With just one day left before free agency begins, it’s time to take a look at four more bargain-bin UFAs that might make sense for the Canucks.
Cody Franson really blew his chance at a big contract two summers ago when he waited to long to ink a deal and ended up signing a two-year, $6.65 million contract with a bad Buffalo Sabres team. Franson’s reputation had already taken a hit after a poor stint with the Nashville Predators at the end of the 2014-15 season, but after two years in Buffalo, it’s at an all-time low. His loss will almost certainly be a savvy team’s gain, however, as Franson’s underlying numbers suggest he could be one of the best value bets to place this summer.
Franson has been connected to the Canucks before, being a Vancouver native, but he fit isn’t as natural as other players in this year’s class. If the Canucks want to trade Chris Tanev without leaving their defence in complete shambles, however, Franson is probably their best bet as a replacement. He’s not going to provide the defensive value that Tanev brings to the table, but he can provide the Canucks with a steady top-four veteran presence that can move the puck and even quarterback a powerplay.
There are a few decent second-line scoring wingers on the market this year, but Vanek may be the best fit among them. He had a bounce back season in 2016-17, scoring 48 points in 68 games, but at 33, he’s too old to realistically get a long term deal, and is unlikely to stick around long enough to block any of the Canucks’ youngsters.
Vanek’s two-way game -never much to write home about to begin with- has completely deteriorated with age. His offensive game has remained fairly steady into his 30s, however, when he’s remained healthy.
He’s also a right-handed shot, which can fill a need for the Canucks either alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin or on the powerplay. There’s a connection to the organization, too. Jim Benning was the Buffalo Sabres’ Director of Amateur Scouting when Vanek was drafted in 2003.
The sticking point with Vanek may turn out to be term. With the season he just had, there’s a case to be made that Vanek deserves a multi-year deal. The Canucks may be able to sweeten the pot by going high on capital to get a one-year deal, something that would make sense given the organization’s current makeup, but it’s unclear whether or not that will be palatable to Vanek.
Daniel Winnik has carved out a niche as the ideal bottom-six journeyman centre, producing offense at an average third-line rate while posting near-elite shot suppression numbers. He’s among the least sexy names in this year’s crop of UFAs, but he does what he does extremely well, and the Canucks have struggled mightily at both ends of the ice for the past two years.
At first glance, Winnik might seem like a stretch. The Canucks dressed 11 natural centres last season, but that number is highly misleading. The vast majority of the on the Canucks 2016-17 active roster- Markus Granlund, Brendan Gaunce, Michael Chaput, Reid Boucher, Drew Shore, Jayson Megna, Griffin Molino, and Joseph Cramarossa, specifically- are all either expected to move on from the organization this offseason, or are more comfortable on the wing. More importantly, none of them come remotely close to possessing Winnik’s defensive acumen.
The Canucks could desperately use a centre to take some pressure off of Bo Horvat. Brandon Sutter was supposed to be that player, but that hasn’t really worked out. The Canucks, even for all their offensive deficiencies, also lack a defensive ace, and Winnik fits the bill.
Michael Del Zotto
I had originally intended to leave this final slot for Jordan Weal, but with reports indicating that he’s re-signed in Philadelphia, I turned my attention to another Flyer: Michael Del Zotto.
Del Zotto’s had a tumultuous career, going from blue-chip prospect to massive disappointment to successful reclamation project. Del Zotto looked to be well on his way to earning a long-term contract after a successful first season in Philly, but another less-than-stellar campaign in 2016-17 has put him back in one-year deal-territory.
Del Zotto’s never been a consistent player, but that doesn’t mean he’s without value. Del Zotto can easily provide a bit of offense from the back end, something the Canucks were sorely lacking last year. Vancouver has a slot to fill on the left-hand side with Luca Sbisa departing to Las Vegas, and while Del Zotto is a quite an adventure in his own zone, what he brings to the table offensively would be a major upgrade.
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) June 28, 2017
The Canucks have a boatload of young players looking to make an impact next season, but little desire to rush any of them into their lineup. At this point, it’s likely Loui Eriksson has scared them away from big-ticket free agents for the time being, which means the team will be left perusing the 99¢ aisle looking for deals. Signing a veteran free agent or two probably won’t be the most popular move with a fanbase that’s desperately craving young talent, but having an insurance policy is preferable to submarining a player’s development by bringing him along too early.
The Canucks aren’t likely to be competitive next season, so their best bet is to try to turn a few free agents into assets at the deadline, and bring up deserving youngsters in their stead. It’s a strategy that worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who just made the playoffs in year three of their rebuild. That’s a template the Canucks ought to try and follow.