A lot of talk has been around the need for Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning to make some trades in order to shake up his team’s lineup. While it’s good to hear that the Canucks are likely interested in high-quality players such as Shayne Gostisbehere and Jason Zucker, the question needs to be asked; what on Earth are the Canucks going to be able to offer in return?
We already know that all four of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Quinn Hughes are off limits. Benning will obviously take the calls, but when teams are trying to make one-for-one trades such as the Minnesota Wild reportedly offering Zucker for Boeser straight up, you understand why Benning has made it clear time and time again that his young stars are off limits.
That’s just the problem, though; very few teams want the Canucks aging veterans such as Loui Eriksson and Brandon Sutter. That’s why I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at what players the Canucks could offer to teams in trades outside of the four players I mentioned above. Keep in mind, if the Canucks were to trade for an elite level talent such as Gostisbehere, they would obviously need to offer more than just the players that I am going to list. These players would need to be part of a package deal.
The player that Canucks fans are hoping can finally have a huge breakout season. Drafted at sixth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, expectations were high for Virtanen, a local boy from Abbotsford, British Columbia. The drive from Abbotsford to Rogers Arena is just under an hour, so it’s no wonder that Virtanen was excited to be drafted by the team he grew up cheering for. That hometown kid may be part of the reason Virtanen made his NHL debut after just one more season with the Calgary Hitmen. No AHL, straight to the big club.
That would prove to not be the best route for Virtanen, who struggled to live up to the hype surrounding him, picking up 13 points in 55 games. He went on to spend the following season down in the minors with the Utica Comets, being coached by current Canucks head coach Travis Green, who was the head coach of the Comets at the time. It was a bit of adversity for the young Virtanen, who all of a sudden, was being labelled as a bust by many.
Virtanen shut out the outside noise and got to work. After spending 2016-17 with the Comets, Virtanen, like coach Green, found himself with the big club for the 2017-18 season, where he scored 10 goals and picked up 10 assists through 75 games. In this past 2018-19 season, he really showed off his skating abilities and is hands down the Canucks’ fastest skater. At the Canucks annual super skills competition, he not only won the event, but had a time very close to Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, only McDavid’s time was recorded at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition.
Virtanen looks like he could be on the cusp of becoming a prolific scorer in the league, which is why teams would likely be interested in acquiring him, but also why the Canucks are also likely very reluctant to let him go. Everyone knows what happened with Cam Neely, and no one ever wants to see a situation like that go down again, that’s for sure. I am quite against trading him, but Benning has made it clear that he wouldn’t rule out anything if a deal made sense for the team.
Arguably one of the best defencemen on the Canucks analytic wise, Troy Stecher is another BC boy who grew up watching the Canucks. He grew up in Richmond, which is just south of Vancouver. You can take a 30-minute Skytrain ride to get to Rogers Arena from the heart of Richmond, that’s how close he was to the team he now plays for. Stecher is a fan favourite and was a catalyst for an extremely dejected Canucks team in the 2016-17 season.
Stecher was signed as a college free agent and immediately caught the attention of Canucks fans due to his high intensity and compete level that he plays with. Keep in mind, the 2016-17 season was the season that the Canucks unloaded some veterans in the form of Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen, and really embraced the rebuild. It was also the season they hit rock bottom and finished with the second-worst record in the entire NHL. You can understand why Canucks fans, in such a despondent season, would be so excited about a smooth skating right-handed defenceman, who is a hometown kid to boot.
Stecher saw his good friend Ben Hutton end up in Canucks’ head coach Travis Green’s doghouse for the majority of the 2017-18 season, and ever since, has made it nearly impossible for his coach to give him the same press box treatment. He worked his tail off and was one of the Canucks best defencemen all season long in 2018-19. As a result, he may be a player that could be used to sweeten what the Canucks have to offer in a blockbuster trade. Much like Virtanen, I am against trading Stecher, but sometimes GMs have to make big and unpopular trades in order to shake things up.
Speaking of Hutton, Canucks fans seem to view Hutton as one of the more expendable trade assets the Canucks have who holds the most value. Allow me to explain. The Canucks are fairly set on the left side. Quinn Hughes is going to be a mainstay, and with it seeming more and more likely that Alex Edler will be testing the free agent waters come July 1, the Canucks seem prepared to bring in another left-handed defenceman to fill that hole, likely Jake Gardiner. Sportsnet650’s Rick Dhaliwal reported that the Canucks are interested in both Gardiner and Tyler Myers.
If the Canucks do bring in another top-four left-handed defenceman, then the team will have to rely on their young defencemen to make up the second and third pairings on the left side. I don’t personally believe that the team wants to wait much longer for Juolevi. He was drafted in 2016 and was a top-five pick who has been dealt an extremely rough hand in terms of injuries. He only played in 18 games this season with the Comets, showing well in the few games he did play. It is almost a certainty that we would have gotten to see Juolevi with the big club this season, due to all the injuries to Canucks’ defencemen.
We didn’t see that, however, due to Juolevi’s leg injury which he only just recently healed from. Instead, we saw a lot of Guillaume Briesbois, Ashton Sautner, and most importantly, we saw both Hutton and Stecher play 30-plus minutes on a nightly basis as they carried the load and were coach Green’s go-to guys when the Canucks’ blue line got hit with the injury bug. Hutton and Stecher lived up to the challenge, and as a result, the two may be among the Canucks most valuable trade assets.
It would be extremely bittersweet to let go of any three of these players, but sometimes you need to be willing to part ways with the players you’re comfortable with in order to make real change to your team. Some honourable mentions with a little bit less trade value than the three players I mentioned above are Sven Baertschi, Brandon Sutter, Chris Tanev, Markus Granlund, and Nikolay Goldobin. That being said, if the Canucks have their sights set on a blockbuster deal this offseason, they’re likely going to have to say goodbye to one of these three players.