It’s a shame the Vancouver Canucks won’t be sellers at this season’s trade deadline, which is now less than a week away. According to MoneyPuck, the Canucks have just a 16.1 per cent chance of qualifying for the playoffs, while HockeyViz’s Micah Blake McCurdy pegs their chances at even less: just 11 per cent.
With those odds, conventional wisdom would say to trade certain veterans with term in exchange for future assets, in the form of draft picks and prospects. General manager Jim Benning was not going to do that, not even before a rash of injuries hit his team all at once. On TSN 1040 on Monday afternoon, hockey insider Pierre LeBrun told Blake Price that even before defenceman Alex Edler got hurt, the plan was not to become sellers, but instead focus on extending the 32-year-old.
Now, considering the Canucks have seven players on injured reserve — including Edler, Chris Tanev and Brandon Sutter — it’s pretty much a guarantee they won’t be selling off anything, most certainly not his draft picks (good news!). The goal instead is to pull off the infamous ‘hockey trade’ (a term that really needs to change, by the way). This means the expectation is for Benning to be very quiet leading up to the Feb. 25 deadline.
What does quiet mean? Well, Benning has a track record of tweaking around the edges, particularly when it comes to acquiring former mid-round draft picks in their mid-20s who need a change of scenery. Most recently that would be Josh Leivo, but it’s a list that also includes Markus Granlund, Philip Larsen and Brendan Leipsic.
On TSN 1040, LeBrun said Benning’s biggest wish this trade season is to add more scoring.
I think he’d like to add some second-line scoring in some form or another. I don’t know that we’re talking about anything extravagant, but I think that’s what he’s been phoning around, from what I can gather from other teams…Certainly not really in the rental game, but trying to make a deal where it’s a guy that would still be there come training camp…I think that’s the type of thing. Obviously they went out and got [Ryan] Spooner over the weekend, but I think something a little higher end for the top-six, if possible, that would be the type of hockey deal I think that Jim Benning would like to add, but it’s not easy.
Yes, it’s evidently clear the Canucks need more scoring. In the last two months, Brock Boeser has almost as many goals (nine) as Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, Nikolay Goldobin, Tyler Motte, Brandon Sutter and Jake Virtanen combined (10). With that in mind, here is a list of ‘non-extravagant’ players Benning could target if he is going to keep on tweaking.
Oliver Bjorkstrand – Columbus Blue Jackets
Position: Right wing
Contract status: Two more years (RFA in 2021)
Cap hit: $2.5 million
Washington Capitals winger Andre Burakovsky has been mentioned in trade rumours for quite some time now because of reduced ice-time and being a healthy scratch on more than one occasion. He is skating just 10:47 of ice time per-game (TOI/GP) at five-on-five, down from 12:11 last season. But Burakovsky, whose point totals have declined each of the past two seasons, isn’t the only one who fits the Benning profile. So too does Columbus Blue Jackets winger Oliver Bjorkstrand, who also still has upside and could certainly benefit from a change of scenery.
I don’t believe Columbus is looking to move him (he is skating on the third line right now), but he is averaging just 10:54 TOI/GP at five-on-five this season, 10th of all Blue Jackets forwards. Yet he is very productive with 1.97 points per-60 minutes (P/60), fifth on the team.
Here is a look at both Burakovsky’s and Bjorkstrand’s five-on-five stats measured in percentiles (against the league average) from the last two and a half seasons using one of my favourite tools, Bill Comeau’s SKATR profiles.
While their offensive production per-60 minutes has been similar since 2016 (both very good), Bjorkstrand does have a significant edge in primary assists per 60-minutes (88th percentile versus 58th percentile), individual expected goals for per-60 minutes (74th percentile versus 41st percentile) and penalty differential (82nd percentile versus 35th percentile). Bjorkstrand also once had a 63-goal season in junior and reached the 40-point mark last season as a 22-year-old. Finally, there’s the contract difference: $2.5 million through the 2020-21 season, whereas Burakovsky is a pending restricted free agent this summer.
Joshua Ho-Sang – New York Islanders
Position: Right wing
Contract status: Expiring (RFA in 2019)
Cap hit: $863,333
Joshua Ho-Sang is a polarizing figure. It’s clear he has the talent, scoring nearly 300 points over the course of his junior career between the Niagara Ice Dogs and Windsor Spitfires, but attitude issues have been brought to light more than once. He has been called up to the New York Islanders numerous times since being drafted late in the first round in 2014, yet he hasn’t been able to stick with the big club.
Currently, Ho-Sang is still playing in the American Hockey League with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, where he was a healthy scratch earlier this month. So why trade for someone who has only played a total of 53 NHL games, despite breaking into the NHL in 2016-17? Because his talent level is off the charts.
This past weekend, Ho-Sang was named the AHL player of the week, after potting four goals and two assists in two games. On the season with the Sound Tigers, he has recorded nearly a point-per-game, with 32 points in 39 games. In his AHL career thus far, he has 99 points in 139 games. Ho-Sang has elite vision and can distribute the puck well. Plus, when given the chance, he can finish. Check out this goal from Saturday night.
— Bridgeport Sound Tigers (@thesoundtigers) February 17, 2019
The most obvious reason to take a chance on him is his acquisition cost would likely be very low. Some Islanders bloggers were even calling for the team to trade Ho-Sang as recently as two weeks ago. Is it possible Ho-Sang never pans out in the NHL? Yes. But it’s also possible he could thrive in the right situation, like maybe putting a goal scorer on his line (Bo Horvat?). Right now, his future on Long Island doesn’t appear bright.
Cale Fleury – Montreal Canadiens
Position: Right defence
Contract status: Two more years (RFA in 2021)
Cap hit: $771,666
While the Canucks certainly need more scoring help upfront, it’s also clear their blue line is a mess — even before the injuries. I would trade Erik Gudbranson for a ton of bricks if I could. Same for Derrick Pouliot. They need to get to a point — sooner rather than later — where two injuries on the back end doesn’t mean they have to resort to using 30-year-old Alex Biega and trading for 29-year-old Luke Schenn.
The obvious answer is to grow your prospect pool, and I think Cale Fleury is a good target. He’s not a Grade-A prospect, so the cost wouldn’t be as high as someone like Dante Fabbro, who some Canucks writers have already suggested inquiring about (I know it was written in the summer, but Kole Lind and a second-round pick would not be enough!).
So who is Cale Fleury?
Well, for starters, he’s a 6-foot-1, 211-pound, right-shot defenceman, and the Canucks need more help on the right side than the left because their top two defensive prospects — Quinn Hughes and Olli Juolevi — already play that side.
Second, he’s already impressing in the AHL as a 20-year-old. In his final season of junior in 2017-18, Fleury tallied 51 points in 68 games between the Kootenay Ice and Regina Pats. This season, his 37 games thus far with the AHL’s Laval Rocket is a small sample size, but The Athletic’s Marc Dumont wrote in January that he’s “well ahead of the curve in terms of development and has shown the confidence needed to eventually be an impact player at the NHL level, especially due to his penchant for supporting the attack at the right time.” (from ‘Cale Fleury’s seamless transition to pro hockey suggests a bright future for the Canadiens defence prospect’ – The AthleticNHL – 1/12/19).
The Canadiens surely don’t want to part ways with him this early in his career, but there’s little doubt he’s not particularly high on their prospect depth chart right now. Guys like Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, Josh Brook and Alexander Romanov all hold more value than Fleury right now.
The point of this piece was to highlight players consistent with the type of player Benning has acquired in the past.While I have not laid out trade packages for any of the three players listed, none of them would cost very much. Benning would do well to inquire about each of them before Monday’s deadline.
*Stats and research courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
Nathan Kanter covers the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs for The Hockey Writers. He received his master’s in journalism from Western University in May of 2015 before serving as the first ever Digital Managing Editor at Western’s university newspaper, The Western Gazette, in 2015-16. From 2016-18, he served as the radio play-by-play voice of the Battlefords North Stars in the SJHL. His work has been published in The Hockey News, at Sportsnet.ca and at Dobber Prospects.