Between now and Feb. 29, sportsnet.ca will be taking an in-depth look at teams and the decisions facing them leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline. Today: Vancouver Canucks.
General manager: Jim Benning
2016 draft picks: 1st (VAN), 2nd (VAN), 3rd (VAN) 4th (VAN), 6th (VAN), 7th (VAN), 7th (CAR)
Cap space on deadline day: $2,199,846
Team mode: The Vancouver Canucks will enter the 2016 NHL trade deadline as reluctant sellers.
Cap, no-move and draft pick data via generalfanager.com
That stance isn’t surprising. Vancouver’s management team doesn’t believe in tanking, and the organization as a whole hasn’t made a future-oriented deadline move since the turn of the century.
Earlier this week, even, the Canucks dealt Hunter Shinkaruk, a pure future asset, for a player in Markus Granlund that can help them now. Though Granlund is only 18 months older than Shinkaruk, the deal appears to be one that benefits the club on the ice in the immediate term.
That perplexing trade combined with the club’s public insistence that they’re still looking to be competitive every night and haven’t given up on earning a playoff berth, lends the impression that this struggling team isn’t ready to be sellers at the deadline yet.
Don’t get caught up parsing public statements though, the Canucks are very much a club that knows that it needs to restock for the future.
“We're not going to sacrifice pieces of our future to augment the team at this point,” Linden told Sportsnet earlier this month. “If we can get younger and get faster then that's what we want to be.”
Vancouver hasn’t made much of an attempt to extend expiring unrestricted free agents Radim Vrbata or Dan Hamhuis, both of whom hold no-trade clauses, and it’s widely expected that the club will try to recoup value for both players. Whether or not the market, Vrbata’s recent injury, or Hamhuis’ full no-trade clause complicates matters though is an open question – one that will leave Canucks fans in suspense in the lead up to NHL trade deadline day.
Determining specifically what the Canucks may actually be able to accomplish is tricky, but figuring out what they’d like to do is much simpler. We know that in an ideal world they’d find a taker for Brandon Prust, Chris Higgins and perhaps Yannick Weber, and we can assume with some degree of confidence that they’d like to deal Hamhuis and Vrbata too.
If the Canucks manage to be motivated sellers on deadline day, don’t expect the club to look to accumulate a bounty of draft picks. That generally hasn’t been the organization’s style during the Benning era.
It’s not that the Canucks aren’t interested in adding picks, but if Hamhuis agrees to waive and if Vrbata still has value despite his challenging season, draft picks are unlikely to be the club’s primary target.
“We're just doing hockey trades,” Benning told reprorters on Monday. “If something makes sense to help our team now and in the future, if it's a player that we value going forward, then those are the types of trades we'll make.
"If we move a player out and we can acquire additional draft picks,” Benning added when asked a follow-up question, “we'll look at doing that.”
What the Canucks are really looking for on deadline day is likely to add a quality young defenceman who is close to earning a spot on their NHL roster. The blue-line version of Sven Baertschi, basically.
“If there was a young defenceman that fit, that had some development time, that could be able to step into our lineup sooner than later that could be an option as well,” Linden told Sportsnet in mid-February.
Not only do we know that the Canucks would love to add a young, nearly NHL-ready defenceman, but we know they’ve already identified young pro-level defenceman around the league whom they think can contribute.
“We tried (to get a defender for Shinkaruk),” Benning said during a media conference call on Monday. “We identified throughout the league some good young defencemen who we would trade him for. I made the calls. The general managers there didn't want to part with these defencemen so we decided that this was the next best road for us to go."
Vancouver’s hybrid-type rebuilding effort has frustrated fans at times over the past 18 months, but the overall trend is unmistakable: get younger and get faster, and do it by gambling on professional players in their early 20s.
As a crucial trade deadline for the organization approaches, expect the Canucks to be sellers. They’ll sell in their own unique way though, by hewing closely to those big picture objectives while specifically targeting young defencemen.