A year or two ago, the defensive depth of the Vancouver Canucks seemed pathetic. Now, it is suddenly both an area of strength and a potential surplus that the team’s management could exploit. Do the Canucks have too many bodies on defense, and what can they possibly do about it? Let’s take a look.
Current Defense and Contract Situation (After 2016-17)
Alex Edler, 30, Two years remaining @ $5 mil per, NTC
Alex Biega, 28, One year remaining @ $750 thou per
Chris Tanev, 27, Three years remaining @ $4.45 mil per
Luca Sbisa, 27, One year remaining @ $3.6 mil per
Philip Larsen, 27, UFA
Erik Gudbranson, 25, RFA
Ben Hutton, 23, Two years remaining @ $2.8 mil per
Nikita Tryamkin, 22, RFA
Troy Stecher, 22, One year remaining @ $925 thou per
-Of the nine players listed above, only Biega and Larsen can be written off as relative nonfactors moving forward. The remaining seven all definitely deserve a spot on an NHL roster, whether in Vancouver or elsewhere. This means the team has a bit of a surplus already this season, if and when the defense is completely healthy. There’s no easy answer as to which of the seven should come out of the lineup on a nightly basis.
Olli Juolevi, 18
-Juolevi is not eligible for the AHL next season, meaning the Canucks must choose between having him in the NHL or putting him back in the OHL. This will put extra pressure on he and the team to have him play in the NHL.
Jordan Subban, 21
-Subban is approaching the age where some sort of NHL experience is required to move his development forward. Within a couple of seasons, he needs to grab an NHL spot or his career is essentially bust.
Guillaume Brisebois, 19
-Brisebois is still young, but should be making his pro debut next year and has looked good in preseason viewings. May be ready sooner than expected.
Carl Neill, 20
-Neill has put up two fantastic seasons since being drafted in the fifth round, and is definitely the wildcard prospect on defense for the Canucks.
Next Season and After
It seems obvious that the Canucks will need to trade or lose at least one defenseman before next season, and perhaps two. Quite simply, there needs to be room in the lineup for all of Stecher, Tryamkin, and Hutton, with room for Juolevi being a major bonus. By the season after that, the need to shed two becomes a near certainty. Juolevi will almost definitely be ready for major minutes at that point, and will be a bit of a disappointment if not.
While Las Vegas may take the decision out of management’s hands by selecting Luca Sbisa in the Expansion Draft, all other scenarios give the Canucks plenty of opportunity to bring in some decent value for their
-This is technically possible, but is going to result in limited opportunities for several young defensemen. Tryamkin, Hutton, and Stecher will all need major ice time to develop, and sending Juolevi back to London may stagnate his development.
Trade Chris Tanev
-The most discussed option on the table. After Bo Horvat, Tanev may be the Canucks’ most valuable player, and would undoubtedly bring in a massive return. However, Tanev is only 27, and is still young enough to play an important role on a rebuilt team. Tanev’s status as Mr. Underrated could make him more useful to the Canucks than his trade value would reflect.
Trade Alex Edler
–Edler may also garner a terrific trade return, thanks to his reasonable contract and history of performance. Edler is also the elder statesman on the blueline, which makes him a natural candidate for a deal from a retooling franchise. Edler’s spot seems like the most obvious future home for Juolevi.
Trade Erik Gudbranson
-Gudbranson is up for a contract renewal, and many fans are concerned he will earn more money than he is worth. Interestingly enough, the Canucks have played their best hockey since Gudbranson left the lineup due to injury. However, to trade him, the management team would have to swallow their pride a bit, as he was recently acquired.
Trade Luca Sbisa
-Sbisa is having his best season as a Canuck, but he remains overpaid at $3.6 million per season. Trading him may be difficult, but if the Canucks could manage to convince Las Vegas to take him in the Expansion Draft it would be ideal.
Trade Ben Hutton
-This idea has been floated by some, and Hutton would probably return a decent amount in any trade. However, Hutton is also going through a bit of a sophomore slump, and his future performance may be worth more than anything the team gets back in a trade.
Bite the bullet and deal Gudbranson, for sure. Aim for draft picks and/or forward prospects in return. Attempt to convince Las Vegas to take Sbisa, and include incentives if necessary. Failing that, trade him. If that doesn’t work out, keep Sbisa as a veteran presence, put a bit of faith into the youngsters and trade Edler for a huge return. Even if Sbisa is dealt, trade Edler anyway the moment Juolevi starts showing well at the NHL level.