The Vancouver Canucks head into the trade deadline with few cards to play. Pending unrestricted free agents Anders Nilsson and Michael Del Zotto have already been traded, and a handful of players whose names regularly surface in trade conjecture – Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Brandon Sutter, Jake Virtanen – are among the many injured Canucks.
Factor in general manager Jim Benning’s stated refusal to trade picks from the 2019 draft that Vancouver hosts, and it looks like it could be an awfully quiet deadline on the far western front.
Scuffling along with the other turtles in the Western Conference wildcard race, the Canucks have been better and more competitive than anyone expected this season. But even with a few foundational pieces, soon to be joined by dynamic college defenceman Quinn Hughes, the Canucks still have a ways to go in their lineup construction.
The defence hasn’t evolved nearly as much as the forward group, and recent injuries to Edler and Tanev underscore the need for more defenceman, generally, and better blue-liners at the bottom of the lineup. Up front, the team is strong down the middle, led by the one-two punch of centres Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson, but bereft of scoring wingers outside Brock Boeser. It hasn’t helped that Nikolay Goldobin has been erratic (and a frequent healthy scratch) and that Virtanen and Sven Baertschi are out with long-term injuries. But the Canucks need more wingers who can play in the top nine.
Pending free agents, age, salaries:
• Markus Granlund, 25, $1.475 million
• Tyler Motte, 23, $925,000
• Josh Leivo, 25, $925,000
• Brock Boeser, 21, $925,000
• Nikolay Goldobin, 23, $863,000
• Ben Hutton, 25, $2.8 million
• Derrick Pouliot, 25, $1.1 million
• Thatcher Demko, 23, $925,000
Potential Assets to Move:
Nikolay Goldobin: He remains among the top five in Canucks scoring with 25 points in 52 games heading into the weekend, yet has become a semi-regular healthy scratch since Christmas. This illustrates the deficiencies coach Travis Green sees in other areas of Goldobin’s game. The 23-year-old has a ton of talent and a high offensive ceiling, which is why the Canucks’ preference is to persist in the Russian’s development. But he is a skilled, young winger who would generate interest from other teams — maybe enough for the Canucks to move on from him now.
Markus Granlund/Derrick Pouliot: If there was a market for forward Granlund and defenceman Pouliot, Benning probably would have traded them by now. Granlund’s 19-goal season two years ago looks like a mirage, and Pouliot wouldn’t still be in the lineup were it not for injuries, including to minor-league prospect Olli Juolevi. As the Canucks evolve, it’s hard to see how Granlund and Pouliot could fit in, and if Benning can get something for them at the deadline he probably will.
Draft pick: Benning is emphatic that he’s not trading picks from June’s draft at Rogers Arena. But he does have three selections in the sixth round, which gives him the ability to add a sweetener in trade talks.
2019: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 6th (OTT), 6th (WSH), 7th
2020: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th (ANA)
One bold move the Canucks could make:
Benning and Edler both want to sign an extension that will keep the Swedish veteran in Vancouver. But that doesn’t mean the Canucks can’t further help their future by renting Edler out at the deadline, then have him re-sign on July 1. OK, we know this strategy is far more popular among armchair GMs than real ones, and Edler would have to agree to waive his no-trade clause. But there would be a lot of interest in Edler as a rental, and the defenceman could help the Canucks – and himself if he re-signs – by fetching them a couple of assets.
One move the Canucks shouldn’t make…:
Having come a long way this season in their rebuild – and looking at the playoffs next year as a realistic goal for their young team, not just a bonus – the Canucks can’t afford to alter their game plan and trade young prospects or picks for players who could help their playoff push this spring. Stay the course.