The Canucks are facing a tough decision with struggling Jason Dickinson, but is there a trade market for him?
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
2021-22 hasn’t been a banner year for a number of Canucks, but maybe none are having as tough a season as Jason Dickinson.
Dickinson’s arrival in Vancouver before the Seattle Expansion Draft and subsequent contract extension was, at the time, expected to turn into one of Jim Benning’s tidiest pieces of work. The Canucks had been in desperate need of a proper shutdown centre for years, and the Georgetown, Ontario native’s advanced stats in the defensive zone during six seasons in Dallas spoke for themselves.
51 games later, the front office who signed Dickinson to his three-year, $7.95 million deal is gone, and his own future in Vancouver is very much in doubt.
Dickinson has struggled massively to make an impact on the Canucks this season at either end of the ice, mustering just six points and unable to replicate his defensive success from years past. Under both Travis Green and Bruce Boudreau, Dickinson’s experience has been the same; big responsibilities early on, only to watch his ice time dwindle as fellow depth pieces outplay him.
On Saturday’s 7-4 loss against the Ducks, Dickinson played just 11:36 and posted zeros across the stat line, save for his plus/minus of -1. He didn’t fare much better in the Canucks’ 5-2 win over the Kraken, posting a single shot on goal in 12:31 of ice time.
Dig deeper into the long-term numbers and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. For comparison, here are the numbers from Evolving Hockey for Dickinson’s last season as a Star followed by his first as a Canuck.
First, his 2020-21 season with the Stars:
Now, his numbers as a Canuck:
For a 26-year-old player’s Goals Above Replacement stats to fall off such a dramatic cliff usually speaks to the team fit rather than suddenly diminishing skills. The Canucks got a firsthand lesson in that department last season, all thanks to the fever dream that was Nate Schmidt and Braden Holtby’s tenure in blue and green.
Schmidt and Holtby went from Vancouver’s two biggest offseason acquisitions in 2020 to quickly being traded or bought out after disastrous 2021 campaigns. Both players have since rebounded in their new locales; Schmidt already has nine more points as a Winnipeg Jet than he did as a Canuck, and Holtby has posted rock-solid numbers while sharing the Dallas Stars net with Jake Oettinger.
The way Dickinson’s season has progressed in Vancouver, the odds of him turning into a similar “one-season wonder” are getting higher and higher.
New Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin have already made clear that freeing up cap space will be a top priority for them at the upcoming trade deadline. And while Dickinson might only carry a $2.65 million cap hit for two more seasons, his deal has to be looking gargantuan to the new management with the returns they’ve seen on the ice.
So a decision has to be made; if you pull the plug now on Dickinson’s time with the Canucks, what teams might be interested in bringing him on for a reasonable price?
Any move involving Dickinson will have to include two major factors; a trade partner that feels they can get him back to playing as he did in Dallas, and the short-term willingness to buy. Not many teams in the NHL fit a profile that includes patience and urgency, but a couple of options stand out for widely different reasons.
One possible landing spot might be Detroit. The Red Wings are sitting ten points back of Boston for the East’s second wild card spot, but they’re still ninth in an extremely top-heavy conference.
Detroit’s forward core has been decimated by injuries of late and could use help down the middle to alleviate some of those losses. And with a projected $11 million in cap space to work with, money won’t be a huge issue.
Wings GM Steve Yzerman is essentially playing with house money at this point. Detroit has already exceeded expectations thanks to tremendous seasons from rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, but a surprise playoff spot could be the cherry on top.
Would Yzerman be willing to give up one of his three fourth round draft picks in 2022 if he feels Dickinson would improve under Jeff Blashill’s system? Maybe if the Canucks take on an expiring contract or two, like that of centre Carter Rowney — who Rutherford and Allvin both know from their Pittsburgh days — or perhaps a certain underused right defenceman from Richmond.
The other team that could see a fit is Arizona. If Coyotes ownership is 100 percent prepared to play out the next three years at a 5,000 seat college arena, then eventually their team needs to start winning some games.
When it comes to Dickinson, the Yotes have the benefit of time on their side this season, and won’t be too worried if he doesn’t immediately pay dividends. They also have plenty of assets to work with, including eight picks in the first two rounds of the 2022 Draft.
Getting Arizona GM Bill Armstrong to part with one of his five second-rounders (including the Canucks’ own from the Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade) for Dickinson alone is likely too high a price. But Rutherford and Allvin might be able to get there if they provide the Coyotes with some much-needed help in another department — goaltending.
Karel Vejmelka and Scott Wedgewood have done their best to hold down the fort behind the Coyotes’ outmatched defence, but are just barely keeping above the .900 save percentage mark. Meanwhile, Spencer Martin played three games behind a COVID-depleted Canucks blue line and walked away with a 1-0-2 record and a .958 save percentage. Maybe there’s a chance for Martin to get the NHL ice time he deserves while helping the Canucks move Dickinson’s contract off the books.
The odds of Vancouver being able to trade an underperforming centre for a fair price on the idea of him regaining his old form is a long shot. But no matter what, Jason Dickinson’s future as a Canuck is entirely dependent on how he finishes out the year.
If Dickinson can regain the defensive strengths that made him a core part of the Stars’ bottom six for years, there’s a chance that glimmer of hope is enough to warrant the Canucks keeping him around to finish out his three-year deal. But if things remain as is, Vancouver could be heading towards another awkward offseason divorce.
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