For a trade deadline when picks and prospects were supposed to be difficult to acquire, there sure are a lot of them flying around.
At the press conference following Jim Benning’s contract extension, Trevor Linden emphasized the need to be patient and build through the draft. When asked why the team hasn’t acquired more draft picks in the past, however, Linden didn’t have much of an answer.
Under the tenure of Benning and Linden, the Canucks have made 28 selections in the NHL draft over the last four years. Since every team gets seven picks every year, that means they’ve picked their allotted number of players: no more, no less. For a GM who has built his entire reputation on scouting and drafting, that is utterly baffling.
Heading into the 2018 trade deadline, there seems to be little emphasis on acquiring more draft picks. They re-signed Erik Gudbranson, who was a likely candidate to be traded, and have talked about making player-for-player “hockey trades” instead of looking for future assets.
That jibes with something Benning said at that press conference.
“I think going forward, picks and prospects are going to be like gold,” said Benning. “It’s going to be harder to do, I think, some of the deals that we’ve done in the past.”
For fans hoping to see the Canucks sell at the trade deadline, those words put a serious chill on their hopes. Then Benning re-signed Gudbranson, rather than moving him for those golden picks and prospects, leaving Thomas Vanek as the only obvious trade asset heading into the deadline. Barring a surprise trade involving the likes of Ben Hutton, Chris Tanev, or Michael Del Zotto, Vanek might be the only player moved by the Canucks, and even that’s not a guarantee.
Here the thing, though: NHL GMs don’t seem to be clutching their picks tight like they were gold. In fact, in the week or so since Benning made that claim, plenty of picks have been moved for players.
The next day, the St. Louis Blues sent a fourth-round pick in 2019 to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nikita Soshnikov, a 24-year-old forward with 14 career points in 70 NHL games.
On February 19th, the Washington Capitals traded a third-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for Michael Kempny, a 27-year-old third-pairing defenceman.
On the same day, the Philadelphia Flyers sent conditional third and fourth-round picks to the Detroit Red Wings for Petr Mrazek, who had a .910 save percentage at the time of the trade and a .901 save percentage last season. The conditions on the picks mean that the Flyers could wind up giving up a second-round pick.
On the 20th, the Boston Bruins sent a third-round pick to the New York Rangers for 30-year-old Nick Holden and the San Jose Sharks moved a seventh-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for 32-year-old Eric Fehr.
The 21st saw the Capitals send a fifth-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for Jakub Jerabek, who played all of 25 games for the Canadiens after being signed for $925,000 out of the KHL.
There were two trades involving draft picks on Thursday. The Florida Panthers sent a third-round pick to the Bruins for Frank Vatrano, an undersized 23-year-old forward who has lit up the AHL, but hasn’t quite done the same in the NHL. At the time of the trade, Vatrano had just two goals in 25 games.
Then the New Jersey Devils sent a second-round pick and prospect Yegor Rykov to the Rangers for Michael Grabner.
Today, the Pittsburgh Penguins tried to send a first-round pick and goaltending prospect Filip Gustavsson to the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard, with several other pieces involved. The deal, as of now, has been rejected by the NHL, likely for cap-related reasons, as the two teams try to restructure the deal with a third team, the Vegas Golden Knights, involved.
If the Brassard deal goes through, that’s ten draft picks traded in the nine days since Benning suggested that picks and prospects were going to be difficult to acquire. That includes six, and maybe seven, picks in the first three rounds. Most of these deals are not blockbusters, by any means, but they show that additional draft picks are up for grabs, even for depth players that don’t immediately jump out as trade targets.
That raises the question: are the Canucks trying to move anyone aside from Vanek? Are the Canucks trying to find a market for a depth centre like Nic Dowd or a depth defenceman Alex Biega? Is there a team out there willing to move a fifth, sixth, or seventh-round pick for one of those two?
What about Michael Del Zotto or Anders Nilsson? Is there a third or fourth-round pick out there for one of those two?
Then there’s Thomas Vanek. Will the Canucks be willing to move him for a third-round pick? Can they negotiate a better deal? A third-round pick could be another Nikita Tryamkin, Guillaume Brisebois, Will Lockwood, or Michael DiPietro added to the system.
Some Canucks fans might scoff at the idea of trading for late-round picks, but these picks matter for building the depth of a prospect pool. Those extra picks might allow Benning and the Canucks to take a chance on a player they really like that they might not otherwise select.
Gustav Forsling and Adam Gaudette were fifth-round picks, with one already playing NHL minutes with the Chicago Blackhawks and the other a major part of the Canucks’ plans for the future. Petrus Palmu and Matt Brassard were taken in the sixth and seventh rounds last year and both represent a lottery ticket for finding another NHL player.
In a sense, Benning is absolutely right: picks and prospects are like gold. But they’re gold for which Benning needs to start mining and panning before it’s too late.