Ever since the salary cap was implemented several years ago, the NHL has been as level a playing field as you’ll find in the world of pro sports. As the differences between haves and have-nots have decreased, teams have needed to find new and creative ways to retain a competitive advantage, which has led to an increased emphasis on effectively managing salary and contract slots. As a result, we’re seeing more teams cut bait with their restricted free agents, even those with considerable upside.
Last season, I profiled a few unusually young UFAs the Canucks ought to have looked at, and it appears those players have started a trend, as there’s another bevy of interesting names on the market this year. Here are a few that may interest the Canucks:
How the mighty have fallen. There was once a time when Grigorenko was considered enough of a blue-chip prospect to be the centerpiece of the trade that sent Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo. Now, just two short years later, he can’t get a qualifying offer from the worst NHL team in recent memory.
That probably says more about the Avalanche’s inept management team than it does about Grigorenko’s play, however. Since joining the Avalanche two seasons ago, Grigorenko has performed at roughly the level of an average fourth-line forward, which, while obviously disappointing, still made him one of the better players on a team that absolutely could not score.
It’s easy to see why an old-school team like the Avs might pass on qualifying a player like Grigorenko. If he’s only capable of producing at a bottom-six rate, there are more traditional grinding forwards available in free agency every year.
The Canucks can afford to take chances, though, and Grigorenko has shown he’s at worst a replacement-level forward, and at 23, signing him would essentially amount to adding a B-prospect for nothing but money and a contract slot. Given the Canucks’ need to infuse their lineup with young talent, it’s a move that makes sense.
For the second year in a row, Brandon Pirri is on the market, and looks to be a fantastic buy-low option for any team currently in the midst of rebuilding their roster.
Pirri originally made a name for himself due to his Cy Young-worthy season with the Panthers in 2014-15 in which he scored an astounding 22 goals and two assists. Since then, Pirri’s goal/assist ratio has evened out, and he’s been a quietly effective depth scorer.
Pirri had an up-and-down season with the Rangers in 2016-17, scoring ten points in his first 17 games before fizzling out mid-season en route to a lengthy stint in the press box. Consistency has long been an issue for Pirri, but the Canucks would be wise to take a flyer on him in the hopes that he catches fire at the right time. If he can finally stick in a lineup for a full season, he might be able to carve out a niche as a P.A. Parenteau or Lee Stempniak-style player that can be signed on the cheap every summer and flipped at the deadline for an asset.
Pirri’s versatility would also make him an attractive option. With the ability to play at center or on the wing, Pirri could play up and down the lineup, and in the right circumstances he could finish with a 35-40 point season.
One of the greatest mistakes talent evaluators make about NHL players is to equate “disappointing” with “bad”. You can place Alex Chiasson firmly in the former camp.
Chiasson has never really been able to live up to the potential he flashed in his 35-point rookie campaign, and has seen his offense stagnate since being traded first to the Ottawa Senators and then to the Calgary Flames. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a useful NHL forward. Offensively, Chiasson’s underlying numbers point to an average fourth-line forward, but he’s been a well above-average shot suppressor in each of his last three seasons.
At this juncture it’s hard to believe Chiasson is going to develop into the power winger Stars fans envisioned a few years ago, but he could provide a team with a cost-controlled depth winger who can flank a defensive shutdown line. In Vancouver, he could help insulate some of the team’s young forwards and still provide more youth and potential upside than your average defense-first UFA.
Eric Gelinas is another victim of the Colorado Avalanche’s questionable front-office moves. Just 33 NHL games after being flipped to the Avs in exchange for a third-round pick, he was not tendered a qualifying offer.
Gelinas is another “bad vs. disappointing” case study who hasn’t quite lived up to the potential he flashed in his younger days. I hesitate to even describe him as a reclamation project, because he’s performed at an above-average third-pairing level since entering the league.
Over the past three seasons, Gelinas has crushed it in limited minutes but for whatever reason he just can’t seem to get more ice-time. In Colorado, on one of the worst bluelines in recent memory, he couldn’t even crack the lineup on a number of occasions, and was miscast from the beginning, even at the AHL level.
The Canucks should be interested for a number of reasons.
He had respectable underlying numbers on an abysmal Avalanche blueline last season that even the Canucks would represent a significant upgrade on. With Nikitra Tryamkin returning to the KHL, there’s a hole on the left side that Gelinas could fill, and at a much cheaper price than some of the defenders the team has been linked to. With the space Vancouver has on the left side, they could provide Gelinas with the environment to really grow into his own and perhaps even become an everyday player with the Canucks.
That’s it for the time being, stay tuned for part two, where I’ll take a look at another four possible reclamation projects that might pique the team’s interest.