Will Roberto Luongo be a Canuck after the April 3 trade deadline?
Don't look now, but the halfway point of this abbreviated NHL season is approaching fast. Heading into Tuesday's matchup against Phoenix, the Vancouver Canucks have now played 18 of their 48 games. The April 3 trade deadline is just over five weeks away.
That doesn't leave general manager Mike Gillis much time if he decides to adjust his roster. After Sunday's 8-3 shellacking by Detroit, he must be tempted.
The status quo is for Gillis to stand behind his group. The Canucks look like they should cruise to another Northwest Division title and will be poised to make a serious playoff run, so it's unlikely they'll be eager to trade any of their primary assets—a goaltender possibly excepted.
Another team's impending free agent might make an attractive addition for the stretch run and the playoffs as an old-fashioned "rent-a-player." With the imminent drop in the salary cap next year, I'm sure Vancouver wouldn't be averse to unloading a big salary or two—especially if they could get value in return.
Rather than trying to mock up specific deals, this article will look more broadly at who the Canucks might be willing to part with and what they'll be seeking.
Vancouver could move either goalie, or stand pat and play it safe.
The solid play and good attitudes of Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo have quieted the tradewind frenzy for the time being. The Canucks are using both goaltenders and, for the most part, having success with their system.
Keeping both goalies through the playoffs would provide a welcome security blanket for a team whose fans still cringe at the thought of Luongo's meltdowns from years gone by. But the marketplace could be crowded with sellers this summer as teams try to limbo their way under the lower salary cap ceiling.
If Mike Gillis gets an offer that makes sense to him—for Luongo or Schneider—he'll pull the trigger on a deal at the deadline.
Keith Ballard and David Booth have contracts that exceed their contributions.
In his third season with Vancouver, Ballard is logging more ice time than ever before, is a respectable plus-two and has been a fixture on the top six. It looks like his days as a healthy scratch are finally behind him.
According to capgeek.com, Ballard has two years remaining on his deal at $4.2 million per season after this year. Might a defensively struggling eastern team like the Washington Capitals or Philadelphia Flyers be interested in Ballard's services?
Similarly, David Booth has yet to find his groove since arriving in Vancouver last year. Booth also has two more years on his deal. His cap hit is $4.25 million—a high price to pay for his 29 points last year and one assist in three games so far in 2012-13.
Booth missed the first several weeks of the season with a groin strain and was also out of action Sunday against Detroit. If he gets healthy and contributes enough to make other teams take notice, expect Mike Gillis to listen to offers from teams that might be looking to shore up their offensive attack.
Chris Tanev could attract attention from other general managers.
The Vancouver Canucks' best trade bait might well come in the form of the unassuming 22-year-old who has just moved up to the top four on defense.
Chris Tanev was an undrafted prospect signed by the Canucks after one year of college hockey. He has made steady progress under the team's tutelage.
Hailed as a smart player who sees the ice well, Tanev is in the last year of his entry-level deal. His $900,000 salary is less than one-third of any of the other top six D-men.
With his strong on-ice play and ever-increasing responsibilities, Tanev will be due for a healthy raise next year. Where will the Canucks come up with the money? They have five blueliners on big long-term contracts, so there's not much room to squeeze out more cash in the face of the impending cap crunch.
A player like Tanev could be trade-deadline gold—a quality youngster who's still developing his craft and won't cost an arm and a leg.
Mike Gillis has shown willingness in the past to part with young prospects like Michael Grabner and Cody Hodgson. It could make sense to move Tanev rather than risk a protracted contract battle.
Impending free agent Mason Raymond could attract interest from an offensively starved club.
It could make sense for Vancouver to strike a deal with another team that's also tight to the cap for players of similar value. An underachieving team, in particular, might be interested in making a deal that could help to change their chemistry.
Assuming Mike Gillis would be less eager to trade with teams in his own conference, the three teams in the east with the biggest salary hits are Philadelphia, the New York Rangers and Montreal. The Habs are pretty happy as they are these days, but the Flyers and Rangers are performing below expectations and currently sitting out of the playoff picture.
Here's a possible swap of players of similar salaries and contract status: Would the Rangers consider trading the grit of Brian Boyle, with one assist and a minus-six this season, for the speedy flash of Mason Raymond? Raymond is enjoying a bounce-back year with five goals and nine points in 18 games. He's a respectable plus-one who's showing a renewed willingness to go to the net and get into the dirty areas.
Raymond's also a free agent at the end of this year. His play is markedly better than last season, but the Canucks could lose him for nothing if they don't deal him at the deadline for an asset they can use in the playoffs.
Could the Canucks bring in Jarome Iginla for a playoff run?
If the Canucks are simply looking to augment their roster for a playoff run, they might want to do it the old-fashioned way—acquire a veteran who's about to become an unrestricted free agent.
In that situation, the team is only on the hook for a paycheque or two, but the player will have a chance to contribute throughout the playoff run.
Big names haven't moved so much in this fashion in recent years, and the Canucks' most recent attempt to play this game with Samuel Pahlsson last season was a bust.
Vancouver's best assets for this type of deal would be picks and prospects. Assuming only non-playoff eastern teams would be willing partners, would the Canucks get better by adding a Mike Ribeiro, a Mark Streit, a Nik Antropov or a Robyn Regehr? Those are just a few of the higher-profile players who could be on the market.
History has shown that these late-season chemistry experiments are hit-and-miss, but each of these players could bring a level of experience that might be the missing puzzle piece for the Canucks in the postseason.
Who would you like to see the Canucks acquire at the trade deadline? And who would you like them to move? Sound off in the comments below.
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