Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher’s departures — to the Calgary Flames and Detroit Red Wings, respectively — hurt the Vancouver Canucks and their fans for a multitude of reasons, but none more so than the gaping hole left on the right side of the blueline.
As of right now, the Canucks are set to head into the 2020/21 season with Tyler Myers as the only permanent fixture on the right side, with names like Jordie Benn, Brogan Rafferty, and Jalen Chatfield in the mix to join him.
Clearly, that’s not going to cut it.
Many of the names that were once suggested as potential replacements are already off the market.
Even if he doesn’t keep up with #Canucks Twitter — and we sincerely hope he doesn’t — GM Jim Benning is no doubt feeling the pressure to add a top-four defender before the list of available players shrinks even further.
The Dwindling UFA Market
It was always going to be difficult to land a true top-four defender in unrestricted free agency, and the chances are dwindling by the hour.
RHD, 30, 6’3”, 210lb, UFA (St. Louis)
Pietrangelo is definitely the cream of the crop, but there’s a downside to that. At the age of 30, he’s let it be known that he’s looking for a long-term deal, and such a contract would make an equally catastrophic impact on the Canucks’ cap situation as the rumoured acquisition of Oliver Ekman-Larsson would have.
If Pietrangelo were willing to take a major discount on either salary or term, he’d be a great fit for the Canucks. But there’s no indication he’s willing to do that, or that he has any interest in coming to Vancouver, so it’s best to move on to other targets.
Cost?: Seven years of term, and probably a cap hit north of $8 million for years 30 through 37 of his career. No thanks.
RHD, 29, 5’10”, 185lb, UFA (Carolina/New Jersey)
Vatanen is the real UFA prize that the Canucks should be after. He’s struggled through a couple of injury-plagued campaigns for the Devils, but it wasn’t that long ago that he was considered valuable enough for the Ducks to protect in the Expansion Draft, and at the cost of Shea Theodore, no less.
Vatanen actually enjoyed one of the best scoring paces of his career in 2019/20 before suffering another injury, one that prevented him from ever suiting up for the Hurricanes. He seems like a prime candidate to bounce back after an extremely extended offseason, but not the kind to demand an exorbitant salary.
Cost?: You could probably get Vatanen on something south of $4 million with three years of term. Maybe as low as $3.5 million.
RHD, 30, 6’2”, 205lb, UFA (Calgary)
Hamonic is a difficult defenceman to evaluate. He’s been trending downward since departing New York, and some might question his status as a top-four defender, but then he played the second-most minutes on the Flames last year, behind only Mark Giordano. He does excel on the penalty kill, which is an area of desperate need for Vancouver.
Hamonic caused a bit of a stir by opting out of the return-to-play, though he was well within his rights to do so, and has shown a strong desire to remain in Western Canada if possible. With Calgary no longer wanting his services and Edmonton already full, that narrows it down to just the Canucks and Winnipeg, which should drive Hamonic’s price down.
Cost?: Call it ruthless, but the Canucks should absolutely lowball Hamonic if all they need to do is beat Winnipeg’s offer. Nothing longer than two years, and not too far over $3 million.
LHD, 28, 6’0”, 197lb, UFA (Calgary)
Gustafsson is just one season removed from a 60-point season, but he should not be signed with that anomalous production in mind. He’s certainly a classic offensive defenceman, both in his skillset and the numerous holes in his defensive game. Despite his potency, both Chicago and Calgary have given him up for little or nothing in quick succession, and that doesn’t bode well for his value.
He is comfortable on his off-side, at the very least.
Cost?: Who knows? Based on his production, Gustafsson should be in line for multiple years at something around $4 million, but any team would be foolish to give that to him. The Canucks should avoid committing any sort of term to this player.
The Trade Market
If the Canucks aren’t happy with the selection of available UFAs, or aren’t able to lure one of their choice, they may have to turn to the trade market. Unfortunately, that usually means giving up assets.
LHD, 29, 6’1”, 194lb, Vegas
Five years @ $5.95 million
Schmidt is reportedly on the chopping block if Pietrangelo signs in Vegas, and the Canucks would be wise to inquire about his services. Though he’s a leftie, Schmidt is said to be better on the right, and that’s where he plays for the Golden Knights. Though his top-pairing spot was recently usurped by fellow right-hander Shea Theodore, Schmidt is still undoubtedly a top-four talent, and one capable of playing higher in the lineup when necessary. He’s been impressively consistent since joining Vegas, and was pacing for the best season of his career in 2019/20.
Schmidt’s salary is an obstacle in any deal, though it’s hard to argue he’s not paid fairly for his talents. The Canucks could afford him this year if they chose to move on from someone like Virtanen in a separate deal, but his cap hit becomes a complication in every season after that, especially if he can’t maintain his current quality of play into his mid-30s.
Cost?: One has to think that the 2021 first round pick or a high-level prospect is part of the ask. Fortunately, Vegas will be dealing with a limited list of suitors with the flat cap, and that could mean he goes for less than they’d like. Any prospect not named Podkolzin, Hoglander, or Rathbone and any pick beyond the first round sounds like an acceptable deal.
RHD, 26, 6’0”, 182lb, Minnesota
Three years @ $6 million
Dumba’s name has been bandied about in trade rumours all season, but there’s yet to be any real indication that the Wild are going to move him, especially since he’s coming off the worst season of his career. Despite that, Dumba remains a strong-skating defender with a penchant for scoring goals and throwing huge open ice hits.
At his best, he’d undoubtedly improve the Vancouver blueline and solidify its right side. But that’s just further reason to Minnesota to wait until he returns to form before exploring his trade value. There’s also the question of his salary, though that’s certainly more palatable for a player of his age.
Cost?: The Wild have made their offseason moves and are still well under the cap, so they have no immediate impetus to trade Dumba, and thus won’t move him for an underpayment. It’s hard to imagine anything less than Adam Gaudette and next year’s first getting the conversation started, and the Canucks can probably keep adding from there.
RHD, 29, 6’2”, 229lb, Columbus
One year @ $4.25 million
Savard is a solid, if unspectacular, option for the top-four. He’s decent at just about everything, including being large, without being great at anything. He’s also likely only available if the Blue Jackets sign Alex Pietrangelo, or acquire another high-profile defender, a prospect that looks increasingly improbable.
With only a year remaining on his deal, Savard would be worth a gamble if Columbus were desperate to deal him and thus willing to accept a bargain price. Again, that depends almost entirely on Pietrangelo. In all likelihood, Savard stays until at least the deadline.
Cost?: Currently, Savard would demand at least a second rounder, if not more. He’ll probably retain the same value right up until the Trade Deadline.
RHD, 26, 6’0”, 200lb, Florida
RFA (Filed for arbitration)
With the Panthers having added Markus Nutivaara and Radko Gudas already this offseason, and still reportedly in the mix for another defender, its looking like RFA MacKenzie Weegar might be on the outs. If so, that’s great news for the Canucks.
Weegar’s age makes him a great fit, as does the fact he’s coming off a breakout season of sorts that was cut short by injury. Since coming into the league, Weegar has been a positive possession player, he plays far more physical than his modest frame would suggest, and he’s just now showing more of his offensive potential.
Cost?: Anything less than a first rounder for Weegar has a chance to be a steal for Benning. A second and a prospect like Kole Lind? Sure. In arbitration, expect Weegar to land a contract worth around $3 million.
RHD, 27, 6’3”, 208lb, Edmonton
One year @ $4.167 million
The addition of Tyson Barrie makes Larsson expendable, as does the fact that the Oilers are still right up against the cap without having found any wingers for Connor McDavid. Larsson may not be the same player who was traded straight-up for Taylor Hall, but he’s a rock-solid defender in the Chris Tanev mold capable of munching minutes and pairing nicely with an offensive talent.
He’s also only signed for one more year, which makes him a low-risk acquisition.
Cost?: The Oilers would be hesitant to deal Larsson to the Canucks, but they might not have a choice with cap space disappearing around the league. We still say a second and change gets it done.
RHD, 26, 6’2”, 205lb, New Jersey
Three years @ $4.167 million
Severson is a top-four talent in the offensive sense, but he hasn’t thus far in his career displayed the defensive talents to play those minutes on a contender. The hope would be that Severson two-way game could flourish on a superior blueline, but that’s probably only the case for him in Vancouver if he’s lucky enough to be paired with Quinn Hughes.
At 26, Severson has room to grow, but just finding consistency would be enough to make him worth his salary and term.
Cost?: The Devils might be the sort of team amenable to a forward-for-defence swap, though they did just acquire Andreas Johnsson. Flipping Jake Virtanen and a sweetener for Severson might work, but a future first rounder as a base should be out of the question.
LHD, 27, 5’11”, 180lb, Philadelphia
Three years @ $4.5 million
Gostisbehere has been rumoured to be on the outs in Philadelphia for some time now, but he remains a Flyer. Coming off a dismal year of production by his standards, Philly would be selling low if they chose to deal him now, but they may have to if they want to add anyone else to their roster.
Gostisbehere is high-risk, high-reward, because he’s only a couple seasons removed from truly dizzying offensive heights, but has also been declining sharply for two straight years. He is young enough to be a worthy gamble if the price is right. Though left-handed, he’s spent the bulk of his NHL career on the right side.
Cost?: Virtanen for Gostisbehere has been mentioned a time or two, and there’s some logic there with Virtanen being a classic Philly personality. The Flyers likely ask for a significant addition, but that depends on how desperate they are to move him.
LHD, 24, 6’3”, 221lb, Carolina
RFA (Filed for arbitration)
We’ve mentioned Fleury before, and he remains an intriguing, if unproven, target. When given the chance by injury, he’s proved more than capable of handling top-four minutes, including on his off-side, but it’s also apparent that he’s never going to get the chance to do so consistently if he stays in Carolina.
With size, skating ability, and untapped offensive potential, the acquisition of Fleury could pay off nicely in the long-run.
Cost?: Fleury for anything less than a first round pick has to be considered a win. Call it a second and change, and be grateful for the Hurricanes’ inconvenient depth. He also doesn’t have the track record to crack $3 million in arbitration, so that’s not a concern.
The Offer Sheet Market?
There’s always the offer sheet route, though it is said to be fraught with peril. And if that’s the path the Canucks want to take, there’s really only one franchise to target.
RHD, 23, 6’3”, 233lb, Tampa Bay
Cernak would be a dream come true for many Canucks fans, and with good reason. He’s an enormous, physical, and defensively-responsible right-handed defenceman just entering his prime, and he just played a top-four role on a Stanley Cup champion team.
Though trading for Cernak is, of course, an option, an offer sheet seems like the most direct method to squeeze him out of Tampa Bay’s possession.
Cost?: If the Canucks could get Cernak to agree to a five-year, $4.36 million offer sheet, the compensation would only be a second round pick, but there’s every chance the Lightning match. The Canucks would surely have to go into the next compensatory tier and give up a first and a third, as well as committing something north of $5 million to secure Cernak’s services.
LHD, 22, 6’3”, 215lb, Tampa Bay
If the Canucks are going to traipse into the upper tiers of offer sheet, they could always go for the luxury option and toss an offer sheet at Sergachev. Though a left-hander, he’s just as comfortable on the right, and played an even larger role in Tampa Bay’s Cup win than Cernak. He’s also significantly more offensively talented, and arguably more physical.
He’d make one heck of a partner for Quinn Hughes.
Cost?: The Canucks would have to go to the very top of the first-and-a-third tier to have a chance of stealing Sergachev away, and that means a $6.5 million average. The Lightning would love to match that, but they might not be able to. Give Sergachev something north of $7 million — which only costs a first, a second, and a third — and you’re all the more likely to land him.
Not Eligible: Ryan Pulock (NYI)
Pulock would have been an equally valid target for an offer sheet, but he’s now ineligible after filing for arbitration.