It was a busy day for Jim Benning. Not only did the Vancouver Canucks need to fill important positions in their bottom-six, defence core, and find a backup goalie, but they also needed to get some depth bodies who will serve as the engine of their AHL team.
From Travis Hamonic to Phillip Di Giuseppe, let’s explore all of the Canucks’ signings from day one of free agency.
Travis Hamonic – 2 years at $3,000,000
There were talks between the Canucks and Travis Hamonic a while back but it felt like those talks dissolved without a deal getting done. Something changed and Hamonic will now be back for two seasons with an average annual value of $3,000,000.
Last season, Quinn Hughes spent more time with Hamonic as his partner than all the other defencemen combined. The pairing had a tough start but did end up building chemistry in the second half of the year.
Off the top, three million dollars seems a bit steep for Hamonic’s services.
When you look around the league, Hamonic’s deal doesn’t look as bad.
Alex Goligoski signed a one-year deal with a $5,000,000 AAV, Michael Del Zotto signed a two-year deal with a $2,000,000 AAV, Derek Forbort signed a three-year deal with a $3,000,000 AAV and Cody Ceci signed a four-year deal with a $3,250,000 AAV.
Hamonic is going to play a lot of five-on-five minutes and Hughes will have success if Hamonic is able to continue to be a defence-focused defenceman who allows Hughes to be his best self. The Canucks are banking on Hamonic to continue developing chemistry with Hughes and if they can continue to improve as a pairing, this deal may not end up being the worst and it’s nice to see that Benning went with two years instead of three or four.
Final Grade: C+
Brandon Sutter – 1 year at $1,125,000
After making more than 20 million dollars over the past five years with the Canucks, Brandon Sutter will now be making a salary that matches his output.
This deal makes sense. Sutter is a fine fourth-line centre who can pick up shorthanded minutes and has the option to move up to the third line to play the wing if needed.
The entirety of his contract can be buried in the AHL if he can’t keep up with the NHL due to his age and injury history. It’s a no-risk contract for Sutter and if he can chip in 8-12 goals in a fourth-line role, people will change their hate to love for Sutter.
Final Grade: A-
Tucker Poolman – 4 years at $2,500,000
The most money committed to one player by the Canucks on day one of free agency was their four-year, 10 million dollar deal for former Winnipeg Jets defenceman Tucker Poolman.
This one caught a lot of fans off guard. Many were asking, “who’s Tucker Poolman” while others thought the name was good for memes and jokes.
The real answer is that Poolman is a 28-year-old, 6’2″, right-shot defenceman with 120 NHL games under his belt. He is a stay-at-home defenceman who creates little to no offence.
Poolman played against tough competition last season and likely will face much easier matchups this coming season as he projects to be on the bottom pairing with Jack Rathbone.
Courtesy of HockeyViz.com
Benning told the media that he believes Poolman can do a lot of the things that Chris Tanev can do. One thing is for sure, he doesn’t look like he’s going to put up a lot of points. I actually had a laugh-out-loud moment when I saw that he had zero goals and one assist in 714 minutes of ice time over 39 games last season. If his playstyle matches his analytic profile and counting stats, he’s going to pass the puck to Rathbone and then sit in the defensive zone in a reverse cherry-picker role.
The four-year contract worries me a bit as he has only played 120 games since cracking into the NHL back in 2017. He spent the entirety of the 2018-19 season in the AHL but has been an NHLer ever since.
Benning and his staff are confident that Poolman can bring depth to the defence but the four years still worries me.
I’d love to be pleasantly surprised and see him play like Benning believes he can.
I do like the stylistic fit for Rathbone and Poolman, as Rathbone needs to be the primary puck-mover on his pairing for him to reach his full potential. You’ve seen me write about that for months.
I’m hoping this gives Rathbone the freedom that he simply was not able to get while playing with Tyler Myers and defending two-on-ones against Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.
Next season it might be two-on-twos against those stars.
As for Poolman’s contract, it worries me but it’s not a failing grade. I’m surprised they went to four years on him but Benning did say that 12 other teams were in on Poolman. But, to be honest, I was on that call and it felt like he pulled that number out of a hat.
We will see how it works out over the next four years…
Final Grade: C
Jaroslav Halak – 1 year at $1,500,000 ($1,500,000 in bonuses)
Ian Clark wanted Jaroslav Halak, so Benning went out and got him.
He signed for $1,500,000 on the cap but as reported by Kevin Weekes, there’s a $1,250,000 bonus if he plays 10+ games and a $250,000 bonus for having a save percentage over 0.905%.
If Clark wanted him, I’m happy with the deal.
The scary part is the potential $1,500,000 bonus that could be applied to the 2022-23 season. 10 games and a 0.905% save percentage is very attainable.
So let’s get wild and see how the Canucks can avoid the big bonus.
The Canucks have four back-to-backs up to January 14th. You can give Thatcher Demko five extra games off and have him play 34/43 up to that point in the season. At that point in the season, you can call up Mikey DiPietro for January 15th and ride him as the backup for the rest of the season. Demko and DiPietro will have to be healthy all season long but if they can be, you will avoid Halak’s $1.25 million bonus.
My ideal timeline for DiPietro to be ready for an NHL backup role fits that as the Abbotsford Canucks will have played 30 games by then and I could see that being 22-25 starts for DiPietro. It’s possible, but not likely, I just thought I’d have some fun with it to save $1,250,000 on next year’s cap.
I like the Halak signing but the very attainable bonuses worry me.
Final Grade: C+
Luke Schenn – 2 years at $850,000
This signing is a slam dunk for the Canucks as Schenn is a seventh defenceman who can jump in and play with any of Rathbone, Hughes or Oliver Ekman-Larsson. If a right-shot defenceman needs a night off or an injury occurs, Luke Schenn will be there. He loves the organization for giving him a second chance at the NHL level and he wanted to come to Vancouver and win here.
He just won two Stanley Cups over the past two seasons and will be an excellent seventh defenceman for this team moving forward. A two-year deal at only $850,000 AAV is a great deal for the 31-year-old.
We all enjoy Luke Schenn and now, the Canucks got him locked in for the next two seasons.
Final Grade: A
Justin Bailey – 1 year at $750,000
As one of the fastest players in the AHL, I love this deal for both of the Canucks teams.
Bailey can play on a top line in the AHL and he can push for a spot on an NHL fourth line. He’s so damn fast, has a scoring touch but just needs to figure out the timing of his game in the NHL. It just feels like he’s in the wrong spot a lot of the time. If he can figure it out this season, he’s a candidate to play some games on the Vancouver Canucks’ fourth line.
Another option is when he goes on a hat-trick spree, you can quickly call him up from Abbotsford instead of flying him across the continent like you would have had to do if he was in Utica.
Final Grade: A
Danny Klimovich – Entry-Level Contract
In a surprise move, the Canucks signed their top draft pick of the 2021 draft to an ELC early Wednesday morning.
This gives the Canucks control over where he will play and the options come down to QMJHL, KHL, AHL and NHL.
Benning confirmed that Dinamo Minsk of the KHL or “Minks” as Benning called them, is looking at using Klimovich in a top-six role if he returns to the KHL. Many are scared off of Klimovich going to the KHL because of how Vasily Podkolzin was treated but Dinamo Minsk isn’t SKA. If Klimovich goes to the KHL, he will get a lot of minutes in the second-best league on the planet.
Who doesn’t love the idea of Klimovich playing in the AHL though? If he were to have success, he’d become an instant star and either way, Abbotsford fans will pay for admission to see this 18-year-old play.
This was a bold move that gives the team a ton of control. He can also have his ELC slide into 2022-23 if he plays under 10 NHL games before being sent to any of the other leagues, which includes the AHL.
To clarify, his three-year entry-level contract likely won’t kick in until 2022-23 because it’s very unlikely that he will play 10 NHL games this season.
A tidy piece of business for the Canucks, they now have all the control of where Klimovich can develop.
Final Grade: A+
The Abby Boys – Justin Dowling, Kyle Burroughs, Phil Di Giuseppe, Sheldon Dries, Nic Petan, Sheldon Rempal, John Stevens, Devante Stephens, Brad Hunt and Brady Keeper
The AHL team needed bodies and they got them on Wednesday.
The Canucks led the NHL with 17 signings on the first day of free agency and one of the names is Phil Di Giuseppe. Most of these players have some NHL experience but all of them will help make the AHL Canucks a strong team. Their defence is shaping up nicely.
A few names that make a ton of sense and should excite fans are local boys Devante Stephens and Brad Hunt; tough guy Brady Keeper; former AHL captain of the Bridgeport Tigers Kyle Burroughs; and John Stevens, who is returning to the Canucks organization from the Utica Comets.
With the mix of veterans, tough guys and local talent, the Abbotsford Canucks will be a fun team to follow and are looking like they will not be pushed around. Just the type of players that Trent Cull will love.
Final Grade: A
Phil Di Giuseppe – Final Grade: A+++
In the end, I give the team a B for what they did on Wednesday. Some good deals but a couple of worrisome ones to go with them.
Well, do what you do in the comments.
What did I get wrong for my grades?
Here’s a list for you to copy and paste and give your grades.
The Abby Boys:
Team Grade for the day: