Canucks trade deadline preview: How will COVID outbreak impact plans?

Iain MacIntyre explained why it will likely be very difficult for the NHL to figure out how the Vancouver Canucks can play out their remaining 19 games over the last month of the regular season.

The Vancouver Canucks’ season was a COVID outbreak shy of a disaster. And then they got COVID-19, right before the NHL trade deadline.

The good news is the 19 players from their NHL roster on the league’s COVID protocol list are moving into the recovery phase of their illnesses, and although some have been quite sick, none required hospitalization.

But most of the trade chips general manager Jim Benning possessed were on that list, which is not a selling point for other teams.

“The timing impacts things a bit for them, but I don’t think it has eliminated interest entirely,” a rival NHL executive told Sportsnet. “It depends on how much you want the player.”

And it also depends on Benning, who said Friday that with everything his players have been through the last couple of weeks, he isn’t inclined to try trading them now.

“I didn’t think there would be a lot of trades anyway,” another manager said. “It’s just so hard to move money, even for a rental. I think trades are going to be down by at least 60 per cent. With all their (Canucks) players in protocol, that probably makes it even tougher for them.”

When they emerge from their coronavirus shutdown, the Canucks will be asked by the NHL to play 19 games in a month – with players hollowed out by COVID-19. So, yeah, they could use some fresh bodies. But those aren’t likely to be arriving from other organizations before the deadline.

Here's a closer look at where Vancouver stands ahead of Monday's deadline.

Canucks Restricted Free Agents

Elias Pettersson, C, 22, $925k

Quinn Hughes, D, 21, $917k

Olli Juolevi, D, 22, $863k

Adam Gaudette, C/RW, 24, $950k

Marc Michaelis, C/LW, 25, $700k

Jayce Hawryluk, LW, 25, $800k

Canucks Unrestricted Free Agents

Alex Edler, D, 34, $6 million

Brandon Sutter, C, 32, $4.375 million

Travis Hamonic, D, 30, $1.25 million

Jordie Benn, D, 33, $2 million

Jimmy Vesey, RW, 27, $900k

Travis Boyd, C, 27, $700k

Jalen Chatfield, D, 24, $700k

Canucks Draft Picks

2021: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th

2022: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th

Team Needs

For the Canucks’ rebuilt foundation, Benning has drafted, developed or acquired a handful of excellent core pieces at the top of the roster. But his failure to build out the lineup, spending too much money on depth players who have offered diminished returns over time, has been costly literally and figuratively.

The Canucks' bottom-six forwards, especially, need to be stronger. The good news is nearly all of those expensive, aging pieces are coming off the payroll this summer and next. The bad news is that in the short-term, the Canucks could be even worse as they don't have enough NHL-ready prospects to fill all the needs on the third and fourth lines. The Canucks need depth.

Potential Assets to Move

Asset 1: C Brandon Sutter

Under “normal” deadline circumstances, Sutter would be coveted as a rental. He is a right-shot centre on an expiring contract who wins faceoffs (55.5 per cent this season), kills penalties, defends leads, can chip in a little offensively and has played more than 800 NHL games. His salary is expensive and Sutter isn’t the fastest skater, but acquiring teams will be looking for two months, not two years, out of him. Sutter has a modified no-trade clause.

Asset 2: D Alex Edler

Edler would have been traded at the deadline two years ago but declined to waive his no-movement clause and instead re-signed for a two-year term that was club friendly. The career Canuck would like another contract in Vancouver for next season.

Coming out of COVID, Edler isn’t likely to be any keener than he was two years ago to pack up and move away for a couple of months. But if he’s open to a trade, the 34-year-old is a big-bodied defenceman proficient in a matchup role, can play special teams and has demonstrated heightened physicality at playoff time. The most unappealing thing about him is his $6-million cap hit.

Asset 3: C/RW Adam Gaudette and RW Jake Virtanen

Yes, we know these are two players not one asset, but they fall into the same category: youngish forwards who haven’t (yet) fulfilled expectations in Vancouver, may need a new start elsewhere and have enough upside to generate interest.

The 24-year-olds are having awful seasons offensively – just four goals apiece – but possess some offensive tools. As a soon-to-be RFA, Gaudette is probably easier to move. Virtanen has another year at a cap hit of $2.55 million.

Asset 4: D Travis Hamonic and D Jordie Benn

Staying with the two-horse asset entry, we’re including Hamonic and Benn because both are experienced, robust, competent defencemen who traditionally are popular with strong teams trying to bulk up on depth before potentially-long Stanley Cup playoff runs. At age 30, Hamonic is the younger and better player. But he has an NMC and probably wasn’t going to waive it even before he went into COVID protocol.

Benn, 33, has a modified NTC. He was one of the few Canucks who didn’t get sick – his bout with the coronavirus came at the start of the season – and may view a trade as a head start to trying to extend his career with another contract after this one.

Seattle Expansion Considerations

The Canucks solved their only expansion-protection problem when they allowed veteran goalie Jacob Markstrom to walk in free agency last fall and gave prospect Thatcher Demko the chance to seize the starting role, which he has done impressively and emphatically. Vancouver has no protection issues, which puts it in a position to try capitalizing on teams that do – cap claustrophobia notwithstanding. With expensive new contracts due for RFAs Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, Benning has to be wary of every dollar he takes on.

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