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.
— Satiar Shah (@SatiarShah) June 27, 2018
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
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.
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.
Calvin de Haan has received significant interest from upwards of 10 teams so far. He’ll be a very popular guy leading up to July 1.
— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) June 24, 2018
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.
The agent for UFA D Calvin de Haan called the #Canucks to see if there is interest. Vancouver likes the player but things would have to happen to make rook for de Haan.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) June 29, 2018
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.