Hamhuis’ decision will shape Canucks for years to come

NHL insider Elliotte Friedman touches a little on each Canadian team’s trade deadline goals, and believes the Canucks, Oilers and Flames will all be big players on February 29th.

Will Vancouver Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis consent to waive his no-trade clause before the NHL trade deadline?

It’s a crucial question. More than any other factor, Hamhuis’ decision will shape how well the Canucks can do as reluctant sellers on the trade market.

It’s also a question that, at this point, remains unanswered, as all of the parties involved will tell you.

“That’s maybe step two or three to our process that would involve moving, and we haven’t even gone to step one yet,” Hamhuis said, fielding a question on Thursday about how much the ‘fit’ on a potential new team would factor into his decision. “The Canucks haven’t approached me on any of that stuff. If it comes to that – and let’s say it does come to that – we’d certainly be taking a close look at where we’re asked to move and where a good fit would be.”

Understandably, Hamhuis would appear to be of two minds when evaluating the possibility of consenting to a deadline-day deal. On the one hand, and as any competitive hockey player will tell you, the opportunity to compete for hockey’s ultimate prize is tantalizing.

“You always want to be playing competitive hockey in the playoffs and in the spring,” Hamhuis said. “My actions have evidenced that over the years, going to World Championships as many times as I could, and I love the opportunity to try and win.

“We had such a close call there in 2011, being close, and that’s certainly enticing.”

There are other factors at play here though, which serve to explain the lingering skepticism about whether Hamhuis will willingly depart from Vancouver in a trade.

Hamhuis is connected to the community and his church, and is reluctant to uproot his young family. He spurned more lucrative offers to pick Vancouver as an unrestricted free agent back in the summer of 2010, and in a telling comment on Thursday, referred to his much discussed no-trade clause as something that functions as a shield.

“That’s a reason why six years ago I asked for a no-trade clause, because I have a family,” Hamhuis said. “Six years in a city you certainly establish roots and the family has got a lot of roots and friendships here so you want to be able to protect that as best you can.”

Though the 33-year-old defender is on the back nine of his career and is probably best suited to a second-pair role these days, he’s still been an enormously effective defensive presence for the Canucks this season. That he’s played so well even after returning from a brutal facial fracture injury makes his performance even more impressive.

Among all Canucks defenceman, Hamhuis ranks second to only Chris Tanev by shot-attempt differential. He’s one of only three Canucks defenders – along with Tanev and Alex Edler – who haven’t been outscored in 5-on-5 situations.

While the peripheral numbers suggest that Hamhuis is still a competent top-four defender, the more granular data from Sportlogiq paints an even more flattering portrait. Hamhuis is the single best stick-checking defenceman in hockey, according to Sportlogiq’s ‘successful stick checks’ metric and ranks fourth in successful blocked passes.

In addition to having a stick that seems to snare any nearby puck, Hamhuis is also still able to get the puck going in a favourable direction once he’s won it.

The veteran defender ranks in the top-10 in the entire NHL by Sportlogiq’s ‘successful outlet passes’ metric and in the top-30 for possession-driving plays – a number that reflects a player’s ability to contribute to successful on-ice events that move the puck up ice while retaining possession, including things like stretch passes, outlet passes and controlled offensive-zone entries.

Simply put, if Hamhuis is willing, he’s the best blue-line option likely to be available on the market at the deadline. And rental players of that quality generally net multiple significant future assets in deadline day trades.

That’s why his decision is so crucial. Hamhuis’ answer to the ‘will you agree to waive?’ question will shape Vancouver’s ability to restock at the deadline and the future trajectory of a rebuilding club for years to come.

No matter how this plays out, there should be no hyperbolic ill will – of the “Muskoka Five” variety – directed towards Hamhuis in the Vancouver market. He’s been one of the most consistent and effective defensemen in franchise history during his tenure here. He’s represented the Canadian national team frequently and successfully. He’s given his best hockey years to a city he loves and is incredibly loyal to.

That loyalty is something that’s beyond doubt. It explains why, in a radio appearance on a Vancouver sports talk radio station on Thursday afternoon, Hamhuis specifically invoked the name of Antoine Vermette – who was traded by Arizona at the deadline last year, won a cup and re-signed with the Coyotes the subsequent summer.

Whether Hamhuis will be dealt is still an open question, but we can assert with confidence that all things being equal he’d prefer to remain in Vancouver following this season.

“If I was guaranteed to have that happen?” Hamhuis reframed a question about whether the possibility to re-sign as an unrestricted free agent would influence his decision. “You know that’s one of so many options. We certainly love being in this city, love playing in this building, (for) this franchise. I’d certainly love to entertain the idea of playing here longer.”

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