In a reversal of how this kind of thing normally goes, the Vancouver Canucks announced on Sunday that they’re exploring trade options for forward Chris Higgins.
General manager Jim Benning announced the news in a release at the team’s site:
As part of our transition to a younger team, I can confirm we’re exploring trade options for Chris Higgins so we can create more roster space for our younger players to develop. Chris is a quality person who has been an important member of our team for nearly five seasons. Our focus has been on finding a positive new situation for him and we will continue to do so.
The 32-year-old winger started the season on the shelf after being injured in a preseason match blocking a shot, but he has struggled to produce since getting healthy. He currently has just two goals and three points in 25 games. That represents a significantly slower pace than last season when he contributed 12 goals and 36 points.
Part of the decline is certainly a reduced role. He’s averaging just 14:03 of ice time, which is the lowest average of his 11-season career.
His P/60 is also the lowest of his career and his score-adjusted CF%Rel of -5.1% (meaning his team has a better shot attempt differential without Higgins on the ice than with him) isn’t going to have teams lining up for his services.
It’s possible this unique situation is in part precipitated because the team hasn’t had an easy time finding a suitor for Higgins. He’s not been particularly productive and has another year on his contract after this season, carrying a cap hit of $2.5 million and, importantly, a no trade clause.
The Canucks could afford to retain some salary if the goal is to bring a player on an ELC into a larger role. However, they wouldn’t be able to take salary back with General Fanager estimating their remaining cap space at a paltry $107,000.
Elliotte Friedman reports that Higgins did not request the trade and that the team will not have him in the lineup while they search for a trade partner.
It’s possible a team dealing with injuries may entertain the idea if Vancouver eats half of the salary and the team is in need of an additional penalty killer. But even on the penalty kill, Higgins has seen his role reduced this year. It’s not an easy situation for Vancouver, as their making a public announcement about the situation should indicate.
The big question is really, why would the Canucks do this? Maybe a last ditch effort to trade him instead of waiving him and sending him to the AHL, getting a tiny bit of cap relief in buried salary? Maybe they’re trying to make sure fans know that they’re attempting to do something about the tricky salary cap situation that will make it difficult for the team to improve via trade. Maybe it’s a public shaming in an effort to get him to broaden the number of teams he’d accept a trade to. Or maybe it’s as simple as Friedman highlights below.
No matter what, it’s going to be difficult to trade a player when you’ve made a public announcement that he’s of so little value to your team that you won’t be dressing him any longer.