With Canucks Faltering, Lightning Could Go Bargain Hunting

Despite being firmly pressed against the cap year in and year out, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois still finds ways to improve his team at the trade deadline. He does so by trading away top picks and prospects for players on below-market-value contracts, oftentimes that still have term on these deals as well. This means that while he is paying a premium for someone like Blake Coleman or Brandon Hagel, BriseBois is giving the Lightning a chance to not only win now, but for years in the future as well.

Julien Brisebois Tampa Bay Lightning
Since taking over as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s general manager, Julien Brisebois has aggressively pursued talent at the trade deadline that will help his team for more than one postseason run. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Heading into the new year, the Lightning look to be buyers again. While they have had a few more rough patches than normal to start the 2022-23 season, they still find themselves in the playoff hunt and will look to cement their spot further in the weeks and months leading up to the trade deadline. So, even if they could fall off and become sellers, it’s never too early to start looking around the league to see what talent could be available for BriseBois to pursue.

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Now, of course, any deal the Lightning make would need to be money in, money out, which limits their options immediately. They also don’t have their first-round pick for the next two seasons, as those are the property of the Chicago Blackhawks, so that also puts another block on their potential trade pool. This means that they will need to find a player who could use a change of scenery to unlock their full potential, as they will likely not require a huge return in a deal. While BriseBois was able to make such a deal in 2022 when he acquired Nick Paul, these players are hard to find.

Lightning Could Have a Trade Partner With the Canucks

However, with word coming out that the Vancouver Canucks could be looking to sell this year after another disappointing start to the season, that opens up a potential trade partner for the Lightning. While any team would love to add an elite talent like Bo Horvat or Brock Boeser to their lineup, we also know that those players won’t be making their way to Tampa Bay, as they simply can not afford them (barring an unexpected roster teardown).

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When you dig through their roster, though, there is a name that could interest a general manager like BriseBois: Nils Hoglander.

Nils Hoglander Vancouver Canucks
Nils Hoglander has seen his role with the Vancouver Canucks reduced significantly after he was unable to take that next step with the franchise. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As a second-round pick by the Canucks at the 2019 NHL Draft, Hoglander was seen as a shrewd pick by then Canucks general manager Jim Benning, as he slid down the draft board due to being 5-foot-9 and not necessarily because of his skillset or upside. As said by Shane Wilson of THW:

This guy is good. Ignore the fact that he is under 5-foot-10 and focus on the fact that he already weighs 185 pounds. He has an almost unmatched work ethic and some of the smoothest hands in the entire draft. If that isn’t enough to get you excited, he can also juggle while riding a unicycle. Opposing teams should be very, very careful.

With this hype behind him, Hoglander returned to his home country to play hockey against men in the Swedish Hockey League. While his scoring totals weren’t anything exceptional, he still was taking on ice time in one of the top professional hockey leagues in the world as a teenager. So, seeing this potential, the Canucks brought him to North America for the shortened 2020-21 season.

Hoglander’s Mixed Start With the Canucks

In his first NHL season, Hoglander played well for a struggling Canucks team, as he posted 13 goals and 27 points in 56 games played. While these weren’t jaw-dropping scoring numbers, they showed a strong base to build upon for a 20-year-old, so expectations were high for his sophomore season.

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Unfortunately, the 2021-22 season was a bit of a regression for Hoglander, as he struggled to find his place in Vancouver’s roster due to injury and inconsistency, which ultimately led to his scoring totals and ice time being reduced. However, there was still a belief that he could find his way in 2022-23 once again if he stayed healthy.

However, things have been just as bad for Hoglander, as he has still struggled with the same issues as the previous season. This eventually led to him being assigned to the Canucks American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in December, which was largely due to him being waiver-exempt, but you also wouldn’t send a young player down to the minor leagues mid-season if they were playing well.

So, all this is to say that Hoglander has not been able to take that next step in his career with the Canucks yet. However, he is still incredibly young and talented, which points towards a player who could rebound with the right structure around him, and a team like the Lightning could be the perfect fit. They have experience maximizing the potential of undersized yet highly skilled forwards, and due to the slow start to his career, they could likely sign him to a low-cost bridge deal to give him the opportunity to prove himself in the league past this season.

What Would It Take for a Lightning-Canucks Trade?

In order for this to all happen, though, the Lightning would need to have pieces available to trade that the Canucks would want in the first place. While Tampa Bay has been spending futures at a rapid pace in order to compete for the Stanley Cup now, they still have a few pieces that could facilitate a deal.

First, in terms of picks, Tampa Bay still has selections in Rounds 3-7 for 2023, including an additional seventh as well. In 2024, they have a pick in Rounds 2-7, meaning they still have plenty of ammo to make a lower-cost trade happen.

For prospects, a number of names jump out that could be a fit for Vancouver. If they wanted to do a stalled prospect for stalled prospect swap, the Lightning have Alex Barre-Boulet who has been stuck in the AHL for the last two seasons. He has been their most consistent scorer in the minor leagues for three-plus years, but just has not been able to break through into the NHL, and as such is a prime candidate for a change of scenery.

Alex Barre-Boulet Tampa Bay Lightning
Alex Barre-Boulet is one of the Lightning’s top prospects, but his development has stalled with the team and he could use a change of scenery. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

You also have defenseman Cal Foote, that is another high-potential prospect who just hasn’t been able to take that next step with the Lightning yet. He has everything you hope for in a top-four defenseman and is only 24 years old, but he still hasn’t been able to pull his way into the starting NHL lineup consistently. Foote strikes me as a player that could pop in a different circumstance, and Vancouver could be a great fit for him as a right-shot defenseman. However, Tampa Bay also shouldn’t be looking to sell on him yet, either, so it would take a good player in return for BriseBois to part with him.

Keep an Eye on the Lightning and Canucks Ahead of 2023 Deadline

While it is still months away, it’s worth keeping the Canucks in mind if you’re a fan of the Lightning. They have a lot of talented players, and if they are truly going to be sellers, then they could be a prime trade target for the franchise ahead of the deadline.

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While Hoglander makes the most sense for the team to pursue, I wouldn’t put it past BriseBois to swing a trade for an unexpected player. He always finds a way to insert himself into deals that you wouldn’t expect, and if there is a game-changing talent to be acquired, I wouldn’t put it past him to do whatever it takes to make the trade happen.