Why Juho Lammikko and Matthew Highmore are proof that it’s okay to let go of Tyler Motte
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
Everybody loves Tyler Motte.
And if they don’t, they should. What’s not to love?
Off the ice, Motte is a genuine gem. His advocacy for mental health has been nothing short of heroic, and he appears to be universally appreciated by teammates and any fans fortunate enough to interact with him.
On the ice, Motte is what some in the business might refer to as an “elite fourth liner,” despite that being a somewhat oxymoronic term. What folks really mean by that is that Motte is really, really good at doing all of the things that a fourth line skater is supposed to do.
You want energy? Motte’s got energy. Which line he’s on is, by default, the energy line, and there’s not a moment to be found in which he does not have the puck and is not pursuing it feverishly. Motte’s forecheck is top-tier, and he throws the second-most hits-per-60 on the team after Jason Dickinson. He’s not just fast out there, he’s busy.
You want defensive responsibility? Motte has faced well-above average opposition and started more than 60% of his shifts in his own zone, and yet he’s been on the ice for far more goals by his team than the other team. His line, with Juho Lammikko and Matthew Highmore, just keeps earning more and more trust from coach Bruce Boudreau.
You want penalty killing? Motte is the best forward on the Canucks at it by a country mile. When Motte’s on the PK, the Canucks only let in 7.96 power play goals against per 60 minutes. The next best forward is Highmore at 9.96 PPGA/60, and everyone else is lagging way behind.
You even want a little offence on top of all that? Golly, you sure ask for a lot from your fourth liners…but even here, Motte’s got what you need. He’s only played 42 games as of this writing, but he only needs two more points to hit a career high. For the last couple of seasons, Motte has scored at about a 30-point clip when healthy. That’s a great amount of production from any fourth liner, and its downright phenomenal for someone with such a large amount of defensive responsibility.
All of which is to say, those recent reports about Motte’s value as an unrestricted free agent on the open market? The ones that say he won’t sign for anything south of $2 million AAV, and is probably looking at a $10 million contract across four years?
They’re probably legit. Motte absolutely can and should pursue such a contract.
The past couple of seasons have seen similar contracts handed out to other “elite fourth liners” like Casey Cizikas (6x$2.5 mil), Sean Kuraly (4x$2.5 mil), and Brock McGinn (4x$2.75 mil), among others. Motte fits in well with that crowd, and even has a dynamite playoff run in 2020 under his belt.
If he’s willing to sign anywhere, he’ll get that contract.
But will he get such an offer from the Vancouver Canucks? Probably not. And, despite the 500-odd words of Motte-worship we’ve just shared with you here, that’s probably for the best.
Why? Look no further than those aforementioned linemates, Lammikko and Highmore, along with that aforementioned coach, Boudreau.
Most will agree that, unlike Motte, Lammikko and Highmore did not look like elite fourth liners under coach Travis Green. Under Boudreau, however, it’s a different story. While neither has been quite as good as Motte, and he’s still clearly the motor that drives that line, both Lammikko and Highmore have been more than good enough. They’re playing the quality of hockey that one would expect from a fourth liner on a playoff team, anyway, and that’s really all most teams need from their fourth line.
Would keeping Motte around and keeping that line together be a positive for the Canucks? Undeniably. But it’s also a luxury, an expensive luxury at that, and one that the Canucks cannot afford.
What they can afford is more Lammikkos and Highmores.
Lammikko was acquired, along with a useful depth defender in Noah Juulsen, for the corpse of Olli Juolevi.
Highmore was acquired straight-up for Adam Gaudette, a middle-six project who had obviously worn out his welcome in Vancouver.
That’s not a very high price to pay for 2/3 of a fourth line. It’s also a lot less than $10 million.
Even Motte himself had washed out in Columbus before being flipped at the deadline for an aging Thomas Vanek.
And it’s not just Lammikko and Highmore. Each and every offseason, there are quality fourth liners available for dirt cheap, so long as you have the pro scouting staff to identity them and a coach skilled enough to employ them.
This past offseason alone saw players like Ryan Donato, Andrew Cogliano, and Jujhar Khaira all sign for $1 million or less, along with dozens of other quality bottom-end forwards.
Even the Canucks themselves managed to snag a bunch of them, like Sheldon Dries and Phil di Giuseppe, for Abbotsford.
Will any of these players, or any of those similarly available in the summer of 2022 be as good as Motte?
Probably not…but they might be, and even if they aren’t, the difference is probably negligible to a team at the developmental stage that the Canucks are in. At this point, the Canucks have issues to address higher up the depth chart than the fourth line, and so they have to aim for efficiency at the lower end of their lineup. Mottes might not be available for pennies on the dollar, but Lammikkos and Highmores will be, and that’s all the Canucks need at the moment from players that will, at most, be playing less than a quarter of any given game.
Let Boudreau worry about continuing to wring value out of his fourth liners, rather than handing him high-value fourth liners from the jump.
Now, there are some who might say that Motte is a luxury worth paying for. He’s already a fan favourite, his teammates already love him, and the Canucks already poured plenty of resources into developing him.
And, in a perfect world, the Canucks could make an exception for Motte, and accept his as a minor roster inefficiency, agreeing to pay a bit more than average for a fourth liner that’s a lot better than average.
But this is not a perfect world. This is a world in which the Canucks are already saddled with a bunch of inefficient contracts. The deals handed out to players like Tucker Poolman, Travis Hamonic, and Jason Dickinson are still on the books, as is Jaroslav Halak’s bonus and buyout penalties for Braden Holtby and Jake Virtanen. Even Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers, who have played great this season, are fairly described as inefficient contracts.
These players have already taken up all the Canucks’ available, now-ironically-scare-quoted “luxury” slots and then some. They’ve conspired to ensure that the luxury that is Tyler Motte will not be an affordable one for the Canucks.
On that same note, there’s also the dire need to restock the cupboards with future assets, and Motte’s status as the only pending UFA of note without a full-NMC. Someone has to get flipped for draft picks and prospects, and Motte is one of the few complication-free tradeable assets the Canucks have on hand.
Will there come a day when the Canucks are good enough that the difference between Tyler Motte and any other quality fourth liner might actually matter? We sure hope so, because by that point, you’re probably planning for lengthy playoff runs. But if the Canucks haven’t developed another Motte or two of their own by then, they can do what contenders usually do – what, ideally, some contender is about to do for Motte himself – and trade for them.
Back here in the present day, it’s time to let Motte go.
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