Potential Deadline Deals: Canucks Should Keep Higgins, Hansen, Look To Move UFA’s


Coming up to the trade deadline, the Vancouver Canucks are in an interesting and difficult situation. General Manager Jim Benning and President Trevor Linden have expressed both a desire to a) make the playoffs this season as well as b) develop/acquire young players and prospects on the fly, to build a contending franchise in the future.

Both are admirable goals, but when put together, it becomes a delicate balancing act, especially this time of year, when the standings are so tight, injuries are mounting, and we have more data and information to help us analyze just exactly which piece or two might make or break the season from here on out.

Front office has already gone on record saying that they won’t trade prospects or picks for rental players, and their bid on Evander Kane proved that they’re not willing to part with their carefully hoarded futures for any bold moves, either. They’ve also stated that, even with the injuries to the blue-line, they’re not looking to pick up any rental or band-aid defenseman to fill the gap–instead they’ll be looking for people to step up internally. (A strategy that the good people over at Canucks Army seem to agree is a good idea.)

While these are sensible moves in theory, it’s not fun to talk about how the Canucks will probably do very little at the deadline. Instead, it’s way more fun to do a little baseless speculation–and besides, it’s not like Jim Benning has proven before that he is a guy with one or two surprises hidden on his white-erase roster wall. Trading 5th round pick Gustav Forsling for 22 year old Adam Clendenning was a great example of a prospect trade that both helps the Canucks get younger, and accelerates their development pace at the same time, rather than ponying up for an aging rental that will most likely sign elsewhere in the off-season. Deals like these, when possible, are a great way to take advantage of those lucky teams with surplus depth. Of course, these are also deals that are rarely controversial, and don’t make for great talking points, either.

Instead, what’s really fun–and what nobody seems to agree on–is what, if anything, the Canucks should do with their surplus of depth forwards. Basically, after the top line, the Canucks are like a team full of grilled cheese sandwiches. They’re dependable, they’ll get the job done, but they’re not going to knock your taste buds out on a nightly basis (and they get kind of soggy and less desirable with age). I think a lot of people in the fan-base could agree that if we could move one or two of these guys in a way that both clears roster space for younger players next year, and/or helps us net a Filet Mignon-type forward in return, the trade will be worth it.

So, if we ship players out, who should they be? Let’s explore some options, starting with the two untouchables:

Chris Higgins or Jannik Hansen:

I’ll lump these two together, because to my mind, it’s hard to imagine the team getting better in the short term if they trade either Higgins or Hansen this season. Sure, they take up spots that could be filled by younger players, but they’re also vital in driving play, and are providing necessary support for younger players. As much credit as Horvat is getting this year, it’s hard to imagine him doing so without the help of a solid 2nd-3rd line veteran like Hansen there for support. Likewise, as Linden Vey’s game has begun to accelerate, it’s hard to imagine this happening without Higgins, who for all the complaints about his lack of goalscoring, ranks 6th on the team in Score Adj. Even Strength Corsi For, with a stellar 52.6%, behind only the Sedins, Burrows, Tanev and Edler. If stellar possession numbers aren’t your thing, it’s also worth noting that in the past month Higgins has quietly worked his way up to fourth overall in team scoring, behind only the Sedins and Vrbata. Additionally, Higgins is actually fourth on the team in shots, with 127 (behind Daniel, Vrbata and Edler)–so his lack of goal production seems attributable to his abysmal 5.5 shooting percentage–a number which, if it rises even a bit closer to his career total of 9.8% should see him finish the year a lot stronger in the goal department than what we’ve seen so far.

I think one of the biggest differences between what Vancouver is trying to do, and what, for example, Edmonton have attempted, is that Vancouver is trying to bring young players up in a development where they are shown first-hand how to succeed, both in the standings, and by experienced players who have been through all the ups and downs an NHL career has to offer. Now, this narrative would fall flat if these players weren’t still providing value to the team, but in this case the numbers show that both Higgins and Hansen are driving play and contributing greatly to Vancouver’s success. (Horvat has even stated that having Hansen on his wing has forced him to skate faster than he even thought possible). Unless the return on these guys is something amazing then I just don’t see what the point of dumping them off mid-season is. If we do have to part with either of them, I think the draft would be a much better time.

Brad Richardson or Shawn Matthias:

Who should the Canucks be willing to part with, then? Well, both Brad Richardson and Shawn Matthias are UFA’s at the end of year, and they would both provide intriguing depth to teams loading up for a cup run. The most ideal trade candidate would definitely be Brad Richardson, if he can come off the IR before the deadline passes. Sure, he’s an elite penalty killer, but so are Matthias, Bonino, Higgins, Hansen, Burrows..the list goes on. He also has a surplus of value built up this year, due to a somewhat percentage-driven accumulation of points. He’s the exact kind of place-holder guy that you don’t mind giving up, both because we know the team can succeed without him, and because he takes up a roster spot that next year you want to give to younger players. The only problem is that he might not command as much of a return as somebody like Shawn Matthias, for all the same reasons the Canucks would probably like to keep him. I already mentioned this in my earlier Shawn Matthias article, but–even with his recent hat-trick–if teams see more value in Matthias, that deal could be very worthwhile, given Matthias’ unlikelihood of future development, and given the right return. I would, however, be more than happy to see him back for another year or two, if the price is right.

Zack Kassian:

I think any talk about trading Kassian is pretty silly. Due to poor percentage luck, Kassian built very little value before his recent run of hot play, so any returns we get would be most likely disappointing. Not only that, but Kassian still has some time and potential to develop. Even if the Canucks dislike his work ethic, personality, defensive zone play, etc. and they really don’t see him in their long-term plans, it would still be more sensible to build some of that value up with soft deployment rather than sitting him in the press box. However, that seems to be more of a Gillis move–roster spots definitely seem to be based way more on merit than roster politics in the new regime.

Derek Dorsett:

Wait, what? I know, I know, Willie loves him, and he fights everything in sight when he has to. I’ve even extolled his virtues at length on this site before. But–and I know this is a small sample size–new call-up Ronalds Kenins seems to be doing what Dorsett did on the fourth line even better than Dorsett himself. I recently came across this very intriguing tidbit over at CA:

"Dorsett was a very effective 4th liner under former Canucks bench boss Alain Vigneault, starting in a defensive specialist role with Brian Boyle, and coming out close to even. Dorsett, while still bringing energetic and combative play, has not been nearly as effective a 5-on-5 player for Willie Desjardins, sitting dead last on Vancouver with a 43.5% Corsi. His replacement on the 4th line, Ronalds Kenins, has been much more impactful, hitting everything with a pulse and helping Bo Horvat to a nearly 54% Corsi when paired together in a limited sample size."

Over the course of the year, while he hasn’t lost the trust of coach Desjardins, it does appear as though Dorsett has lost a bit of a step in overall play. Using his past reputation and flipping Dorsett to a team who hasn’t noticed that he’s on a downswing would be a savvy bit of asset management by Benning and co. if they’re into making some bold moves. However, because Dorsett is a Benning trade and a Desjardins guy, this last–maybe best?–option seems unlikely.

Overall, I would be just fine if the Canucks did nothing at the deadline, and wait this season out before making any larger moves at the draft. Looking at some of their roster options, though, there is a little bit of roster flexibility to play with. Just so long as they don’t touch Higgins or Hansen, and don’t get too attached to any of their UFA’s, the Canucks seem to be in decent shape to maintain their delicate balancing act into these playoffs and further into the future.

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