It’s the start of a new league year, which can only mean one thing. The free agency frenzy is nigh upon us, and it’s about to get awful silly.
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) July 1, 2017
To what extent the Canucks will contribute to that silliness remains to be seen. If their last few cracks at the bat are any indication, take the under.
The Canucks have as much capital at their disposal as they’ve had in what feels like ages. What they don’t have are any pressing needs that they can address in a meaningful way through free agency — or any they should try to address in that fashion, anyway.
The calibre of player that can right the Canucks’ ship isn’t walking through that door. There are depth options aplenty, though. If the Canucks goal going into next season is to surprise the punditry that has already earmarked them for a last place finish, they’ve ample opportunity to help the cause. They just might add to their tradeable asset base, whether by design or otherwise.
With that, let’s set the stage for the Canucks as they embark on one of the spendiest, busiest days of the year.
Contracts: 34/50 (14 one-way Contracts and 20 two-way)
Salary Cap Outlook: $55,254,999 spent/$19,475,001 available
Restricted Free Agents: Bo Horvat, Brendan Gaunce, Reid Boucher, Michael Chaput, Joseph LaBate, Evan McEneny
Unrestricted Free Agents: Joseph Cramarossa, Jack Skille, Ryan Miller, Alexandre Grenier, Michael Zalewski, Michael Garteig, Borna Rendulic
Draft Pick Outlook: Canucks currently hold possession over all seven of their picks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft
Trade Chips: Christopher Tanev, Alexander Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Jordan Subban
Team Needs: Depth defender(s), goaltender, centre depth
The Rumour Mill
The Canucks front office have been an active bunch this week, taking full advantage of the extra time allotted teams to express interest in uncertain terms about unrestricted free agents set for market.
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) June 29, 2017
So far, the list of players the Canucks have at least expressed a passing interest in includes: Michael Stone, Sam Gagner, Anders Nilsson, Lance Bouma, Stephane Da Costa, Michael Del Zotto, Jordan Weal, Paul Postma, Keith Kinkaid, Steve Mason, Dennis Rasmussen, Martin Hanzal, Alexander Burmistrov, Brandon Pirri and Mike Condon.
It sounds as though we can count the Canucks out on most of those names. To their credit though it sounds like they’ve identified a handful of players that fit specific niche roles and sound poised to put pen to paper on each as soon as they’ve the opportunity to do so.
A look at some of what's going on out there: https://t.co/eMpP6rwDr9
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 29, 2017
It seems like the Canucks aren’t just looking at free agents as a means to build their roster. The Florida Panthers are shopping 29-year-old right-shot defenceman Jason Demers, and the Canucks have some level of interest according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
If the Canucks interest in Demers is sincere, this might be a move that, while at first appears counter-intuitive to their nominal rebuild, could make sense in the bigger picture.
The Panthers are shedding salary at every turn. I might consider Demers fair value at $4.5-million for another four seasons, but it’s Panthers general manager Dale Tallon who has to justify cutting those cheques to ownership, and this isn’t even a player he signed. That Tallon protected four defencemen and Demers wasn’t one of them isn’t exactly a vote of confidence. I don’t think it unfair at this point to suggest the Panthers want a mulligan on this deal.
If the Canucks can get Demers for pennies on the dollar, that could free them up to explore the trade market for Chris Tanev or Erik Gudbranson. Better still, they can begin to entertain the notion that they can sustain the loss of either without immediate returns — something the Canucks brain trust can’t quite reconcile yet.
5 Impact Free Agents the Canucks Could Consider https://t.co/WVlnI2weNt
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) June 30, 2017
Industry insiders have connected the Canucks to free agent centre Sam Gagner all week long, and the team hasn’t exactly shied from those rumours. Canucks President Trevor Linden had this to say about the Canucks interest in pursuing the former Columbus Blue Jacket…
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
Gagner, 27-years-old, visited the Canucks this week, and every indication is the two sides hit it off. Certainly, that was the impression going into Friday. When TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that Gagner and the Canucks might have already agreed to a three-year pact, you knew it was real.
So it's all well and good to say VAN will give Sam Gagner three years or Michael Del Zotto two years and sign G Anders Nilsson, too…
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) July 1, 2017
It’s not hard to see where the Canucks are coming from on this front. Canucks general manager Jim Benning seems to covet positional versatility, and Gagner provides that in spades — he can play any forward position relatively effectively. That Gagner is a right-shot makes him compatible with the Sedin twins on the Canucks power play, and they can point to the success he had on Columbus’ first unit as a proof of concept.
At the right cost, Gagner could prove a useful addition to the Canucks’ middle-six. And at just three years, he could prove a tradeable asset at some point down the road.
Michael Del Zotto
The Canucks seem poised to replace Luca Sbisa (who they lost in the Expansion Draft to the Vegas Golden Knights) with the addition of left-shot defenceman Michael Del Zotto. Perhaps upgrade is a more apt description of what’s at work here, though.
It sounds like Del Zotto is as good as signed. McKenzie’s report seems to suggest the Canucks have something in the works in the two-year range. No word on the value of any Del Zotto deal, but given the extent to which he struggled in Philadelphia last season, one would think he’ll come at a discount this time around.
Del Zotto isn't perfect but he'd instantly become the Canucks best offensive defenseman
— Satiar Shah (@SatiarShah) June 30, 2017
For the Canucks, who’ve been especially toothless from the point, Del Zotto makes sense. As Satiar Shah suggested, Del Zotto steps into the Canucks’ lineup, and he’d immediately be their best offensive defender. He can be a fire drill defensively, but that’s the cost of admission.
Of all the players the Canucks have been linked to this past week, I’m the most certain of their intent to sign Nilsson in the early hours of free agency. Everyone is at this point. Nilsson was among the first Ryan Miller alternatives the Canucks explored, and it sounds like they haven’t had to consider many other since.
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) June 30, 2017
According to Andy Strickland, Nilsson and the Canucks already have a two-year deal lined up. I’m hearing the cap hit will fall between the $2-3-million range, and the plan is to have Nilsson push Jacob Markstrom for starts.
Consistency has been something of an issue for Nilsson. At times, he’s looked like a bona fide starter; he’s also had his share of bad stretches too. Overall, I think he’s shown enough to warrant an extended look, and it sounds like the Canucks are all too willing to do just that.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) June 30, 2017