The Vancouver Canucks want to get into the trading game this offseason, that much was clear when Jim Rutherford appeared on the DFO Show with Frank Seravalli and Jason Gregor on May 16. They want to take advantage of teams that are up against the salary cap, like the Vegas Golden Knights, who are facing the monumental task of filling out a roster with six forwards and three defencemen taking up $61.65 million of their cap space. While the Canucks still need to figure things out on that front too, they can still make deals with these types of teams provided they get under the salary cap by the beginning of the season.
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With all that said, in an ongoing series throughout the offseason, I will be looking at some players that Canucks could target in an effort to improve their team for the 2022-23 season. First up, is the aforementioned team from Sin City, the Golden Knights.
Nicolas Roy – Center
The Canucks need yet another third-line center after the Jason Dickinson experiment failed miserably last season. While he somewhat turned it around when he was converted to a winger towards the end of the season, he still was not the answer as a reliable third-line pivot that could pot a few goals once in a while. Nicolas Roy, the 6-foot-4, 207-pound behemoth would be that and more, especially if he continues on the development path he is currently on.
Initially selected 96th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2015 Draft, Roy has become a reliable center in the NHL who doesn’t only score goals, but also hits and wins faceoffs at a decent rate. In 78 games last season, he had a career-high 15 goals and 39 points along with 85 hits and a solid plus-12 in the plus/minus column. While his faceoff percentage was under 50 percent (48.8), that is still better than Dickinson’s 44.1. He also took 931 faceoffs compared to Dickinson’s 289. Not to mention he drove play to the tune of a 54.7 Corsi-for percentage (CF%), which was way better than Dickinson’s 47.9 CF%. In other words, he would be a far better option than Dickinson down the middle.
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Roy will be a restricted free agent (RFA) in the offseason and is due for a raise on the paltry $750,000 in average annual value (AAV) he received over the last two seasons in Vegas. The career highs he experienced will without a doubt give his agent leverage in negotiations, and with the Golden Knights’ cap problems, they might be forced to trade him because of it. That’s where the Canucks should swoop in, just like they did with Nate Schmidt in 2020, except this time they won’t be handcuffed by an existing high-priced contract. They could also go the route of an offer sheet, which might be the better option since Vegas won’t be able to match most offers presented.
Chandler Stephenson – Center
Even when Jack Eichel got into the lineup for the Golden Knights after recovering from neck surgery, Chandler Stephenson still took reps on the top line with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty (when they were healthy, of course). While not usually regarded as a first-line center in most NHL circles, he has played that role quite often throughout his time in Vegas. Acquired from the Washington Capitals in 2019 for only a fifth-round pick, the recently turned 28-year-old has scored 43 goals and 121 points in 171 games since coming over in that trade. He is also carrying a budget-friendly $2.75 million AAV contract for the next two seasons.
Like Roy, Stephenson is a versatile forward capable of playing up and down the lineup. When he wasn’t on the top line last season, he was either on the second line or in the bottom six. He also spent time on both the power play and penalty kill, with an average ice time of 2:16 on the former and 1:33 on the latter. Then, to go along with his 21 goals and 64 points, he had 68 hits, 44 blocked shots and an impressive 52 percent success rate on 1,255 faceoffs taken. Talk about a perfect third-line center – or even second-line center – for the Canucks.
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However, despite the perfect fit in Vancouver, the Golden Knights might be averse to trading such a reasonable contract, especially when you consider what Stephenson brought to their lineup. Having said that, they need to find cap space somewhere and he would be easier to trade than someone like Jonathan Marchessault, Alec Martinez or William Karlsson, who all have large contracts and modified no-trade clauses.
Brayden McNabb – Defence
Of all the defencemen the Golden Knights have, Brayden McNabb has the most palatable, and thus tradable, contract. He also would add an element the Canucks don’t have on their defence corps right now, physicality. We all know Rutherford loves his big, physical defencemen (see Jack Johnson, Erik Gudbranson, and Mike Matheson), so I wouldn’t be surprised if he was already on his radar for a potential trade. Unlike Johnson and Gudbranson, though, McNabb can actually skate and move the puck.
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In a perfect world, the Canucks would go after 25-year-old right-hander Zach Whitecloud. However, considering he was just re-signed by the Golden Knights and is coming off a solid season where he put up eight goals and 19 points, that probably won’t happen unless something big is included in the package going back to Vegas.
Since Chris Tanev left to sign a four-year deal with the Calgary Flames, the Canucks’ defence hasn’t looked the same, especially when it comes to blocked shots and overall gritty play. Tyler Myers, while 6-foot-8, doesn’t invoke fear when an opposing forward ventures into the attacking zone, while McNabb does. At 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, he is always looking to punish someone, as evidenced by his 154 hits, which led the Golden Knights’ defence. As for blocked shots, he does that too, sacrificing his body to a league-leading 179 pucks. That total was, in fact, more than Tanev has ever put up in the NHL, in a Canucks uniform or otherwise.
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So, if the Canucks are looking for someone to replace what Tanev brought to the ice every night, McNabb should be their guy. Not to mention he would also provide the “sandpaper” Rutherford wants more of going into 2022-23 as well.
What Will the Canucks Need to Give Up in a Trade?
This is where it gets tricky, especially when dealing with the Golden Knights and their cap problems. The Canucks can’t off-load a bad contract on them (unless they retain salary, that is). So, likely no Myers, Tucker Poolman, or Oliver Ekman-Larsson involved here. What Rutherford and Allvin will have to give up are draft picks and prospects, which they don’t have a lot of either. The only roster players I could see being in a deal are Tanner Pearson, Conor Garland (retained salary) or Nils Hoglander.
If the Canucks want to grab Stephenson, for example, a player like Hoglander or Garland would probably have to be involved. In any case, a successful trade will require some gymnastics from both sides. The phrase “salary retention” will be uttered multiple times I’m sure. However, despite the potential complexity of any deal, if Stephenson, Roy or McNabb are on the table, Rutherford and Allvin would do well to look into it as all three would bring welcomed elements to their lineup in 2022-23.
All statistics were taken from NHL.com and Hockey Reference and salary information was from CapFriendly