The Vancouver Canucks made some off-season moves in hopes of increasing their scoring this coming campaign, adding Loui Eriksson to potentially play alongside the Sedin twins and locking up youngsters Markus Granlund, Sven Baertschi and Emerson Etem.
And while the Eriksson signing all but guarantees the Canucks another 20-goal player for the 2016-17 season, there are still some questions about the young contingent of players.
Baertschi, 23, looked to finally hit his stride with a 15-goal campaign and he could have a 20-goal season in him if he catches fire or finds chemistry with his linemates. However, Canucks GM Jim Benning doesn’t seem too keen on simply gambling that Baertschi’s scoring ability will continue to increase. For that reason, he wants to add another scorer.
“We’d like to add a proven scorer who brings some grit to take the pressure off Sven, so he can keep developing at his own pace,” Benning told the Vancouver Sun’s Ben Kuzma. “He took a big step last year and wants to prove to people that he has more to give. But I don’t know where he’s going to end up (next season). At some point, that (second line) is where he’s going to be, but maybe he plays on the third line with the capability of playing on the power play and potentially scoring 15 to 20 goals for us.”
A “proven scorer who brings some grit” sounds an awful lot like a certain 6-foot-3, 233-pound winger the Edmonton Oilers signed to a big-money deal on July 1. It’s no secret that the Vancouver Canucks were interested in and likely had at least a few discussions with Milan Lucic ahead of the free agency period opening, but missing out on the four-time 20-goal man means Benning will have to look elsewhere.
So, what are Benning’s best options?
One potential trade parter could be Detroit, where Red Wings GM Ken Holland has made it clear he’s got an excess of forwards and he’s willing to make a move.
Maybe nothing jumps off the page on the grit side of things, but as far as proven scorers, the Canucks could do a lot worse than adding Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar to their ranks. The only issue, though, would be what Vancouver would have to give up. Holland has made it clear that if he’s moving out NHL-ready talent, he’s going to want a defenseman that can man the Red Wings’ blueline in return.
There has been off-and-on rumblings about the possibility the Canucks could consider moving Alexander Edler at some point, but the 30-year-old rearguard makes $5 million per season and is a top-pairing defenseman in Vancouver. The money is a problem for the Red Wings, and losing Edler could be an issue for the Canucks.
That may make the deal a tough one to swing for either side, which might leave Benning looking elsewhere, like, say, the Columbus Blue Jackets and winger Scott Hartnell.
In somewhat of the same vein as any deal with Detroit, though, money has to be a consideration. The Canucks have less than $3.5 million in cap space and Hartnell, 34, is set to earn $4.75 million per year for the next three seasons. Hartnell’s name has been tossed around quite a bit as a trade candidate — and even in potential buyout talk before free agency began — which means there could be potential for the Canucks to acquire him for relatively cheap.
The thing about Hartnell, too, is that he checks the boxes. Grit? He’s logged 100-plus penalty minutes in each of the past three seasons, and he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty. Proven scorer? Hartnell has 20-plus goals in each of the past five full seasons. He’d be an intriguing option.
If that doesn’t work, either, maybe there’s a deal to be made with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins don’t necessarily need to move anyone but could use some breathing room under the cap.
Chris Kunitz, 36, likely doesn’t have many incredibly impactful seasons left, but he’s scored 17 goals in each of the past two seasons and is in the final year of his contract. If the Canucks were to struggle again, Kunitz could then be flipped at the deadline for some assets. If the Penguins want to add more speed, maybe there’s a bottom-six forward the Canucks are so-so on that Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford feels could fit the Penguins’ high-tempo system.
Then there are those who make the Evander Kane to Vancouver connection, which makes sense given the Buffalo Sabres winger is a local and played major junior for the Vancouver Giants.
Kane, 24, has scored 19-plus goals four times in his career already, including a 30-goal campaign in 2011-12. He’s young, has a ton of upside and has the potential to be a serious 30-goal threat year in and year out. And while it may seem crazy to think the Sabres would trade Kane so soon after acquiring him from the Winnipeg Jets in a blockbuster deal during the 2014-15 season, it sounds like Sabres GM Tim Murray isn’t too pleased with Kane.
Kane has had two run-ins with the law in the past six months, with the most recent prompting Murray to say Kane is “going to have to behave himself a lot better than he has,” before adding that whether innocent or not, it’s not the type of news Murray wants to be reading about Kane.
If Murray is wanting to get rid of Kane — or if Kane is looking for a change of scenery — then maybe Benning benefits and finds a way to fit the winger’s $5.25-million deal into the Vancouver lineup.
No matter who Benning adds, though, he’s going to have to be wary of the cap and make sure he doesn’t sacrifice one facet of his team to benefit another. And if it’s going to hurt more than it helps, maybe Benning’s best bet isn’t to add at all and instead hope that Baertschi’s promising season is the sign of things to come.
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