Trent Leith / February 26, 2021
Earlier this week, we took a look at what needs to go right for the Canucks to get another playoff berth. Now we will take a look at the ugly side of the same coin and examine how the Canucks can make the best of a bad situation should the team keep trending to the bottom of the league.
It is safe to say the 2021 Vancouver Canucks season has been just about the worst-case scenario. On the ice, the team has taken a huge step back, ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators in terms of point percentage. A season ago, the Canucks were buyers around the deadline, acquiring Tyler Toffoli. A year later, it seems the opposite will be true.
Strange Times Yield Strange Opportunities
It’s been said dozens of times, and I will say it again, this is a weird season, and no one really knows the right way to navigate it. A very valid question is how much should the fans and the media read into a pandemic shortened season? The Canucks will not play three-quarters of the league this year, which also means every single game is a divisional game and every game is more impactful than in a regular season. A loser point is no longer a silver lining of “getting something out of the game” because it means a team that can take your spot in the playoffs just got double that. There are games almost every other night, hardly any practice time and players can’t go to a team dinner to hash things out. The foot never comes off the gas this year.
We have already established there shouldn’t be any knee-jerk reactions to what we see this season, instead, we would just like to see small tweaks made. Ownership agrees with this approach and has made that clear with “the tweets” backing the team. Fans should not expect any major adjustments, but, they can expect minor moves with the future in mind.
Come the trade deadline on April 12th, the Canucks would be smart to have moved assets, seeing the way the season is trending. While maybe not as volatile as previous, the offseason will be another buyers market. There is a cap crunch happening around the league, and many players will be looking for jobs, this means any secondary pieces the Canucks move for assets, should be easier than normal to replace come free agency.
With the pending expansion draft, there are other advantages that should be noted and exploited by the Canucks as well. Each NHL team needs to protect seven forwards, three defencemen and a goalie, or any combination of eight skaters and a goalie. The Canucks can use their unique combinations of poor contracts and lack of talent to improve their team. They can do this by taking advantage of other teams that have too many good players and buy low on them while leaving the team largely intact by exposing an overpaid player that Seattle would likely pass over.
Which Players Have For Sale Stickers?
There are of course players not even on the table, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat, Nils Höglander, J.T. Miller and Thatcher Demko. Everyone else is up for auction, however, there are only a few players that the Canucks may be willing to part with, that will really grab the attention of contenders.
Tanner Pearson has been the best, and most consistent partner for Bo Horvat until Höglander joined the duo this season. Pearson will surely draw the attention of teams looking for some added help on the wing, plus he could fetch a hefty return for the Canucks.
However, Pearson plays an important role for this team in the top-six playing match-up minutes. After searching so long for wingers to play with Horvat, it would be hard to watch him go. However, If management thinks Vasili Podkolzin can take the step into the NHL next season and play in the top six, it would make Pearson more expendable. The Canucks have recently been spoiled by talented young rookies walking in and taking prominent roles with the team. This doesn’t always happen though, so expecting Podkolzin to take a top spot right away may be too big of an ask by management.
The Canucks should try and leverage uncertainty in free-agency and sign Pearson to a 1-2 year contract to allow Podkolzin time to become a top-six forward and take Pearson’s job. The Canucks should be acting fast to try and sign that extension, and should they not be able to get a deal done before the deadline, they should explore trading Pearson for an asset. Should he leave the team, the option to sign him in free agency may still be possible, with any luck.
Benn has had a bounce-back season after a particularly difficult 2019/20 campaign. Jordie Benn would be a primary example of a depth defender for a contending team. There are two things that come to mind with trading Benn however.
Firstly, Quinn Hughes has found chemistry with a sturdy stay-at-home defenceman in Benn and shipping him out might not be the best idea for the morality of the young superstar after almost the exact scenario played out the last off-season. The effects of losing Chris Tanev by his side seems to still be affecting Hughes’s defensive play. Is the asset they would receive in return for Benn worth that risk? While the effects surely won’t be as drastic as losing Tanev, it’s something that should be considered.
The second is expansion draft considerations. Should the Canucks move Benn, they would likely protect Olli Juolevi, Nate Schmidt, and Tyler Myers as Quinn Hughes is exempt. This is a list with flexibility in at least one spot. Tyler Myers’s contact is less than ideal with the dollar and term left and as a result, there is a good chance he gets passed over come expansion day.
Some fans are bullish on Myers, but he does play an important role on this team, so there is risk involved in leaving him unprotected. That said, the flexibility of not having to worry about Benn leaves the Canucks the option to trade for a defenceman that will otherwise go unprotected. Theoretically, they could pay a low price as the player could be getting picked up by the Seattle Kraken for free anyways. If the Canucks play their cards right they could get an asset for Benn and flip it for a more valuable player that they would be happy to protect.
If You Can’t Watch the Games, Watch the Tickers
While the on-ice product this year has been lacklustre and likely to reach a disappointing end, the off-ice possibilities and options to improve the team are exciting to ponder. With expansion looming, trades having to deal with quarantines and a flat cap, a lame-duck coach and a GM rumoured to be on his way out, the intrigue level is high. Time will only show what changes can and will be made.