Canucks trade Sam Gagner for Ryan Spooner, can move into WC spot vs. Sharks
Saturday February 16 - Vancouver Canucks at San Jose Sharks - 7 p.m. - CBC, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 650
Vancouver Canucks: 59 GP, 26-26-7, 59 pts, fourth in Pacific Division
San Jose Sharks: 58 GP, 34-17-7, 75 pts, second in Pacific Division
First things first. Before I get into today's game notes ladies and gentlemen, we have a trade to announce.
The Vancouver Canucks have acquired Ryan Spooner from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Sam Gagner. The trade is, as they say, one-for-one.
It's the second deal in less than 24 hours for Edmonton's interim general manager Keith Gretzky and president of hockey operations Bob Nicholson, after Cam Talbot was sent to Philadelphia on Friday night for fellow goaltender Anthony Stolarz.
The Oilers have needed to make moves to clear cap space in order to get defenseman Andrej Sekera and his $5.5 million cap hit on the books now that he's almost ready to return to the lineup after his offseason Achilles injury. He has been down in Bakersfield on a conditioning stint since February 4.
The goalie deal moved Talbot's $4.167 million off the books in exchange for Stolarz's $761,250 cap hit. If Stolarz logs 30 minutes of ice time in at least 10 of the Oilers' remaining 25 games this season, he'll also remain under Edmonton's control as a restricted free agent rather than becoming a Group VI UFA, which could help stabilize Edmonton's goalie situation for next year.
For the Flyers, bringing in Talbot allows the team to set an all-time record by playing eight different goalies in a season when he plays his first game. More importantly, it's expected that he'll serve as a mentor for Carter Hart—a native of Sherwood Park, Alberta who has worked out with Talbot in Edmonton during the offseason. I never thought I'd say this about Philadelphia a few months ago, but a fresh start for Talbot in a more positive environment might also help him to re-gain his form. If he plays well, Philly could be a natural place for him to re-sign—and maybe the Flyers' goalie carousel will finally pause after rotating for...decades.
Now—Ryan Spooner. He would have been a Jim Benning draft choice: chosen 45th overall in the second round in 2010 by Boston, when Benning was the Bruins' assistant general manager. He's a smallish forward at 5'11" and 191 pounds and can play centre or wing.
Spooner's best year in Boston was 2015-16, when he averaged 15:18 of ice time and put up 13 goals and 49 points, including six goals and 11 assists on the power play. But his defensive game has never been especially strong, which is why Ken Hitchcock banished him almost immediately when he took over in Edmonton. And for a guy whose specialty is supposed to be power-play situations, he hasn't scored with the man advantage since December 30, 2017, when he was still in Boston.
Spooner was part of the package that Boston used to acquire Rick Nash from the New York Rangers at the 2018 trade deadline. He played a ton for the Rangers at the end of last season after they'd cleaned house, picking up 16 points in 20 games and averaging 16:51 of ice time—good enough for the Rangers to re-sign him to a new two-year deal with a cap hit of $4 million a season.
But Spooner didn't click with new Rangers coach David Quinn. He had just two points in 16 games this year before he was sent to Edmonton in mid-November in exchange for Ryan Strome. The Rangers retained $900,000 of his salary in that deal.
Ryan Strome hasn't lit it up like his younger brother Dylan did when he got to Chicago, but he has done all right with the Rangers, with 14 points in 38 games and 14:42 of average ice time. Spooner, on the other hand, played limited minutes in Edmonton, then was placed on waivers in mid-January. He has put up 2-4-6 in seven games since being assigned to Bakersfield.
Because he is already in the minors, Spooner can be assigned directly to Utica, though it looks like that will only be a short-term move.
From a human perspective, I'm happy that Gagner will get a chance to return to Edmonton, where he met and married his wife. Now with two young kids, they've been apart for most of the year while Gagner has skated with the Toronto Marlies. From a storyline point of view, I think it's kind of ironic that a franchise that says it's trying to loosen its grip on the past has just re-acquired perhaps the first top draft pick that they cut ties with after rushing him into the NHL too early, then souring on him. Gagner was chosen sixth overall in 2007 and put up 49 points when he made the Oilers as an 18-year-old. He only surpassed that total once, when he hit 50 points as a power-play specialist in Columbus before he came to the Canucks.
Gagner has 12-25-37 in 43 games with the Marlies this season and is wasting no time taking advantage of his NHL call-up.
Gagner also has one year remaining on his deal, with a cap hit of $3.15 million. It's believed that his acquisition will allow the Oilers to move Jesse Puljujarvi down to Bakersfield in an effort to help his development but dollar-wise, the trade is negligible for the Oilers: they'll be responsible for $50,000 more for Gagner than what they were paying Spooner, over the same term.
Gagner's two-and-a-half years older but other than that, he and Spooner are remarkably similar. Both about the same size, both peaked out at around 50 points, both have shown some skill on the power-play but aren't especially diligent defensively, and both cleared waivers this year and were toiling in the minors despite making some pretty decent money.
I'm happy that Gagner is getting a fresh start. I thought expectations were unrealistic when he came into Vancouver perceived to be a 50-point power-play specialist, but I think he was too casual about assuming his roster spot was assured this year when he went half-speed through training camp before suddenly getting bumped out of the lineup by the buzzsaw that is Tyler Motte.
Now that Spooner has been cast off by three teams, my expectations for him are limited. The deal is essentially no-risk for the Canucks, and I wonder if Benning is clinging too hard to his memory of what Spooner *was* during his time in Boston. But Benning definitely guessed right on Josh Leivo earlier this season, so maybe this is another example of a player who can excel in the right situation.
I'd rather see a deal like this than see the Canucks surrender a significant asset for a guy like Andre Burakowsky, who they were rumoured to be interested in not so long ago. And while I love seeing the kids get a chance to play, it's not a bad idea to bring in an extra body who can play in the top six. The Canucks are down a full line up front with Sven Baertschi, Brandon Sutter and now Jake Virtanen all on injured reserve.
As far as tonight's lineup against the Sharks, it looks like Travis Green is using the same group that got the win in L.A. on Thursday. Luke Schenn has joined the team after his call-up on Friday but Guillaume Brisebois is expected to play his second NHL game.
Jacob Markstrom will start his third-straight game after missing Monday's 7-2 loss to the Sharks in Vancouver. For San Jose, Erik Karlsson draws back into their lineup after missing the last nine games with a lower-body injury.
If the Canucks win tonight, they'll move into sole possession of the second wild-card spot in the West after the Minnesota Wild gained only a single point when they blew a 4-1 lead before losing 5-4 in overtime to New Jersey on Friday night. Our old pal Cory Schneider did the Canucks a solid in that game, perfect after relieving Keith Kinkaid following Minnesota's fourth goal to finally earn his first win since December of 2017.
If the Canucks don't get points against the Sharks, they risk being passed in the standings by Colorado (hosting St. Louis) and/or Chicago (hosting Columbus). Both teams are two points back, with games in hand.
With that, you're up to date. Enjoy the game!