The fact that Ben Hutton was a feel-good story for the Vancouver Canucks last season tells you just about everything you need to know about how the campaign went for the team.
After a tough 2017-18 in which Hutton put up a paltry six assists and was a frequent healthy scratch, the defenceman appeared to get back in Travis Green’s good graces in 2018-19. He put up five goals and 20 points while averaging the second-most ice time among all Canucks, trailing only Alex Edler.
Of course, how he actually did in those minutes is up for some debate.
He had a lacklustre negative-2.7 Corsi Relative, and an absolutely horrid, last-on-the-team Expected Plus/Minus of negative-17.6. (His actual plus/minus was even worse at negative-23.)
It’s clear Hutton isn’t cut out for big minutes in the NHL, as he’s had some success (at least analytically) in more reduced roles.
But, somewhat ironically, the ice time that he got last season out of necessity on a Canucks team with few other options is a big reason why he (probably) won't be back in Vancouver when October rolls around.
Hutton was making $2.8 million against the salary cap and the Canucks rightly identified the fact that they could find an equal or better replacement on the free-agent market at that cost or below.
And so Jordie Benn was signed for two years and $4 million total to fill in the left-handed role on the bottom pairing. With Edler back for another two seasons and Quinn Hughes ready to step into the lineup on a full-time basis, there was no need for Hutton.
Hutton probably wasn’t taking less than the $2.8 million anyway—if he went to arbitration, which seemed likely, his ice time would have warranted a salary at least close to what he was already making.
The surprising thing is that, almost a month after free agency opened, Hutton is still unsigned for next season. One wonders why exactly that is, but it could be because Hutton and his agent haven’t found the offers they’ve been given up to snuff.
They still seem confident that a deal will get done eventually though.
Hutton isn’t the only left-side defender who logged big minutes last season. Jake Gardiner is also curiously without a deal. But, other than Gardiner, Hutton is one of the more high-profile players currently unsigned (not including forwards like Joe Thornton and Justin Williams, who will either retire or return to their previous clubs).
Hutton obviously isn’t expected to command what Gardiner will be able to, and it’s not likely that they’d even have similar suitors. Any team pursuing Hutton will be looking for a bottom-pairing blueliner and will want to shell out around $3 million in cap space per year. At this point, you’d have to think that the price is the sticking point for Hutton’s camp, so maybe no one has coughed up an improvement on his ’18-19 salary.
In any case, which teams could be candidates for Hutton’s services? We can think of three immediate spots.
The first would be the Los Angeles Kings, who reportedly were turned down by Hutton’s camp.
Of course, the Kings are one of the worst teams in the league right now, and probably not that attractive a landing spot for a 26-year-old who should be entering his prime.
On that note, the Ottawa Senators might be out of consideration too. Hutton is from Brockville, Ontario, about an hour away from Ottawa. And the team certainly could use some veteran help on a porous blueline. They also definitely have the cap space to bring on Hutton.
But if playing on a competitive club (and again, he could be a useful 5-6 defenceman on a good team) is important to Hutton, he’d have to pass.
So it is that the other team mentioned in Pagnotta’s tweet—the Montreal Canadiens—might make the most sense.
It’s almost too perfect to imagine him replacing Benn in Montreal. Only one problem: the Habs already went out and acquired a replacement for Benn in Ben Chiarot.
But they also have just over $4 million in cap space and could use an upgrade on a third pair that currently is slated to feature Brett Kulak and Christian Folin.
Of course, there’s always an outside chance that the Canucks pull off a Chris Tanev trade, move Benn to the right side, and bring Hutton back.
It would explain why Hutton hasn’t signed anywhere if he’s got a wink-wink-nudge-nudge from general manager Jim Benning to sit tight while the team finds a spot on the roster (and under the cap) for him.
We think he’d be a good fit on the Canadiens, but time will tell. (Just a short drive from Ottawa, after all.)
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