The Vancouver Canucks are going to have to unload some salary in the coming months whether it be in exchange for some more budget-friendly contracts or even just prospects and draft picks. They have a number of assets that could be of interest to other teams, including some veterans and developing prospects. It has been light for Canucks news lately, so let’s put on our general manager hats and look at some trade bait that could entice teams to make a deal with them.
Antoine Roussel is entering the third year of a four-year contract he signed at the outset of free agency in 2018 that pays him an annual salary of $3 million. At the time it was a high price to pay for a third liner, and now it is becoming a small albatross to go along with many other small albatrosses the Canucks have to overcome to get under the salary cap for 2020-21.
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He is still an effective bottom-six player, but the offence has kind of dried up for him in recent seasons. He has not scored more than 10 goals since the 2016-17 season, and honestly, I think he cost the Canucks some games against the Vegas Golden Knights when he allowed fellow agitator Ryan Reaves to get under his skin during the playoffs. Whether it was justified or not, he forced other players to pick up the slack when he was thrown out of the game with a 10-minute game misconduct while engaged with Reaves.
The Canucks have younger and cheaper options in Zach MacEwen, Marc Michaelis, and now Jayce Hawryluk who could do the same job with much more offensive upside. As much as I love Roussel’s personality and underrated playmaking abilities, it might be time for him to move on. I’m sure there are other teams that could use his presence and would be willing to pay at least a draft pick or mid-range prospect to get him on their roster.
Tanner Pearson has been a revelation ever since he joined the team in a trade that sent Erik Gudbranson to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Playing primarily with Bo Horvat on the checking line (aka the second line), he has been a quiet two-way producer with 30 goals and 57 points in 88 career games with the Canucks. He was also one of head coach Travis Green’s most trusted players in all situations, especially when his team was protecting a lead in the waning minutes of a game.
Despite his value to the Canucks, Benning might have no choice but to trade him before the 2020-21 season is over. With no takers so far for Loui Eriksson and Brandon Sutter, he will have to resort to trading other assets to clear the way for Quinn Hughes’ and Elias Pettersson’s contract extensions sooner or later. Pearson’s contract takes up $3.75 million of the salary cap, and he could fetch some intriguing assets in a trade. As I mentioned before, he’s still a productive top-six forward and can play a regular matchup role when needed, so he could hold some value for some teams.
As for a return, Pearson could potentially get the Canucks a second-round pick, mid-range prospect, or even a younger roster player. In the previous two deals he was a part of, the returns for the other team were Gudbranson and Carl Hagelin. So he does still have some value around the league, despite the fact that Gudbranson has fallen off a cliff in recent seasons as a legitimate top-four defender.
Just because Jake Virtanen was re-signed doesn’t mean he won’t be traded sometime in 2020-21. In fact, I believe his new two-year $2.25 million average annual value (AAV) contract makes him a more marketable asset. If the Canucks would have traded him before his arbitration hearing, the return probably would have been at most a second-round draft pick. Now that he holds a budget-friendly, short-term contract other teams might be more inclined to take him on.
It has been well documented that Virtanen has struggled with consistency and off-ice issues in the past. If he was a lower-tier player, he probably would have been jettisoned long ago. His skill and immense potential have afforded him a long leash, but the time is coming where patience will run out and he will be dealt to another team. That time might not be before the 2020-21 season begins, but it could be around the trade deadline if he continues to struggle with those same issues he’s struggled with since he became a full-time member of the Canucks.
Virtanen has loads of skill as we saw throughout the 2019-20 season when he scored a career-high 18 goals and 36 points. His speed backs teams off and he has shown a propensity for physical play as well. The problem is, he still does not display those aspects of his game night in and night out. This season it appears that he will be given every opportunity to succeed offensively since the Canucks don’t seem to have any plans to replace Tyler Toffoli in the top-six. He will likely get the coveted spot beside Pettersson and JT Miller on the top line, and if he’s given the proper amount of games there, he should put up a lot of points. If he doesn’t, his time in Vancouver is probably done.
In addition to the above assets, the Canucks could also entertain the idea of a Brock Boeser trade. He has been the rumour mill twice before, and you know what they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Benning might deny it publicly, but that does not mean he has not looked into the idea. They do need to shed salary and he is the asset that would fetch the most in a trade.
That being said, I don’t think this is the right time to trade the talented winger since he is an important part of the character and core of this team. However, if I was forced to choose one of the core-four of Boeser, Pettersson, Bo Horvat, or Quinn Hughes, he would be my choice to trade but only if it was absolutely necessary.
Will the Canucks Find Dance Partners for Sutter, Eriksson & Baertschi?
Of course the Canucks still have the option to trade Brandon Sutter, Loui Eriksson, and Sven Baertschi. However, in this flat cap and uncertain COVID-19 world, it will be difficult to find dance partners for them. Sutter should be the most marketable, but teams seem to be hesitant to take on his $4.375 million AAV contract. He also has the pesky no-trade clause where he can submit 15 teams he does not want to be traded to.
Sutter is still a great penalty killer, faceoff man, and character forward, but he probably does not want to go to a rebuilding team at this point in his career. However, for the Canucks to be successful he cannot be their third-line center. Adam Gaudette has to anchor that unit with either Hawryluk, MacEwen, or Nils Hoglander, which means Sutter would be relegated to the fourth line, and that is not ideal for him or the team as a whole.
Eriksson and Baertschi have both fallen out of favour with the Canucks, and unfortunately, don’t seem to be popular on the trade front. They would have to retain salary in any trade to make it palatable for the other team, so it’s by no means an ideal situation.
If Eriksson was paid like a fourth liner, everyone would love him. He is a quiet, defensively sound forward who chips in the occasional goal. He also is an adequate penalty killer too. Now doesn’t that sound like the perfect bottom-six forward? It’s his bloated contract that gets him the constant vitriol from Canucks Nation, not the way he plays the game. But it is what it is, and somehow, someway, the Canucks need to get his salary off the books.
Finally, there’s Baertschi, who Benning said recently that he sees him fighting for a spot in training camp.
If Baertschi can show that he can still compete in the NHL, other teams might feel he’s a risk worth taking. He is only 28-years-old and it’s not like he didn’t perform in the AHL last season with the Utica Comets. He showed everyone that he was too good to be in that league by posting 13 goals and 46 points in 43 games. He also averaged 18 minutes a night and saw significant time on both the power play and penalty kill. After that performance, he deserves to showcase himself for another opportunity to continue his NHL career.
Canucks Have Assets To Trade, but Should They Pull the Trigger?
Apart from Boeser and the players mentioned already, the Canucks have other assets in Kole Lind, Nikita Tryamkin, Olli Juolevi, and Brogan Rafferty who could be made available to obtain another top-six forward or more depth on defence. If Virtanen, Hoglander, or Vasily Podkolzin cannot get it done alongside Horvat and Pearson, they will need other options. Then again, it might also be smart to let it ride with those young players, instead of taking on another “what if” in another potentially questionable trade.
Benning has made some great trades recently in acquiring Miller and Nate Schmidt without giving up any significant assets. But that doesn’t mean he should jump at the next available one before letting some of his young players get the proper opportunity to fill some major holes in the roster. Sometimes you have to just let your youth struggle through the trials and tribulations to get to the gold at the end of the rainbow. Until that happens you won’t know what you have until it’s gone.
What do you think Canucks Nation? Do the Canucks have any other trade bait, or should they even entertain any trades at all? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!
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Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, 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.