Cam Cole: Too little, too late for Canucks to make a trade

 

Inertia: Hamhuis, club tortoise-like

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis will be spending the rest of the current season with the team.

Vancouver Canucks’ Dan Hamhuis looks on during a stoppage during first period NHL hockey action against the San Jose Sharks, in Vancouver on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016.
 

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis will be spending the rest of the current season with the team. Vancouver Canucks’ Dan Hamhuis looks on during a stoppage during first period NHL hockey action against the San Jose Sharks, in Vancouver on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Toronto fans will never forget it: The 2008 trade deadline, when the captain of the Maple Leafs, Mats Sundin, refused to waive his no-trade clause.

As a consequence, Year 41 of the Leafs’ 50-year plan to rebuild the team was completely undermined, and Sundin was vilified for (a) standing in the way of a youth-and-draft picks movement, and (b) being too comfortable to take on the challenge of trying to win a Stanley Cup with a real contender.

His excuse? He said it would feel wrong, in his heart, to chase a Cup in another team’s uniform.

How are you supposed to reason with a guy like that?

Cut to Monday, eight years later, and against a backdrop of empty seats and Vancouver fans desperate for change, Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis had reluctantly agreed to waive his no-trade clause, but only to a few teams — Chicago, Dallas, maybe one or two others — thereby painting GM Jim Benning into a tight corner.

Too tight, evidently. Because, like so many other GMs around the league on a dud of a trade deadline day, Benning was unable to pull the trigger on a satisfactory deal, so he (and many of them) stood pat, leaving their fan bases frustrated and two sports networks with next to nothing to show for an enormous investment of talent and time.

Oh, there were a few trades, if you were willing to expand the definition to include exchanges of minor-leaguers and down-roster NHLers.

But nothing could be remotely considered major … except for the transaction that is certain to be sticking in Vancouver fans’ collective craw for quite some time.

While the Canucks once more played the tortoise in a fable whose happy ending is far from guaranteed, their division rivals the Calgary Flames pulled a hare out of their hats, getting two players and a second-round pick (that could yet become a first) from the Dallas Stars for … Kris Russell, a nearly 29-year-old defenceman who was waived, with no takers, by the St. Louis Blues as recently as 2013 before being traded to Calgary for a fifth-round pick.

Hamhuis is a former No. 12 overall draft (by Nashville) and a 2014 Canadian Olympian. Yet the Canucks couldn’t get so much as a third-rounder for him as a rental. The word you’re looking for is “illogical.”

And so, in Vancouver, the unhappy campers look for someone to blame, and if Benning is the consensus No. 1 culprit, unable to move not only Hamhuis but the club’s other semi-attractive impending UFA, winger Radim Vrbata, Hamhuis is a plausible second choice.

In certain wrong-headed corners, he is the guy who really tied Benning’s hands by only belatedly agreeing to waive his no-trade clause, and then giving him such a meagre list of acceptable destinations.

Sundin, who would end his career as a short-lived Canuck, was portrayed as selfish all those years ago. But he stood by his guns. Unlike, say, Ray Bourque, who leaped for a chance to win a Cup with Colorado after falling short in a Hall of Fame career in Boston, the big Swede wanted to win it all in Toronto, until it was clear he no longer was a good enough player to lead that cause.

Hamhuis? Well, he finally agreed to go, as a rental, but only to a serious contender. So he is, if you will, a Sundin-Bourque hybrid.

What’s the proper way to feel about that?

Well, here’s an idea: some manager signs, and some owner approves, each of those contracts that has a no-trade clause in it. Maybe it’s time to re-think how many of those you hand out to the non-superstars, the mid-roster guys who are the kind most likely to be sought, and dealt, either in-season or post-season.

Hamhuis is not the bad guy here. He exercised the rights given to him by the six-year, $27-million contract Mike Gillis signed him to in 2010-11.

The 33-year-old never wanted, still doesn’t want to leave Vancouver. Loves the city. His family is rooted in the community. Hopes to re-sign with the Canucks come the summer.

But in the meantime, the team has missed the chance to get whatever return might have been had for a solid citizen who could be a good team’s No. 4 defenceman on a playoff run. Surely that was worth something, to somebody. Benning couldn’t find it.

The Canucks, as an organization, didn’t move quickly enough, clinging to their playoff pipe dream too long. And Hamhuis didn’t move quickly enough, deciding too late that it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to chase a Cup for a couple of months instead of plodding along here for the next six weeks with the walking dead.

At heart, even with nothing to look forward to this spring, he wanted to stay a Canuck.

We used to admire guys who didn’t want to leave. Now, we think they must have a character flaw.

ccole@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis will be spending the rest of the current season with the team.

Vancouver Canucks’ Dan Hamhuis looks on during a stoppage during first period NHL hockey action against the San Jose Sharks, in Vancouver on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016.
 

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis will be spending the rest of the current season with the team. Vancouver Canucks’ Dan Hamhuis looks on during a stoppage during first period NHL hockey action against the San Jose Sharks, in Vancouver on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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