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Canucks sell low on Adam Gaudette for 25-year-old winger Matthew Highmore

Highmore has no goals and two assists in 24 games for the Blackhawks this season.
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Adam Gaudette is no longer a member of the Vancouver Canucks after getting traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for Matthew Highmore.

Heading into the trade deadline, Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning suggested that the team wouldn’t be particularly active for understandable reasons.

“Given what the team and the individual players have one through this last couple of weeks, I don’t expect us to be doing a whole lot at the deadline,” said Bennnig. “I think it’s more the human side of things. They’ve dealt with a lot here the last couple of weeks, getting the virus themselves and it running through families.

“I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do at this point in time.”

On Monday at the trade deadline, Benning moved one of the players hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak, trading Adam Gaudette to the Chicago Blackhawks for Matthew Highmore.

To a certain extent, it’s understandable why the Canucks would want to move on from Gaudette. While the 24-year-old forward provided more value than most fifth-round picks, he never quite developed into the two-way third-line centre the Canucks were hoping for. Instead, he was starting to look more like an opportunistic scoring winger, with just one problem: he wasn’t scoring.

Gaudette had just 4 goals and 7 points in 33 games for the Canucks this season, a step backward from his 12-goal, 33-point season in 2019-20. While Benning was all-too-ready to excuse Tanner Pearson’s lack of scoring as a result of the odd circumstances of the 2020-21 season, the same excuse was evidently not available for Gaudette.

That’s what makes it absolutely baffling that Benning traded Gaudette for Highmore, a 25-year-old winger who has produced even fewer points than Gaudette.

Highmore has no goals and just two assists in 24 games with the Blackhawks this season and split his time between the NHL and AHL in the 2019-20 season, with just 6 points in 36 NHL games. While Highmore is arguably better defensively than Gaudette, he’s essentially a replacement-level forward, the type that can be readily picked up off waivers or signed in free agency for league minimum.

If the Canucks were dead set on moving on from Gaudette, they couldn’t have picked a worse time to do so.

Gaudette had the worst PDO — a statistic that combines on-ice shooting and save percentages — on the Canucks this season. In other words, he’s been dreadfully unlucky at 5-on-5 this year, with pucks refusing to go in the net at the offensive end of the ice and goaltenders unable to make a save behind him at the defensive end.

Gaudette’s 3.75% on-ice shooting percentage is the fifth-lowest among NHL forwards with at least 300 minutes played this season. Combine that with a second power play unit that was unable to get clicking this season and you have an explanation for why Gaudette’s goal totals took a dive.

Since on-ice shooting and save percentages have a tendency to regress towards the mean, odds were good that Gaudette was going to bust out of his slump before too long. Now it looks like he’ll be busting out for the Blackhawks.

To be fair to Highmore, he has an even lower on-ice shooting percentage this season than Gaudette at 2.15%. The trouble is, even a regression to the mean doesn’t add up to much when you don’t create any scoring chances. Getting a few more goals and points than the two Highmore has this season just isn’t very compelling.

If the Canucks wanted to move on from Gaudette, it just doesn’t make much sense to trade him for an older player with even fewer points and less upside. Why not make a play for a draft pick or prospect that might help in the future?