Hughes signing would pile pressure on defencemen Pouliot and Hutton
With or without Quinn Hughes, the Vancouver Canucks have a couple of defencemen who have been put on watch.
The NHL team is looking for a lot of progress this summer from Derrick Pouliot and Ben Hutton, puckmoving defencemen who could either make significant strides or be left in the dust.
Pouliot, 24, and Hutton, 25, should top anyone’s list of the Canucks who have the potential to show up most-improved this fall. They were each challenged at the end of last season to improve their conditioning in a major way. The Hughes’ draft pick only stiffened the challenge.
But is there room in Vancouver for both Hutton and Pouliot, whose battles for playing time will grow exponentially if Hughes signs? And if you were to move one of them, who would it be?
The irony is Pouliot and Hutton probably shouldn’t be bubble players. Among the regular defencemen, they had the most positive impact on puck possession, finishing one-two in controlling unblocked shot-attempt differential among blue-liners who were in at least 60 games.
That’s good but their playing time didn’t reflect it. As the season went on, the less they were deployed. Pouliot was clearly ahead of Hutton by the end of the season and his 22 points in 71 games was a career high.
That’s actually promising and you can’t help but wonder what a motivated, in-shape Pouliot could achieve under head coach Travis Green. He has a much better chance at playing time and success with the Canucks than Hutton does, but he’d also be a much more valuable trade chip if the team is looking to clear out room for Hughes.
Hutton hasn’t hit 20 points since his rookie season when he reached 25. His numbers have trended down since, and this past season he had no goals and six assists.
That’s not good, especially for a player who is not overly physical.
Hutton is often viewed as a player the Canucks would like to move to upset the logjam they have on the blue-line. But he’s not even among the top six defenders right now so does trading him really clear out any room for Hughes?
Hutton also has a $2.8 million cap hit. There aren’t many teams chasing $2.8 million puck-moving defencemen fresh off a season in which they didn’t score a goal. The Canucks could retain salary. But there is another issue with Hutton. He’s a pending restricted free agent and will need to be qualified at his 2018-19 base salary which is $2.4 million.
He’d need to have a vastly improved season to make it worth it. If he’s not qualified he’d have the chance to become an unrestricted free agent.
Some in the market have given up on Hutton, but his underlying data was strong last season and he is a much better defenceman than the six points suggest.
Green hasn’t given up on Hutton, by the way. The past seven months is the first string of adversity Hutton faced as an NHL player. How he comes out of it could still be a game changer.
Green has put a lot of work into reshaping Hutton as a player and person. He’s eager to see how it translates this September at training camp.
If he comes back with a chip on his shoulder and in better shape, can Hutton find his way back into the Canucks’ top four?
The answer to that one becomes a lot more complicated if the Canucks ended up signing Hughes.