Who said we had to wait until draft day for major off-season trades to start happening? The Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks bamboozled us with a surprise trade Wednesday night, reported by Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.
The Panthers sent defenseman Erik Gudbranson and a 2016 fifth-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks for center Jared McCann, a 2016 second-round pick and a 2016 fourth-round pick. No salary was retained as part of the transaction, Johnston reports.
It's a curious, interesting trade from each team's perspective. The Canucks needed veteran defensive help. Dan Hamhuis, Matt Bartkowski and Yannick Weber are unrestricted free agents this summer, and youngsters Andrey Pedan and Nikita Tryamkin aren't shoo-ins to be full-time NHLers next year. Gudbranson, the third overall pick in 2010, certainly fills that gap. He'll almost certainly slot into Vancouver's top four.
At the same time, the Canucks and GM Jim Benning paid a pretty big price. That second-round pick going Florida's way is 33rd overall, so it's almost like a late first-rounder. Speaking of first-rounders: so was center McCann, chosen 24th overall in 2014. McCann had an up-and-down rookie season, but he's only 19, he managed nine goals, and it was his first and only year of professional hockey. He jumped from the OHL to the NHL, with no stop in AHL Utica. He projects as a good two-way NHL pivot. The Canucks do have Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter up the middle, but Sedin will be 36 when next season starts, so Vancouver isn't exactly rolling in long-term depth.
While Gudbranson, 24, should provide a steady shutdown presence, he's not an elite top-pairing guy, and he lacks any semblance of offense in his game. The price was significant.
The Panthers appear to have won this trade. And as Sportsnet's Stephen Burtch points out, signing Gudbranson to such a market-friendly bridge deal at $3.5 million over one year made him very tradable.
Still, from a hockey standpoint, the move warrants a head scratch from Florida's perspective. The Cats are loaded at center, with Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad. They essentially have a No. 1 and two No. 2 pivots. Where does McCann fit in over the long haul? It's fair to wonder if the Panthers, led by promoted president Dale Tallon and new GM Tom Rowe, are not finished. Could Bjugstad be on the block? Trocheck surpassed him on the depth chart this season. Or could Trocheck, a restricted free agent, be on the move if the team can't hammer out a new deal with him?
The Panthers at the very least have freed up some cash for a Trocheck extension and perhaps to bring back veteran UFA blueliner Brian Campbell on a new contract. Trading Gudbranson also feels like a vote of confidence for heralded prospect D-man Michael Matheson as a key contributor for 2016-17. Still, it appears there's more to this trade than meets the eye. Keep a close watch on the Panthers in the weeks and months to come. There has to be another trade coming, right?
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin