There are a lot of impediments standing in the way of the Vancouver Canucks trading Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
General manager Jim Benning is on record saying the brothers should retire as Canucks. Team president Trevor Linden echoes those comments. The twins themselves hold no-move clauses, allowing them to thwart any trade attempt that fails to meet their approval. They’re also 36 years old and boast matching $7-million cap hits which extend into next season.
The possibility is worth considering anyway, because not only is such a trade workable but it would be very much in Vancouver’s interest.
The Canucks are in a bad spot, and especially so offensively. Three years into Benning’s tenure, the 83-point team he inherited is on pace for 82 points. The popgun offence boasts just three players with more than 30 points, two of whom are the Sedins. Despite the club’s reluctance to embrace a true rebuild, it hasn’t been good enough to win games and in the meantime it has squandered many of its veteran assets.
The club also hasn’t been good at restocking the cupboard. The three forwards drafted in the first round under Benning are all varying degrees of disappointing, with Jared McCann traded, Jake Virtanen unable to score in the AHL and Brock Boeser regressing at the college level. Defenceman Olli Juolevi, drafted fifth overall last year, remains promising but has a long path in front of him.
Vancouver isn’t going to be good enough to win while the Sedins are with the team. More importantly, while letting them retire as Canucks would be a victory for sentimentality, it comes with a real cost. Cold-bloodedly, every player is an asset to a hockey team, and it’s hard to see how letting two valuable assets run down to zero is a good idea.
It may just be early enough to avoid such a fate.
The Sedins are not the players they were, but their difficulties this season need to be considered in the context of the team they play for. Not only have they been asked to carry Vancouver’s top offensive line, but in a lot of cases they’ve been asked to do it with players who don’t belong anywhere near a top forward unit.
Shot generation tells the story. The Sedins have had four principle linemates as head coach Willie Desjardins has scrambled to deal with injury and squeeze as much as possible out of his undermanned roster. The twins simply aren’t good enough to carry players anymore; they need reasonable help and that shows in the results:
Vancouver has averaged 50.8 shot attempts (Corsi for) per hour at 5-on-5 this year. When the Sedins play with disappointing but talented free agent acquisition Loui Eriksson, they outperform the team average by a lot. To a lesser extent the same is true when they play with longtime collaborator and useful middle-six forward Jannik Hansen.
Play them with Brandon Sutter—who, allowing for ice-time, scores at a nearly fourth-line rate at 5-on-5—and those shots disappear. Things get even worse when they’re matched with Jayson Megna, a 27-year-old minor-leaguer who didn’t hit 50 points in the AHL last year. No wonder the Sedins are having off years.
Put them in a better situation and it’s a good bet their abilities will shine through. A contender could acquire two-thirds of a second line, and as long as it provided the Sedins with a reasonable linemate could expect strong results from them. In a year where precious few impact players are believed to be available, such an influx of talent could be a major shot in the arm.
As for the money, it’s not nearly as complicated as it seems. The Canucks have the ability to retain up to 50 percent of the Sedins salary for the remainder of this season and next year as well, and while it would be difficult for anyone to take on $14 million the actual number could be significantly closer to a combined $7.0 million.
Vancouver would also be able to take cash back in the right deal, and because the Canucks are sitting at 46 contracts they can also take a few back if that’s what it takes to make the money equitable. Several different teams could make such a trade work, in many cases without sending a significant player back the other way.
Consider the Los Angeles Kings as a hypothetical example. The Kings are having a middling year, but have a long track record of being dangerous in the playoffs anyway. They also have an older core, and the idea of adding the Sedins for a run at the Cup makes at least superficial sense.
L.A. currently has Matt Greene, Dwight King, Teddy Purcell, Tom Gilbert and Rob Scuderi under contract for a total of $8.6 million. None of those players are especially important to the cause and none are on untradeable long-term pacts. If the trade involved a real roster player with significant salary—Tyler Toffoli, perhaps—making the dollars work would be even more straightforward.
The Kings aren’t the only team with a legitimate chance, an aging core and dollars they could send the other way. San Jose and to a lesser extent Anaheim fit the bill, too. Nashville has a defence corps capable of winning now but needs help up front. Fewer teams fit the bill out East, but Montreal would certainly have the ability to make a deal.
It’s an indulgence to look at potential fits, though, and an even greater one to imagine trade returns. There are no indications that the Canucks are considering such a trade. It seems far more likely that Vancouver will hang on to its long-time stars, watching their skills erode, waiting and hoping that worthy successors appear.
In an age of mercenary players, there’s arguably something admirable about such loyalty. No matter how much it hurts the team’s efforts to rebuild in the long run.