A trade to ‘reward’ the Canucks would be the wrong takeaway from their early success
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
The Vancouver Canucks closed out the month of October 2023 with a 5-2 Halloween victory over the Nashville Predators, improving their early-season record to 6-2-1. That makes for the best start this franchise has had in at least two decades. It’s also pushed the Canucks all the way up to second place in the Western Conference and drawn plenty of attention from all corners of he league.
Including what feels like the wrong sort of attention.
Earlier this week, Rick Dhaliwal broke news that the Canucks were still “working the phones” in an attempt to make a major trade.
“When you talked about the Seahawks, you nailed it. They are 5-2, the Seahawks, and they just added an All-Star all-pro defensive lineman and their coach said ‘we’re rewarding these guys’. You nailed it, that’s what the Canucks management is doing right now. They believe in this team. I’m hearing the Canucks would like to add, they’re trying to get better, it’s not easy in a capped out NHL. I’m not saying anything’s imminent, but I am saying they are working the phones big time. A 5-2-1 start, if you can make some moves right now to improve the roster, why not? You know what, management is obviously pretty impressed with his 5-2-1 start. I’ll just leave it at this. They’re working the phones.”
The working of phones is nothing new. The Canucks have been looking to deal since the outset of the 2023 offseason, and even after they closed out a few minor trades, it sure didn’t seem like they were finished.
But the reasoning of making a trade to “reward” the team after a red-hot October is, obviously, a new factor. One that can’t help but feel like the exact wrong takeaway for management to be pulling from the Canucks’ early success.
No one would argue that the Canucks aren’t playing well. There’s been nothing noticeably “lucky” or anomalous about their performance thus far, and they really do appear to be earning all these points. At the very least, it’s hard not to look at this current version of the Canucks and see them as far more of a contender than most had them pegged coming into the season.
But contenders to do what?
Make the playoffs? Sure. Oddsmakers currently have the Canucks with a 90+% chance of appearing in the postseason, and they’re certainly well on their way.
But contending for something more than that? It’s much more difficult to say whether or not the Canucks are anywhere near there yet. That’s the point at which a team might typically make a big trade to “put them over the top,” sacrificing future assets for more certainty in the now. To feel as though the Canucks are ready for such a move should require a lot more faith in the team than is currently possible. A big trade now to “reward” the team sends the message that they’re almost there, contention-wise.
And that’s the wrong message to be sending right now.
The Canucks haven’t looked this good in some time, it’s true. But they do also have a recent and frequent history of going on some rather toasty streaks that haven’t exactly translated into long-term success.
There was the now-infamous Bubble Run of 2020.
There was the Boudreau Bump.
Now, from last season into this one, they’re in the midst of the Tocchet Turnaround.
This one seems more genuine. More legitimate. Definitely more sustainable. But until that sustainability turns into “sustained,” the message that management should be sending right now is “Good start so far; let’s see if you can keep it up this time.”
Not “You did it! Have a reward.”
It’s as wrongheaded as it is unnecessary.
For all the success the Canucks have had through October, they’re doing it with the players that they already have on hand. And as much individual success as has already been wrought from this roster, there’s still some considerable improvement to be made from within.
Several players are off to personal ice-cold starts. The likes of Anthony Beauvillier, Conor Garland, and Pius Suter should all start putting up more points soon enough. Ilya Mikheyev is just warming up again after several months off hockey.
The team has shown some concerns about its center depth, but there it’s important to remember that key free agent Teddy Blueger, pencilled in as the 3C by some, has yet to play a single game. Blueger’s imminent return to the lineup should be enough reward for the team at this point, and the perfect modest addition to a set of players that is otherwise rolling.
Anything bigger runs the risk of rocking the boat.
Speaking of injuries, that’s yet another reason to avoid pushing for any sort of blockbuster in this exact moment. The 2023/24 Canucks have had one of the healthiest starts in recent franchise memory. That will change. Before the Canucks commit to making major additions to this current iteration of the team, shouldn’t they see how they handle the inevitable adversity?
All of which pales in comparison to the real reason why “working the phones” and trying to force a deal through is a bad idea right now: trading is hard.
And especially so for a team like the Vancouver Canucks. Cap space put a damper on league transactions this offseason, and although a few players have gone on LTIR since, it’s not as though an abundance of space has been opened up around the NHL. Things are still tight, and the Canucks have literally no cap space of their own to maneuver with. That means that any trade they make will have to be cash in, cash out. Which makes it excessively tricky to make any sort of genuine additions to the roster without first subtracting.
Which, again, is far easier said than done. The Canucks are essentially faced with a choice of dealing away one of their more useful players — those currently contributing to the success that the team wants to reward — or paying exorbitant prices to dump their less-useful players, on top of whatever it costs them to make their additions in the first place.
Which one has to assume would come at a high cost already.
Looking at the setup the Canucks have, it’s not hard to see what any significant “reward” to the team would have to be: it’s another right-handed defender. That’s a position that just happens to be the rarest and most valuable commodity in the sport of hockey.
In other words, the Canucks are looking to make a trade in which they are fighting against cap space, roster size, and the leaguewide market for RHDs.
That’s the sort of trade that should only be made when the opportunity truly arises, as it seems to have prior to the Filip Hronek deal. It’s not the sort of trade that should ever be “pushed” for or “worked.”
Especially not based on any sort of nine-game sample size.
Interestingly enough, this is a lesson that a Rick Tocchet-coached team has already learned in the not-so-distant past.
The 2019/20 Arizona Coyotes were also off to a hotter-than-expected start, going 19-12-4 from October through to mid-December and soaring to the top of the Pacific Division standings.
At the time, there was also talk of rewarding Tocchet and his team via a trade.
That trade came on December 16, 2019, in the form of Taylor Hall.
In order to land Hall, an expiring UFA at the time, the Coyotes gave up Nick Merkley, Nathan Schnarr, Kevin Bahl, a third, and the first round pick that turned into Dawson Mercer.
The Coyotes responded by plummeting down the standings. From there on out, they went 14-17-4, the fifth-worst record in the NHL over that same time period. Hall, for his part, added 27 points in those 35 games. The Coyotes did sneak into the postseason, but only due to the expanded nature of the 2020 playoffs.
They did not make much noise there, and they did not recover from the plummet. Tocchet would be out of a job within the year, and the rest, as they say, is history.
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