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Photo Credit: Sportsnet.ca

Which UFA Defensemen Are Available To Sign This Offseason?

In his press wrap-up following the 2019 Trade Deadline, GM Jim Benning alluded to his plans to dip into defensive free agency in the upcoming offseason:

While the debate on Benning’s competence as a general manager rages on, most would agree that subtlety is not his strong suit. The guy is honest to a fault and, generally speaking, when Benning says he’s looking at a certain personnel move it should be taken at face value.

Ergo, the Vancouver Canucks are probably going to add one or more defensemen through free agency during the summer of 2019.

But who?

The Cap Considerations

Before looking at the list of upcoming free agent defensemen, let’s briefly explore the Canucks’ cap situation moving forward.

According to the fine folks at CapFriendly, Vancouver currently has about $51 million committed to 29 contracts for the 2019/20 season—which leaves around $30 million in space depending on how much the cap rises. Of course, a good chunk of that space will be taken up by the re-signing of Brock Boeser, Ben Hutton, Nikolay Goldobin, and Josh Leivo—along with Alex Edler if the team does decide to keep him around.

With all those players signed to new deals, the Canucks should still have more than $10 million worth of cap space—certainly enough to add a defenseman or two, but not enough to add a premier option, as Benning has noted:

A Note On Handedness 

With Ben Hutton, Alex Edler, and Quinn Hughes all presumably on the roster next year—and Olli Juolevi, Guillaume Brisebois, Ashton Sautner, and Josh Teves waiting in the wings—Vancouver is pretty much set on their left side. Therefore, the free agency focus should be on right-handed defenders.

That being said, defensemen playing on their off-side isn’t unheard of—though it’s become far less common in recent seasons.

For the sake of completeness, we’ll be listing both righties and lefties as potential signees. However, we’re doing more due diligence with the right-handers—which is exactly what Jim Benning should be doing, too.

The percentages listed for Shots Taken 5v5 With/Without and Shots Allowed 5v5 With/Without are relative to the league average. They’re taken from the data charts at HockeyViz.com, and further explanations of these stats can be found there. These numbers may be of questionable consequence for players with few games played.

Right-Handed Defensemen 

Erik Karlsson, San Jose

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
28 52 3 42 45 +28%/+7% -5%/-5% 20 $6.5 mil

Karlsson is obviously the best defenseman on the UFA market—and probably the best UFA, period. He could fix Vancouver’s blueline deficiencies almost single-handedly, but he’d also do so at a significant cost. Expect Karlsson to sign a deal well north of $10 million per season—and thus price himself out of the Canucks’ plans.

Tyler Myers, Winnipeg

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
29 68 8 17 25 +1%/-7% +9%/+2% 57 $5.5 mil

Myers’ name has been bandied about as one of the UFAs with the most potential to be overpaid, and that’s probably a fair assessment. Myers has the size, experience, and offensive acumen to make a perfect partner for Quinn Hughes—but Vancouver will be competing with the majority of the league to sign him. Don’t expect him to come cheap. 

Anton Stralman, Tampa Bay

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
32 45 2 15 17 +2%/+11% +10%/-7% 8 $4.5 mil

Stralman is one of those players who feels like he’s been around for forever, but he’s only 31 years old. As he’s aged, Stralman has turned into a bit of a defensive specialist, though his offense still shines through in spurts. He’s also picked up a boatload of playoff experience over the years, which would greatly benefit Vancouver’s rookie blueliners. However, Stralman can be expected to sign a deal that takes him into his late 30s—which is always a major risk. 

Dan Girardi, Tampa Bay

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
34 61 4 11 15 +10%/_8% 0%/-4% 12 $3 mil

Like Stralman, Girardi is an aging defensive specialist with bountiful playoff experience. Unfortunately, he’s also three years older than Stralman and thus even more of a potential risk. The Canucks shouldn’t really consider signing a player this old unless they agree to a short-term deal—preferably, at a discount. 

Adam McQuaid, Columbus

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
32 43 2 3 5 -5%/-1% +6%/+9% 37 $2.75 mil

McQuaid really only brings one thing to a team’s blueline—toughness—but he certainly brings it in spades. If the Canucks feel that they’re missing some of that gritty presence now that Erik Gudbranson is gone, McQuaid would represent an adequate—and much cheaper—replacement. He can’t be relied on for much more than that, however.

Jan Rutta, Tampa Bay

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
28 26 2 6 8 -10%/+3% +1%/+20% 12 $2.25 mil

Rutta is a tough player to assess. He’s a 27-year-old who has spent most of this season in the minors—but he’s also the victim of a deep blueline in Tampa Bay and an inflated contract. Signed to a bargain deal, Rutta might make a good candidate to bounce back in 2019/20—but no team should commit a significant amount of money or term to him.

Alex Petrovic, Edmonton

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
27 35 0 2 2 +2/-4% +45%/0 26 $1.95 mil

Like McQuaid, Petrovic is a defenseman very much in the mould of Erik Gudbranson. He’s younger than McQuaid, but with just two points on the season it’s hard to argue that he has any more offensive potential. He’s a low-cost option, but he’s also low-reward.

Deryk Engelland, Vegas

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
36 63 2 7 9 +4%/+18% +1%/-8% 12 $1.5 mil

Add Engelland to the list of tough defenders who could potentially replace Gudbranson’s snarl. Engelland is nearing retirement, but he’s played competent hockey for the Vegas Golden Knights over the past two seasons—which might make him an overall stronger option than McQuaid and Petrovic. Chances are good Engelland stays in Vegas, but he could make for a cheap blueline supplement if not.

Luke Schenn, Vancouver

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
29 15 0 1 1 -26%/-8% +6%/+5% 7 $800K

Of course, the most obvious option in the “physical veteran with questionable skill” category is the one the Canucks already have—Schenn. He’s played solidly in limited minutes this season, and Vancouver doesn’t have much reason not to bring him back at this point—but he should not be counted on as an NHL regular.

Andy Welinski, Anaheim

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
25 19 0 2 2 -9%/-7% +26%/+11% 8 $690K

Welinski is one of those players who—like Evan McEneny—has not been given enough time at the NHL level and is thus eligible for early “Group 6” unrestricted free agency. Welinski has consistently demonstrated offensive pop at the AHL level, but has had difficulty catching on with Anaheim’s deep blueline—and he could represent a low-risk, high-reward option as a free agent. 

Chad Ruhwedel, Pittsburgh

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
28 18 1 1 2 +4%/+7% -15%/+2% 4 $650K

Ruhwedel has been pulling spot-duty for the Penguins for three seasons now, and that’s left him with a surprising amount of post-season experience—including six games in Pittsburgh’s 2017 run to the Cup and 12 more last year. This is the sort of “mentor” signing that Benning is known for, but it should also be noted that Ruhwedel’s AHL numbers hint at some untapped offensive potential.

Tim Heed, San Jose

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
28 26 2 8 10 +6%/+13% -6%/-5% 10 $650K

Heed is a skilled defenseman who has progressed well as a professional, but it’s been tough for him to get much ice-time playing behind Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Justin Braun. Heed’s numbers are solid across the board and he could make for a real “diamond-in-the-rough”-type signing if Vancouver’s pro scouts like what they’ve seen.

Left-Handed Defensemen

Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
35 66 2 11 13 -2%/+7% -8%/-10% 36 $5.4 mil

Bouwmeester’s name still carries some cachet in hockey thanks to his time as an Olympian, but his best days are definitely behind him. Bouwmeester is playing important minutes for St. Louis this year and his game has had a bit of a resurgence—but at 35, that’s not going to last. Anyone signing Bouwmeester for multiple years is probably going to regret it.

Alex Edler, Vancouver

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
32 44 7 16 23 -16%/-6% -11%/+9% 42 $5 mil

We don’t need to spend too much time extolling the virtues of Edler here—Vancouver fans can see it on a regular basis when he’s on the ice, and even more clearly when he’s absent. His inclusion on the list is simply to highlight his position as a premier UFA in 2019—and to temper expectations about him taking an enormously “team-friendly” deal.

Zdeno Chara, Boston

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
41 52 4 7 11 +1%/-2% -8%/-8% 48 $5 mil

There’s almost no chance at all that Chara leaves Boston—and if he does, it won’t be to come to Vancouver. That being said, we had to include him on the list because he’d still be a valuable addition to the Canucks’ roster and dressing room—even at the ripe old age of 41.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
28 60 2 27 29 +19%/+9% +4%/+10% 24 $4.05 mil

Gardiner is a player known for his offensive talents and defensive miscues. While anyone playing in Toronto is going to have their shortcomings overemphasized, Vancouver should be worried about adding a such a mistake-prone defender to their increasingly-young blueline—especially given the exorbitant amount Gardiner is sure to sign for.

Braydon Coburn, Tampa Bay

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
34 63 3 16 19 +8%/+9% -8%-1% 26 $3.7 mil

Coburn is in a similar boat as Bouwmeester, but without the big-name cachet. He’s been a part of Tampa Bay’s stellar blueline for a while now and that means he’s been playing some extremely competent hockey—but there’s a real question of how much longer he can keep it up for. Expect Coburn to also sign a regrettable deal in 2019—and expect the Canucks to avoid him if they’re smart.

Patrik Nemeth, Colorado

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
27 62 1 7 8 -3%/+2% -7%/-2% 46 $2.5 mil

Nemeth is a solid, all-around defender that doesn’t do anything particularly special. He’s a fine player, but not one who adds anything to the roster that the Canucks don’t already have—especially on the left side. At more than $2 million per season, Vancouver should pass on this one.

Ben Chiarot, Winnipeg

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
27 66 5 14 19 -16%/+1% -4%/+8% 54 $1.4 mil

Chiarot may look like a cheap option right now, but that will change in the offseason. He’s been steadily improving in five NHL seasons, and is having a career year on the cusp of a new contract—all while playing for one of the powerhouses of the west. Chiarot can do it all to an extent, and he’ll be well paid for it.

Jordie Benn, Montreal

Age Games Goals Assists Points Shots Taken at 5v5 With/Without Shots Allowed at 5v5 With/Without PIM Previous Cap Hit
31 70 5 14 19 +9%/+9% -9%/-2% 39 $1.1 mil

If the Canucks are looking to add a depth defender, they could certainly do worse than Benn. He’s a tough BC boy in the midst of the best offensive season of his career. A short-term deal for Benn might make sense—but anything with term would be playing with fire.



  • Goon

    Outside of Karlsson, Myers, Stralman, and Gardiner, that list is a big heaping pile of NOPE.

    Any of those four guys would unquestionably make the team better next year, but the Canucks won’t be competing for the cup next year. The important question is, will they make the Canucks better in two or three years when they’re (hopefully) actually competitive? Stralman is too old. Myers and Karlsson will both be well into their 30s at that time and will almost certainly still be good defensemen, but will they be worth the cap hit at that point? Gardiner will be just entering his 30s, but the Canucks don’t have as much need on the left.

    The smart move would be to stay away from high-end free agents for another season or two, until the Canucks are really ready to make a cup push.

    • DJ_44

      Tim Heed is the big question mark. Sometimes he looks fantastic (he can shoot the puck), and other times not so much. He may be worth a shot for $2.5M x 2 or 3 yrs. No big loss if he does not pan out.

      • Peachy

        How many of those defenders would be an upgrade on Schenn?

        Like 6, maybe?

        I really hope Benning gets Panarin or Karl’s son, or has the good sense to keep his powder dry and take back a terrible 1 or 2 year contract for assets.

      • It’s difficult but not impossible (e.g. Dion Phaneuf). After Eriksson’s signing bonus is paid this summer, his actual cost ($3M) is significantly less than his $6M cap hit. An ideal player for a cap-floor team. Even if you had to give up a draft pick to sell Eriksson (e.g. 2020 2nd round pick), if you got rid of Sutter, Eriksson, Pouliot and a 2020 2nd round pick and got Erik Karlsson, who wouldn’t want that for their team?

        • Goon

          I’m not disagreeing that that would be amazing, and would instantly make the Canucks *way* better, I just don’t see how you do Eriksson without taking significant salary back (ie Dion Phaneuf, both times, and therefore not making it a salary wash).

          Yes, you can trade him after his signing bonus is paid, but he’s still owed nine million in real dollars over the following three seasons after the bonus is paid out. Not sure he’s really palatable to a cap floor team like Ottawa or Arizona for that reason.

          I still think the only really plausible way the Canucks are rid of Eriksson before the end of his contract is a compliance buyout, if there’s a lockout in 2020, or by taking back an equally bad contract and hoping that a “change of scenery” will revitalize a Lucic or a Ladd.

          • A minor difference between the Eriksson and Phaneuf contract is that Phaneuf was owed nearly what his cap hit was (~94%). Eriksson is owed only half of his cap hit. Even if you have to take back salary, if you get it in the form of low-cost players, you can bury $1M per player in Utica.

            If NYI were to give us an asset to trade Eriksson for Ladd, I would consider it. But that’s mostly because Ladd is a local player who works hard and would be a good leader with his 2x Stanley Cups. If we were stuck with Eriksson but could convert him into a more useful player, it makes lemonade from the lemon.

  • Killer Marmot

    Benning is probably thinking he either significantly improves the defense now or starts reading the help-wanted ads next April.

    For that reason, I’m betting on a signing.

  • I didn’t really make any conclusions in this article, but I agree with the majority of the commenters in here–this isn’t an enticing group of players.

    If I had to pick, I’d take go for Chad Ruhwedel or Tim Heed and hope they come relatively cheap. Or take a low-risk gamble on Andy Welinski, assuming he even reaches the open market.

    • Silverback

      I’m not convinced we need more middling bottom 4 defensemen. That being said, aside from Quinn, do we have much more than middling defensemen? Are Tanev and Edler top 4 Defensemen on a good team? This year…barely. next year, after this years mileage, not likely. We may need to trade a forward asset for a solid 1-2 D, and hope what’s on the farm in Juolevi and Quinn’s imminent arrival, along with the boys on the farm, we can have a vastly improved D core. Can Benning make that trade? Are we willing to give a Boeser or a Horvat away for an equally gifted defenceman? Tough call, but something he might have to do, unless he gives away some picks in exchange.

  • speering major

    I like Myers at the right price

    McQuaid could be a nice fit on a 2 year deal also

    I really don’t think now is the time to make a big move on a guy like Karlsson. Maybe if a similar situation comes up in a year or two but burning their best years and then being stuck with them on the decline is wasting a ton of value. Wait til the team is a piece away, not 4 or 5

  • Kootenaydude

    With Seattle joining the NHL soon. I can see the draft picks over the next couple years, having more value than normal. As these players won’t be exposed to Seattle. Perhaps Benning can trade one of our young forwards and a draft pick to a team that has too many quality players/ defenders to protect.

  • Kanuckhotep

    I agree with many here that this crop of FA Ds isn’t that cosmic aside from the obvious Karlsson, Myers and Gardiner. That being said it does not seem wise to sign defencemen at/ near/over 30 y.o. given susceptibility to injury. (See Chris Tanev) And the cost? This is not a Christian Ehrhoff situation where the Canucks are knocking on the door of contention like they were at that time. I love Erik Karlsson and would jump for joy if they signed him admittedly but the timing is about a year or two off for that sort of move.

  • Defenceman Factory

    The Canucks don’t have enough top 4 Dmen. If legitimately challenging in the playoffs next year is the goal (and it shouldn’t be) they need to re-sign Edler, a RHD and get better injury luck with Tanev. Unfortunately they also need at least one more top 6 winger. They don’t have enough cap room for high end longer term deals with 3 UFAs this summer. Loading up now just isn’t the right move.

    Edler can’t get a NMC. If he signs for 2 or 3 years with a NTC at a discount that could be okay. Move Sutter and sign a top 6 winger. Sign a cheap RHD vet short term. Those moves are probably enough to make the playoffs but they would have to be lucky on a few fronts to survive the 1st round.

    Eriksson’s contract is much more moveable in 2020 and it will be clearer where Joulevi and Woo are at. Reassess a year from now.

  • Hockey Bunker

    Given the lack of free agent quality Edler would be nuts not to test free agency. I think he’s walking for a five or six year 30-40 million dollar front end loaded deal. And yes teams will go that high.
    Too rich for Canucks …

  • Braindead Benning

    The best UFA the Canucks can sign going forward for Thier immediate future and years to come would be Steve Yzerman. He would bring hope, integrity and some much needed intelligence back to this once proud franchise. Geriatric knuckle draggers like the 2 Jims (dumb & dumber) should retire as the game has passed them by…

  • Almo89

    I noticed recently that the ages on CapFriendly are not extrapolating for the approaching season when sorting in the Free Agent section. It can be deceiving if you are taking age as a deciding factor in who may be a “fit” in Vancouver.

    Age at the beginning of the 2019/2020 (it’s 2020 already?!) season:

    Right shot:

    Erik Karlsson: 29
    Tyler Myers: 29
    Anton Stralman: 33
    Dan Girardi: 35
    Adam McQuaid: 33
    Jan Rutta: 29
    Alex Petrovic: 27
    Deryk Engelland: 37
    Luke Schenn: 30
    Andy Welinski: 26
    Chad Ruhwedel: 29
    Tim Heed: 28

    Left shot:

    Jay Bouwmeester: 36
    Alex Edler: 33
    Zdeno Chara (re-signed): 42
    Jake Gardiner: 29
    Braydon Coburn: 34
    Patrik Nemeth: 27
    Ben Chiarot: 28
    Jordie Benn: 32