Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning should trade with cap-strapped teams


With many cap-strapped teams already out of the playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks are in great position to target some of them in the trade market.

The Vancouver Canucks are facing perhaps the most crucial offseason under general manager Jim Benning — though he will be equipped bundles of cap space to add one or two impact players.

Benning and the Canucks missed the playoffs by just nine points, which is pretty good when you consider that a) this was a rebuilding year and b) all the injuries that hit this team late in the season.

Though Benning doesn’t have the most successful track record in free agency, he might feel the temptation to dip his feet in a market that could include Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Jeff Skinner, Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin, among others.

But Benning might decide he’s better off making some moves in the trade market, where he’s seen far more success (see the Sven Baertschi and Tanner Pearson acquisitions, for example). And this offseason, he’s in prime position to make some big trades.

Many of the NHL’s elite teams, of course, are facing salary cap crunches going forward. Many of these teams have also been upset in the opening round of the playoffs — namely the Tampa Bay Lightning, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.

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I recently explained here why the Canucks need to try and make some trades with the Lightning, with Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat possible targets in a trade. But the Presidents’ Trophy winners aren’t the only team the Canucks could do business with here.

The Jets will be using a bulk of their cap space to re-sign young stars Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff might want to move out one or two of his expensive and underperforming veterans in order to ensure he has cap room to fill out other roster needs.

Might the Canucks look to do business with another western Canadian team? Especially if Cheveldayoff offers up an extra pick and/or young roster player?

Though the Canucks and Flames have made a handful of trades in the past (the Baertschi and Markus Granlund deals), I’m not sure Calgary would be keen on moving any big names to a Pacific Division rival. Michael Frolik (one year left on his deal), might be worth a look if the Flames want to create more cap space.

And no, the Canucks should not take on the remainder of James Neal‘s contract, unless Calgary wants to throw in a first round pick and/or grade-A prospect. That’s not happening.

Maybe the cap-strapped Penguins will reward Benning if he takes one of the many bad contracts off their hands. Perhaps Benning would take a chance on Olli Määtta? Maybe Bryan Rust would be available at a decent price?

The Predators — who endured yet another crushing playoff defeat — need to make some changes to a rapidly ageing roster. CapFriendly only gives them roughly $1.857 million in cap space this offseason. General manager David Poile will need to make some sacrifices.

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The Canucks should see what the price would be to land Craig Smith — a five-time 20-goal scorer. Nick Bonino — a speedy and solid two-way centre who carries a fair $4.1 million cap hit for two more years, might be worth bringing back if the price is fair.

Could Mikael Granlund (just six points in 16 games after being acquired in a trade deadline deal) be available? He’s a fre agent after next season, and the Preds won’t be able to re-sign him long-term. Maybe Poile would entertain trade offers from Benning and reunite Mikael with his younger brother, Markus.

Just look at how the strategy of targeting cap-strapped teams in the past has worked for clubs like the Arizona Coyotes. They got a reliable top-four blueliner in Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks two years ago, only having to move out young defenceman Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin.

The Buffalo Sabres landed a speedy and 50-point forward in Conor Sheary and veteran blueliner Matt Hunwick from the Penguins last offsesason. They only had to give up a fourth-round pick. The Pens weren’t dealing from a position of strength. Cap-strapped teams rarely find themselves in that spot.

There’s no reason why the Canucks can’t do the same. These teams that are devoid of cap space are anxious to make moves and free up cap space, thus allowing them to tweak their rosters following disappointing playoff exits.

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Benning should be making dozens of phone calls right now, to see if there are any quality roster players that these cap-strapped teams will give away at a bargain of a price. He hasn’t gone down this path yet, but it’s time to give it a chance and see if there are any good moves out there that can help this team push for the playoffs next season.