With just three days remaining before the NHL trade deadline at noon Pacific time on Monday, the Canucks have some decisions to make.
Sitting in 2nd place in the Pacific Division, if the playoffs started today, the Canucks would have home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Of course, they would play the LA Kings, who present the worst match-up for the Canucks. Vancouver is 1-5-1 against the Kings in the last two seasons.
Still, like any team, the Canucks will have a chance to do something in the playoffs if they get on a roll. But with just a 3 point cushion on the 9th place Calgary Flames, Vancouver could still miss the playoffs entirely.
You see where I’m going with this.
The Canucks are too good to tank, but aren’t good enough to realistically contend for the Stanley Cup this season. Do you mortgage the future in hopes of getting an extra playoff round? No. So what do you do if you’re GM Jim Benning?
The answer: probably not much.
The Long Game
The Canucks are not in a position to trade away mid-round draft picks for role players, like Pittsburgh did to acquire Daniel Winnik. Florida acquired Jaromir Jagr, who has some gas left in his 43-year-old tank and would have looked great on a line with the Sedins. But the price tag for Jagr was a 2nd and 3rd round pick, so if he isn’t going to put your team over the top, what’s the point?
I know that doesn’t make for sensationalized writing, but it’s the truth.
Jim Benning needs to play the long game. He needs to look at making smart trades for the future of the franchise. He ought not look to make a sexy splash, but rather a conscientious dip.
The Canucks greatest need is top-end talent at forward. They have lots of depth, so they shouldn’t bother with the Daniel Winnik types. Coyotes centre Antoine Vermette is said to be available, as is Phil Kessel from the Leafs. These are players that would help the Canucks, but are they worth the price? Not likely for a team in the Canucks’ position.
The elite forward the Canucks need is best found in the draft and will materialize in a few years.
In the short term, the Canucks could use a right-shot centre that is good at faceoffs. The Canucks are one of the worst teams in the league on the draw this year, due in large part because their left-shot centres (Henrik Sedin, Nick Bonino, Bo Horvat, Brad Richardson) have to take so many draws on their weak side. Their only right-shot centre, Linden Vey, is a woeful 43.4% on the draw.
The Canucks are relatively set on defence, when healthy. Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa represent a solid top-4. Going forward, they have Frank Corrado and Adam Clendening, who are young players with upside that will need ice time in order to grow.
The Canucks have plenty of depth in goal with Ryan Miller, Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. One of these goalies will be moved before next season, but that move is likely to come in the offseason given the current health of Miller.
The Canucks will be in position to make two kinds of trades: a trade for draft picks and a “hockey trade” (ie. swapping players to fill a need).
Why he goes: The Canucks have a excess of third line wingers and Chris Higgins is proving once again this season that he is a third line winger, albeit an effective one.
Why he stays: Higgins has a limited no-trade clause (meaning he has to submit a list of teams he is willing to go to) and is still a useful penalty killer and an effective checker with offensive upside.
Verdict: Higgins will turn 32 this year and his best years are likely behind him. That doesn’t mean he isn’t still an effective player though and he would fit-in well on a third line on a contender. A trade to the Rangers or Islanders (he’s from Long Island) would make a lot of sense. I’m sure Alain Vigneault would love to have the dependable Higgins back on his roster and the young Islanders could use a veteran presence. If I’m Jim Benning, I let him go for a 2nd round draft pick.
Why he goes: The Canucks have been trying to trade him all season. Kassian seems to drive the organization nuts with his sometimes erratic play.
Why he stays: He’s young, big and has potential. Plus, have you seen him play recently? He’s red hot.
Verdict: The word from Jason Botchford is that the Canucks still want to deal Kassian. The Bruins are the team said to have the most interest in Kassian, with defenceman Matt Bartkowski the most rumoured return. Personally, that doesn’t tickle my fancy and I wouldn’t let Kassian go for anyone that doesn’t have comparable potential.
Why he goes: Matthias is in the last year of his contract and set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. With 15 goals in 59 games, he is due for a big raise.
Why he stays: On paper, Matthias is everything the Canucks need. He’s big (6’4″), he’s young (he just turned 27) and he is versatile (effective at centre and on the wing). The big power forward is having a hell of a year offensively and is doing it with almost no power play time.
Verdict: I want to re-sign Shawn Matthias, but if his demands are ludicrous, then you have to look at trading him. Losing Matthias at the trade deadline would hurt, but losing him for nothing in the summer would hurt more. Players like Matthias (big, young, playing well) often fetch an inflated return at trade deadline time, so it might be worth a look for draft picks and/or prospects. Players like Matthias also tend to get overpaid in unrestricted free agency.
Why he goes: He is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Also: the emergence of Bo Horvat.
Why he stays: He’s an excellent checking centre and a good penalty killer.
Verdict: Richardson is a very useful player, but do they need him? With a glut of forwards and the growth of Bo Horvat, Richardson is very unlikely to return to Vancouver next season. He would be an excellent fourth line centre for a contending team and could fetch a 3rd round pick in return.
Another option for the Canucks is to trade for a draft pick and flip it for a player to help them now. Jim Benning did precisely that on draft day last June when he traded Jason Garrison for a 2nd round pick and flipped it for Linden Vey.
The New York Islanders own the 30th ranked penalty kill, so Chris Higgins and Brad Richardson must be enticing for them. Maybe the Red Wings like to bring back Matthias, who was drafted by Ken Holland? The Panthers traded for Jaromir Jagr on Thursday, so they’re serious about making the playoffs, and Florida is Vancouver’s trading soulmate.
Without right-shot centres Ryan Kesler and Mike Santorelli, we have seen the faceoff percentages of Henrik Sedin and Brad Richardson dip significantly. Colorado would likely want to unload Danny Briere, a UFA at season’s end, who isn’t playing very much in Colorado. Briere would help the Canucks’ second unit power play (how could he hurt it?) and he is a right-shot centre. He isn’t getting ice time in Colorado for a reason, but maybe he’s worth the roll of the dice for a late round draft pick.
I’m not expecting the Canucks to do much at the trade deadline this year, but I have been surprised before. Either way, I will be glued to my TV on Monday, thoroughly entertained as TSN and Sportsnet tap dance their way through hours of nothing until the big trades come to fruition.
Feature Image: @Sportsnet