The Vancouver Canucks aren’t likely to be taking any big swings in free agency this summer but that doesn’t mean that they can’t add value on July 13th.
Every year, depth players are signed for short-term, low cap-hit contracts that end up making a big difference to a team’s bottom-six. Whether it be through providing depth scoring, sturdy defensive play, or adding value on special teams’ units, there is value in some of the low-end free agents.
Here are four cheaper free agent options that the Canucks can explore.
After being a part of the Rickard Rakell trade, Dominik Simon finished up his season in Anaheim after playing 55 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Simon is a defensively responsible winger who can provide depth to an organization. He scored three goals and added 13 assists during his 72 games played this season. Simon is 27 years old and posted a career-high 28 points with the Penguins under the watch of Jim Rutherford back in 2018-19.
After signing a one-year, $750,000 contract last summer, Simon likely won’t be expensive and with the connection to Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin, he could be an option to be a depth piece on the Canucks or add top-end talent to the AHL team in Abbotsford. Though he has only played one AHL game over the past four seasons, he may be turning into a player who begins to experience the waiver life soon.
Simon averaged under 10 minutes of ice time in his 55 games with the Penguins but saw his ice time jump to over 12 minutes a night once he was a part of the Ducks. Adding penalty killing would be a big boost to his career path as an NHLer and may need to be done if he wishes to stay out of the AHL. Simon played a little bit on the penalty kill during the 2019-20 season but has more experience on an NHL power play than he does shorthanded.
His 25 even-strength point year during the 2018-19 season is the glimmer of hope for him to bounce back and be a notable contributor to the Canucks’ lineup next season.
Expect the cap-hit to be low but to have an NHL-quality player who is hungry to keep his career going.
BC-born Curtis Lazar is currently in his eighth NHL season with his third NHL team. He is coming off a career year where he finished the season with eight goals and eight assists in 70 games with the Boston Bruins.
As a penalty killer, Lazar was the fifth most-used forward this season for the Bruins with 112 minutes spent shorthanded. He has evolved his game to be strong in the defensive zone and brings a good impact to the expected goals against numbers at five-on-five and on the penalty kill.
Lazar is a centre who is coming off a two-year deal that saw him have an average annual cap hit of $800,000. He provides value to a bottom-six and can be an effective penalty killer.
With the local connection, Lazar seems like a solid option to help the fourth line.
After a heck of a collegiate career, Zach Aston-Reese has begun to shift his game into being more of a defensive winger who fits nicely in a bottom-six role. He played in 69 games this season and was also part of the Rickard Rakell trade. In those 69 games, Aston-Reese had five goals and 10 assists on the season.
He was a consistent force on the penalty kill and was fourth on the Penguins when it came to penalty kill time per game before he was traded to Anaheim. Aston-Reese had a positive expected goals-for percentage in each of his five seasons with the Penguins and has good enough hands to be able to finish in a bottom-six role.
Aston-Reese shows very well when it comes to defensive numbers at five-on-five and his ability to kill penalties will keep him in the NHL for years to come.
The connection between Aston-Reese and the Canucks’ upper management may be a key factor in getting Aston-Reese to sign in Vancouver.
Coming off a six-year, 24 million dollar contract, Victor Rask is likely to see a large pay drop in his next contract. He will probably come in on a bigger deal than the three previously mentioned forwards but did show more potential in the early parts of his career before landing in Minnesota and being traded to the Seattle Kraken this season.
Rask was used more like a winger this season than he was as a centre but still has the ability to play the middle. He doesn’t kill penalties but brings a big body on the forecheck and is likely looking to revitalize his career with the next contract he signs.
up to the task is victor rask! 😏 pic.twitter.com/x8e09ZbJ2f
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) March 29, 2022
There was a lot of potential shown early on in his NHL career when he was a part of the Carolina Hurricanes but he struggled to live up to the hype of his six-year contract when he was traded to the Wild. There’s still some skill left in his game and he likely is going to come in on a pretty cheap deal after not living up to his $4,000,000 cap hit over the past six seasons.
The Canucks will need to get creative with their cap space this summer and these forwards each have something to prove at vital points of their NHL careers. We’ve seen a new environment do wonders for a lot of NHL players and the hope is that the Canucks will find one or two of these types of bounce-back stories to add to their bottom six this summer.
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