The Vancouver Canucks are currently in a tailspin, winning only two of their last 13 games and in the midst of yet another long losing streak. In fact, they have not strung together two wins in a row since their four-game winning streak where they beat the Ottawa Senators three times back in January. Their record now stands at 8-14-2, which is only three ahead of the last place Sens, who are on a roll having won their last three in a row.
Regardless of how much positive endorsement Francesco Aquilini is giving his management and coaching staff, the Canucks’ 2020-21 season is quickly going down the tube. They have played the most games out of anyone in the NHL, and the climb to the playoffs isn’t going to get any easier. As much as it pains me to say it, the time is coming where general manager (GM) Jim Benning will have to make a decision on when to cut his losses and trade some veteran assets for draft picks and prospects.
Benning has a poor track record of accumulating assets when it comes to veterans that are coming up to free agency. Players like Dan Hamhuis, Radim Vrbata, Troy Stecher, and Ben Hutton all eventually signed elsewhere when he could have flipped them to another team for draft picks or prospects. In fact, he actually had a trade in place for Hamhuis, but it fell through at the last minute. This season has to be different, especially if the Canucks fall too far behind the playoff watermark of fourth place in the Scotia North Division.
Trading obviously will be a difficult thing to do, as Benning can attest to already. He apparently has phoned almost every GM gauging interest in players like Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette but has not gotten a bite from anyone as of yet. If they do eventually fall to the basement of the division, all veterans not named J.T. Miller and Nate Schmidt have to be on the table, regardless of no-movement (NMC) and no-trade clauses (NTC).
So with all that said, here are a few veterans that should be moved for assets if the Canucks do hit rock bottom and have to look forward to the draft lottery instead of the postseason.
This one probably has the lowest chance of actually happening, but Benning would be remiss if he didn’t explore the possibility. Long-time Canucks defenceman Alex Edler is having his best season defensively in his career and his value is at an all-time high. He currently leads the team in shot blocks with 40 and all defenceman in hits with 41. He also is second only to Quinn Hughes in Corsi-for percentage (CF%), which is impressive seeing that he plays most of his minutes against the opposition’s most talented forwards.
Edler has not posted high offensive numbers so far this season with only four assists to his credit, but that doesn’t seem to be his game anymore. He is deployed 70.2 percent of the time in the defensive zone and does not see much power play time, making him the Chris Tanev of the team instead of the two-way first-unit power play defenceman he was in the past. He is basically the Canucks’ most experienced shutdown blueliner, and he is being used as such. His mobility and quiet physicality are more pronounced this season, as he has adjusted to his new role quite well. That alone will make him a valuable trade chip if Benning decides to approach him to waive his NMC.
Speaking of the NMC, Edler has traditionally been against waiving it. He loves it in Vancouver and seems to want to retire here. Except, just like Alex Burrows, he is a character guy that puts the team ahead of everything even if it means having to leave it. Nothing says that he can’t sign with the Canucks in the offseason after helping another team to a deep playoff run or even a Stanley Cup. However, he is also a Swede in the vein of Henrik and Daniel Sedin. They never wanted to play for another team, even if it meant losing out on a chance at a championship. So it’s hard to say what his answer would be if Benning approached him.
For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say he was open to a trade. Contending teams like the Maple Leafs could be a perfect team to partner with. They have prospects and picks to trade and they still struggle to keep the puck out of the net, even with the addition of T.J. Brodie. Other teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are now run by former GM Brian Burke, could be interested too as he continues to retool a franchise he believes is still in a Stanley Cup window. They desperately need an upgrade to their blueline, and Edler could be the one to do it.
Edler could actually be worth at least a second-round pick or even a first-round pick depending on how desperate a team is for a solid two-way defenceman that can play against the top players and on both special teams. The major hurdle will still be the NMC, but if the unthinkable happens and he waives it, the Canucks could be in for a major haul when it comes to a trade package involving him.
Despite being an overpaid bottom-six forward, Brandon Sutter is having a great season so far playing on the third line with rotating wingers of Gaudette, Virtanen, Antoine Roussel, and Zack MacEwen. He continues to have strong faceoff numbers (his best since the 2015-16 season) and is one of the Canucks’ most trusted penalty killers. This season he also has added more offence to his repertoire. His six goals (including his first-ever hat trick) are only two off the total he put up in 44 games last season and he has stayed healthy too (knock on wood).
Sutter’s footspeed looks a lot better as well, as he has turned on the jets on more than one occasion on the penalty kill, where he already has one shorthanded goal. When he burst onto the scene in the 2009-10 season with the Carolina Hurricanes, speed was one of his strengths, so it’s encouraging to see that come to the forefront once again.
All those positives could finally make for a trade that contains some significant value. In the offseason, Benning tried and failed to trade him, but that was before his 2020-21 performance. He only has one more season on a five-year contract he signed in 2015, and the $4.375 million cap hit would be pro-rated as well. He does have an NTC that could restrict things a bit, but with his value at an all-time high, it could be now or never before he becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and leaves without giving the Canucks a parting gift of a useable asset.
As for Sutter’s value, a second or third-round pick, second-tier prospect, or even a young depth forward or defenceman could be had for him. Teams that need veteran leadership and a penalty killing presence like the Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, or the Penguins, who are currently struggling on the penalty kill could be convinced to add him to their rosters.
Of the two mentioned so far, Tanner Pearson is the only veteran that has been discussed in trade speculation so far. According to NHL insider Elliott Friedman, the Arizona Coyotes are already kicking the tires on a potential trade for the Canucks’ second line forward. Ever since the beginning of his tenure with the team, he has been a valuable piece of the shutdown line with captain Bo Horvat and a pretty consistent source of offence as well. Over 112 games with the Canucks, he has 35 goals and 66 points has also been a trusted forward for Green in the final minutes of a game when the team is protecting a lead.
Pearson will be a UFA in the offseason but has already expressed his desire to return to the Canucks. However, that should not stop Benning from exploring a trade, especially if they aren’t going to the dance this season. He is probably the most valuable of their tradable assets and the easiest to move since he does not have an NMC or NTC. His cap hit is also manageable for other teams considering it is only at a pro-rated $3.75 million.
Like my colleague Sartaaj Bhullar mentioned in his article on trading partners for Pearson, teams like the Coyotes, Canadiens, and Maple Leafs could be interested in the veteran forward solely for offensive depth and leadership. In addition to those teams, the Edmonton Oilers could also be interested given their top-heavy lineup. Pearson would add some balance to their bottom-six and more importantly, playoff experience that they lack with a young roster.
Finally, there’s Antoine Roussel. As much as I love the way he plays the game, he has regressed since returning from his injury last season. He doesn’t provide an offensive spark anymore and the $3 million cap hit is way too much for a fourth-line grinder. If he was putting up the ten-plus goal seasons he was during his time with the Dallas Stars, then it definitely would be, but the honest truth is that he is not.
Having said that, his value as a grinder would be magnified at the trade deadline. His strength as a shift disruptor is definitely something teams would be looking for when upgrading their team for a playoff run. He gets in the face of his opponents and he is just annoying to play against. The playoffs are just built for Roussel.
Roussel’s value isn’t very high right now, and considering his contract has one more year on it past 2020-21, it could be difficult to convince a team to take him on. However, a third-round pick or a middle-tier prospect might be something the Canucks could pry out of a team that needs some grit in their bottom-six for the playoffs.
Canucks Have Other Veterans That Could Be Trade Bait
In addition to the four mentioned above, the Canucks could also see if Sven Baertschi, Loui Eriksson, Travis Hamonic, and Jordie Benn hold any trade value in the open market. Benning has tried to trade Baertschi and Eriksson many times to no avail, but it can’t hurt to try again. Maybe a team finally sees something they need in one of them. Though, I doubt it.
Baertschi might be traded for a late draft pick with his continued strong performance in the AHL with the Utica Comets, but given the fact that he did the same thing last season does not bode well for a future deal. He currently has one goal and five points in six games playing on the top line with Kole Lind and Blues’ prospect Sam Anas. Eriksson on the other hand has only played five games this season with only a single point to his credit.
Hamonic and Benn might fetch something since they are solid veteran defencemen who can play top-four minutes when needed. The former has not played many games so far this season, but he is a proven blueliner with a track record of providing a physical, shot-blocking presence, so he could return a mid-round draft pick. The latter has played well on the second pairing with Hughes and has bounced back from his poor performance last season, so his value could be upwards of a second-round pick. Though, a third-rounder or middle-tier prospect is probably more realistic.
Benning Needs To Trade Some Veterans
With the Canucks running out of games already, Benning needs to start thinking about the future of this team. As of right now, the draft lottery is looking like more of a possibility than the playoffs, so veterans on expiring contracts need to be transformed into futures or young assets. As much as we don’t like thinking about players as objects, hockey is a business in the end, and he can’t be left holding the bag again on a veteran that could have returned a draft pick or prospect for the pipeline.
This trade deadline will be like no other. With the 14-day quarantine in place when entering Canada and the expansion draft looming, teams will be extra careful when acquiring players and future assets. It might be difficult to make deals, but Benning has to find a way to do something, or we will be left with more what-ifs when the Canucks’ pending UFAs ultimately sign with other teams in the offseason.
Which veterans do you think the Canucks should look at trading? Sound off in the comments below!
Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer 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.