It is a common thought that the key to a Stanley Cup is having top 5 draft picks and then building around those players. It’s something that has shown to be successful, but it’s clear that managing assets and player values are much more important to the long term success of a franchise.
The Canucks are currently in a position where they would be wise to not let their assets reach zero value.
Obviously, we aren’t privy to all the conversations and offers that NHL GMs encounter on a daily basis. So consider this a suggestion of how to think, rather than a suggestion of specific trade targets.
Although the Canucks might battle for a playoff spot this year, they are by no means Stanley Cup contenders. They can’t afford to let mild short term success get in the way of managing assets on expiring contracts.
Last season the Canucks kept Brad Richardson and Shawn Matthias beyond the trade deadline, paving the way to lose them for nothing as unrestricted free agents. Both were kept in hopes of making the playoffs and winning a round.
They played decent for the remainder of year, but with the long term view in mind, they should have been traded for future assets at the trade deadline. That’s why trading the players below, which they didn’t do with Richardson and Matthias, should be seen as one short term step back in order to take two long term steps forward.
Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata
Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata are two major parts of the current Canucks lineup are unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. They also represent the thought process of ‘can’t lose them for nothing’ perfectly, although they may help the Canucks after the trade deadline and playoffs this season. Their greater value lies in trading them to a cup contender for future assets.
I believe the best course of action is for the Canucks to sign Hamhuis to an extension, but Canucks management may feel differently. If they don’t plan on re-signing them, letting these two players play out the rest of the season with hopes of a playoff run is just poor management of the team’s long term success.
Back in May, Money Puck over at Canucks Army broke down what fans could reasonably expect in return for the both of them. Getting a first round pick for Hamhuis, and a first round pick and B level prospect for Vrbata are safe expectations.
The thought of GM Jim Benning having three first round selections in June is something that I would be excited for. Highly regarded for his drafting abilities, Benning could turn an already good prospect pool into a great one in one draft.
The dream scenario would be if Jim Benning could convince Hamhuis, a Smithers native, to waive his no-trade clause for the reminder of the season and then re-sign him as a UFA in July.
Canucks management have clearly soured on former first round pick Nicklas Jensen. Back in May, Jim Benning was quite direct in his criticism of Nicklas Jensen:
He’s in danger of falling in between (roles). He’s not the natural goal-scorer to play in the top six, and he has to round out his game better to play in the bottom six. The details in his game have to improve. To help us win, he’s going to have to be a Jannik Hansen-type player.
Even a long post-season run with the Utica Comets didn’t seem to change Benning’s opinion of Jensen:
My biggest takeaway from Benning is how unimpressed he sounds when talking about Jensen.
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) September 17, 2015
Criticizing your players publicly when trying to maximize them as tradeable assets is never a good idea.
Jensen’s entry level contract concludes at the end of this season. He will also become waiver-eligible. Rather than not qualifying him and risk losing him for nothing like they did with Jordan Schroeder, they would be wise to move him as soon as possible.
Former Montreal Canadiens first round pick Louis Leblanc and former Tampa Bay first round pick Carter Ashton are fair comparisons. They failed to reach their potential but were traded for serviceable assets that could be used in the future.
Brandon Prust, Matt Bartkowski and Yannick Weber
Unlike Hamhuis and Vrbata, these three players don’t form major parts of the current team. They are good complimentary pieces that can help any team be successful and will be attractive for teams looking for depth at the deadline. It would be hard to place an accurate value for them on the trade market, as we can’t predict where teams will be in March.
However we know that all three will have some value on the trade market, whether that be draft picks or young players that the Canucks can use going forward. If the Canucks are out of the playoff picture in late February, I would expect all three of these players to be up for auction.
The point of maximizing these assets isn’t to have a ‘fire sale’ and leave torched earth with hopes of selecting in the top 5 at the draft. It’s about adding future assets that have value for players that are trending towards having zero value. Teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, L.A. Kings and most recently the Toronto Maple Leafs have done this with regularity. Based on L.A and Tampa’s recent success, I suggest it is a model worth following.
If the Canucks are able to enter the 2016 NHL Entry Draft with a stockpile of picks, they can choose to restock the prospect pool further or even use these new tradeable assets for players that teams are looking to make a move.
Either option would be a much better use of your current assets, rather than just letting them walk for nothing. Trading all of these players may result in the Canucks missing the playoffs this year, and that will hurt in the short term. Jim Benning should be focused on long term success at this point and the acquired picks, prospects, assets and cap space from these deals will allow the Canucks to quickly retool next summer.