Vancouver Canucks Search for Physicality: Hartnell or Kane?

Mar 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane (9) avoids a check from Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Connor Carrick (8) during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane (9) avoids a check from Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Connor Carrick (8) during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

GM Jim Benning identified a need for the Vancouver Canucks to add a gritty scorer. What does that entail?

The Vancouver Canucks find themselves unsatiated after making one big splash in free agency this past week. Signs were pointing to one of Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, or Troy Brouwer joining the Canucks in home-sweet-home fashion, but two ended up with the Alberta rivals while one ended up a continent away from Vancouver.

And now, understandably so, the GM is looking for a replica of those players. Gritty, physical, yet offensively gifted enough with the potential to record a few handfuls of goals.

"“If I had a crystal ball, I would say we’d try to add a winger who had some grit and size to him, who can score.” (Jim Benning, Vancouver Sun)"

Since those players aren’t available in free agency anymore, all signs point to the trade market as the only source of a solution. There is no question that Vancouver lacks a dominating top-six physical presence on offense. For how much pride this club tries to have in being tough to play against, names like Eriksson, Sedin, Baertschi, or Sutter won’t give their coach any of that.

Enter Scott Hartnell and Evander Kane.

Looking Outside: Scott Hartnell and Evander Kane

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Both Hartnell and Kane are players known for bringing top-six physicality and scoring to the ice for the past few years. Both are 6-foot-3 and both near the 210-pound mark, with Hartnell nearing 215 pounds and Kane nearing the 210 mark.

But more importantly, the two are the only forwards who fit Jim Benning’s want for a balance of physicality and scoring — at least they are the only ones who seem available at this time.

With the Columbus Blue Jackets being so tight to the cap, they had to buy out the contracts of Jared Boll and Fedor Tyutin. Hartnell’s contract has three years left on it at $4.75 million each. That led him even waive his no-movement clause with the Blue Jackets looking to move him.

Especially with the Jackets looking to move to a quicker brand of hockey, Hartnell may not be suited to blocking more shots under John Tortorella’s coaching.

As for Evander Kane, the Vancouver native, he is facing non-criminal charges for an incident involving women in a Buffalo nightclub. Sabres GM Tim Murray was not at all pleased.

"“He’s going to have to pick and choose his spots when he goes out a lot better than he does, and he’s going to have to behave himself a lot better than he has obviously.” (Tim Murray, Sportsnet)"

Needless to say, the connection to Vancouver is strong for Kane, the former Vancouver Giant.

Although a trade is not expected to be in the works, I don’t think seeing either one of the two in a Vancouver Canucks jersey would be crazy enough to drive fans away from Rogers Arena. I almost think that Kane’s hometown return would almost certainly fill up at least a few extra seats on game night.

So who’s the better option here? Hartnell or Kane?

Before jumping to the seemingly consensus conclusion that it’s Kane and that I am just another writer who’s trying to make an argumentative case about nothing, I should better explain my question.

Of course, Kane is the better player. But let’s put things into context here. What’s the smarter thing to do when both players fit the “physical scoring” label? Trading for Hartnell or Kane?

Simple Numbers: Money and Production

Contract wise, Kane has a leg up on Hartnell. The pure fact that Hartnell is signed until he is 37 years old while being only half a million dollars cheaper than Kane each year is the reason why. Sure, Kane may be cheaper but a 25-year-old signed at $5.25 million a year is far easier an asset to handle than a 37-year-old signed at $4.75 million a year.

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But simple production wise, Hartnell is actually quite underrated. Hartnell recorded 23 goals and 49 points last year, which is actually not a horrible production for a player signed for $4.75 million dollars (mind you Alex Burrows is signed at $4.5 million a year).

Does the NHL not remember that Hartnell had 60 points in 2014-15?

Kane, on the other hand, scored just 20 goals and 35 points, albeit in 65 games. Would you like to pay $5.25 million for 35 points, considering that Kane’s Sabres actually out-performed the Blue Jackets in the standings?

Who says that Kane is worth trading many assets for?

Hockey: Age, Style, and the Intangibles

But of course, Hartnell is 34 years old and Kane is just 24, almost 25. The Canucks need less of the former and more of the latter.

Another reason that makes Kane the right fit for Vancouver is his quickness. As one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, he may be the type of player suited for the playoffs, especially after seeing how the Penguins and the Sharks went after each other with speed upon speed.

Had not the Canucks GM been named “Benning”, I would almost give Kane the right of way. Instead, I could see how Hartnell’s grittier, in-your-face style of play could garner Benning’s interests a little more.

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But this is where the pendulum swings big time in favor of Hartnell — the intangibles. While Hartnell always tries hard to score despite not having the purest scoring prowess, Kane’s inability to bring his honest effort to the ice surface has been well-documented league wide.

Add on that how Kane brings about him all the off-ice issues, Vancouver wants none of that in a locker room occupied by Ben Hutton, Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen, Brendan Gaunce, Sven Baertschi, and Nikita Tryamkin, soon to be occupied by Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko, and possibly Troy Stecher.

But there’s always the “if” factor. What if… bringing Kane back to his home tames the wild talent? What if Trevor Linden, Willie Desjardins, and the Sedins could bring some sense into this young man?

Without a stand-out leader in Winnipeg or Buffalo (where Jimmy Vesey right now is the new object of worship, almost as holy as Jack Eichel) to guide him along, Kane may have the right leadership core in Vancouver who can turn him into a top-line player.

The Expansion Draft: Where Jim Benning’s Intellects are Tested

Say what you want about everything we’ve discussed about Kane and Hartnell up to this point, yet the expansion draft may be the biggest factor at play.

Scott Hartnell has a no-movement clause in his contract. Evander Kane’s contract comes clean.

What this means is that at next year’s expansion draft for Las Vegas, the Canucks would have to spend one of their protection rights on Hartnell and sacrifice an asset that they would have been able to protect otherwise.

As for Kane, one would almost have to think he is protected from the expansion even without the Canucks protecting him. The GM for the Las Vegas expansion team would be the most foolish to bring a troublemaker to Sin City. So Kane virtually buys Vancouver an extra expansion draft protection.

Enough said.

Next: Getting Creative: Finding Non-Sedin Linemates for Eriksson

So do you buy the older guy with a terrible term on his deal or do you buy the better fit in your hometown darling who’s been spoiled big-time but has top-line potential? A trade for these two is unlikely for the Canucks, but when dreaming about the impossible, Jim Benning has always been the forerunner. Who’s your pick?