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Careful Buyers’ Approach to Trade Deadline Affects Gudbranson and Vanek Situations

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NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Vancouver Canucks Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

If you thought Jim Benning’s extension was divisive among Canucks nation, take a look at some of the reactions to reports that the team is approaching an extension with pending UFA Erik Gudbranson.

We can argue the merits of re-signing Gudbranson all day, but the more pressing concern from my perspective is whether the expectedly poor seller’s market for rentals influences the decision to pursue an extension.

Much of the lacklustre expectation regarding rentals relates to the shift in approach that contending teams have made based on recent failures from proactive buyers.

Washington and Minnesota were the two most aggressive buyers at last year’s trade deadline; spending a 1st and 2nd round pick among other assets each for Kevin Shattenkirk and Martin Hanzal respectively. These costly rentals failed to make an impactful difference, with both the Wild and Capitals eliminated within the first two rounds.

A similar trend was prevalent just a year prior. Chicago went all in by giving up assets including 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round picks, Philip Danault, and Marko Dano for Tomas Fleischmann, Dale Weise, and Andrew Ladd— all players that weren’t with the Blackhawks just a year later. All that external help resulted in a 1st round exit.

The Rangers gave up two 2nd round picks for Eric Staal and they too were outdone in the 1st round.

It certainly appears as if NHL executives are picking up on this trend as well.

Tampa Bay, for example, are in the market for defensemen; which causes many fans to speculate about Erik Gudbranson, but GM Steve Yzerman sounded like a cautious man regarding rentals in a recent interview with Pierre LeBrun.

“I don’t know, you just wonder, you look every year at what teams do and they give up all these assets and only one team wins. So, I think you got to be careful. I don’t think you do it just to do it. To me, it’s got to make you significantly better to justify giving up good prospects, good picks, good young players,” stated Yzerman.

Another team in the market for defensemen in the Islanders took it a step further— with GM Garth Snow telling The Athletic he doesn’t see himself moving futures for a rental.

“We’ve got two first-round picks and two second-round picks. I don’t think we’re inclined to be throwing those assets around for rentals,” said Snow.

Rhetoric like this implies that teams interested in blueliners like the Islanders, Leafs, and Lightning would likely rather spend their significant futures on a player with team control such as Ryan McDonagh, Tyson Barrie, or even Chris Tanev over a rental like Gudbranson— even if it proves to be more costly.

Teams looking for cheaper depth options, on the other hand, can turn to names like Ian Cole, Johnny Oduya, and Nick Holden.

All this isn’t to suggest that there won’t be suitors for Gudbranson, but rather that teams might not be willing to part with as much as fans may think relative to past trade deadline precedence.

Given that the Canucks paid a premium in Jared McCann and the 2016 33rd overall pick to land Gudbranson in the first place, they’d essentially be admitting their mistake if they moved him for a package centred around say a 3rd round pick.

My feeling is that they’d rather double down and re-sign Gudbranson to a bloated deal than face the optics of trading him for a lesser return.

It’s a valid assertion when you recognize that this management group appears unwilling to acknowledge their mistakes.

With Thomas Vanek, the market situation is a little bit different.

Most of the concern with him relates to the glut of quality wingers available for trade— both as rentals and players with term. Forwards like Rick Nash, Evander Kane, Max Pacioretty, Mike Hoffman, Michael Grabner, and Patrick Maroon are all preferable options to Vanek that are rumoured to be available.

There’s also the concern of how well the 34-year-old would fit in with a contending team. After all, no winning team wants to mess with their chemistry unless they’re making a definitive upgrade.

“I don’t want to add someone who doesn’t make us better, who’s just another player to put in the lineup. That hurts the chemistry. You put a good player on your team that fills a definite need; that helps your chemistry,” Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told The Athletic.

Vanek can add secondary scoring and a power play boost, but he’s a defensive liability and a poor playoff performer with just 5 goals in his last 27 playoff games.

Teams aren’t going to insert depth players like Vanek into their lineup unless they fill a specific need or are definitively better than internal options.

It explains why Brandon Pirri attracted just a 6th round pick at the 2016 trade deadline despite being on pace for 17 goals the season he was traded, along with the 22 goals he scored just a season prior.

Would the Canucks be inclined to keep or even extend Vanek if a strong market doesn’t emerge?

There are a lot of moving parts with the trade deadline a week away, but it’s still fair to wonder how much the expectedly lacklustre seller’s market will affect the Canucks’ decisions with regards to extending or trading Erik Gudbranson and Thomas Vanek.