Photo Credit: NHL.com

Canucks potential UFA targets: Forwards

With free agency right around the corner, there are plenty of rumours surrounding the Canucks and who they could target July 1st.

With the Canucks trading for J.T. Miller at the 2019 NHL Draft, there’s a chance they don’t even sign a forward in free agency this year. GM Jim Benning, however, has said that if the team signs a UFA it’s going to be with the intent that they think they’re a top-four defenseman or top-six forward.

If the Canucks do decide to make a splash on the forward front, here are a few UFA options that could make sense.

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(Note: Projected contracts are courtesy of EvolvingWild’s Contract Projections Model. Corsi stats are via Natural Stat Trick and for 5-on-5 situations only.) 

Artemi Panarin

Position: Left Wing

Age: 27

Height/ Weight: 5′ 11″, 168 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 79 GP, 28 G, 59 A, 87 points, 54.76 CF%

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Previous Contract: Two years, $6,000,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Eight years, $11,172,683 Cap Hit

Artemi Panarin is the biggest name on the free agent market — and for good measure. The Russian winger is an incredibly skilled player who has hovered around the 30-goal, 80-point mark in each of his four NHL seasons to date.

Panarin would obviously be a complete game changer for the Canucks if they were to win the sweepstakes. If the team is truly counting on their young players to grow into bigger roles and round out their supporting cast, Panarin is the player to splurge on to solidify their top six as one of the best in the NHL for the foreseeable future.

With the Canucks acquiring J.T. Miller at the Draft, you almost get the sense that they won’t target a big-name forward in free agency. Given the drop off in skill after the top few forwards, if the Canucks truly wanted to splurge and spend money on offensive talent, their best bet for value may be taking a run at the top dog.

Aside from Vancouver being a Canadian city of interest for Panarin back in February, there has been no talk of him being linked to the Canucks. He’s been spending time with some Eastern Conference teams, including most recently the New York Rangers. Landing Panarin may be a longshot, but you have to ponder if the Canucks would be better off throwing their money at Panarin instead of a combination of blueliner Tyler Myers and another forward listed below.

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Gustav Nyquist

Position: Center

Age: 29

Height/ Weight: 5′ 11″, 184 lbs

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2018-19 Stats: 81 GP, 22 G, 38 A, 60 points, 56.38 CF%

Previous Contract: Four years, $4,750,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Six years, $5,649,366 Cap Hit

Nyquist is one of the lone UFA forwards the Canucks reportedly have interest in.

Nyquist’s speed and skill would make him a nice fit in Vancouver’s top-six. He consistently produces in the 20-goal, 40-50 point range and has the potential to take over on a given night. The concern with Nyquist is the type of contract given his age. There’s no denying he would look good alongside talented and speedy forwards Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and recently acquired J.T. Miller, but some team is going to pay a lot of money for a talented player who has played 500 NHL games yet only hit 60 points once (2018-19).

Wayne Simmonds

Position: Right Wing

Age: 30

Height/ Weight: 6’2″, 185 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 79 GP, 17 G, 13 A, 30 points, 46.1 CF%

Previous Contract: Six years, $3,975,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Five years, $4,956,863 Cap Hit

Simmonds is a fiesty power forward who plays a mean game. He was a reliable 30-goal-scorer during his time in Philadelphia and became one of the best power-play forwards in the NHL. He was was acquired as a rental at the trade deadline by the Predators and failed to make much of an impact with his new team.

Simmonds is the type of player that the Canucks could use. He plays with an edge every shift and could bring a net-front presence to a power play that finished 22nd in the NHL in 2018-19.

Considering Simmonds was underpaid in his previous contract, he’s going to be expecting a pay raise this time around. Given his physical play style and a lower body injury that cut his 2018-19 campaign short, a Simmonds signing comes with plenty of wear and tear. Simmonds’ best days are most likely behind him, but there’s still things to like about his game if you can can get him at the right price.

Marcus Johansson

Position: Left Wing

Age: 28

Height/Weight: 6’1″, 205 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 58 GP, 13 G, 17 A, 30 points, 51.87 CF%

Previous Contract: Three years, $4,583,333 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Four years, $4,576,765 Cap Hit

Johansson was acquired by the Bruins at the 2019 Trade Deadline from the Devils and ended up being a solid complementary piece for Boston on their run to the Stanley Cup Final. He finished with four goals and 11 points in 22 playoff games.

He’s had trouble staying healthy over the last couple of years but does have two 20-goal seasons to his name. Johansson also brings a strong defensive element to his game. He doesn’t necessarily have game-breaking offensive talent, but he certainly displayed some nice skill in the postseason that would make him a decent fit on Vancouver’s second or third line at the right cost.

Ryan Dzingel

Position: Center

Age: 27

Height/Weight: 6’0″, 190 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 78 GP, 26 G, 30 A, 56 points, 47.19 CF%

Previous Contract: Two years, $1,800,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Four years, $4,256,526 Cap Hit

Dzingel was a trade deadline acquisition by the Blue Jackets as Ottawa became big-time sellers at the deadline. The Sens dealt away Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and Dzingel as part of their rebuild.

Dzingel had a strong year with Ottawa but managed just four goals in 21 games after arriving in Columbus. He also failed to make an impact in the postseason for the Blue Jackets — highlighted by being a healthy scratch in Game 2 of the Blue Jacket’s second round series vs. Boston.

Dzingel’s year didn’t end on the right note, but he’s put up back-to-back 20-goal-seasons and is entering just his fifth career NHL season. The crafty forward has enough speed and skill to turn into a quality free agent signing this offseason.

Michael Ferland

Position: Right Wing

Age: 27

Height/Weight: 6’1″, 217 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 71 GP, 17 G, 23 A, 40 points, 53.60 CF%

Previous Contract: Two years, $1,750,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Four years, $4,106,404 Cap Hit

Ferland was one of the players the Hurricanes acquired in a trade at the 2018 Draft that sent Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to the Flames.

While Ferland has proven to be an effective power forward, the Hurricanes need to prioritize signing their top players such as Sebastian Aho, so Ferland is left on the outside looking in. The Canucks have been linked to Ferland in the past because of his aggressive play style. He’s a big body who brings energy every shift and can net you 15-20 goals.

Ferland has been quite effective the last three seasons and is going to want to cash in on that. He was an absolute monster in the 2015 playoff series between the Canucks and Flames and it showcased just how effective he can be when it matters most.

Ferland is a good player, but he’s going to be looking for solid term and a significant pay bump on his next deal. Ferland has value that would suit the Canucks, but it would almost certainly take an overpayment of some kind.

Corey Perry

Position: Right Wing

Age: 34

Height/ Weight: 6′ 3″, 206 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 31 GP, 6 G, 4 A, 10 points, 47.28 CF%

Previous Contract: Eight years, $8,625,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: —

It’s hard to imagine Corey Perry playing anywhere but Anaheim — yet that’s exactly what will be happening in 2019-20 after the Ducks elected to buy out the remainder of Perry’s contract in June. The longtime Duck has played 988 career games for Anaheim and is coming off a disastrous injury-riddled 10-point season.

If the Canucks were to target Perry, they’re counting on him returning to the 30-goal effective scorer he was just a few seasons ago. Perry is a pest and is hated by many players and fans across the NHL. Despite his old age, Perry still has value to offer, especially on the power play. He’s a proven goal-scorer who is out to prove doubters wrong.

Of course, when you start talking a long-term contract for an aging veteran whose best days are behind him, that’s when it gets very dangerous. But a short term contract for Perry would likely provide some value if the Canucks went down that route.

The direction the Canucks are heading in, however, doesn’t really fit with where Perry is at in his career. If it’s anything more than a couple years for the Canucks, you’re looking at hindering the development and growth of the younger players, especially forwards Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen, who are expected to grow into bigger roles in the near-future.

Joonas Donskoi

Position: Right Wing

Age: 27

Height/ Weight: 6’0″, 190 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 80 GP, 14 G, 23 A, 37 points, 54.46 CF%

Previous Contract: Two years, $1,900,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Three years, $2,796,060 Cap Hit

Donskoi is going to be a likely casualty of San Jose’s salary-cap crunch after defenseman Erik Karlsson signed a massive eight-year, $92M extension.

Donskoi tied a career high with 14 goals this season and has been a solid supporting scorer in each of his four NHL seasons to date. He has incredibly filthy hands to go with a strong shot. He’s shown the ability to play anywhere in the lineup and could be a good boost to Vancouver’s second or third line.

When you compare Donskoi to his San Jose teammate Nyquist with some advanced stats, Donskoi holds an edge in many categories, including zone entries and exits. He might not supply the same amount of offensive production as Nyquist, but when you take into consideration age, term and the potential cap hit, Donskoi would likely provide you with better value.

Things will be heating up in the NHL beginning July 1st, and the Canucks will have plenty of options if they want to improve their roster up front. You can view a list of the top available free agents here.

  • canuckfan

    Imagine a line of Perry, Jake and Gaudette if Jake were to switch to the left side. Gaudette sure would have some open ice, then with Miller, Pearson, and Bo the Canucks would have some pretty heavy lines, and a fourth line of Beagle, Roucel, and McEwen to back up a first line of Lievo, Petey and Brock. Lievo may end up cycling through lines with other left wingers. With Perry you could likely sign him for one or two years for 6-7 million one year would be best if he can fight back to how he has played in the past it could be a year by year deal if he can’t get back into form he will likely want to retire. If Jake does well on the left he may be able to play with Brock and Petey.

  • speering major

    At the price and term I like Ferland and 4 years and 4 million. He can play effectively on the top 3 lines. He brings an edge and scored at over a 20 goal pace the last 2 seasons. His scoring will likely drop off a cliff as he ages but on a 4 year deal you should be fine for at least two of them

    Having Ferland and Miller in your top 6 gives you options with chemistry and a diverse skill set. Guys that can win battles and play physical is still very important in this speed and skill focused era. The fact that you are talking about a guy that can also put up over 20 goals is excellent. Petterson, Brock, and Pearson need guys that can retrieve pucks. Having both Miller and Ferland would guarantee they all have that. Also keep in mind there’s and gritty and tenacious Podkolzin in the pipeline. Having a guy like Ferland out there with him would open up his game imo.

    I’m not sure Ferland agrees to a 4 year deal but if he’s listening to them, I really hope JB is making a pitch. Signing Ferland and moving Sutter for a reliable 3rd pairing D on a short term deal makes this team significantly better than last season while also having a ton of cap space being freed up each of the next 2 season to sign the core pieces.

  • DeMxNz

    Can’t afford Panarin Petey and Quinn will need money, bo as well. Who want to be I. Toronto’s cap crunch f that ferlund or perry on a two year overpayment that’s the way we should go

  • Beer Can Boyd

    “Simmonds is the type of player that the Canucks could use.” No he’s not. Johanssen and maybe Donskoi are the only 2 here we could use or afford, really.

  • speering major

    There’s also Anders Lee who has averaged almost 30 goals a season for the last 5 years. He’s a big power forward that is also a captain. I’m not familiar with his game but his numbers don’t lie

    If JB was suggesting top 6 forwards or top 4 D only, Lee would have to be on the list he’s considering

  • Kanuckhotep

    It’s not Perry’s great hands that can be questioned but his wheels. He simply can’t keep up to the play anymore. Pass. For the life of me I don’t know who can afford Panarin. Certainly not the Canucks. Donskoi is the sleeper here with the proper amount of skill, youth and affordability Benning should consider. But maybe Donskoi is what a lot of other GMs are looking to sign. Just don’t hand away the farm, GMJB, on some over the hill, expensive UFA.

  • Defenceman Factory

    I’d feel better about signing a UFA forward if I had more confidence Benning could trade out excess ones. Granlund and Gaunce walk for nothing, Gagner ends up in a buyout of Spooner. Sutter, Beagle, Eriksson, Schaller and Motte all still here. Roussel, Virtanen, Leivo, Pearson, Baertschi and Goldobin all vying for the 2 open top 6 winger jobs. None of these guys are waiver exempt.

    I don’t want to re-litigate Benning’s trades. The only one I really didn’t like was for Gudbranson. It’s the trades he doesn’t make that bother me. His tendency to hang on to players results in an accumulation of too many bodies for too few roster spots. The classic examples are Sutter and Tanev. These have been valuable players (how valuable has been debated to death). The debate about trading these guys for draft picks usually revolves around the probabilities of hitting on the picks. What is missed is the value of these picks as currency for making trades. Miller was just acquired from Vegas for picks Sutter would have returned a couple years ago. Cap strapped teams want picks not middling players that cost money. The Canucks have 6 Dmen currently signed that have almost no chance of ever being more than a 6th or 7th Dmen in the NHL. Meanwhile Hutton, Schenn and Pouliot are all at risk of walking for nothing.

    The Canucks could sign a player from the list of forwards that will make them better. That will make other players surplus and I don’t think Benning will find any market value for them and whoever he signs will be kept too long and not cycle assets back into the system.

    Benning has suffered from an unrealistic, impatient and meddling owner, a benevolent President and some poor pro scouting contributing to this situation. This is his last year on a contract for a job which isn’t evident he really wants anymore.

    This would be a good year to pass on signing a UFA forward. A Myers signing and the failure to find a younger top 4 RHD who forms part of the core going forward plateaus the Canucks as a wildcard team.

  • tyhee

    After the Spooner buyout the Canucks have about $17.5 million left in cap space for the coming season.

    Rumours and speculation are that they intend to offer a defenceman something over $6 million on a long-term deal, which is consistent with Benning’s statement a couple of months ago about being agressive in trades or free agency to improve the defence and acquire a scoring winger (the latter of which was the reason for the Miller trade.) Let’s assume $13.5 million for Boeser and a defenceman (speculation is focussed on Myers.) Note I’m not arguing for or against such a signing right now, just assuming that the speculation isn’t too far off.

    That leaves $4 million or so in total cap space without paying performance bonuses for Pettersson (whose max in bonuses would be $2.85 million) and Hughes (max $850K). If Juolevi were to take a spot he’s got performance bonuses that could max out at $1.45 million in 2019-20.

    The Canucks are permitted to defer the cap hit on performance bonuses to the following season, but doing so would mean the Canucks would have that much less to spend in 2020-21. If they don’t defer, then the can potentially use up all their cap space with the bonuses for Petey, Hughes and Juolevi and still have to deal with signing Goldobin, Leivo, Motte and Schenn.

    The upshot of all this is that most of these potential free agents are nothing but a pipe dream. The defence right now is so thin right now that defence has to be the priority.

    There’s not enough cap space to make it worthwhile to even dream about Panarin or most of the rest and too much uncertainty at least until the defence is dealt with.

    • speering major

      That’s not really true. Baertschi and Sutter moving on would free up almost 8 million alone

      They don’t have to worry about performance bonuses. They will have Schaller and Tanev’s deal expiring next season also. After Eriksson is paid his signing bonus next summer he will be owed $5million over 2 seasons. That is a contract that can be moved even if it requires, a sweetener, retaining salary, or taking a less bad (cap hit) contract back

      The Canucks actually have plenty of cap space and flexibility…. of course that can change if JB goes nuts on the 1st again, but signing a D and top 6 winger is still very possible, just not Panarin

  • I am Ted

    I’d do a low ball deal on Nichushkin. Then look at Dzingl to play on the wing with Bo. That might be the extent of it from this forward crew. Two cheap adds. I would also pass on Myers and look at other D. Hopefully Benning can swing a trade instead of overpaying and landing Myers and what will be a boat anchor of a contract.