By: Brayden Fengler / March 13, 2022
It’s somewhat amusing that although in large part Jim Benning’s tenure was undeniably disappointing, there seem to be a few decisions made in the final gasps of his employment that have actually aged somewhat well.
One example of course is the acquisition of Conor Garland, and the extremely reasonable contract he was subsequently signed to. That trade of course came with the albatross of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, yet still, Garland himself is an undeniable asset to this club. Even the decision by Benning to take on J.T. Miller and his reasonable contract back in 2019 is proving to be an advantage for the Canucks now more than ever. Miller is on the top of many minds concerning potential Canucks trades, as he’s currently outperforming a number of the league’s best players, and for significantly less money.
However, one seemingly nothing-for-nothing trade that Benning made with the Florida Panthers in the last months of his Canucks stint, may just be turning out to be another win beyond the figurative grave for Benning. The move I’m referring to of course, is the Canucks decision to finally part ways with Olli Juolevi (who was recently dropped to waivers and is now on the Detroit Redwings) in exchange for defencemen Noah Juulsen and forward Juho Lammikko, that latter of which is turning into a bit of an unsung hero on this post Benning Canucks team.
Of that trade, Lammikko is unquestionably the star. The question now is, does this current Canucks regime decide to run with the solid player that Lammy is growing into, or do they look at him as found money? Do they try to get something for a player that up until this season wouldn’t have pulled anything of value on the trade market?
Lammikko’s Recent Performance
In a minute we’ll zoom out and take a look at Lammikko’s long term performance over the course of his first three years in the NHL, but first, if we take a look just at Lammikko’s last few weeks of play, it’s evident how much his production has improved in such a short amount of time. In the last 15 games, Lammy is good for 6 points in that timespan, a completely respectable total in my books, for a player that at the time of his acquisition I thought would be nothing much beyond AHL depth.
Lammikko has jumped around between the 3rd and 4th line in his time with the Canucks, most consistently now playing with the likes of Tyler Motte and Matthew Highmore. A group of players that if you asked me how I thought they would be producing this time last year, I would’ve said “first off, who are two of those guys”, second off, I would’ve pointed to my Motte girl summer tank top in enthusiasm, but the words out of my mouth wouldn’t have been as optimistic about its actual production.
However, as we now know, that would’ve been a horribly cold take, and not just because I was hypothetically wearing a tank top in March during the take. That line of Motte, Lammikko, Highmore has been one of the best on the Vancouver Canucks, adding an unexpected amount of depth to the team in recent contests.
All three have showcased themselves extremely well, Motte is of course a UFA at the end of this year, so his performance is great for the Canucks if they look to move him. But Lammikko who is currently running on a league minimum salary has also made a fantastic showcase for himself, for any teams that are at the brink of the cap, and still looking for extra depth.
This is Lammikko’s third season in the NHL, over his first two spent with the Florida Panthers, he took the ice for a total of 84 games, and racked up just 11 points with his average TOI during each season being just a touch over 10 minutes per game. This season Lammikko has blown his previous stats out of the water.
Having only played 52 games for the Canucks he has already beaten his points contributions over two Florida seasons, as he sits with 12 points in Vancouver. All while his average TOI has only increased by less than a minute compared to his Florida deployment. It’s not that Lammikko is being leaned on significantly more than he would’ve been in Florida, it’s simply that something has seemed to click for him here in Vancouver.
If The Canucks Can Flip Him
If the Canucks were to flip him, what would that look like? As I said Lammy is currently operating at a league minimum salary, which is no doubt a great selling feature, however, it’s not like a team could hold him to that for more than just this year, as he currently sits on an expiring deal. Lammy would be a rental piece this year, so there is a cap to what the Canucks can get for him, even while he is playing the best hockey of his career.
The most comparable trades in recent months would be that of the Toronto Maple Leafs trading Nick Ritchie or to a lesser degree the San Jose Sharks trading away Dylan Gambrell. Both trades occurring inside this season.
Most recently was the trade involving Nick Ritchie, who was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes by the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for forward Ryan Dzingel and defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin. Ritchie is a pretty reasonable comparison to the performances this season by Juho Lammikko. Ritchie has played 39 games on the year, between his two teams and currently has 14 points to his name. He’s demanded similar ice time as Lammikko with an average TOI of 12 minutes per game.
Ritchie is also currently 26 years of age just like Lammkio, ignoring the fact that Lammikko is a ‘96 baby and Ritchie is a ‘95. For all intents and purposes, the two forwards have a lot in common, in terms of age, production and salary implications as they are both walking home with league-minimum salaries that are over at the end of this year.
So what exactly did Toronto get in exchange? Well they didn’t get any picks (the Coyotes need those for the next combine) but they did get two players of “comparable” age, Dzingel is a 30 year old veteran defenseman, who was later dropped to waivers by the Leafs and picked up by the Sharks. Ilya Lyubushkin though remains on the Leafs third D pair and has one point to his name in his first nine games, while being called to skate from anywhere from 13-18 minutes on a given night.
This obviously doesn’t sound like a screaming deal for Toronto, especially since moving to Arizona, Ritchie has 5 points in just 6 games with the Coyotes, so at a nearly point-per-game pace with his new team. Perhaps the Leafs sold too low, especially since they also gave up a conditional pick to Arizona in the trade.
This is not a great comp if you’re the Canucks, but I find it hard to believe that this new Canucks group couldn’t do better. Even a straightforward one-for-one deal for a player similar to Lyubushkin coming back the other way would be an improvement to the Toronto deal and a better comp for the Canucks.
The second comparable trade would be the San Jose Sharks trading away Dylan Gambrel, which was actually the next NHL trade to take place after the Juolevi trade to Florida. This deal had Gambrel, a 25-year-old centremen, leaving the Senators in a simple exchange for a 2022 seventh-round pick.
Ultimately this isn’t a steal of a deal either, but Gambrel also has a slightly higher cap than Lammikko at $1.1M, so perhaps Lammikko’s cheaper cap hit could earn the Canucks a higher pick if they were to set up a similar deal. Not to mention Lammikko’s been performing notably above Gambrel’s level as currently Gambrel is a “point per 10 game” player having only registered four point in his first 40 appearances with the Sharks this year.
These comps paint a picture of what other GM’s have been able to get for lower level talent in recent months. If the Canucks could secure something above the 4th round for Lammikko or even even a few picks in later rounds, that would go a decent way to stocking the cabinets that are indeed very bare, as this new leadership group has admitted. Lammikko is found money, and as the new organization is hungry to find ways to get more assets, it’s hard to not see the potential in Lammy, and how easy it could be to sell his upside to potential buyers.
The Bigger Question is, Are They Even Selling?
The question around Lammikko remains a part of a bigger question facing this Canucks team, are they buyers or are they sellers? If they’re buyers or at the very least not sellers, then Lammikko is the kind of player you would want to keep for a potential playoff run, he’s costing you next to nothing, he’s producing above expectation and you could maybe even re-sign him into next year if he seems to hold more value. However, by not trading him now your not missing out on a huge haul.
If they are selling the farm and have no realistic plans for a playoff run though, Lammy should be out the door, he’s not gonna bring you J.T. Miller or Conor Garland assets, but when the prospect pipeline is as dry as Spongebob in Sandy’s house, every little drop of water helps. Even turning one Lammikko into another potential Lammikko plus a pick, or just a handful of mid to late round picks, is not something that the Canucks should overlook too quickly.