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Photo Credit: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The pros and cons of the Vancouver Canucks signing defenceman Travis Hamonic

The Vancouver Canucks have had quite the roster turnover this offseason, which includes the loss of Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher on the back-end. The Nate Schmidt addition has helped offset some of the loss of those two, but there is still some work to be done with the Canucks’ defensive depth.

Travis Hamonic has been a name that’s been linked to the Canucks for a few years now, and his connection to the team has seemed to be growing in the past few days. The main reason he left the New York Islanders was to be closer to Western Canada, which leaves only four teams to choose from in the Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Winnipeg Jets. Hamonic ended up spending the last few years with the Flames after a trade in 2017, but as his 7-year contract has expired, the 30-year old defenceman is now a UFA and has made it known that he doesn’t plan on leaving Western Canada.

NHL insider Elliotte Friedman was on Sportsnet 960 in Calgary on Monday and was asked about Hamonic, to which Friedman replied: “I do know Vancouver has been in and out. I still think they remain interested but don’t have flexibility cap-wise”. Satiar Shah of Sportsnet 650 also brought up Hamonic’s name a couple of months ago:

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So essentially, it’s going to take some cap maneuvering from the Canucks if they really want to bring in Hamonic. Personally, I think if the option to move out money was open to the team they would’ve already done it, so odds are it would be more of an internal move to create space. The Canucks are over the cap right now, but if Sven Baertschi ends up in Utica once again, and Micheal Ferland finds himself on LTIR, that would leave the team with around $3 million in cap space.

Hamonic’s last contract was just under $4 million per season, but throughout that 7-year contract, he didn’t really give teams a reason to want to give him a raise, especially when the amount of teams he wants to play for is so limited. On top of that, the flat cap has made it so the league-average players that would have been overpaid in years past are no longer cashing in during free agency.

With all this in mind, the Canucks would more than likely have enough cap space to sign the defenceman to a one-year deal, but they would have to wait until closer to the season. I want to explore what may happen if they do end up bringing in Hamonic.

The Pros of Signing Hamonic

The cost of acquisition: As I’ve outlined, nothing about this offseason lines up well for Hamonic to find either a long-term or high-priced contract. The Canucks signing Hamonic would likely be on a “show me” deal, which makes sense in a flat cap world.

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Shore up the third pair: The loss of Chris Tanev in the top four was made up with the Canucks’ acquisition of Schmidt, but the loss of Troy Stecher on the third pair has yet to be filled in. The prevailing thought to this point was that the team would be betting on someone like Olli Juolevi, Jack Rathbone, or another young defenceman to find a spot on the third pair with someone like Jordie Benn. The left side of that pair may still be open for those young players, but Hamonic coming in would at least give some stability on the bottom pair, especially since Travis Green and Nolan Baumgartner seem to prefer playing defencemen on their strong sides.

Depth on the back-end: The upcoming NHL season is expected to be compact, which doesn’t lend itself well to an extended run of health for the Canucks d-corps. If one of Schmidt, Quinn Hughes, Tyler Myers, or Alex Edler miss time the Canucks would then be put in a position where they’re playing a rookie defenceman or Benn in the top-4, which is not a spot Green would want to be in during an expected contract year.

The potential of a rebound season: Hamonic’s past season with the Flames wasn’t much to write home about as he had his struggles defensively and didn’t really balance it out with his offensive impact:

That being said, his 2018-19 season with the Flames was way better at even strength as he created far more chances and also wasn’t nearly as much of a liability in his own end:

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To be completely honest, I can’t find a concrete reason for the fall-off aside from age/injuries. Hamonic played most of his minutes in both seasons with Noah Hanifin, with the two playing second-pairing minutes in Calgary. The fact that Hamonic would likely be playing more sheltered minutes in Vancouver would help him potentially return to his old form. The Canucks don’t need Hamonic to contribute much offensively, as their current top four defencemen all have offensive capabilities of some kind.

A “veteran presence”: I know that isn’t a popular term around these parts, but the addition of a player that’s spent a decade in the NHL is valuable to teams around the league. Hamonic could fill that veteran role that Tanev left in the locker room, although obviously not to the same extent as he wouldn’t have the same tenure with the team. That being said, Hamonic is the same age as Tanev and they both lack front teeth. What more could you ask for?

A piece on the penalty kill: The Canucks also lost a key part of their PK when Tanev left for Calgary. Hamonic can fill that role and was one of the Flames’ better penalty killers last season as their xG/60 dropped over a full point with him on the PK:

As of now, the Canucks penalty killing defencemen would probably consist of Edler, Schmidt, Myers, and Benn. That isn’t necessarily that bad, but Hamonic would definitely be a welcome addition.

The Cons of Signing Hamonic

The injury risk: Now if the contract is around $1 million for one season, that’s a pretty low-risk signing, but the injury possibility is still there for Hamonic. He has yet to play a full season in the NHL without missing time and in a condensed season, there is more opportunity for injury.

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Blocking young players: This may be the best-case scenario for the Canucks, but if Juolevi and Rathbone impress out of training camp there may be too many cooks in the team’s defensive kitchen. That being said, the Canucks will probably be dealing with injuries throughout the season so there will be an opportunity for young players regardless.

The continuation of last season: As I mentioned earlier, Hamonic’s previous season in Calgary was potentially the beginning of a decline for him. If that trend continues, he may end up being more of a liability in his own end, especially if he ends up paired with Benn. The Canucks wouldn’t need Hamonic to be a huge producer offensively with the current top four defencemen all having some offensive upside, so any value for Hamonic would need to be found in the defensive zone.

Trade deadline/cap space flexibility: If the Canucks find themselves in a spot where they can potentially make a splash at the deadline in a push for the playoffs, any additional cap will make that even more of a challenge. This also depends on what the Hamonic contract looks like, as it could be easily flipped to another team if necessary, though the Canucks’ hopes would probably be that Hamonic steadies the back-end enough for there to be no reason to make a deadline move.

In the end, I do think if the opportunity for a Hamonic signing is on the table, then the Canucks should be pursuing it. At this point in his career, he’s essentially a Tanev-lite type player, someone who’s responsible defensively and can carry penalty killing minutes, which is what the Canucks are missing on the back-end right now.

The issue that may arise is the team’s unwillingness to spend real dollars in a pandemic, especially since they’ll be spending over the cap in real dollars this season. That’s why the contract would probably have to be somewhere in that $1 million range, making it an extremely low-risk signing.

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If Jim Benning does get the go-ahead to spend that money, it’s a definite upgrade on the current defence, and would really help mitigate the losses on the back-end this offseason, while also providing the team with the depth they are very sorely missing right now.