As hard as snowfall has hit the Lower Mainland in recent weeks, the trade winds have been hitting even harder.
Several members of the Vancouver Canucks have taken their turn in the “being shopped” spotlight throughout the 2022/23 season. JT Miller, Conor Garland, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser have each been the subject of intense speculation already, and that’s certain to continue.
In recent days, however, the talk of the town seems to be centred on one player in particular, and that’s Luke Schenn.
We realize that we’re stepping onto controversial ground here. There may not be a current Canuck more universally beloved than Schenn. He’s been the team’s most reliable RHD by far for two seasons running now. He just became the NHL’s all-time hits leader among defenders. He sticks up for his teammates, he plays with courage, and he leads by example. In fact, there are many who believe that, should the aforementioned Horvat trade go down, it is Schenn who should serve as the Canucks’ next captain.
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It is for all of these reasons that, as a pending UFA, Schenn will be one of the most highly-sought-after assets in the leadup to the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline.
And it’s for that reason that the Canucks should already have their hearts set on eventually dealing Schenn elsewhere, as painful and as unpopular as such a move might prove.
When a player is this attractive to the general market, a team in Vancouver’s position just can’t afford to get sentimental. How attractive will Schenn be to the general market?
Think first round pick territory…as a minimum starting bid.
A year ago, that statement would have been laughable. Even coming off two Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Schenn was very much seen as a bottom-pairing defender at best. That’s the only reason that the Canucks were able to land him with only a two-year, $850K AAV contract.
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But then came the Schennaissance.
In his one-and-a-half seasons since rejoining the Canucks, Schenn has stepped up his game like never before. He’s not just been a complementary piece to Quinn Hughes, but a genuine partner, able to elevate Hughes’ game like no one else.
To describe Schenn as a top-four defender in Vancouver is no longer just a statement of circumstance. Pulling down more than 17 minutes of ice time a night, Schenn has straight-up played at a top-four quality on a nightly basis for two years running now, and that’s how he’s going to be valued whenever he hits the trade block.
Especially given what sort of top-four defender he is.
First and foremost, as a right-handed D, Schenn is already one of the rarest assets in hockey. That’s just a matter of biology. Traditionally, right-shooting defenders are left-handed in all other walks of life, and thus just rarer amongst the general population. As the handedness of a defender is far more important in determining position than it is for a forward, the end result is a much smaller pool of RHDs available than any other position in the sport.
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Keep in mind that deadline rentals are always made with the playoffs in mind, and Schenn is the sort of RHD that is — if you’ll pardon the cliche — built for the postseason. Like it or not, the refs tend to put away their whistles come playoff time, and that always gives an advantage to the larger, more physical defenders. And who’s more physical than Luke Schenn? Literally no one.
Really, Schenn doesn’t just look like a good deadline acquisition, he might just be the perfect deadline acquisition:
  • A consistent pattern of top-four-quality play.
  • The versatility to play on any pairing.
  • A habit of playing low-mistake hockey.
  • An overabundance of physicality, truculence, and good ol’ fashioned toughness.
  • Ability to kill penalties.
  • Veteran leadership and a winning personality.
  • Two-time Stanley Cup champion.
Let’s not lose sight of any of that. Every year, GMs shell out way too much at the Trade Deadline for players that they believe are the type that teams win with. With Schenn, it’s not even a matter of speculation. Teams have it all won with Schenn in the lineup. He’s not just built for the playoffs; he’s tried, tested, and true.
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Which brings us neatly back to that value.
Pundits like Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek have already posited that the bidding price for Schenn would be high, and they’re absolutely correct about that.
Just look at some other defenders with similar profiles that have been dealt near past deadlines, and what they returned.
Two deadlines ago, Schenn’s own Tampa Bay Lightning traded a first, a third, and a fourth for David Savard, a RHD with a longer track record, but a similar profile to Schenn.
Last deadline, the Florida Panthers sent a first, a fourth, and a prospect to Montreal for Ben Chiarot, a LHD capable of playing either side.
Heck, even Ilya Lyubushkin, a much worse defender than Schenn, went for a second and Nick Ritchie last year, and Travis Hamonic went for a third. By comparison, should Schenn not be worth significantly more?
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The trend is clear: big, defensively-capable RHDs are gold at the Trade Deadline. And there’s reason to believe that Schenn might actually be subject to an even greater bidding war than any of the aforementioned defenders.
Why? The salary cap.
Both Savard and Chiarot needed to have their salary retained as part of their trades. That might have meant an even greater return for the sending team, but it also drastically limited the number of suitors. Only so many teams had room under the cap for such additions, and fewer teams in the running means less competition on the return.
But the opposite is true for Schenn. With a cap hit of just $850,000, literally any team can acquire Schenn and insert him onto their roster without needing to worry about the cap in the slightest.
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There’s also the issue of supply and demand. There will be a few other RHD rentals available at the deadline, but most of them — John Klingberg, Kevin Shattenkirk, and etc — don’t fit that same playoff profile as Schenn. If a team is looking for someone like Schenn at the 2023 Trade Deadline, the genuine article is their only real option.
That means that any team with even the slightest playoff aspirations could put in a bid for Schenn, and any team with even the slightest playoff aspirations should put in a bid for Schenn.
And what happens when a dozen or more teams are in the running for a player at the Trade Deadline? A bidding war.
And what do bidding wars do? They jack up the return price.
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We’ve given plenty of evidence here to suggest that Schenn’s deadline value, in a vacuum, should be somewhere in the range of at least a high second-round pick or a similar prospect. But we’re not in a vacuum. We’re in the middle of a specific set of circumstances that seem to be a perfect storm for maximizing Schenn’s deadline value.
That’s why the bidding has to start at a first-round pick, and can only go up from there.
And that’s also why the Canucks can’t afford not to shop Schenn this time around.