Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis could end up as unrestricted free agents and find new teams this summer, leaving Vancouver with nothing in return.
That’s where the Canucks find themselves going into the NHL’s February 29 trade deadline.
With Vancouver sitting 21st in the NHL and fourth in the Pacific division, they’re currently on the outside of the playoff race looking in – so it’s not a leap to suggest they could or even should be sellers.
Canucks GM Jim Benning spoke about the possibility of trading Vrbata and Hamhuis Monday.
“That was a big goal Vrby scored in the shootout last night (against the Islanders) to get us the extra point,” Benning told TSN 1040 radio. “Sometimes at the end of the year the team that misses, it’s by one or two points, so he’s a big part of our team.”
Safe to say Benning sounds reluctant to let Vrbata go. His thoughts on Hamhuis were similar.
“Hammer’s back and he’s skating now and he’s a big part of our team. We’re going to continue to see where we’re at going into the deadline and if something makes sense we’ll look at it, but those guys are a big part of our team.”
Benning hinted at his conundrum: Vancouver’s goal is to make the playoffs, whether fans like it or not, though we don’t know if the pressure’s coming from ownership or within. As such, every point matters, and trading a scoring winger or an experienced defenceman could hurt those chances.
Whatever Benning decides, one thing’s becoming obvious: the team needs to improve on defence. This applies for this year’s playoff push/run and for future seasons.
Unfortunately Vancouver’s not alone here.
“There’s a handful of teams, the Rangers, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg that are happy with their defence and all the other teams are looking to add defencemen,” Benning said.
“It’s about assets too. Everytime we talk to teams about acquiring a good young player or defenceman, they want one of our good young players.
“We’re just not at that point yet where we can afford to move one of our good young players so we’re not going to look at anything like that, but if something makes sense and we can add a defenceman that makes us better, we’ll look at it.”
Benning also opened up about how the NHL’s trade market has shifted in the past couple of weeks.
“I went pretty much the whole season phoning guys, talking to guys to see what was out there, and there really wasn’t much going on. I talked to one GM and he commented, ‘You’re the first guy I’ve talked to in three weeks,’ so it was slow,” he said.
“I think the Seth Jones-Johansen trade kind of opened things up, and then I noticed a lot more chatter with other GMs, making calls, finding out where teams are at. Since that trade we’re getting calls from other teams on a daily basis to see what’s going on.”
Whether Benning considers them or not, the offers will be there for Vrbata and Hamhuis.
With Chris Higgins being banished from the team, fans are hoping to see Hunter Shinkaruk and Brendan Gaunce in Canucks colours again.
Shinkaruk and Gaunce lead Utica in scoring with 30 points in 33 games and 20 points in 28 games respectively.
Benning addressed his plans for both.
“Shinkaruk’s a goal scorer so we want him to have a good year, score 25-30 goals down there, be the go-to guy,” said Benning.
“He got one game with us and we’re not afraid to call him back up, but in a perfect world, we’d like to have our players play 2-3 years down in the American league and be overripe when they’re ready to come up and play.”
“Gaunce is a good two-way player and the details of his game are in place, but we want to get him to a place where he has his confidence offensively, so for him to score 20 goals this year and do the small things that he can do is big for his development.
“I know it sounds strange where we weren’t patient with McCann and Virtanen, but we want to be patient with these guys. If we can leave them down there all year to develop, then when they’re ready to play next year they’ll come in and help us.”
Benning also spoke about Jordan Subban, who currently leads Utica defencemen with 19 points.
“We’ve always known when he has the puck he’s excellent. He can run the power play moving laterally across the line, getting shots on net.
“How he needs to develop is when he doesn’t have the puck down low in his own end. He’s not a tall player, but he’s strong. It’s going to be about angles and stick positioning and finding a way to play at his size. He’s come a long way this year but there’s still some work to be done defensively to where he’s ready to play in the NHL.”