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[Breaking down the plausibility of the week’s biggest rumor.]
For some inexplicable reason, the Vancouver Canucks continue to pursue a Jay Feaster-like pursuit of “going for it.”
In this case, as in the case of the Calgary Flames several years ago, the “it” is merely making the playoffs, something more than half the teams in the league do annually. And while making the playoffs is therefore no great shakes, nor really any indicator that a team is even all that good, the Canucks still feel like they’re some ways away from even being at that point.
To that end, GM Jim Benning has recently undertaken the task of beefing up his club’s defense and trying to bolster its offense simultaneously. Benning traded picks and a promising young former first-rounder for Erik Gudbranson in May, publicly admitted to being in on the P.K. Subban trade market (and getting a tampering fine as a result), and then signing Loui Eriksson on July 1.
A few other depth players were signed as well, and Chris Higgins bought out just before the free agency period, but that’s about it in terms of changes to the roster that finished third from the bottom of the league last year.
The team’s problem (in this area, anyway) is that for a club with this bad of a roster, they Canucks aren’t exactly swimming in cap space. Right now General Fanager has them at less than $3.48 million, which isn’t enough to add much of anything to the cause.
So instead, Jim Benning understands that if he wants to add some extra top-six help on the wing, he needs to make trades to do so. Because if he doesn’t, he understands that Sven Baertschi probably isn’t up to the task.
“We’ve been talking to some teams and it would be a hockey trade,” Benning told the Vancouver Sun. “The first part of free agency was guys signing and the second layer is going to be teams wanting to move contracts or bodies. Teams know what we’re looking for and we’ll see how it goes.”
Some names have already been mentioned in certain circles who the Canucks could target, but you’ll never guess what they are…
That’s right: Nothing concrete, and highly speculative.
Let’s have a at The Hockey News’s take on the situation first. The Canucks’ current top-six is probably something like Sedin-Sedin-Eriksson and Baertschi-Sutter-Hansen, and Benning rightly believes that’s not good enough to compete with most teams in the Pacific (probably not even Edmonton at this point, even after the Taylor Hall trade).
Benning wants to add a “proven scorer with some grit” (don’t we all?) and that’s not easy to find without taking on a liability contract or giving back a player that provides significant value at his price point. So who does The Hockey News suggest?
Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar from Detroit, Scott Hartnell from Columbus, Chris Kunitz from Pittsburgh, and Evander Kane from Buffalo.
And if that feels a lot like it’s just picking some names out of the “rumored for a trade hat” that’s because it probably is. As far as Nyquist and Tatar — neither of whom I’d categorize as necessarily “gritty” — go, it’s worth noting that well-connected people in Detroit think Ken Holland will deal at least one forward at some point this summer, but that while it’s a position of strength for the Wings, they’d probably only do it for a higher-end defenseman. Which is something that Benning doesn’t really have at hand for his own team, let alone someone else’s.
Hartnell certainly fits the bill, though, and Columbus has allegedly been looking to deal him since at least last year. With that contract, it’s easy to see why. Now, it’s worth asking a lot of questions here, including, “Would Hartnell waive his no-move to go to Vancouver?” But he’s exactly what the Canucks seem to be targeting “perfectly good at what he does, and on the wrong side of 30.”
As for Kane, well, that’s a lot of money for a guy who might be headed to his third club in as many years, and who apparently has plenty of trouble with the law.
If Benning is indeed “going for it,” doesn’t Hartnell seem like the logical jumping-off point for any trades here?
Who’s Going Where?
So here’s the big question on any Canucks trade: What is Benning willing to give up that anyone would want?
The answer probably is on the blue line, at least in terms of players who would fetch the value necessary to get a top-six winger. After all, if Adam Larsson is enough to get you Taylor freaking Hall — pretty close to a top-six winger in the entire league, let alone on any one team — the market is just screwed-up enough to get you almost anyone you want if you can offer value.
Some speculation says the Canucks might be willing to move on from Alex Edler, once a very good defender in the league who is coming off a broken leg suffered late last season. Edler, a left-shot defender, is also 30 years old and signed for three more years with a $5 million AAV but $16.5 million owed in actual money. The all-important “bonus” money in his contract is no longer an issue. That’s all worth noting given where the league is headed.
But 30 and coming off a broken leg? Nah, probably not too many takers there.
Meanwhile, there’s basically no way there’s a market for Luca Sbisa, right? And the Canucks are probably all set with the idea of trading a good young defender like Ben Hutton, or a younger, upside-ier guy like Nikita Tryamkin (he’s 6-foot-8 for crying out loud).
So the only other guy on the blue line who might be movable, and who probably does fetch you a solid price, is Chris Tanev. And Jason Botchford says it’s probable that the Canucks have at least looked at the possibility of trading him.
Yeah, I mean, the Canucks need help up front, but if they trade Edler — who wasn’t very good last season even before getting hurt — that probably doesn’t end up affecting them too much. If it’s between trading him or Tanev, to me there’s not even a question. Edler is older, more expensive, and worse.
Tanev is one of the best shot-suppression defenders in the league and generally outperforms a team that, admittedly, isn’t very good to begin with. Over the last three seasons, his relative effect on adjusted shot attempts against is in the same neighborhood as Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
He’s ranked seventh in the league in this regard. And when it comes to relative expected goals-for, he’s third behind only Vlasic and Anton Stralman. This is over a three-year period. So while Tanev is basically a no-offense defenseman (12 goals and 43 assists over three years), even if he’s a right-shot guy, this is the kind of shutdown defender teams should be targeting left and right.
If the Canucks are this desperate to add scoring, and it costs them Tanev, they’ll add goals but probably give up more as well. It’s a real cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face move from where I sit.
They’d be much better off seeing if there’s a buyer for Edler.
This Is So Huge, If True: Is It True?
On a B.S. detector scale of 1-5, with one being the most reasonable and 5 being the least:
The Canucks are certainly desperate to fulfill ownership demands of making the playoffs at least one more time before the Sedins sail off into the sunset, but to what end, and at what cost?
The Canucks trade for a top-six winger:
(It’s far more likely than not, but nothing is guaranteed given what they could offer in trade.)
The Canucks lose either Tanev or Edler in that trade:
(Basically the only chips they have to give away, unless they dip into the prospect pool instead.)
The Canucks miss the playoffs anyway:
(I mean come on.)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)