Mar 5, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins center Ryan Spooner (51) gets ready for a face-off during the second period against the Washington Capitals at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
The Vancouver Canucks frequently struggle to score and are still searching for help up front.
For much the past weeks — or even months — the Vancouver Canucks have been searching for scoring help up front. One name that popped up in rumours more than once was Evander Kane, a winger for the Buffalo Sabres. Canucks GM Jim Benning actually did inquire about Kane, but the asking price was too high.
Today, the Canucks are still in desperate need of scoring help. Summer acquisition Loui Eriksson is on pace for “only” 20 goals, not 30. Bo Horvat is the teams’ current top scorer, not only because he is playing well, but also because the Sedin twins are continuing their decline.
Furthermore, the Canucks are struggling with injuries about as much as they did in 2015-16. Rookie winger Anton Rodin has yet to play a game in the NHL, Jannik Hansen and Derek Dorsett have missed significant time, and others like Sven Baertschi had minor injuries that cost them at least a couple of games.
Because of that, the Canucks currently have to rely on depth players like Jayson Megna, Michael Chaput and Jack Skille to carry the load. “The load” does not refer to “the bottom-six load” either — Chaput is centring the second line.
The Canucks really do need help up front. So how about these three players?
Oct 6, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Sam Gagner (89) against the Boston Bruins during a preseason hockey game at Nationwide Arena. The Bruins won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Gagner, Columbus Blue Jackets
We’ll start with a solution that would clearly be a sign of desperation. Sam Gagner was available as an unrestricted free agent last summer, so the Canucks had every chance to talk to him and sign him. Sending pieces to the Columbus Blue Jackets to acquire someone you could have had for free a few months ago seems dumb.
But, Gagner’s status in the summer changes nothing about the fact that he could really help the Canucks’ goal scoring.
Gagner has had a few ups and downs throughout his career. For some reason, the name Sam Gagner started to trigger negative reactions. The reasons for that include a Corsi-against per 60 minutes of 62.81 in the 2013-14 season, which saw him ranked 21st on a terrible possession team, the Edmonton Oilers.
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Still, there is one thing Gagner was always good at: creating offence.
In his final junior season with the OHL London Knights, Gagner recorded 35 goals and 118 points in 53 games. He followed that up with 13 goals and 49 points in 79 NHL games as a rookie. From that point on, Gagner consistently scored over 40 points per season.
That was until he joined the Philadelphia Flyers for the 2015-16 campaign. There, Gagner had just eight goals and 16 points in 53 games and actually ended up being sent to the American Hockey League for nine contests. Now with the Blue Jackets, however, Gagner sits at eight goals and 13 points in 22 games, on pace for a career-high 49 points. Even if he doesn’t reach 49, it is one of his usual 40-point seasons.
If the Canucks want a strong two-way player or a gritty bottom-six addition, Gagner might not be the right choice. If they simply want to add a strong offensive player, though, the 27-year-old could be a great option. Gagner is a natural centre who has also played many games on the wing — perfect for Vancouver’s current situation.
Nov 27, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Arizona Coyotes left winger Jordan Martinook (48) is seen out on the ice as they play against the Edmonton Oilers during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Jordan Martinook, Arizona Coyotes
Unlike Gagner, Arizona Coyotes forward Jordan Martinook is not exactly famous for being a great goal scorer. However, he might be a better fit for the Canucks right now. Trades within the division usually aren’t what teams want and can lead to inflated trade prices, but they do happen every once in awhile.
A 24-year-old forward, Martinook can play at centre or on the wing. He isn’t too experienced in the NHL, but his development curve goes straight up.
In his final year with the WHL Vancouver Giants, Martinook had 40 goals and 64 points in 72 games. After that, he spent the majority of three seasons with the AHL Portland Pirates, scoring modest numbers with a career-high 15 goals and 43 points in 62 games in the 2014-15 season.
In the 2015-16 campaign, Martinook made the jump to the NHL and managed to stick around. He had a strong rookie season, missing just one game and scoring nine goals and 24 points. So far this year, Martinook has five goals and 11 points in 23 games, and is therefore on pace for 39 points this season.
But, as opposed to Gagner, Martinook is not all about offence. A 6-foot, 203-pound forward, Martinook likes to play with a lot of energy and grit. He battles hard for pucks and doesn’t quit until he succeeds. With that, he can move up and down the lineup and contribute wherever he is needed — whether that is as the Canucks’ second-line centre or a bottom-line winger.
Coming from a division rival, Martinook might not come cheap, but he definitely fits into Vancouver’s plan better than a 31-year-old Loui Eriksson.
Nov 19, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins center Ryan Spooner (51) skates with the puck during the 3rd period at TD Garden. The Bruins won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Spooner, Boston Bruins
Finally, we have a player who has actually been a part of recent trade talk. Boston Bruins centre Ryan Spooner was mentioned in Sportsnet’s Saturday Headlines. Per Sportsnet, Spooner is currently on the trade block, and the Canucks might be a great fit.
Like Gagner, Spooner is not much of a two-way guy, but he has always been good at producing offence. At least until this season, where Spooner is struggling a bit, with just three goals and eight points in 24 games.
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However, one can believe Spooner knows how to score. In 248 OHL games, he recorded 118 goals and 270 points. In the AHL, he was similarly successful, scoring 47 goals and 160 points in 179 games.
Even in the NHL, Spooner didn’t slow down. Between 2013 and 2016, Spooner recorded 24 goals and 86 points in 160 games. He ist still developing and, aside from a little slump this year, he should still get better. If he does develop as expected, Spooner could become a consistent 50-point scorer at the very least. In 2015-16, he fell just one point shy of 50, recording 13 goals and 49 points in 80 games.
As a little bonus, Spooner spent time playing with Eriksson in Boston and could develop similar chemistry with him in Vancouver, especially on the power play.
Dec 3, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Sven Baertschi (47) celebrates his goal against Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (not pictured) during the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
There is no denying that the Vancouver Canucks need scoring help. Unfortunately, filling holes in December is a difficult task. Teams are still figuring out what goals they can reach in the season and what players can help them get there. So, none of the three mentioned players will be cheap.
While Martinook and Gagner are currently in good shape, possibly inflating their value, Spooner could be rather cheap for what the Canucks can get in him. Still, none of the three players will come for free.
So, what can the Canucks give up?
As Benning has mentioned, Vancouver owns a large number of defencemen, which would be the starting point of any trade negotiation. You can’t acquire a scorer by trading a scorer, so that’s only logical. But do the Canucks really have a D-man to spare?
Right now, it seems like Biega and Pedan are the only two remaining “unneeded” in Vancouver. Unfortunately, they are also the ones who won’t be enough to fetch any of the three mentioned players.
To really have a chance, Vancouver likely needs to look at giving up a more important roster player and/or prospect. Whatever they decide to do, it won’t be easy, but the mentioned players are worth a look.