The Vancouver Canucks have signed defenseman Ben Hutton to a two-year bridge deal with an average annual value of $2.8 million. Had the Canucks and Hutton gotten off to a better start this season, perhaps you would have seen a more long-term contract here, but let's not quibble about such matters right now; let's focus on the future.
Because if social media is any indicator, the future is all Vancouver fans have. The Canucks are right where we thought they'd be this season – near the bottom of the Pacific Division – but the amount of mixed messaging coming from the top brass, not to mention the handling of players such as Jake Virtanen and Troy Stecher, has the fan base exhausted already.
So let's look on the Bright Side of Death, Canucks fans. In Hutton, the team found a gem in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. They let him develop at the University of Maine and his rookie year with Vancouver was very successful. This season has been a trainwreck for the team, but at least Hutton is playing a lot of minutes – only Alex Edler averages more ice time – while at the same time, the 23-year-old isn't getting thrown to the wolves (he barely does any penalty-killing right now, but does see work on the power play).
Hutton has the mobility and two-way smarts that teams need and for now, a protective partner in Erik Gudbranson who can be the stay-at-home guy and, if necessary, punch someone in the head for his squad.
But again, let's look to the future. A couple years down the road, things in Vancouver will be so much more promising. I don't know how long Alex Edler stays in town, but with Hutton, Stecher, Chris Tanev and 2016 first-rounder Olli Juolevi, there's some pretty nice skill to build on. If size is still an important NHL trait, you've got Gudbranson and Nikita Tryamkin.
That defense corps is protecting starting goalie Thatcher Demko, currently finding his way as a first-year pro in the AHL. And up front? Brock Boeser is filling nets on the right wing, just as he has been doing at the University of North Dakota. I still don't see a future No. 1 center in Vancouver's system, but if the Canucks win the lottery this year, Nolan Patrick would do the trick. Wait another year and Joe Veleno, the first player to enter the QMJHL a year early thanks to the "exceptional status" rule, is up for the draft. I still think Bo Horvat can be a No. 2 center in the NHL, should the Canucks handle him properly.
So there is hope, Vancouver fans – just ask your cousins in Toronto. Things looked pretty hopeless for the Maple Leafs not long ago, but now they've got Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly to build off. They're not finished and if the Canucks get their house in order, they can stock up too. Hutton is one part of the solution and now he's got two years to earn himself a long-term deal and a big payday. Something GM Jim Benning has already said he's fine with.