There is no doubt the rumors now begin that Vancouver Canucks will trade a defenseman now that they’ve acquired Dan Hamhuis, and the name on everyone’s tongue is Kevin Bieksa. This doesn’t really make much sense in a short-term or long-term view.
Mason Raymond is at this time without a contract. It is safe to assume he is probably looking at a 3 year deal worth $8 or $9 M. While he is certainly a more offensive player than David Clarkson, he doesn’t have his size or toughness which probably lands him a similar contract. Also, if you look at Dustin Brown, and the fact he’s making only a little more than $3M, Mason will be hard pressed to do better than that. It’s also important to note that a contract like this brings Vancouver right up against the cap this season.
While it’s easy to say we should ship out one of our top six D for a forward with size who can play the wing, we could just as easily take a shot with our roster as it stands and keep everyone’s minutes manageable hoping to keep them fresh for the playoffs, and having a major insurance policy should we encounter more freak blueline injuries.
I feel like Bieksa’s name is only coming up in trade talk now because it has come up in the past. Over the last two seasons, anytime the canucks were involved in trade rumors, Bieksa was always the prominent name. I feel that has more to do with the fact he was the only one of our top four (Salo, Ohlund, Mitchell) without a NTC, then any of the other factors.
Now that some of those old contracts have expired and we have acquired some free agents I think it’s only fair to re-evaluate all of our players on the blue line. Salo remains as the only one with a NTC and no one believes Gillis would ask him to waive it. With Hamhuis and Ballard being recent acquisitions they aren’t going anywhere either, which leaves us with three potential candidates to be dealt.
Alex Edler is the only one of our trade candidates signed beyond this year. At $3.25 M for the next three seasons he is a well priced top 4 defenseman that would generate the biggest return. At times last season he looked uncomfortable and out of place, but I suppose that is to be expected of any young defenseman. With a strong defensive partner like Ballard or Hamhuis, his offensive game should flourish and assuming he develops into his potential, is a well-priced, poor man’s Nick Lidstrom.
Like Edler, Kevin Bieksa is a product of the canucks system. We drafted him, cultivated him and after a breakout sophmore season, awarded him a $3.75 M contract which expires after next season. On paper, he is a complete defenseman, but general managers aren’t blind, and if something bothers the casual hockey fan, you can be damn sure the people who are paid to assemble entire organizations are aware of it too. It’s not his freak injuries or desire to play forward in the offensive zone that are his weakness, his Achilles heal is being caught out of position in his own end, thus making Luongo look worse on some of the soft goals (not that Luongo doesn’t miss his fair share of easy saves).
Christian Ehrhoff was acquired at this time last season from the Sharks who desperately needed to clear cap space for Heatley. Last season he had the biggest +/- turnaround of any player in the league, going from a -18 in San Jose to a +36 in Vancouver. While I expect a similar stats from Keith Ballard, he is under contract and Ehrhoff is UFA after this season. I believe Ehrhoff’s market value is significantly higher than Bieksa’s on account of his offensive output but I also think he will demand a bigger contract in the offseason.
Because we are in win now mode and these are present-time assets, we also have to look at who is an adequate trading partner for one of these guys. Assuming we don’t trade within the division, the return is a winger, and the team they go to needs a top 4 dman, the list of potential returns for Bieksa is small. We could ship him almost anywhere for cap relief, but what GM is going to give up a real asset for him? I can’t imagine he is enough to wrestle away any RFAs that would fit under the cap. Maybe we could get Erik Cole from Carolina or David Backes from St Louis but other returns seem out of reach or simply not worth it.
If you start to offer up Edler or Ehrhoff, I think you can target a younger guy who can be here for the next three to five years. A Jamie Benn or James Neal from Dallas, Drew Stafford from Buffalo, Milan Lucic from Boston, Steve Downie in TB or maybe even Ryan Callahan in NY. The Canucks have enough left handed defenders in the top 4, I really think that based on the returns it makes more sense to look at moving one of these two and giving Bieksa the chance to stay in Vancouver at a cap friendly number for the next 3-5 years.