By Lori Bennett
National Sports Columnist
The reigning Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche kicked off trade season last week when they dealt a former first round pick, forward Martin Kaut, and depth defenseman Jacob MacDonald to the San Jose Sharks for depth forward Matt Nieto and defenseman Ryan Merkley, who was also drafted in the first round. It was a swap of depth, first rounders needing a change of scenery, and a slow ease into the trade deadline swimming pool.
Then on Monday, Jan. 30 the Vancouver Canucks took a dive into the deep end, pulling off a blockbuster trade with the New York Islanders. Bo Horvat was at the top of the list of players expected to be dealt before the trade deadline, and the New York Islanders are performing below expectations and sitting outside of a playoff spot.
GM Lou Lamoriello knows his job security depends on turning things around, so he got ahead of the other teams interested in Horvat and dealt a first round pick, underperforming winger Anthony Beauvillier, and centre prospect Aatu Raty to the Canucks to claim Horvat early.
So who won the deal?
The first round pick Lamoriello sent to Vancouver is protected. That means if they fall further in the standings and the 2023 pick is in the top 12, the Islanders keep it and it’s their 2024 first rounder that goes to the Canucks. The implication is that the Canucks cannot reap the benefits of a high pick in this year’s deep draft. Beauvillier is a legitimate NHL player, but his contract is heftier than his performance on the ice of late. He can be useful to the Canucks, but his inclusion in the deal reeks of salary dump. The success of the deal for Vancouver seems to be very much tied to whether Raty reaches his ceiling.
As for the Islanders, they landed a first line centreman who is having a career year but is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. If the Islanders can sign him to a new contract, Horvat is still young enough that he can be a centrepiece for a contending team and the deal might be a steal. If he walks to free agency, it might be regarded as a bit of a swing and a miss, especially if the Islanders fail to reach the playoffs.
But did the Canucks get enough? ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes reported that once Vancouver received the offer from the Islanders they did not shop further. It is possible that a little more patience, and a little more willingness to use the offer to pry better offers from competitors, may have resulted in a better package for one of the biggest names on the market. Certainly if better returns are obtained in the trades that follow in the coming weeks, fans out west will not be happy.
The Canucks are not done.
Several other significant names are in the rumour mill, so this is a team to watch as the trade deadline draws nigh.
With the All-Star Break in the rear-view mirror, some teams are still enjoying a bye week. The break has been a good time for GMs to focus on business.
Nearly a dozen teams have faced the reality that they will not participate in the post-season and they’re calculating the extent they will be sellers. Another dozen teams are feeling confident that they will be there and are making their shopping lists. The handful in purgatory will have to make some quick decisions.
In off-ice news, hockey legend Bobby Hull died on January 30th at the age of 84. The 12-time All-Star who won the Hart Trophy twice was known during his career as the Golden Jet, a nod to his helmetless blonde hair flowing as he sped down the ice. Hull played 15 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, winning a Stanley Cup there, before leaving to play for the Winnipeg Jets in the WHL. He returned to the NHL with the Jets when they joined the NHL and split that season between the Jets and the Hartford Whalers before retiring from professional hockey.
Thursday, February 9 marks the NBA trade deadline, and “We the North” may look a shade different by end of business on that day. Several Raptors are believed to be available.
The management group in Toronto knows they are in a position where they have to be listening to any offers that may improve their team. That includes offers for O.G. Anunoby, and bidding war is reportedly ongoing with the young Raptor, who is just entering his prime, expected to fetch a haul that could include multiple first round picks.
Two other names on the list of possible trade candidates include Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet. If all three are moved, that is a dramatic change in complexion for the Raptors, but the returns on those players would be huge in the rebuild process.
Blue Jays Babble
With Spring training getting underway this month, the Toronto Blue Jays did some work this past week to solidify their roster. The week began with an announcement that the Blue Jays had invited 14 non-roster players to training camp. Ten of those players were pitchers. They also announced the signing of two players to minor league deals.
Then on Tuesday the Jays signed right-handed relief pitcher Chad Green to a two year contract. The 31-year-old has been a fixture coming out of the New York Yankees bullpen in recent years but was sidelined last June to undergo Tommy John surgery. It’s unclear when Green will be able to join the Jays line up, but GM Ross Atkins obviously felt the potential reward was worth the risk associated with Green’s health.
It seems like only yesterday the Jays were collapsing in the Wild Card Series, but here they are winding up for another year. Let’s hope for a better outcome in the Fall.