Any kind of Vancouver Canucks trade deadline recap is going to carry massive caveats. To say this was a trade deadline unlike any other is to undersell it significantly. Not only with the strangeness of a COVID-19 reduced season, but with the disease ripping through the team immediately before April 12. It’s unknowable how much it affected trade prospects, player values, or frankly the inclination to move.
That all being said, what _did_ happen?
Canucks Trade Deadline Recap
There were objectives to aim at. However you phrase it – giving guys a shot, moving money out, balancing the future – there’s work to be done. The trade deadline is a big chance to make moves for now and the future. Canucks GM Jim Benning has certainly made moves in the past – we’ll do a retrospective later – that shows he knows the importance of the day. In addition to general improvements, there were specific things the team could use.
- A skilled winger;
- Depth on defence;
- Defensive centre;
- If none of those, then spots for rookies; and
- Moving out 2021-22 contracts.
Some of the more general needs are things like being ready for the Seattle Kraken – can’t move too many 2021-22 contracts! – expansion draft and getting younger players a chance to get into the lineup. How well were any of these needs met at the deadline?
There was a fair amount of chatter well before the deadline around some of the team’s bigger deals. Brandon Sutter was one recurring name, as was Jake Virtanen. The two players who did get moved weren’t a surprise but also weren’t at the top of any fan’s trade list.
Jordie Benn had a bit of a rough start with the Canucks when he first arrived, losing his spot to the unheralded Oscar Fantenberg. This season he settled his game, bringing calm stability to the third pair. He also rediscovered his scoring touch, and that combination caught the Winnipeg Jets‘ interest. A sixth-round pick for the rental is a small price to pay.
The Hockey Gaud reduces the intensity of the Canucks’ scoring celebrations, even if there were fewer this year. Looking at Adam Gaudette‘s box scores from his second full season last year, it’s surprising how low the return was. 12 goals and 33 points in just 59 games may not be Calder-level numbers, but not bad at all for a fourth-line skater! Of course, he wasn’t just used as a fourth-line skater, as he was also a secondary threat on the power-play.
This year, the team was hoping he would improve the defensive side of his game. If he did, the team could look at moving one of the more cumbersome contracts. He didn’t, so the contract to go was his.
Just one of these, a 2021 fourth-rounder to help bring in Madison Bowey.
The two players moved out corresponds with two brought in. While neither is a big name, they are interesting ones.
Bowey is one of those players Benning loves to try. He was very highly thought of as a junior, drafted 53rd overall in 2013, touted as a good leader and “complete package” who brought in size, smarts, and scoring. Needless to say, 2013 was a long time ago. He does have NHL experience, with 156 games played over four years. And a right-hand shot defenceman is welcome just about anywhere, even if it’s just for depth.
And if nothing else, he is eligible for the expansion draft.
The undrafted Matthew Highmore has had a pretty fair run in the AHL, wearing an “A” for the Rockford IceHogs last season. He’s in the NHL this season if a frequent scratch with the Chicago Blackhawks. He does seem to be what the team wanted Gaudette to become: a responsible, bottom-six guy with enough skill to add some points. While he can play any forward position, in 73 NHL games he’s been used exclusively on the wing.
And again, he is signed through next year so qualifies for the expansion draft.
There was a swap with Chicago in the Bowey deal, getting their 5th rounder this year. Another in the sixth round came with Benn’s move.
Players have to be looking at who gets brought in with some trepidation. Jalen Chatfield suddenly has Bowey joining him on the right side, for instance. Highmore’s arrival – and contract – is putting pressure on the other bottom-six wingers to produce, even if it’s to impress a new team next season.
But outside that, neither of the deals is much more than an extra dart at a lower price.
It’s always hard to judge deadline deals until we see what they do. It’s entirely an evaluation based on percentages and guesswork. Trying to do the Canucks trade deadline recap his year is… Frankly, it’s impossible. We’re a little amazed that Benning made any deals at all, given the circumstance. And all told, he didn’t do badly.
Losing a disappointing Gaudette and expensive Benn in return for a couple of guys more suited to the roles is a lateral move. There’s a chance the new arrivals can pan out better. But even if they don’t, the Canucks cap cost has decreased – slightly – with little risk. Losing a fourth-round pick for a fifth and a sixth is absolutely fine. This season especially, more darts to throw at the board can pay off five years down the road.
As an added bonus, the Canucks bottom-six is looking more and more like an NHL bottom-six should.