Canucks Army’s Jackson McDonald has been doing a bang-up job profiling free agents the Canucks could consider from the mid-to-low range of free agency. First, it was the reclamation projects; next those who fly under most’s radar.
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) June 29, 2017
Today, I’m taking the Canucks Army readership back down the beaten path. I’m going to dive into five high-profile free agents that the Canucks could consider. There isn’t a player of Loui Eriksson’s calibre among the pack, but a few good options remain — along with a few landmines.
The Canucks have the capital to be players. Their $19.5-million in cap space puts them in the top third of the league. It’s all a matter of how much they’re willing to spend, and where. Let’s offer a few suggestions, why don’t we?
If you’ve listened to today’s episode of the Canucks Army Podcast, you’re well aware that Sam Gagner’s connection to the Canucks isn’t idle speculation. For the second straight summer, it seems, the two are ready to engage in contract talks.
Been told for the 2nd straight summer, the #Canucks are expressing interest in Sam Gagner.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) June 27, 2017
It sounds like Gagner’s camp wants a little more security than the Columbus Blue Jackets were able to offer last off-season. A one-year, show-me type of contract just isn’t going to cut it anymore. If the Canucks want Gagner — and the sense around town is they do — then they’re going to have to take the plunge on a two, three or maybe even a four-year deal.
Linden: "We're looking for depth and skill that can supplement the group and help the power-play. Sam Gagner can certainly do that."
— Canucks Now (@CanucksNow) June 29, 2017
The thing is, Gagner, 27-years-old, has earned a long-term deal. He’s played for four teams in four years, cleared waivers, played in the AHL, and came out on the other side a 50-point producer and key cog in one of the league’s most effective power plays.
Gagner, who is a right-shot forward who can play on the wing or at centre, has produced at a rate of just over 47 points per 82 game season over the span of his ten-year NHL career. Gagner’s 50 points last season was a career high.
I’m skeptical of whether we can expect Gagner to get within that range again. Columbus was able to insulate Gagner on a strong fourth line that feasted on weak competition. The first unit power play Gagner featured on was on a year long percentage bender. I don’t think Gagner hitting 40 points with the Canucks is out of the question, though.
Been told the #Canucks have mild interest in UFA F Martin Hanzal and D Michael Stone.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) June 29, 2017
We often talk about how inept the Canucks were offensively, and with good reason. Sometimes I think we lose track of how poorly this club was defensively, though. They finished last season in the bottom-third of the league for almost every measure of limiting offence. Martin Hanzal has a little something to offer offensively, but it’s the second of those ills he’s best equipped to heal.
In a weak free agent crop, Hanzal can expect to score a long-term deal with serious cash attached. He’s a far better centre than his tame counting stats would suggest, and to that end, I think he’ll probably get what he’s worth when the dust has settled.
By GAR (Goals Above Replacement), Hanzal’s closest comparable centres by impact are Jaden Schwartz, Teuvo Teravainen and Mikael Backlund. The impact Hanzal had on his linemates’ ability to suppress unblocked shot attempts checks out at a first line rate.
At 30-years-old, I wonder about how Hanzal fits into the Canucks’ picture more than I do his ability. If they’re sincere about rebuilding, they’d be well served to avoid this player, however tantalizing a proposition.
Why stop at two former Arizona Coyotes the Canucks could look at in free agency? Michael Stone, who the Coyotes dealt to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline, makes three. And he’s probably a player that checks off a lot of the boxes for the Canucks as they look to replenish a blue line that’s suffered its fair share of hits this off-season.
That’s probably not entirely to Stone’s credit, though. Some of those same boxes are the ones Luca Sbisa dutifully crossed off for three seasons — the good, and the bad, alike. Stone is a big, physical defenceman who does his best work from the defensive zone. The problem? He’s always in the defensive zone, and “best work” is a relative term.
Among qualifying defenceman, Stone’s teams controlled the lowest ratio of unblocked shot attempts when he was on the ice in the entire league. It’s probably not a coincidence that Stone showed so poorly in his first year away from Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Coincidentally, Alex Goligoski has never looked as worse as he did last season beside Stone.
I see Stone as a landmine just waiting to be stepped on in free agency. It’s not a matter of the player not fitting with the Canucks. In this case, Stone’s time with Ekman-Larsson made him look far better than he was and teams are going to likely line up to overpay for that player rather than the one Stone showed himself to be last season.
If the Canucks rushed to call Justin Schultz’s agent last season with any kind of security in the way of term or hard cash, they could’ve likely secured him for half of what he’ll get in free agency this off-season. The same goes for almost every team, though.
There will be no such discount this time around. After years spent with too much on his plate with the Edmonton Oilers, Schultz played his first full season with the Pittsburgh Penguins and flourished. In 78 games this season, Schultz contributed 51 points (12 goals and 39 assists) from the back-end and kept the mental mistakes to a minimum in the process.
I’m skeptical of whether there’s a fit between Schultz and the Canucks. Vancouver already has three right-shot defenders and doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to move one of them to create the space for Schultz. I also don’t see Schultz as the type of player they’d be overly fond of, either.
I don’t think Karl Alzner is as bad as some would have you believe. He’s probably a fourth defenceman who has some utility on the penalty kill. There’s nothing wrong with having those types of players in the lineup.
Wherein the problem lies is that Alzner is going to command top dollar in a free agent class without any real options on the blue line ahead of him — future New York Ranger, Kevin Shattenkirk, notwithstanding.
At 28-years-old, with a career-high of 21 points and unimpressive defensive results, Alzner doesn’t represent even good value in the short term and could prove a nightmare by the end of his contract. This isn’t a player who’s going to get better, and even if he plateaus, it’s not looking good.
Though Alzner is a local kid — a Burnaby native, in fact — and available for nought but the cost of his contract, I think the Canucks would be wise to take a hard pass.