Don’t look now, but the trade deadline is coming up fast and the Vancouver Canucks are still a prominent team in the rumor mill. Despite making a big move earlier in the week acquiring Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings, general manager Jim Benning is still on a mission to improve his team as the playoffs get closer and closer. So what else can he do? After exploring some forwards to target in the last article, let’s take a look at some defencemen he could be looking to acquire.
Tyson Barrie – Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Tyson Barrie has been a prominent name in the rumor mill these last few days, and the Canucks seem to be one of the teams kicking the tires on the pending unrestricted free agent (UFA). This should not come as a surprise, as they were also one of the teams rumored to be interested in his services before the Colorado Avalanche traded him to the Maple Leafs this past offseason.
Barrie is having a relatively successful season with five goals and 35 points in 63 games played. His Corsi-for percentage of 54.4 is tops amongst all Maple Leafs defencemen and he leads the defence core with ten power play points. If the Canucks ended up acquiring him, he would instantly make the second unit more of a threat. In his career, he has 127 power play points to go along with three 50-plus point seasons. He’s a driver of the offence, not unlike another small offensive defenceman they have in uber-rookie Quinn Hughes.
Barrie may be a good target for the Canucks, but he would ultimately be a rental, especially with all the players they have to re-sign this offseason. He would join Toffoli, Jacob Markstrom, and Chris Tanev as the prominent players that they need to fit under the salary cap. He is not going to be a cheap acquisition either, as the Leafs are probably looking for a roster player along with picks and maybe even a mid-range prospect.
The aforementioned Tanev has always been a favored target when the Leafs are involved, but this time it’s Troy Stecher in the cross-hairs. His status as a pending restricted free agent this coming offseason has precipitated the rumors, along with the fact that he’s the most marketable asset the Canucks currently have. Everyone wants Sven Baertschi, Nikolay Goldobin, Brandon Sutter and Loui Eriksson jettisoned, but the truth is that no team wants to give up substantial pieces to acquire them.
Related: Troy Stecher’s Journey To The NHL
If Benning wants to get a deal completed for Barrie he will have to give up Stecher or Tanev in addition to another prospect. If he is true to his word, no more picks will leave his hands, but this time of year is muddied with misinformation, so I’m not sure we can believe that. All Canucks fans can do is wait, and hope no more future assets are lost on a potential rental.
Ron Hainsey – Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators are once again in sell mode after another disappointing season in the Nation’s Capital. Veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey is one of many players on the chopping block and could be a good addition for the Canucks.
Hainsey won’t provide a lot of offence at this point in his career, but he could bring leadership and a calming influence to the bottom of the Canucks’ lineup. He also is a plus-six on a team that allows a lot of goals on a nightly basis. He is second only to Jean-Gabriel Pageau in that statistic.
Hainsey is a prolific shot blocker and can provide physicality as well. He also can move up the lineup if there are injuries as he’s used to playing over 20 minutes a night. In almost every season he’s played in the NHL, his average ice time has hovered around the 22-minute mark.
Of the three defencemen presented here, Hainsey probably could be acquired for the least amount of assets. His cap-hit is manageable as well at a pro-rated $3.5 million.
Erik Gustafsson – Chicago Blackhawks
As a pending UFA, Erik Gustafsson will be a hot commodity coming up to the deadline. Teams will likely overpay for the 27-year-old offensive defenceman that finished the 2018-19 season with 17 goals and 60 points. He isn’t having that type of season in 2019-20 with only 26 points so far, but he is still a threat on the power play and could be a difference-maker on the right team with the right defence partner. His cap hit right now is palatable at $1.2 million, but just like Barrie, he will command a hefty sum this offseason.
The Canucks could use a defenceman like Gustafsson on the second unit power play. He could even join Hughes on the first unit as another threat on the point. I still believe they need the threat of a big shot to truly become an elite power play. The last time they had one was when Sami Salo was blasting away from the point position. If Benning can somehow pry him away from the Blackhawks for a reasonable price, they will have two elite offensive defencemen manning the point on the power play.
Gustafsson has been criticized for his defensive play, though, which could present an issue for the Canucks, who have struggled at times to defend their own zone. What the team really needs is a steady defenceman that can calm the game down when things start going south. I’m not sure he is the man for the job, even with the points he could potentially put up from the backend.
Benning Needs to Be Smart at the Trade Deadline
Whatever Benning does at this year’s trade deadline will be met with criticism. What he cannot do is overpay for a short-term fix on the blueline. The offseason acquisitions of Jamie Benn, Tyler Myers, and Oscar Fantenberg have been upgrades on last season’s defence core, but the Canucks still don’t look like a team poised to make a long run in the postseason. They are outshot in almost every game they play in, which has forced MVP, Jacob Markstrom, to bail his teammates out way too often.
If the Canucks are going to make a solid playoff run this season, the defensive system has to tighten up, even if Benning does nothing to improve the personnel running it. If he does do something, it has to be a smart move that does not mortgage the future. The young core led by Hughes will grow into a formidable group with time. The Canucks are not in “win-now” mode, so there is no rush to significantly improve this team with risky moves. Cooler heads need to prevail as the annual silly season gets underway on Monday. Let’s hope Benning does not get sucked in.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, editor, part-time journalist, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.