When the Vancouver Canucks traded Jannik Hansen to the San Jose Sharks at the 2017 trade deadline, it was bittersweet for fans.
On one hand, acquiring prospect Nikolay Goldobin for an aging player like Hansen was a smart move for a rebuilding team.
It was sad to see Hansen go.
But maybe he’s not gone forever.
The Canucks have an opportunity to bring the Honey Badger back, as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Return of the Honey Badger?
A pending unrestricted free agent, it’s safe to say that Hansen will be testing the open market, likely at a bargain price.
The trade didn’t work out like Hansen or the Sharks hoped. Starting on a line with Joe Thornton, Hansen continually fell down the depth chart, losing the trust of Sharks’ coach Peter DeBoer.
It’s hard to find your game in limited playing time, and after a slow start to the 2017-18 season Hansen found himself repeatedly as a healthy scratch or on the fourth line when in the lineup.
“For hockey reasons, this obviously isn’t a very good fit for me,” Hansen admitted a few months ago. “It’s been proven now. It is what it is. Show up at work every day, good attitude. That’s about all I can control.”
Still lots left to give
Despite his struggles, Hansen has plenty of gas left in the tank at just 32 years of age. The right-winger can still use his combination of speed and grit to be an effective player on both sides of the ice.
Hansen plays a reliable defensive game and is a good penalty killer, although he wasn’t relied on to kill penalties much with the Sharks, playing just 0:46 on the PK.
The Canucks are in need of reliable defensive-minded forwards to help improve their penalty kill, which has operated at only 77.5% over the past two seasons, tied for worst in the NHL.
For all the talk about his struggles in San Jose, his stats weren’t half-bad given his role.
Hansen put up 1.64 points per 60 minutes in 46 games last season, which is in line with many other middle-six wingers, and his possession metrics (50.79 Corsi-For percentage) weren’t bad either.
Looking back at the last three seasons, Hansen’s 1.84 points-per-60 ranks him above average at 193rd out of 437 forwards to play at least 82 games. That’s ahead of players like Ryan Kesler, Loui Eriksson, and fellow UFA Michael Grabner, who will be asking for more money than Hansen.
And of course, who could forget the slap shot he developed late into his tenure with Vancouver?
Locker room presence
While Hansen’s on-ice talents would be welcomed, it’s his off-ice contributions that would make him most valuable to the Canucks.
Head coach Travis Green has instilled a system in which he wants his young players to work hard and earn their spot.
Hansen, of course, did exactly that breaking into the league. As a ninth-round pick, no opportunity was handed to him. He had to put his head down and work his butt off to carve out an NHL career.
With this group, he would be a leader.
Cap and roster space
Even after signing all their RFAs, the Canucks will likely have north of $15 million heading into free agency.
It’s imperative that the Canucks use this space wisely. Vancouver cannot afford another contract like Loui Eriksson’s, and with a weaker free agency class many of the impact free agents (James Van Reimsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Paul Statsny) will likely demand contracts the Canucks should avoid.
With Hansen, the term and dollar amount required would be low enough to limit risk, as long as there is space on the roster.
Hansen spent most of his time on left wing in San Jose and could be used there if needed, although he seems to be more effective on the right side.
Looking at the right wing depth next season, the Canucks have Brock Boeser locked in as the top line right winger, but after that it gets a little hazy.
Elias Pettersson could make the team out of training camp and potentially slot in on the right wing rather than centre as he gets accustomed to the NHL. Then again, he could also very well start the season in Utica.
Aside from that, you have Jake Virtanen and Nikolay Goldobin. Sam Gagner and Markus Granlund also spent some time on right wing but can also play centre if needed (Granlund has played left wing as well).
That’s not a very solid list, and simply moving one of Gagner or Granlund back to centre (which there is a spot for with Henrik Sedin retiring) would leave room for Hansen, who can play up and down in the lineup.
Combine that with his relentless effort on the ice and his easy-going and humorous personality off of it, and it’s easy to see why Hansen was well-liked here.
It just makes sense – bring back the Honey Badger!