Vancouver Canucks Could Be in for Blockbuster Trade

Oct 1, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Ville Pokka (17) controls the puck against the St. Louis Blues during the second period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Ville Pokka (17) controls the puck against the St. Louis Blues during the second period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The Vancouver Canucks will have a plethora of cap space heading into next season — are they in for a big trade?

Thanks to the likely departures of unrestricted free agents Dan Hamhuis, Radim Vrbata and Brandon Prust, as well as the potential buyout of Alex Burrows, the Vancouver Canucks will carry a ton of salary cap space into free agency. Rumors suggest they could target high-profile UFA’s like Tampa Bay Lightning Steven Stamkos or Los Angeles King Milan Lucic. But what if they went for a big trade instead?

Even though players and management agree that the playoffs are always the goal, it is obvious that Vancouver is not in win-now mode. Well, the Sedin twins might be. The rest? Not so much.

A big free-agent signing like Steven Stamkos or Milan Lucic would be great, but it is unlikely that one of those two players would make the Canucks immediate Stanley Cup contenders. Plus, getting either one — especially Stamkos — is anything but easy. Stamkos could pick his destination and has no connection with Vancouver or BC whatsoever; Lucic is a Vancouverite but he will stay in LA if they can fit him under the cap.

Instead, Canucks general manager Jim Benning should focus on developing young players and bringing more youth in through the draft and trades. Which is essentially what the club has been doing for all of the 2015-16 campaign.

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Now, how does that plan lead to blockbuster trades?

Not every team is as lucky as the Canucks are regarding cap space. Many teams, especially those atop the standings, struggle to keep their rosters under the salary limit.

Let’s take the Chicago Blackhawks as an example. Last summer, they had to trade star forwards Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad to the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively, to stay under the cap. A similar storyline could develop again this year.

According to General Fanager, Chicago has a projected end of season cap total of $71.375 million. So, they will be struggling again — and Jim Benning can help.

Just to be clear, don’t expect a return of the Sharp or Saad caliber. As we established in the cases of Stamkos and Lucic, that wouldn’t do too much good.

Instead, we are talking Bryan Bickell. Yes, that Bryan Bickell.

Bickell is a 30-year-old forward who carries a $4 million cap hit through the 2016-17 campaign and spent 47 games in the American Hockey League this season. In 25 NHL games, he had zero goals and two assists.

The Blackhawks have been trying to ship him out, for obvious reasons, but struggled to do so. Also for obvious reasons.

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While nobody likes to have dead salary in the AHL, the Canucks could do it, as seen with Prust and Chris Higgins this season. Plus, Bickell is still a high-energy player who could play in Vancouver’s bottom six.

Obviously, Bickell would not be the important part of the deal. Sending Bickell to Vancouver — even if it was for free — would help Chicago rather than hurt them.

Around Bickell, the Canucks could try to form a trade that can bring in someone like 21-year-old defenceman Ville Pokka or 20-year-old forward Nick Schmaltz, Brock Boeser’s linemate at the University of North Dakota. Maybe even both.

Of course Vancouver will have to send someone the other way. Getting rid of Bickell is like a dream come true for the Blackhawks but that alone is not worth a blue-chip prospect like Pokka or Schmaltz. However, if the Canucks throw in, say, Jannik Hansen — whose trade value is at an all-time high following his 22-goal season — they could be able to get a nice trade done.

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If you think the word “blockbuster” is too strong for a trade like that, the Canucks could obviously aim higher. There are several teams who need to shed salary as quickly as possible but stay competitive in the process. That has led to multi-player deals in the past, and it will happen again.

Does taking Rick Nash off the New York Rangers’ hands sound more like a potential blockbuster to you? Nash has a $7.8 million cap hit for another two seasons but only scored 15 goals and 36 points this season. Maybe the Canucks could snag someone like Pavel Buchnevich or Brady Skjei, or a high draft pick in a deal like that.

Trades will happen in the offseason. But will the Vancouver Canucks be part of it? We shall see.