Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports
The Vancouver Canucks have told long-tenured defenseman Dan Hamhuis to expect to hit free agency and teams are showing interest in him. The veteran blue liner told Elliotte Friedman in the latest 30 Thoughts column that he’d like to go to a contending team and has spoken to three clubs, while a smattering of others have indicated their interest.
“I believe I have many good years of hockey left,” Hamhuis told Friedman. “I played in the Olympics two years ago. Last year, there were two major injuries and in the last 10 weeks I played my best hockey in a long time. I’ve got lots of ‘top-4 D’ hockey left in me, and my goal in summer training is to be the best defenceman on my new team. I will find a team that values what I do.”
Hamhuis, 33, remains – in my estimation – a sturdy defensive piece. The extent to which his absence was pronounced when he was dealing with a gruesome facial injury last season was notable. The Canucks were a flawed defensive club anyway, but really began to bleed scoring chances against at an extraordinarily high rate after Dan Boyle’s errant shot caught Hamhuis in the jaw.
Though the veteran defender was off to a shaky start to the campaign, the way Vancouver’s team-level defensive game suffered without him was telling. There’s little doubt in my mind that Hamhuis can still help a team in a supporting role and probably help a team more than a younger player like Kris Russell.
The last time Hamhuis was an unrestricted free agent back in 2010, it seemed as if he were laser focused on coming home. He spurned offers from both the PIttsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers, both of whom acquired his rights in trade, and then left money on the table to sign in Vancouver. He recalled that “circus” in his recent conversation with Friedman and expressed his opinion that the free-agent courting period is a significant upgrade on the old system.
“You’ll remember, my rights were traded twice, to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,” Hamhuis said. “I like the six-day courting period. That’s been nice. I feel everyone makes a better decision, you’re more prepared.”
The Smithers-born veteran defenseman also discussed the way it all went down with Vancouver, insisting that though he received some mixed messages from the club, he isn’t bitter about how it all played out.
“There are a couple of differences,” Hamhuis said. “Right off the hop, Nashville made it clear they weren’t going to pay the money I was going to be getting. They wished me good luck and thanked me for a great nine years. This was a little different. The Canucks mentioned numerous times since last July that we would talk about a contract extension. We were excited about it right up to beginning of June. That’s when we were led to believe an extension was probably not coming. There’s always a chance it could work out, but its pointing towards their priority is a high-profile forward or two.
“I don’t want people to think (that I’m bitter toward Vancouver). I believe all their talk was genuine. This is a fluid business. You’re not sure what the cap is going to be, what trades are out there. Ownership treated us unbelievably well here.”
Even though the Canucks couldn’t put a cherry on top of Hamhuis’ tenure by netting assets for him in a rental-type trade at the 2016 NHL trade deadline – and I have to commend Hamhuis here for the class he showed in dealing with the media in a ravenous market on a daily basis in the lead up to the trade deadline this past season – it should probably be noted that Hamhuis represents, and without too much competition, the best free agent signing in the history of the Canucks franchise.
Though he played second-pair minutes behind one of the most imposing defensive pairs in recent memory with the Nashville Predators, in Vancouver, Hamhuis was elevated to a key defensive asset.
In his first Canucks campaign in 2010-11 Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa, who were common partners, played fewer overall minutes than Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff in the regular season. The Hamhuis-Bieksa pair was Alain Vigneault’s most common matchup pair though, both in terms of lines and zones, and faced the toughest circumstances and competition among Canucks blue liners.
In the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, Hamhuis finished second only to Bieksa in time on ice per game and his injury in Game 1 of the Finals – a groin injury sustained while fatefully attempting to hip-check Milan Lcuci – effectively left the club without its defensive conscience on the back-end.
Hamhuis would go on to play top-pair minutes again for the club in 2011-12, during which they captured a second consecutie Presidents’ Trophy, and again in the lockout abbreviated 2013 campaign and again in the John Tortorella season – during which he played with Chris Tanev on a pair that represented one of the few bright spots for a Canucks side that flat-lined toward the end of the year.
Throughout his Canucks tenure, Hamhuis’ defensive partners played better with him than without him. He seemed to tame some of Kevin BIeksa’s riverboat gambler impulses, he mentored Tanev in his first extended stint as a top-of-the-lineup calibre blue liner and – most impressively – he briefly made Yannick Weber look like a credible second-pairing defenseman. And while Hamhuis wasn’t known for his offense, he produced more points over the six-year life of his Canucks contract than all but 49 NHL defensemen did over the same time frame.
With Hamhuis’ Canucks tenure seemingly at an end, the part-owner of the Prince George Cougars will leave the franchise ranked in the top-15 in all-time defenseman scoring. His +78 plus/minus rating also puts him in a three-way tie with Dana Murzyn and Sami Salo for the best such rating by a defenseman in franchise history.
Read the rest of Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts here.