The quietest stretch of the NHL off-season is upon us, but at least one team is still working the phones and trying to make some noise on the trade market. In a piece previewing the 2018-19 season for the Vancouver Canucks, The Athletic’s J.D. Burke includes a note on defenseman Ben Hutton, who he claims the team has actively been trying to unload. Unfortunately, there just don’t seem to be any takers.
In fact, Burke claims that internal trade discussions regarding Hutton’s future with the Canucks have been ongoing since early last season. While there was reportedly interest from several teams back in February, ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline, no deal came together and Hutton continued to struggle over the remainder of the season. Burke cites a downward trend in production over the past two years, as well as a corresponding loss of ice time, as reasons why Vancouver wants to move on and perhaps why no other team wants to jump in. The former UMaine defenseman surprisingly nabbed a roster spot in 2015-16 and impressed as a rookie, recording 25 points and immediately showing an innate ability to block shots and smother offensive chances in his own zone. Hutton didn’t seem to improve noticeably in his sophomore campaign, recording only 19 points and failing to grow his puck-moving ability, but he did find the back of the net four more times than the year prior and continued to be a shot-blocking asset and smart defender in increased play time. There was no such silver lining last season though; Hutton played in ten fewer games, saw more than two minutes less ice time per night, dropped to just six points for the year, and even slipped in his defensive game.
Yet, Burke still opines that the analytics show that Hutton is still a strong defensive player and a positive presence for the Canucks and even goes so far as to say that he should still be playing a prominent role on the blue line, perhaps even paired with Chris Tanev. With first-round pick Quinn Hughes headed back to school and young Olli Juolevi yet to earn a roster spot, Hutton is unquestionably still one of the top seven defenseman on the Canucks. Despite some regression, he would be penciled in as a starter if he isn’t moved and his $2.8MM cap hit, while steep, is not an issue for a team with ample space. Why then is Vancouver so eager to move him? Burke also claims that Hutton has simply fallen out of favor with coach Travis Green. As such, Hutton is clearly in need of a change of scenery and the Canucks are trying to provide him with just that. Hutton could play a bottom-pair or depth role on many teams in the league and Vancouver could bank of Juolevi as a replacement or take advantage of a free agent market still stocked with capable defenders. It thus makes sense that both sides would want a trade. The only question now is whether they will find one. So far, it hasn’t been an easy task.