Last week, this very author hopped on their keyboard to extol the virtues of Travis Boyd, who at the time had just been claimed off waivers by the Vancouver Canucks from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Since then, a mandatory quarantine has kept Boyd off the ice. Which, on the one hand, means that everything we wrote about last week is still stuck in the theoretical. But it also means that none of it is disproven yet, either, and so we’re back to double down with a bold proclamation:
Not only is Travis Boyd a good fit for the Canucks’ forward corps, he — along with fellow waiver claimee Jimmy Vesey — is the exact sort of player that needs to form the basis of the team’s bottom-six moving forward.
And probably the exact sort of player that should have been there all along.
Last week, we told you we wouldn’t be relitigating the controversial contracts handed out to the likes of Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel in the past. They were hotly debated then, they’re even more hotly debated now, and we’re all a little sick of the discourse.
Instead, let’s turn our eyes to the future and how, whatever your opinion on those past signings may be, the Canucks can certainly not afford to make similar decisions as they move forward toward contention.
Let’s focus on the shape the bottom-six now needs to take, and why players like Boyd are the key to the transition the Canucks need to make, regardless of who’s at the helm.
Boyd Beyond 2021
So, let’s say that everything works out the best it possibly could. Travis Boyd does as the numbers suggest he might and provides an as-good-or-better-than quality of play to the Canucks’ bottom-six than most of their existing forwards.
(Arguably, this has already happened in the case of Vesey.)
Hooray! That’s a successful waiver claim, right there.
The first step would probably be to retain Boyd’s services for something similar to his current salary. Players who end up on waivers usually don’t ask for much of a raise.
But what if Boyd demands more? What if he wants a million-a-year and then some?
That’s when you let him walk.
The key takeaway of Boyd’s success in Vancouver, if he actually achieves it, should not be that Boyd himself was the saviour of the bottom-six. It’s that adequate bottom-sixers are always out there, every single offseason, ready to be singled out by pro scouts and signed to bargain contracts. Overpaying for bottom-six talent in term, salary, or both is — as it always has been — largely unnecessary. For evidence, just check the depth charts of the league’s most competitive franchises. You won’t find many checkers in the $3 million+ category.
For a team like the Canucks that will soon be sporting brand-new cap hits for its four best players, Boyd’s value isn’t in the unique attributes he brings to the ice, but those attributes in conjunction with his affordable salary.
If he can’t be retained at a reasonable cost, the best strategy will not be to overpay him, but to go and find another Boyd on the free agent market and plug them into the lineup instead.
On this front, GM Jim Benning and Co. have done some fine work of late. Boyd joins a small collection of depth forwards outperforming their salaries in Vancouver; including Jayce Hawryluk, Justin Bailey, and, thus far anyway, his old teammate Vesey.
Getting more of these bang-for-buck bottom-sixers into the mix moving forward isn’t just the smart move, it’s the only way the Canucks are going to be able to continue building around its existing core.
Getting rid of those more expensive bottom-sixers still in the way, on the other hand…
Making space for the Boyds
If the way forward for the Vancouver bottom-six is truly more Boyds and Baileys and fewer Beagles, there will be much rejoicing in the fanbase. But extensions for Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko are coming this offseason, and space needs to be cleared sooner rather than later.
Heading into 2021/22, the Canucks have the makings of a solid and cost-effective bottom-six — short a defensively-responsible center, perhaps — through some combination of Boyd, Motte, Vesey, Hawryluk, Bailey, Zack MacEwen, and Adam Gaudette, with Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich ready to challenge for spots.
If you’re going to throw serious money anywhere, it’s at giving those players a literal centrepiece with the addition of a high-quality 3C — but our good pal Bill Huan is already all over that beat, and we’ll have more on that in the weeks to come.
The real issue becomes doing something with those less-cost-effective, below-replacement-level options still gumming up the works. Sutter becomes a UFA this offseason, so that’s one out of the way. Though, arguably and frustratingly, he’s probably the bottom-six vet the Canucks would most like to keep.
The trio of Beagle, Roussel, and Eriksson will still be nigh-impossible to move under a flat salary cap. If they can be without onerous sweeteners, then great, do it, and do it as early as the 2021 Trade Deadline. Any of them could be bought out for moderate cap savings, and at least one of them probably will be.
The most likely scenario, however, is that the Canucks suffer through another season with a bloated bottom-six before cutting all three of them loose to free agency. It might cost the continued services of Tanner Pearson and/or Alex Edler, but it’s doable.
Herein lies the key to this whole lengthy diatribe.
Though they find themselves in a less-than-ideal situation with their bottom-six, the Canucks can absolutely survive it and come out the other side with their core intact; ready to move on to a new era of high-priced superstars supported by low-cost depth.
Some will even find it in themselves to defend those expiring contracts as necessary intangible evils on the way to the Canucks’ current status quo.
But something that will screw it all up — and something that not even the most stringent defenders of management could ever justify — would be to repeat the missteps of the past by continuing to give out large free agency deals to bottom-six forwards.
If the team gets out of the Beagle and Roussel era with minimal damage just to hand out another four-year, $3 million per contract to a couple of new roleplayers, they’ll be right back in the same boat, and this time the results will be catastrophic.
As soon as the ink dries on extensions for Pettersson, Hughes, and Demko, the Canucks — whether it’s Benning in command or not — had better put a hard internal cap on all future depth signings. Would-be bottom-sixers can either sign for cheap or be replaced by those who are willing and able. This is the way.
Overpaying for intangible qualities will prove increasingly costly in the years to come, and that cost simply doesn’t need to be borne, because those qualities are not unique enough to justify said overpayment. Instead, the focus needs to be on effectiveness, both on-ice and on the books.
Thankfully, with proper attention paid to pro scouting, effective depth players are always available in abundance.
After all, the Canucks did just pick one up on waivers.