This week, the Straight will analyze what might be done with each of the Vancouver Canucks’ six major restricted free agents. In the fifth installment, we look at Ben Hutton’s fate.
For about half a season, Ben Hutton was one of the feel-good stories on the Vancouver Canucks.
The defenceman had a productive summer, shed some fat, put on some muscle, and had gotten back in the good graces of coach Travis Green after a forgettable 2017-18 campaign, or so the story went.
But Hutton’s so-called resurgence was short-lived, and might have been exaggerated. He hurt his foot in March, which limited his season to 69 games in total. And while his totals of five goals and 20 points were a massive improvement on the previous year, it must be said that he scored 25 points in 75 games during his rookie season and 19 in 71 games as a sophomore.
If anything, this recent season got Hutton back to where he always should have been, especially for someone earning $2.8 million a season.
What's interesting to note, however, is that Hutton’s underlying numbers—strong during the 2017-18 season despite his poor performance in traditional stats—were some of the worst of his career.
He posted a minus-2.7 Corsi Relative, and was a putrid minus-17.6 in Expected Goal Differential. Those were much worse than the plus-2.2 Corsi Relative and -5.7 Expected Goals he put up in 2017-18.
And that was despite spending much of the year paired with Troy Stecher, who was demonstrably one of the team’s best players.
It’ll all be interesting when it comes to negotiating a new contract with Hutton, because the Canucks seemed prepared to dump him after 2017-18. Do they believe that Green really got him to improve his game?
At this point, he still looks like a 5-6 defenceman on a good team. The Canucks will already have Quinn Hughes and (probably) Alex Edler on the left side. Olli Juolevi will hopefully be angling for playing time. And the club has been rumoured to be in the market for a rearguard like Jake Gardiner.
The Canucks will surely qualify him before the deadline, but he’s also arbitration-eligible. Will the player take the team there? We can see it.
What the player will want:
He’ll want a raise. That seemed absolutely out of the question after 2017-18, but now it’s something of a certainty, even if he wasn’t as improved as the narrative would have you believe. A big part of the negotiation from the player’s side will be the argument that he played over 22 minutes of hockey per game. That’s a career high for Hutton and was second on the team this year to Edler. It's also something they will try to use as an explanation for his poor underlying numbers.
That almost guarantees that Hutton and his agent will be out looking for an increase on his $2.8 million cap hit. Expect them to try and get the Canucks to sign something in the neighbourhood of a three-year extension worth $3.3 million a year.
What the team will offer:
They’ll likely tender him a two-year deal worth $3 million, a modest raise that more or less goes with the increased NHL salary cap. That extra year will probably be a deal breaker for the Canucks though. It’s possible that the team goes that route, if only to expose him in the expansion draft. But it just seems like there are too many unknowns on the blueline to commit three years to Hutton. The only rearguards guaranteed to be on the team then are Hughes and Stecher. Hutton hasn’t played his way into that designation yet.
We can see Hutton filing for arbitration. Then it’ll get interesting. The Canucks would decide whether the award would be a one- or two-year deal, if things even get that far. They probably won’t—the team seems to value Hutton’s personality and wouldn’t want things to get even uglier than they did in 2017-18.
Hutton is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent next season, so the Canucks would do well to protect that asset. But they can’t be locked in for too long. When the dust settles, we can see it resulting in a two-year deal that pays Hutton about $3.2 million a season.
And we wouldn’t be surprised if the Canucks then turned around and tried to sell him off early on in the year, especially if Juolevi proves capable as an NHLer.
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