A handful of Vancouver Canucks finally got back on the ice on Monday. But when the team resumes play on Friday, it will be without Adam Gaudette or Jordie Benn.
Both players were dealt away before Monday's trade deadline. Gaudette's on his way to Chicago, swapped for forward Matthew Highmore, while Benn goes to Winnipeg in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2021 draft.
In a third deal, general manager Jim Benning also acquired defenseman Madison Bowey from Chicago. The 25-year-old was nearly free — the Canucks gave up their fourth-rounder in 2021, but also got Chicago's fifth-round pick back in return.
Why, you might ask?
My first thought was the expansion draft.
We know the Canucks are covered on the goalie front, that they'll be able to expose Braden Holtby. But clubs are also required to expose at least two forwards and one defenseman who are under contract for the 2021-22 season, and have a reasonable amount of NHL experience.
The Canucks are fine on the forward front — Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle and Micheal Ferland all qualify, off the top of my head, and I don't think anyone would have an issue seeing any of them on an exposed list.
But before Monday, the only defensemen who were under contract beyond the end of this season were Nate Schmidt and Tyler Myers. Some folks want to see Myers exposed to see if the Canucks can get out of his $6 million-a-year contract, which runs for three more seasons. But on balance, I'd say Myers has played pretty well this year. Probably not well enough to properly justify $6 million, but with so little locked-in experience going forward, I expect Benning will want to protect him.
Bowey has spent most of the season on Chicago's taxi squad, only appearing in two games for the big club. But he played 53 games for Detroit last season, which is enough experience to qualify as a veteran for expansion-draft exposure.
Originally drafted in the second round by Washington in 2013, Bowey's another guy who played on the Hershey Bears with Schmidt and Travis Boyd, and on the Caps with those two as well as Holtby and Beagle.
The Canucks' transformation into Washington West continues. Maybe this is all a leadup for Benning to make a big play for UFA Alex Ovechkin in the offseason, haha. Can you imagine???
I'm also amused that the club now has a Bowie (Horvat) and a Bowey, although the first syllable of Bowey's last name is pronounced like "Bow wow," not like "Bow tie," according to the NHL's media website.
Bowey's contract carries a very modest cap hit of $725,000 per season. It's two-way this season, and will pay him $750,000 next year at both the NHL and AHL levels.
As for Benn, he's taking the best plus-minus on the Vancouver blue line with him on his way out the door. His plus-five is tops on the entire team, in fact. He'll get a chance to chase a Cup, but it's interesting that even with his five-team no-trade clause, he ends up going to Winnipeg, which is almost universal on players' no-trade lists.
A sixth-rounder isn't much, but it's another lottery ticket in what could turn out to be a wildly unpredictable 2021 draft. And I seem to remember hearing during the offseason that Benn's $2 million cap hit was untradeable as the Canucks tried to shimmy under the salary-cap ceiling. In this case, I think getting an asset at all is a positive.
That brings us to Adam Gaudette. Given his status as Patient Zero in the Canucks' Covid outbreak, I have to say that I was cynically unsurprised to hear his name come up on Monday's Tradecentre broadcast.
On top of dealing with an incredibly taxing schedule while most of the team is recovering from illness, there has been some talk about how emotions are also running very high on the team. Though the Canucks' doctor has made it clear that no one is to blame for the outbreak except the virus itself, it wouldn't be surprising if some members of the organization are looking for a place to direct their anger, blame or resentment.
Iain MacIntyre of Sportsnet
says that's not the case.
"A Canucks official emphatically denied the COVID-19 crisis had any bearing on the decision to move on from Gaudette," MacIntyre wrote.
Matt Sekeres disagrees.
Where MacIntyre and Sekeres agree is with their assessment that the organization had soured on Gaudette before the outbreak happened. After a breakout season in 2019-20, he stumbled in the bubble and became a frequent healthy scratch, then saw his offensive production evaporate this year.
As an arbitration-eligible RFA this summer, there's a good chance that the Canucks would have declined to give him a qualifying offer, which would have made him an unrestricted free agent.
From that point of view, the return of Matthew Highmore doesn't seem quite so underwhelming.
I actually have a pretty good impression of Highmore, who was an out-of-nowhere success story for the Blackhawks in the bubble in Edmonton last summer.
In nine playoff games, Highmore tallied three goals and one assist. That's one more goal than Patrick Kane, although it's a small sample size. It'd say Kane got him back this year with his 14 goals and 54 points in 43 games, while Highmore had just two assists in 24 appearances.
Highmore is an undrafted native of Halifax, who can play all three forward positions. MacIntyre reports that Jim Benning had an eye on Highmore when the Blackhawks signed him as a free agent out of the QMJHL in 2017. That's the same year the Canucks signed another Maritimer out of the Q, Zack MacEwen.
So, despite saying he wasn't going to do much at the deadline, Benning ended up having a busier day than a number of other general managers, including Ken Holland and Kevin Cheveldayoff in the North Division.
Bowey and Highmore, of course, will need to quarantine for a week before they can get on the ice with their new team. And with the schedule that the Canucks have coming up, it's not a bad thing to have two fresh players on the roster, who aren't in the process of getting over Covid.
Gaudette was removed from the NHL's protocol list on Sunday, before he was dealt. Travis Hamonic, who'd been the second player added as the outbreak began, came off the list on Monday.
After Jay Beagle was added on Sunday, the club still had 18 players from the main roster on the list, but that number is expected to diminish over the coming days. Five players were initially added to the list one day after Hamonic, on April 3: Alex Edler, Braden Holtby, Quinn Hughes, Zack MacEwen and Antoine Roussel. If all goes well, I'd expect them to come off on Tuesday.
Beagle's positive test delayed the opening of the Canucks' facility by one day, but things did start to get back to normal on Monday. Approximately 10 players, who have cleared protocols, were able to get on the ice individually — and I believe that number includes both Elias Pettersson and Tanner Pearson.
It'll be a couple more days before media is permitted back into the building to observe a full practice. But as of Tuesday morning, everything's on schedule for the Canucks to start their sprint to the finish against Edmonton on Friday night.