Nate Schmidt was the Canucks’ big acquisition ahead of the 2020-21 season, but after a half year in The Couv, Schmidt reportedly wants out.
It’s become one of the most intriguing and mystifying storylines of the offseason.
“I heard again on the weekend, he does want out,” Canucks insider Rick Dhaliwal said on The Donnie and Dhali Show Friday per Vancouver Is Awesome. “It’s a rumor that just won’t go away…I tried to diffuse it on the weekend, but people are telling me, ‘Yes, Rick, he wants out.’”
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman gave credence to the reporting on Sportsnet 650 but was very careful not to label it a “formal trade request.”
Elliotte on Schmidt: I think there is an understanding between the 2 sides that they will try to find a deal.
Elliotte said he doesn't know if it's a formal trade request.
— Taj (@taj1944) July 6, 2021
On May 28, nine days after the Canucks season ended, GM Jim Benning denied Schmidt wanted out when first presented with the rumor.
“I talked to Nate. He doesn’t know where that came from,” Benning said. “He was real positive in his exit interview. It’s not true. He doesn’t want out of Vancouver so I don’t know where that got started.”
Benning’s response has only added to the mystery surrounding it all.
“What surprises me about this is for a guy who talks a ton, in Nate Schmidt who hasn’t found a microphone he doesn’t like, we haven’t heard from him,” TSN’s Jeff Paterson said on Halford & Brough in the Morning. “It’s been remarkably quiet. It’s been an echo chamber of rumors and it’s hard to know what is fact and what is fiction. There are enough reports out there that he wants out and nobody seems to be denying that and I’d like to know why. If it’s about the direction of the team and the competitive window, I guess I understand that from Schmidt’s point of view but that certainly doesn’t reflect well on the Vancouver Canucks. But if it’s about opportunity, this guy was second to Quinn Hughes in power-play time. A distant second, but he was still second among defensemen on power-play ice time and third among defensemen in penalty-killing ice time. He played a lot at evens and saw a lot of special team duty.”
Schmidt, a top-four defenseman who first got his start with the Washington Capitals, is a talented, puck-moving rearguard who can quarterback a powerplay. But there are obvious obstacles to moving him if he indeed wants out. The Human Emoji turns 30-years-old next week, has a 10-team no-trade clause, and has four years remaining on a six-year deal that has a $5.95 million cap hit. That would be a hard contract to move in any climate, but especially now with a flat salary cap.
Schmidt is also coming off one of his worst full seasons in the NHL where he tallied no points on the power play. His 15 points in 54 games overall would have translated to 22 in a full season, his worst points output since his final season in Washington 2016-17 where he was utilized by Barry Trotz on the third pairing.
In some ways, it’s understandable why Nate would want a fresh start. His heart was in Vegas with the Golden Knights, where he signed his six-year extension and visited the Stanley Cup Final in 2017-18. Perhaps, as the stats suggest, Nate never found the same groove north of the border despite being reunited with former Capitals teammates and close friends Braden Holtby and Jay Beagle.
“I did not hear anything,” a seemingly heartbroken Schmidt said of his trade to the Canucks in October 2020. “That wasn’t until the deal was done. You know that with [Alex] Pietrangelo coming in there had to be something that had to give. It’s one of those things where it was a tough pill to swallow at first. [It] was hard with coming to terms with it on how we signed the extension, to the language and the talk at the time, to what has happened in the last 12 hours, which I guess you could say is different.”
After falling one game short of the Western Conference Final the year before, the Canucks mightily struggled at the beginning of the pandemic-shortened season – Schmidt’s first with the team. Vancouver won only six of 11 games in January then swooned in February. A defensive mess, they endured a six-game losing streak and won only two of 13 games that month, which basically eliminated them from the playoffs before the season had hit the halfway point.
Then in late March, the Canucks had 21 players test positive for COVID-19. The 24-day pause in their season caused Vancouver to play 19 games in 31 days per a mandate by the NHL.
It’s unclear what will ultimately happen, but Schmidt could be on the move as the NHL Draft approaches on July 23.
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