It’s no secret that the Vancouver Canucks entered some sort of re-tool when general manager Jim Benning traded both Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler within a span of a few months in 2014. It had become quite clear that the veteran squad in Vancouver was not capable of contending for the Cup anymore, so Benning began unloading older talent.
Such bold moves kicked off the tear-down of the former No. 1 team in the league, one that reached Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and won the President’s Trophy in back-to-back years (2010-11 and 2011-12).
Just two seasons removed from the true start of the transition period the Canucks now find themselves in, the club now sits six points outside of a wild card spot in the Western Conference standings. With 30 games to go in the 2015-16 season, it seems highly unlikely that they would be able to pass both the tenth-seed Arizona Coyotes and ninth-seed Minnesota Wild and then knock one of the eight playoff teams out of its spot.
Why, then, would they hold on to free agents Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata beyond the February 29th trade deadline, especially considering how they seem destined for a total rebuild at this point?
Making matters a bit difficult in trade negotiations are Hamhuis’s and Vrbata’s no-trade clauses. Depending on the conditions of the NTC, each player must submit a list of a certain amount of teams he would accept a trade to.
Dustin Byfuglien off the board makes Dan Hamhuis the best rental defenseman available at the NHL trade deadline. Good lefty on blue line.
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) February 8, 2016
As far as speculation is concerned, Hamhuis could be connected to the Nashville Predators, who are looking to add as the playoffs approach; the defender was drafted by – and started his career in – Music City, so it’s familiar territory (and likely to be on his list). Other destinations could include the St. Louis Blues (who are thin on the left side of defense and need a defensive boost in the wake of Alex Pietrangelo’s injury) or the Washington Capitals (also thin on the left side and can use the depth on the back end).
Hamhuis has not exactly had his best season; he has only appeared in 28 games and scored a mere four points, so teams may be a bit wary of overpaying. Convincing a potential suitor that he is capable of remaining healthy and regaining his form with a fresh start will be Benning’s biggest challenge, should he choose to trade the 33-year-old defender. It’s not even that teams will worry about the economic implications, as he will be off the books in just a few months, but rather it is the price they will have to pay the Canucks to get him.
Vancouver is likely going to ask for a first-round pick from a contending team, and they very well could get one. But given the uncertainty about where the defender is at in terms of his ability to perform like the old Dan Hamhuis in the playoffs, teams may not be so willing to risk a first-rounder on him. Instead, the Canucks could be looking at a second-round pick and a B-level prospect, given that he is currently seen by most as just a rental.
While Hamhuis could be a high-risk, high-reward addition, the other Canucks UFA – Vrbata – is very clearly in decline.
The 34-year-old seems to be over the hump concerning his overall offensive game, with just 11 goals and 11 assists in 50 games played (he scored 31-32-63 in 79 games last year). After finding incredible chemistry with the Sedins twins in 2014-15, Vrbata has been relegated to the second line with young, inexperienced forwards Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi this season. A change in scenery may do the trick for snapping him out of his year-long slump, but it’s a long shot.
LeBrun: "Probably a second round pick" for Vrbata's worth on trade market, depending on whether a prospect is offered instead. #Canucks
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) February 8, 2016
Regardless, the Canucks should get something in return for him rather than let him walk in July. Realistically, they are looking at having to retain at least 40 percent of his salary and only acquiring a lowly third-round pick (second, if they’re lucky). It may not be much, but any move is a good move regarding upcoming Canucks UFAs (considering the botched job Benning did in current fourth-line center Brandon Sutter’s contract extension earlier this season).
The trade deadline is one of the most exciting parts of an NHL season for contending teams looking to add UFA talent in their quest for the Stanley Cup; for the Canucks and other non-playoff teams, it’ll be about garnering as many draft picks and/or prospects as possible.