-line” contracts to take on bad money for teams in playoff contention.
- Arizona Coyotes: eight picks, Shea Weber and Jakub Voracek’s LTIR contracts for Nick Ritchie, Troy Stecher, Nick Bjugstad, Jon Gillies, Jakob Chychrun, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Dysin Mayo.
- Anaheim Ducks: three picks and Brock McGinn for John Klingberg at 50% retained and Dmitry Kulikov at 50% retained.
- San Jose Sharks: six picks, Andreas Johnsson, Fabian Zetterlund, Nikita Okhotiuk, and Shakir Mukhamadullin for Timo Meier, Nick Bonino, and a bunch of other AHL parts.
- Chicago Blackhawks: seven conditional picks, Nikita Zaitsev and Anton Khudobin for Jake McCabe at 50% retained, Sam Lafferty, a 2024 5th round pick, Patrick Kane, and Max Domi.
- Columbus Blue Jackets: four picks and two goalies for Gustav Nyquist, Joonas Korpisalo, Vladislav Gavrikov, Jakub Voracek’s LTIR contract, a 6th-round pick, and Johnathan Quick at 50% retained.
How was it possible that the team sitting only two points above the Coyotes thought buying now at the deadline was necessary to do right now? How did the Detroit Red Wings, an organization 12 points above the Canucks in the standings and five points out of a playoff spot, saw president Steve Yzerman determine matter-of-factly that they were “not going to be a buyer under any circumstances. Not this year.”
Let’s examine the trade deadline activity of the nine teams in the mushy middle to see why the Canucks’ moves felt like another total misreading of the market.
EDIT: We forgot to include the Bo Horvat retention in our calculations. The current graphic now properly reflects the amount of in/out cap value.
The capped-out, 27th-ranked Canucks shed a conditional 2023 1st-round pick, their own 2023 2nd-round pick, Luke Schenn, Curtis Lazar, Riley Stillman, Will Lockwood, Wyatt Kalynuk, and a 2026 7th-round pick. In return, they nabbed a legit, albeit currently injured, top-pairing right-shot defenceman with one more season of cost-certainty in Filip Hronek, a 3rd-round pick, two 4th-round picks, an intriguing winger prospect from the OHL in Josh Bloom, and Vitali Kravtsov.
The organization nabbed a mix of win-now pieces with futures but finished the deadline over next year’s projected upper salary cap limit. The club has five arbitration-eligible RFAs, including the recently acquired Vitali Kravtsov, Guillaume Brisebois, Noah Juulsen, Ethan Bear, and Travis Dermott. The team is allowed to start negotiating extensions with Elias Pettersson and Hronek while needing to re-sign Nils Höglander.
The Canucks were poised to draft the most players out of the first two rounds in franchise history but finished the deadline with one pick in the first two rounds.
What about the other buyers?
The Senators have 13 more points than the Canucks in the same number of games, with a plus-3 goal differential and nine more regulation wins. After getting Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and Tim Stutzle signed to long-term deals, the organization went big-game hunting, acquiring Alex Debrincat from Chicago, paying Toronto to take on Matt Murray, and grabbing Claude Giroux as a free agent. They are only four points back of the New York Islanders for the second wild-card spot with three games in hand. Ottawa’s approach to the deadline saw them nab Jakob Chychrun for a conditional 1st-round pick, a conditional 2nd-round pick, and a 2026 2nd-round pick. While you may quibble with the Sens’ chosen goaltender or defenceman, no one can doubt that the team created a window with their deals for Tkachuk, Norris, Batherson, and Stutzle and are set up for win-now moves.
The Senators can feel pretty comfortable shedding a first and two 3rd-round picks since making three 1st-round picks, and three 2nd-round picks in 2020, followed by four more draft picks out of the first two rounds in 2021 and 2022.
The Canucks, on the other hand, head into the 2023 draft with just one pick from the first two rounds available to them in 2023. A concerningly low number for a team that has made two total picks from the first two rounds of the last three drafts.
The only other buyer from the mushy middle was the Canucks’ expansion brother, Buffalo. For the cost of a 2nd-round pick and 2024 5th, the Sabres added Jordan Greenway on a team-friendly $3-million ticket for the next two seasons.
Even after shedding the 2nd-round pick, the Sabres still have three picks in the first two rounds of the 2023 draft. Besides, the win-now move comes after having drafted five players from the first round and three from the second round of the 2021 and 2022 drafts.
The “slept in on deadline day”
We don’t even have a pretty chart for the Florida Panthers because, among all the mushy middle teams, they were the only team to literally do nothing on deadline day, or in the weeks leading up to it. A bold play for a team whose 2023 1st rounder is owned by the Montreal Canadiens and presently lottery eligible should they miss the playoffs.
The Calgary Flames weren’t worthy of a pretty chart as they opted for player-for-player trades, flipping Radim Zohorna, Brett Ritchie, and Connor Mackey for Dryden Hunt, Nick Ritchie, and Troy Stecher. Brad Treliving went big last offseason to recover from the losses of Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau. But, we’re not sure Troy from Richmond is enough for them to catch Winnipeg in the second wildcard spot. The Flames finished the trade deadline holding their 1st-round and 2nd-round picks at the 2023 entry draft. A bold move for a GM with two playoff series wins in eight years.
The Habs didn’t do too much at this deadline. New GM Ken Hughes opted to utilize the little LTI cap space available to him on retaining parts of Evgeni Dadonov and Nick Bonino’s contracts in exchange for a 2024 5th-round pick and the rights to Tony Sund.
After moving Ben Chiarot for an unprotected pick in 2023, I can’t imagine Habs fans care too much about not doing more at this deadline. They’ve got one major RFA to re-sign in Cole Caufield. Otherwise, they are poised for the up-and-up with $14-million in contracts coming off the books this summer.
For all the noise we make about the Canucks, at least they’re doing things to address their problems.
We’re not sure what Chuck Fletcher’s plan is with the Flyers, but getting paid a 5th-round pick for a slightly more expensive version of Zack MacEwen and a 6th-round pick for a journeyman defender are not moves that take teams out of the mushy middle.
St. Louis Blues
St. Louis was one of the first teams to kickstart the deadline madness when they shipped Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola to the Rangers for Sammy Blais, a 2023 1st-round pick and a 2024 4th-round pick. Unlike the Canucks, the Blues have drafted three times in the first two rounds of the last three drafts. After trading Ryan O’Reilly to Toronto for their 2023 1st, the Blues are now set to pick three times in the first round for the first time since 2007 when they took Lars Eller, Ian Cole, and David Perron at 13th, 18th, and 26th overall.
With a d-core comprised entirely of guys 29 or older on big-money, long-term deals with trade protection, the Blues are roped into executing a retool-on-the-fly. Three 1st-round picks in this top-heavy draft class will improve the club in the near term and add some cost certainty as they wait for those defenceman contracts to expire or be traded.
The Washington Capitals executed the perfect retooling play at this year’s deadline. In short, they moved off expiring veterans for premium draft capital, then used that draft capital to acquire an underutilized and significantly younger player in Rasmus Sandin.
Sandin is 22 years old, a $1.4-million cap-hit next season before a qualifying offer of $1.6-million. Hronek is a $4.4-million cap-hit next season before requiring a $5.28-million qualifying offer after turning 26 but plays the more valuable position.
Detroit Red Wings
Boy. Where to start?
As we mentioned, despite being five points out of a playoff spot, Steve Yzerman stayed true to his goal of building a champion. The Red Wings sold high on Hronek, Bertuzzi, and Sundqvist, then took what they could get for Jakub Vrana. They came out of the deadline with three picks in the first two rounds of the 2023 and 2024 drafts.
This is a team that has already drafted 10 players from the first two rounds of the last three NHL drafts. They will now draft five times in the first two rounds of the 2023 draft, thanks to the Vancouver Canucks.
The last of the Canucks’ mushy middle brethren, the Nashville Predators, and one of the biggest winners of the trade deadline.
Seconds after announcing Ryan Johansen’s near-season-ending surgery on his leg, the club made sweeping changes to its roster for phenomenal returns. The team offloaded $32.8 million in cap value commitments while returning two 1sts, four 2nds, two 4ths, one 5th and a smidge of retention on Mattias Ekholm’s contract.
The club still has some ugly contracts on their books, but having 11 draft picks in the first two rounds of the next three drafts will help bring in elite talent to offset the negative value of those contracts or help the club move off those deals entirely in the near term.
As you can see, the Vancouver Canucks were a unicorn at this trade deadline relative to their peers with their decision to buy from their position in the standings. The teams actively engaged in tanking improved their position at the draft. The bulk of teams in the mushy middle actively positioned themselves for a return to contention by acquiring large quantities of draft capital. The Canucks did something no other mushy middle team did: pay a premium to cap themselves out for a win-now asset in its shortsighted goal of simply making playoffs next year.
Sure, the Canucks may have got their guy, but they have created even more work for themselves this off-season. Especially now that every GM in the league knows the cap crunch they are facing.
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