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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin - USA TODAY Sports

Four Free-Agents the Canucks Should Target

Free-agency hasn’t been the kindest of times for the Canucks under Jim Benning.

Two years ago they inked Loui Eriksson to a mammoth 36 million dollar contract; one that will handcuff the team for another four years. Last offseason’s acquisitions weren’t nearly as costly, but with the exception of Thomas Vanek, none of them worked out. Sam Gagner suffered a precipitous offensive decline, Michael Del Zotto struggled defensively, and Anders Nilsson looked the part of an AHL goalie rather than a 1B netminder capable of pushing Jacob Markstrom for the starter’s gig.

The Canucks have some needs and the financial leverage to address them, but credit to Jim Benning for recognizing the dangers of committing significant capital in the inflated free-agent market.

There are always a few landmines in the open market, but if you look close enough, there is also some underrated value to be found. Taking this into account, here are four players that the Canucks would be wise to target on July 1st.

Calvin De Haan

Position: LD

Age: 27

Frame: 6-foot-1, 198 pounds

Uncertainty for the Canucks’ blueline exists beyond just this season.

Alex Edler and Michael Del Zotto have expiring contracts, Chris Tanev’s name is frequently in trade rumours, and there doesn’t appear to be much help on the way save for Quinn Hughes and Olli Juolevi.

Not only would Calvin De Haan provide a veteran presence to help insulate and protect Hughes and Juolevi as they acclimate to the NHL, but he’d be a valuable addition for the top-4 next season.

The 27-year-old is a steady left-handed defenceman who excels at both defending and transitioning the puck up ice. He’s not a flashy player, but as his underlying profile can attest, he’s a valuable contributor nonetheless.

I’ve used the goals above replacement (GAR) model for a while now, and it’s for good reason. GAR is a composite metric that combines various on-ice stats and raw production to evaluate a player’s ability to drive two-way play at both even-strength and the powerplay. The final result is a number of goals by which a player improves his team’s goal differential relative to a replacement level player.

De Haan’s value shines through this lens, finishing among the top-50 NHL defencemen in each of the past three seasons. His GAR contribution during that span bests all Canucks’ defencemen including analytics darling Chris Tanev.

Data via Chase McCallum, Viz by Bill Comeau

Deployment is the key difference with Tanev matched against the opposition’s best forwards, though De Haan is among the 67th percentile of defenders for the quality of competition as well. He also stands out as the driver for his pairing’s success when looking at microdata tracked by The Athletic’s Corey Sznajder.

Ben Hutton was the only Canucks’ defencemen this season to finish among the league’s top third blueliners for controlled zone exits per 60 minutes. By that token, the team would benefit greatly from De Haan’s puck-moving prowess.

One area that he struggles at is neutral zone defending, though that happens to be one of the biggest strengths for Troy Stecher, who could wind up being a perfect second-pairing partner for De Haan should he come to Vancouver.

What would De Haan Cost?

Cost is where things get tricky. De Haan’s stock isn’t as high as it should be due to season-ending shoulder surgery and concerns that he’s only averaged 20+ minutes per game in one of the past four seasons. That could change with a weak defence market — one that was further depleted with the extensions for John Carlson and Michal Kempny. As such, there appears to be considerable interest for De Haan’s services.

If I were to wager a guess, I’d say De Haan will be looking for 3.5-4 million dollars AAV on a three-year deal. It sounds like the type of contract a rebuilding team like the Canucks shouldn’t commit to, but I’d much rather add De Haan and let Edler’s $5-million come off the books after next season. Another complication is the logjam on the left side with Edler, Del Zotto, Hutton, Pouliot in addition to prospects Hughes on Juolevi — something that Jim Benning appears to be considering as well.

De Haan is the type of blueliner you create space for, especially if it’s only at the expense of marginal players like Del Zotto, Hutton and Pouliot. If the price remains in the aforementioned 3.5-4 million dollar range, I wouldn’t hesitate to offer up to three years for a quality two-way defencemen of De Haan’s mould.

Nick Shore

Position: C

Age: 25

Frame: 6-foot-1, 194 pounds

Shore would be an excellent addition to bolster the Canucks’ centre ice depth. My analysis of his performance in a recent article profiling centres the team could target suggested that there’s untapped offensive upside if given an opportunity in the top-9.

Shore is among the top 20th percentile of NHL forwards since the 2014-15 season when looking at the rate at which he generates shot assists(SA60), danger zone shot assists(DZSA60) and expected assists(ixA60).

His lack of production simply boils down to the linemates with which he’s played. No offence to his most common teammates this season with the Kings in Trevor Lewis and Andy Anderoff, but neither of those guys are capable of regularly converting on high danger scoring chances. Give Shore competent top-nine players on his wings and I’m sure he’d show a lot better than his track record to date might indicate.

Shore’s defensive acumen also gives him the versatility to double as an effective bottom-six centre if he proves incapable of producing offence at a middle-six rate.

Chart courtesy Bill Comeau

What would Shore Cost?

Matt Cane’s highly accurate projection model pegs Shore’s most likely contract at two years at an annual average value of 1 million dollars. This is precisely the kind of low-risk deal the Canucks should covet.

Austin Czarnik

Position: C/W

Age: 25

Frame: 5-foot-9, 161 pounds

One of the market inefficiencies I highlighted in my aforementioned article analyzing possible centre targets was that of 22 to 25-year-old AHL players lacking pedigree. In that piece, I referenced a study by The Athletic’s Ian Tulloch, who followed the career paths of elite scoring AHL players between the ages of 22 and 25 from 2005 to 2015. Of the 46 players that fit the criteria, 19 of them went on to become top-9 NHL forwards.

The 25-year-old Czarnik slots within that cohort, scoring 92 points in 86 AHL games over the last two seasons. In the NHL, he wasn’t nearly as successful, posting 13 points in 49 games during the 2016/17 season. He played in just 10 NHL games this year, adding four points.

There were encouraging signs during these big league stints, however.

It’s a small sample size, but Czarnik finished among the top 25 percentile of league forwards for shot assist(SA/60), expected assist(ixA60) and danger zone shot assist rates(DZSA60).

Similar to Shore, Czarnik suffered to an extent because of his teammates’ inability to convert on these scoring chances. His most common linemates were Riley Nash and Matt Beleskey, which resulted in a paltry 5.1% five-on-five on-ice shooting percentage.

Czarnik also offers flexibility in being able to play both centre and the wing. Even if the 25-year-old fails to build on his recent success, he would offer valuable scoring help for a Utica squad that’s moving on from Michael Chaput and Cole Cassels.

What Would Czarnik Cost?

Anytime you can add a young player whose statistical comparables have had a 41% chance to become a top-9 player for free; you pounce on that opportunity. It’s no surprise to learn then that two-thirds of the league has already had some sort of dialogue with Czarnik.

Ultimately, it sounds like things will come down to NHL opportunity — a factor that certainly plays to the Canucks’ advantage. Matt Cane’s model projects a one year deal at around $750,000 for Czarnik. That’s more than reasonable for a player who could provide valuable depth scoring.

Anthony Duclair

Position: LW/RW

Age: 22

Frame: 5-foot-11, 192 pounds

Duclair has seen his stock drop dramatically since scoring 20 goals and 44 points in his rookie season.

Arizona and Chicago’s plight could well end up becoming another team’s value bargain this offseason. Now 22, Duclair is coming off of a season where he scored 23 points in 56 games — a pace that would prorate to 33 points over 82 games. There’s also an argument to be made that he was underused with the Blackhawks.

Duclair was ahead of Brandon Saad and tied with Jonathan Toews with 1.64 even-strength points per hour. Both Saad and Toews had poor seasons relative to their elite standards, but it’s encouraging nonetheless to see Duclair producing something. 

The Canucks have a surplus of middling wingers, but Duclair has flashed potential and owns a track record deserving of another chance.

What Would Duclair Cost?

I can’t imagine Duclair getting anything more than 2-2.5 million dollars annually on a one or two year deal. Such a contract would be perfectly fair for a player with his pedigree.

 

  • It’s a bad contract for the value the Canucks are getting, but with Loui being a solid two way winger and the Canucks being way below the cap, how is the contract handcuffing the team? It might in a couple years, but it certainly isn’t right now.

    I like Shore over Beagle and I like de Haan, but with the log jam on left d I don’t want to sign him. I’m hoping two years down the line Hughes and Juolevi are the two top pairing left d. Same with the wingers, don’t sign anyone, let the kids play.

    I don’t want the Canucks to be successful this year. They need at least one more top pick to get another centre. We have a full roster without the kids. Signing more players shouldn’t be on the radar right now other than maybe 1 centre.

    • Yeah the Canucks should just look for a warm body to play center and RD short term. That should free up Benning to move Tanev and Sutter. They can plug in Ganger, Granlund, and Gaunce in a pinch also. With a little lottery luck, a decent return on sold assets this season, and the crop of prospects in the pipleline, this could be a very fun team to watch in 2019-2020 +

      This season is a season the ownership, team and fans need to sacrifice strictly for the future. If they tear this thing completely down by the deadline it could be a very quick and exciting turnaround for everyone

      • Even right d without Tanev has Stecher, Gudbranson, Biega and Pouliot who plays both sides. ztryamkin also plays both sides if he ever comes back. I can see the need for another right d if both Tanev and a Gudbranson are traded.

        The Canucks have a full team signed without the prospects. Quit signing players (other than 1 centre) and let the kids take over. If the kids aren’t ready, play the team that is signed, suck, and get another good pick. Take a center and move along.

  • Every year it seems Benning signs a few mid to low end free agents and throws them against the wall to see what sticks. I’d rather see him go all in on Stastny, who at least is going to produce, and would pretty fine with Swedish friends Dahlin and Petterssen on his wings.

    • So you rail against the Eriksson signing. Yet you are advocating for Stastny. Looking at their age and production, and projected contract; Stastny has worse counting stats than Eriksson pre-UFA.

      By going all in you are saying what? 4x$7M, 5x$7M for a FA that will be 2.5 years older than Eriksson was at signing.

      When Stastny get hurt or has age related production decreases, you will be okay with that?

      • Are you trying to make the claim that Eriksson is, or ever has been, a better player than Stastny?He’s 32, I’d give him 4 X 7. And its not the Ericsson signing that gets me. He’s still a decent player, who rarely hurts his team on the ice. Its the plugs like Gagner, Del Zotto, and Burmistrov

  • If the point is to have a better team and a better environment for the young guns to grow in, then signing both De Haan and Shore make a lot of sense for a 3 year term each. The Canucks still need a lot of help, so at least these two guys would help plug a lot of holes. Guys like Beagle make zero sense to me, from virtually any perspective.

  • I like all these suggestions, and good work putting it together in a very concise manner.

    De Haan is an interesting one. He would bump someone from our left, meaning either of Hughes or Juolevi maybe don’t get a pot right away this year, but would immediately jump over DZ, Hutton, and Pouliot on the depth chart.

    I think Duclair is a good bet as a reclamation project, I kinda think both him and Domi got drown out in the Quagmire that was AZ the last few years.

  • Great article, Harman, again. If only 🙁 the pro scouts would listen 🙁
    I worry about tomorrow. As Botchford points out, there seems to be a disconnect between amateur scouting and pro scouting on our team. I don’t understand how we can go for Petterson or Hughes and then even contemplate some of these free agents like Bozak and Beagle. It’s baffling… and sad…

  • 1. De Haan- from the article: “His GAR contribution during that span bests all Canucks’ defencemen including analytics darling Chris Tanev.”

    I suspect you haven’t looked closely at Tanev’s analytics the past two seasons. Tanev’s injury woes aren’t restricted to missed games but he’s also been hurt much of the time he’s been playing and his numbers the last two seasons bear little resemblance to those of earlier times.

    While de Haan is a good defender, he’d simply move to the front of a logjam of left defenders. Logically a defender of that quality and age should be worth more to a contender than a bottom-dweller. Since I favour a rebuild and it isn’t as if the Canucks are short of left defenders I don’t think the Canucks would be the team he would be of most value to. Much as it would be nice to watch him in a Canucks’ uniform this season, and as much as he would be an improvement on some or all of their current defenders, I don’t think a left-shot defenceman in his mid-to-late prime is the right fit. Still, it wouldn’t be too bad if they can manage to move a less effective, overpaid LHD, of which they have no shortage.

    Even though the Canucks have lots of marginal forwards and it might seem silly to get some more, the three forwards mentioned in this article are all guys who might well sign for one year or, in the case of Duclair, might be decent reclamation project that could be useful in the future. I wouldn’t mind any of them at the cost and length of termsuggested by Dayal in the article.

    Having more depth and competition for jobs might cause any one of these forwards to get in the way of a current prospect, which could be viewed as either a good thing (upgrade) or bad thing (getting in the way of a prospect’s development.)

    • Exactly. What does de Haan bring that Sautner did not show at the end of the season? Left defence is only an issue when the Canucks trot out Hutton, and to a lesser extent Del Zotto. Trade (or waive) Hutton. Trade Del Zotto. Bring in Hughes, Juolevi, and Sautner.

      By shopping for Beagle and Rousell (as rumored), the Canucks are not looking for scoring. They are looking for defensively responsible, veteran players that make in unpleasant to play against the Canucks.

      None of these free agents bring these traits. Scoring should not be a problem. They have youngsters that will fill the nets.

      The Sedin’s will not be missed (on the ice) as much as the doom and gloomers say. Adding toughness and hard workers is what is required.

      Elliote Friedman, when talking about Vegas, said it best (I think he was quoting Mike Bossy): hard work beats skill every time (this was Vegas’ success); however hard work AND skill win over everything.

      • “Scoring should not be a problem”

        It absolutely will be a problem. How do you expect a team that finished 26th in goals for to improve after losing three of it’s top five scorers? That’s a void of nearly 150 points. Pettersson can realistically get anywhere between 30-55 points, but it’s naive to assume the team will magically start scoring.

        As for De Haan, he’s a proven puck moving defenceman who plays reliable defence in his own end. He’d be a significant upgrade over Del Zotto and Hutton. I liked what Saunter did too, but he’s never going to be anything more than a bottom pairing defender. It’s also extremely unlikely that both Hughes and Juolevi crack the roster. De Haan’s an excellent second pairing option who can be the veteran presence once Edler moves on.

        • The Canucks prospects have been drafted because they have skill and can score. The minutes that was going to the Sedins at the end of the season will go to the kids. The PP minutes that went to the Sedins will go to other players, and the PP will be better for it. They will not (hopefully) be the defensive liability the Sedins became.

          I do not argue deHaan would be an upgrade over Hutton or Del Zotto; Sautner is an upgrade over Hutton and Del Zotto. Hughes (if signed) will make the team and slot in the top 4. Edler is there. The last LD position can be Juolevi, Sautner (McEnemy), or Pouliot.

          If Hughes chooses to return to Michigan, then there is an opening, and a successor to Edler (as a 3/4 reliable guy) is not a bad idea. If Hughes signs, then there is no room.

        • Your comments are short sited. I doubt Juolevi and Hughes will both be on the team next year. So the team should sign de Haan for 3 years. I doubt that he would sign with the Canucks for less than 4 or 5. Maybe they won’t be there next year, but do you thing Juolevi and Hughes won’t be there in year 2 or 3 or 4? So de Haan makes the Canucks better. Are they a playoff team? Does it move us from 29th to 21st? Still well out of the playoffs, but also out of the good lottery odds and getting a worse pick when they don’t win the lottery? What’s the goal? To block Juolevi and Hughes? Is the 2018/19 season important or should they be building for the future? De Haan is a signing for now, not the future. You talk about de Haan being a second pairing option. I guess you think Hughes is a first pairing option and there is no spot for Juolevi?

          Quit suggesting free agents… let them stick with the full roster they have signed until the prospects take over the team.

    • I actually have looked at Tanev’s underlying numbers. They’ve regressed the past two seasons, but his GAR/82 is still best among Canucks’ D.