T-minus one hour. That’s how long the Vancouver Canucks have until the NHL roster freeze goes into effect which will prevent every team from making moves until the eve of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Right now general managers are scrambling to negotiate with anyone and everyone to move key players that will have to be exposed to the Seattle Kraken in a few days. Either they trade them, or they risk losing them for nothing. That’s the dilemma facing many GMs today.
So, what does that mean for Jim Benning and the Canucks? Maybe by some stroke of luck, he can take advantage of the situation and upgrade the blueline or the top nine before the freeze occurs at 3 pm EST. After all, he did promise to be aggressive, right? So, in the spirit of the chaos that could happen in the next hour or so, let’s take a look at three potential trades he could make.
1. Vince Dunn (St. Louis Blues)
The St. Louis Blues are up against it going into the expansion draft. At this point, it looks like they will be protecting defencemen Colton Parayko, Torey Krug, and Justin Faulk and leaving Marco Scandella and Vince Dunn for the Kraken’s tentacles. That is unless they make a trade to move one of them before then.
I have been a huge supporter of the Canucks acquiring Dunn for a long time. He’s big, he’s mobile and he can chip in offensively from the backend. With Alex Edler testing free agency, they will need someone to take over his minutes and fill the massive hole he’s leaving on the left side. The 24-year-old Dunn could definitely be that guy for the next decade if Benning plays his cards right.
The cost could be relatively low considering how desperate the Blues will become as the clock ticks down to 3 pm. The going rate seems to be at least a second-round pick for these side deals, as evidence by the Nick Leddy and Ryan Graves trades earlier this week. Though, maybe just maybe, the Canucks can pry him away with a third-rounder and a mid-range prospect? Hey, stranger things have happened. Just look at what they got Nate Schmidt for.
2. Max Domi (Columbus Blue Jackets)
All signs are pointing to the Columbus Blue Jackets leaving Max Domi off their protection list come the 5 pm EST deadline. He has seen his fair share of injuries and production issues over the last couple of seasons, but he’s not that far removed from a career-high 28-goal campaign back in 2018-19. Coming off a surgery that will delay the start of his 2021-22 season, he could be had for a low price too.
The Canucks need scoring throughout their top-nine if they want to make the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division. For the first time since the 2019-20 season, they will once again play the likes of the Los Angeles Kings, Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose Sharks, and Anaheim Ducks and on top of all that, the Kraken as well. If history has taught us anything, it’s that this division plays every game big and tough. With the addition of the unknown Kraken, who will most likely be tough to play against with Dave Hakstol coaching them, they will need all the speed and toughness they can get.
Domi has proven to be tough as nails like his father Tie, but a much bigger scoring threat as well. His speed and tenacity on the forecheck have been a staple of his game ever since his days with the OHL’s London Knights, so he should fit in nicely on the Canucks’ third line. The fact that he centered the Canadiens’ second line back during his career-best 72-point season should be evidence enough that he could transform the third line into a scoring threat again.
3. Yanni Gourde (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The Tampa Bay Lightning were a formidable force during the 2021 Playoffs thanks to their substantial depth at forward and defence. Though, that probably won’t be the case after the dust settles on this upcoming offseason. The fact that they were way over the salary cap during the playoffs will most certainly bring changes to the roster before the puck drops on the 2021-22 season.
The expansion draft will be the first source of movement as they stand to lose a very solid player to the Kraken. Amongst the many tasty names on the menu that will include Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, and Alex Killorn, they will be getting a proven top-six forward right off the bat.
The Canucks should be looking at all those names, but if they want to make their third line a veritable force again, Gourde should be the first on their list. He was part of the Lightning’s insanely effective identity line during the 2020 and 2021 Playoffs and he’s smack dab in his prime at 29-years-old. He may be a little pricey at $5.16 million, but if he can bring the same presence to the Canucks as he did to the Lightning, that money will be well spent.
Unlike Schwartz and Dunn, the Lightning could demand a first-round pick in return for the feisty Canadian. However, with the desperation surrounding the expansion draft and their salary cap situation, a second-round pick and mid-range prospect might just get a deal done before the clock strikes 3 pm EST.
Benning Has Been Working the Phones
As early as this morning, it’s been reported that Benning has been feverishly working the phones to make a deal to upgrade his team. It remains to be seen if he can actually get one completed in time, but it should be fun to see what lies ahead for the Canucks and the NHL as a whole in the next couple of hours. Will we see a lot of deals, or none at all? All I know is, it should be exciting to see it all unfold.
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.