Earlier this week, we brought you 14 top-four defenders the Vancouver Canucks can still target (if they hurry), and this author placed Nate Schmidt at the top of their trade-board.
Less than 24 hours later, Schmidt was a Canuck, acquired for the low, low price of a third-round pick in 2022.
Now, we at CanucksArmy aren’t ones to be superstitious, but we’re also loath to take chances when it comes to the success of the franchise, so here we are, back again, to manifest a new top-six forward.
Ideally, GM Jim Benning and Co. will be looking for someone to replace Tyler Toffoli after choosing to part ways with him this offseason. With Tanner Pearson only signed for another year, however, the Canucks could honestly use a top-six-quality talent on either wing, so we’ve gathered a list of both lefties and righties that the team could target before the 2020/21 season kicks off, if they act as quickly as they did last time.
The Dwindling UFA Market
While the UFA market for defencemen gets slimmer by the day, there are actually still a few talented forwards free for the taking.
C/W, 28, 5’10”, 185lb, UFA (Nashville)
The other Granlund brother already exceeded expectations once in Vancouver, so why not give the other, more talented one a chance? Only two seasons removed from back-to-back near 70 point seasons, Granlund’s production has tanked since arriving in Nashville, but he’s still in an age range that suggests serious bounce-back potential.
Granlund can play all three forward positions, and had the best years of his career on the right wing. Rumours persist that he’ll be joining the Blue Jackets’ growing cohort of Finns, but if the Canucks can convince him to cash in on a short-term deal by dangling a spot on Elias Pettersson’s wing in front of him, it just might work. Such a contract could pay off in a big way.
Cost?: The Canucks have no reason to exceed the contract Montreal gave Toffoli, and every reason to throw out something lesser in both term and salary. If they could convince Granlund to sign a one or two-year deal in the neighbourhood of $4 million, that would be a risk worth taking.
LW, 30, 6’0”, 180lb, UFA (Florida)
Hoffman is clearly the most talented forward left on the market, but he comes with some serious caveats. Well-known for his less-than-stellar dressing room reputation, Hoffman hasn’t had staying power anywhere he’s been yet, despite ultra-consistent production.
Coming off one of the best seasons of his career, Hoffman is struggling to cash in, which could suggest he’d be willing to take a one-year contract in the hopes of going long-term next offseason, a la Taylor Hall. If not, the Canucks should avoid committing any term at all to this player.
Cost?: For a one-year deal, Hoffman could garner as much as $6.5 million, which might be acceptable so long as there are no plans of extending him beyond that.
RW, 31, 5’11”, 185lb, UFA (Florida)
Oft ignored in the shadow of more productive players in Florida, Dadonov has been extremely effective since leaving the KHL to rejoin the Panthers in 2017. He’s paced near 30 goals for three straight seasons, though his assist totals dropped in 2019/20, which may help explain why he’s failed to land a contract thus far.
Unlike Hoffman, Dadonov comes with no known dressing room issues, and so he might be a safer bet to commit to — though his age suggests otherwise. The Canucks should be interested in a one-year temp position to insulate Vasili Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander’s arrivals, but that’s about it.
Cost?: A one-year deal somewhere south of $6 million is probably fine, and that could possibly be stretched to two years if the cap hit were kept reasonable. Anything beyond that is counterproductive.
LW, 25, 5’11”, 191lb, UFA (Ottawa)
Duclair couldn’t have picked a worse time to have a breakout season, nor a worse team upon which to have it. The Ottawa Senators balked at his $5 million-plus demands and left Duclair unqualified, but it appears he and his agent have misjudged the market, because he remains unsigned.
Betting on Duclair to maintain his current level of scoring, and paying him accordingly, might not be the best strategy, though his age does fit in with the Canucks’ core and he is capable of playing either wing. A better strategy would be to offer Duclair a chance to replicate his totals on a one-year deal as part of Vancouver’s vaunted top-six, with the hopes of landing a big-term deal next summer.
Cost?: If Duclair wants $5 million or more on a one-year deal, give it to him. Term is the thing that should be avoided at all costs here.
C/W, 26, 6’2”, 177lb, UFA (Edmonton)
Edmonton paid a hefty price to acquire Athanasiou last season, reasoning that the speedy winger might be a perfect fit on Connor McDavid’s wing. Instead, Athanasiou put up just one goal and assist with the Oilers and then went pointless in four playoff games, leading to him going unqualified this offseason. All in all, it was a dreadful campaign, but just one year ago Athanasiou notched 30 goals and 24 assists for the lowly Red Wings.
He really seems like a player built for the “new” NHL, but inconsistency is a hurdle he’s yet to clear. If he can ever put it all together, he’d be a bona fide top-line talent, and a team like the Canucks can always use more speed.
Cost?: Don’t expect Athanasiou to take a pay-cut, which means he’ll be expecting an average salary of at least $3 million. After bombing out in Edmonton, he’s probably in line for a one-year, “prove it” deal, which is exactly what the Canucks should want, too.
LW, 28, 5’8”, 175lb, UFA (Pittsburgh)
Sheary only barely qualifies as a top-six forward these days, and it’s arguable whether or not he ever truly did. He’s best known for riding shotgun with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on some talented Penguins teams, piling up a nigh-point-per-game season in 2016/17, but he’s since faded back to mediocrity, even after returning to Pittsburgh at the 2020 Trade Deadline.
Sheary, at the very least, has demonstrated the ability to complement an elite center and chip in an adequate amount of offence for the role he’s given. He shouldn’t be anyone’s top choice, however.
Cost?: Coming off the worst season of his five year career, Sheary is in no position to make demands. A one- or two-year deal somewhere south of $3 million sounds fair, and if he doesn’t like it he can go elsewhere.
LW/RW, 27, 6’2”, 192lb, UFA (Vancouver)
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our old pal Josh Leivo. He remains the most cost-effective forward on the market, and he was producing at a top-six rate with the Canucks before his unfortunate injury last season.
Giving Leivo another chance to permanently crack the top-six seems like a gamble worth taking, so long as he’s received a clean bill of health.
Cost?: You can almost certainly get Leivo on a one-year deal in the range of $1 million, which seems like a no-brainer, even if the Canucks add another forward on top of that.
The Trade Market
The Canucks relied on the trade market to fill their gap on RHD, and it looks increasingly likely that that’s where they’ll go to find a scoring talent, too.
RW, 29, 5’11”, 185lb, New Jersey
One year @ $4.65 million
Still effective on a Devils squad in transition, Palmieri is already shaping up to be a prize piece at this year’s Trade Deadline — but maybe the Canucks can get in on the action early. Quietly, Palmieri has been a near-30-goal-scorer for the last five years running, and his modest stature belies his physicality and compete level. In many ways, he’s a right-handed JT Miller-type.
Palmieri may be a strong fit for the Canucks in the short-term, but he’s going to be seeking a huge contract on the open UFA market. The chances of Vancouver being able to afford what he’s looking for after this year are next to nil, so he’d be a pure rental.
Cost?: As a premium rental, Palmieri costs at least a first rounder at the deadline, and one has to assume that price-tag is even higher with a full season of play left on his contract. This one might end up being too rich for Benning’s blood.
LW, 29, 6’0”, 188lb, Tampa Bay
Two years @ $5.3 million
The picking clean of the Stanley Cup Champion Lightning continues. Everyone knows they’re going to have to cut cap before the 2020/21 season begins, so why not snag another top-six forward from them? The Miller acquisition worked out pretty well, after all.
Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Yanni Gourde are all signed for far too long to consider, but Palat’s two remaining years might just work. His performance this past playoffs was his best hockey in years, indicating that Palat still has plenty in the tank — and he brings versatility to any lineup with his ability to play on either side. Palat also has plenty of experience complementing elite talents, which he’d also get a chance to do in Vancouver. That extra year, however, is dicey.
Cost?: One hopes that Benning would be able to put more of a squeeze on the Lightning in this round of negotiations than he did with Miller. Palat seems like a candidate to go for a shockingly low return, somewhere in the range of the third rounder paid for Schmidt.
C/W, 23, 6’1”, 187lb, Winnipeg
If Benning is looking for a top-six solution with room to grow, Roslovic is an interesting candidate. Right-handed, able to play all forward positions, and with plenty of space on his frame yet, but he’s also seen his development hampered by Winnipeg’s forward depth and unwillingness to demote him.
Despite that, Roslovic showed flashes of breaking out last season, and seems poised for more in 2021. If the Jets are ready to move on, it may be the Canucks’ opportunity to pounce.
Cost?: Moving Roslovic would constitute a change of scenery, which means there may be a chance to acquire him without giving up futures. A straight-up swap for Jake Virtanen may, for once, actually require a sweetener on the Winnipeg side, and it could certainly work out in Vancouver’s favour.
LW, 23, 6’0”, 188lb, Boston
After a strong rookie season and a stronger sophomore campaign, DeBrusk took a step back last year — and at the worst possible time, too, as a pending RFA. The Bruins are desperately trying to squeeze a couple more competitive years out of the Bergeron/Marchand core, and they may not be willing to wait around for DeBrusk to rebound when they’ve got other options in the wings.
DeBrusk may not be the bruiser his father was, but he does have an element of physicality in his game, as well as the skill to use his size to his advantage. A versatile winger who can play a number of different roles depending on his linemates, DeBrusk can fit into most teams’ top-sixes, but the cost to acquire him will reflect that.
Cost?: With truly superior options like Hall now off the market, the Bruins don’t have much impetus to deal DeBrusk unless they’re really looking for a shakeup — or someone makes it worth their while. Any hopes of flipping Virtanen for him are misguided without a serious addition being tacked on. Again, this may be a player whose price-tag outweighs their worth.
The Offer Sheet Market?
There aren’t as many tantalizing targets for offer sheet at forward as there were on defence, but there’s at least one name worth discussing.
RW, 26, 6’5”, 234lb, Detroit
Mantha is easily the most appealing name for the Canucks on this list; he’s enormous, physical, equally adept at scoring and playmaking, and has seen his rate of scoring increase for four straight seasons. Unfortunately, that also makes him the most difficult to get their hands on. The rebuilding Red Wings have no real need to move him and ample cap space to sign him, even if he’s slightly older than the rest of their core.
An offer sheet makes some sense, as Mantha opted not to file for arbitration, but one would have to go to extremes to offer him something the Wings wouldn’t match. Perhaps a better route would be to threaten an exorbitant offer sheet that Detroit would feel obligated to match, but would rather not, and then try to strong-arm them into a trade from there — though the prospect of Benning going mano-a-mano with Steve Yzerman on something like that is a little frightening.
Cost?: To successfully offer sheet Mantha, you’d have to go well past a $6 million average, which means you’re giving up at least a first and a third, and potentially even a first, second, and third. Any trade negotiations would be in the same ballpark.