Ben Hutton’s joy for the game was matched by an improved season.
Jeff Vinnick / PNG
There were several reports Monday that indicated Ben Hutton won’t be qualified.The clock is ticking on Ben Hutton.The restricted free agent needs to be tendered a qualifying offer by the Vancouver Canucks before the Tuesday deadline of 2 p.m. Pacific time to retain negotiation rights with the left-shot defenceman. However, several scenarios are in play, including a possible trade, or walking away from the 26-year-old that would make him an unrestricted free agent.There were several reports Monday that indicated Hutton won’t be qualified.Hutton also has arbitration rights, and after a season in which he showed improvement in decision-making and production with 20 points (5-15) in 69 games, he has more bargaining power and more clout on the open market. When Alex Edler and Chris Tanev were injured at various points of the season, he logged major minutes on his expiring two-year extension that carried an annual US$2.8-million salary cap hit.Hutton averaged 22:21 per outing this season — more than Ryan McDonagh, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Niskanen — and that certainly would work in his favour in arbitration, even though he seemed vulnerable as the minutes mounted. The Canucks may also think he may have hit a performance plateau.Hutton logged a season-high 29:25 when Edler and Tanev were lost to injury at Las Vegas in October. He then racked up 28:25 when Edler was lost again to injury in Philadelphia in February to prove that overcoming tough coaching love last season and a big wake-up call were hurdles he could clear to prolong his career.Quite frankly, Hutton’s transformation from a downcast and defeated blue-liner a year ago — scratched in four-straight February games in 2018 and seven times over a span of 15 — to a better-conditioned, more mobile and stronger defender was remarkable. But where does he fit in the big picture? The left side is expected to sport Edler, Quinn Hughes and Olli Juolevi, who had knee surgery in December after a strong AHL start in Utica, N.Y. He recently started skating and should be up to speed for training camp. There may not be room for Hutton, who could project as a third-pairing blue-liner, because prospects Ashton Sautner and Guillaume Brisebois are also left shots. And even if the Canucks were to qualify Hutton, an independent arbiter could reward Hutton’s improved season because he had just six points in 2017-18. The Canucks may not want to even think about going down that road. If they do, player-elected arbitration has a July 5 filing email@example.com/@benkuzma