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11 low-key, low-cost UFAs for the Vancouver Canucks to consider in 2023

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Photo credit:© Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 year ago
In two weeks time, the calendar will flip over to July, Canada will celebrate its national holiday, and NHL teams will start competing for unrestricted free agents in the annual Free Agent Frenzy.
Of course, not every team will be as competitive or frenzied as the rest. Everyone and their dog has heard by now about the Vancouver Canucks ongoing and upcoming struggles with the salary cap, and teams in cap trouble are not typically big spends on the open market.
Now, a lot can change in two weeks. But if it doesn’t, there’s still a chance that GM Patrik Allvin and Co. are active come the first of July. They’ll just have to be a little more budget-conscious, and aim their sights at some unheralded, underrated, and (ideally) soon-to-be underpaid UFAs.
Remember, several years of a flat cap and the league’s top players continuing to demand top dollar has created a salary squeeze, and it’s those players at the bottom-end of the NHL depth chart that are feeling it most.
There’s never been a better time to land a bargain.
As for what we’re looking for specifically in this exercise, we tried to focus on realistic areas of roster need for the upcoming season. That means, of course, defenders on either side, as well as depth down the middle. Top-four D and genuine 3Cs are tough to come by in the bargain bin, but we’ve done the best we could. We also reckoned that the team might seek out another fourth line wing with particular attributes, and so we included a few of those, too.
Here’s our subsequent list of low-key, low-cost targets.
 

4th Line Wings

Miles Wood

LW, 27, 6’2”, 195lb

 TeamCap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2022/23New Jersey$3.2 mil7613142712:0650.6%
Wood is known for three things: skating really fast, using that speed to crash into opponents with abandon, and frequently getting hurt doing so. Three seasons ago, he scored 17 goals in 55 games. The season after that, he played in only three games.
Then, in 2022/23, Wood appeared to suffer some serious rust from that lingering absence, posting some of the worst offensive totals of his career.
In all likelihood, Wood remains a much better player than the average fourth liner. But if the extremely tight UFA market results in him being paid like an average fourth liner anyway, there’s potential for his signing to be of the high reward variety. The real risk is that Wood is unable to stay healthy. Short-term is key here.
 

Pierre Engvall

LW, 27, 6’5”, 219lb

 TeamCap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2022/23Toronto/ Islanders$2.25 mil7617133013:3853.6%
At the 2023 Trade Deadline, the Islanders spent a third round pick to acquire Engvall. Which, on the one hand, might lead one to believe that there’ll be a decent market for his services as a UFA this summer. But the squeeze is on, and he could be the exact sort of player — high on potential, low on production — that is hardest hit by the temporary financial shortfall.
Engvall is massive, and he skates at a pace well over and above the average NHLer at that size, which is a sight to behold. He’s great at using his frame on the forecheck and to maintain possession of the puck, but lacks a lot of the necessary finishing skills. He’s versatile, able to play all three forward positions to some extent and make appearances on either special team. Signed to a bargain deal, Engvall makes a lot of sense as a piece that can fit all over the bottom-six.
 

Adam Erne

LW, 27, 6’1”, 212lb

 TeamCap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2022/23Detroit$2.1 mil618101813:2341.8%
Erne was once thought of as a player with some upward offensive potential, and earned his higher-than-expected salary after a season in which he notched 11 goals in 45 games. Since then, however, he’s pretty firmly settled into a role as a bottom-six agitating winger, and that’s probably what he will remain. A salary reduction seems inevitable.
Erne is as physical as his size allows, active between and after the whistles, and able to chip in a reasonable amount on the penalty kill. He’s definitely not as fleet of foot as the previous two entries on this list, but makes up for it by having a better set of hands.
 

Oskar Sundqvist

RW, 29, 6’3”, 220lb

 TeamCap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2022/23Detroit/ Minnesota$2.75 mil6710182813:5245.1%
Look, obviously we’ve got a type here, and that type is “big and knows how to use it.” Sundqvist has moved around a lot in his career, but he’s established himself as a true and classic grinder — as in, someone who makes it their duty to grind down the opposition on a nightly basis.
Sundqvist is great at using his size to protect the puck, to battle in the corners, to get in the way of shots, and to bang bodies when necessary. He’s not a real shift-disturber, he falls more into the camp of “perpetually tough to play against,” and that’s something the Canucks definitely need more of.
 

3rd or 4th Line Centers

Zemgus Girgensons

C, 29, 6’2”, 200lb

 TeamCap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2022/23Buffalo$2.2 mil801081812:5950.9%
Maybe we’ve just got Latvian Fever after Arturs Silovs’ electric performance at the 2023 Worlds. But of the very limited options available on the FAF market, Girgensons looks to be one of the best budget options.
He hits a lot, kills a lot of penalties, and uses his size effectively to match up against top-six opposition far more frequently than the average bottom-sixer. At even-strength, Girgensons played fourth line minutes with third line deployment, but then he led all Buffalo forwards in shorthanded ice-time. He’s a utility center, and one that is good at being utilized in the ways that the Canucks are going to need to use their newest pivot. If there’s one major strike against him, it’s that he’s not great at faceoffs, but then nobody in Buffalo seems to be.
 

Teddy Blueger

C, 28, 6’0”, 185lb

Pittsburgh/
Vegas
Sure, Blueger was a Trade Deadline acquisition for the Golden Knights who wound up being mostly a healthy scratch in the postseason, getting into just six playoff games. But that was for the eventual 2023 Stanley Cup Champions on a roster that was some $15 million over the cap. On most rosters, Blueger is an everyday NHL player.
Bluegers does everything you’d want a fourth line center to do: he wins faceoffs, he forechecks, he kills a ton of penalties, and he matches up well and frequently against opposing top lines. As a 3C, Bluegers is probably stretched to the limits of his capabilities, but like Girgensons, he does happen to have the exact “set of skills” that Vancouver is looking for. He’s an intriguing option if the salary comes down to something less than he’s currently making.
 

Nick Bjugstad

C, 30, 6’6”, 209lb

 TeamCap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2022/23$2.2 mil634121612:5546.6%
 TeamCap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2022/23Arizona/ Edmonton$900K7817122916:1247.0%
Honestly, we don’t know why Bjugstad doesn’t get more attention. He’s spent the last couple of years signing near-minimum contracts and being available for cheap at the deadline, and yet he carries a personal checklist of things GMs love. He’s enormous, he’s right-handed, and he skates well. He’s not a destroyer, but he hits a lot and consistently. Bjugstad was Arizona’s de facto shutdown center in 2022/23, and he performed quite fine in the role. He’s more suited to the 4C role, for sure, but is able to move up the lineup when called upon. He does have a 24-goal season on his resume, but it was eight years ago.
 

LHD

Niko Mikkola

LHD, 27, 6’4”, 209lb

 TeamCap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2022/23St. Louis/ Rangers$1.9 mil8115617:2642.8%
Mikkola is a big and rangy skater that might not be a traditional shutdown guy, but is still best described as a defensive defender. He possesses good mobility, solid puck-moving skills, and an active stick that he uses to disrupt plays more than his considerable frame. One way or another, Mikkola finds a way to get the job done with as little flash as possible.
At this stage, Mikkola should be considered on the fringe of top-four play, and far better suited for a bottom-pairing. If Oliver Ekman-Larsson is still taking up a spot on the Canucks’ left side next season, Mikkola could provide some necessary balance.
 

Andreas Englund

LHD, 27, 6’3”, 189lb

 TeamCap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2022/23Colorado/ Chicago$750K4704412:0749.7%
We won’t mince too many words here. Englund is a depth defender who tops out as a bottom-pairing talent and has no place near any team’s top-four. But he’s large, he’s physical, and he’s a bit mean-spirited, which could be the missing element that the Canucks are looking to add with Luke Schenn and Kyle Burroughs both potentially departed.
Englund probably shouldn’t be in the lineup every night on a roster with playoff designs. Colorado used him correctly as a fill-in guy. But his fight card from last season does contain Keegan Kolesar, Austin Watson, and both Folignos, so Englund can also play somewhat of an enforcer role from the blueline. v
 

RHD

Connor Clifton

RHD, 28, 5’11”, 190lb

 TeamCap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2022/23Boston$1 mil785182317:5148.4%
Clifton is a slightly undersized defender who makes up for it with intelligence, mobility, and determination. He covers his own end of the ice, kills penalties, and moves the puck with a better-than-average ability. He appears to just now be showing the glimpses of a greater skill that he once demonstrated at lower levels. What’s not to like?
Well, for one, Clifton might not really be a “budget option.” He ended the season as a bottom-pairing defender for the Bruins, but spent much of the season in their top-four as they set NHL regular season records. That alone will probably lead to him being paid big on the free agent market, and that could easily lead to an overpay. It’s worth noting that Clifton’s matchups were fairly sheltered in Boston this year, and that he undoubtedly benefitted hugely from the defensive load carried by other Bruins defenders.
Maybe he breaks out even further when handed more responsibility on a new team. Maybe he does not.
 

Justin Holl

RHD, 31, 6’3”, 197lb

 TeamCap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2022/23Toronto$2 mil802161820:1449.3%
Everyone is familiar with Holl’s name, and not necessarily in a good way, because he’s spent the last couple of years being the whipping boy of the Center of Attention in the Hockey Universe. But don’t believe the Leafs fans. Holl has some holes in his game, but Toronto still made great use of him in their top-four all season long, and he did not exactly disappoint.
Holl can matchup against opposing top-sixes, he kills an inordinate amount of penalties, and can move the puck at least somewhat effectively. He uses his size well for coverage, but is absolutely not a banger, and infamously got dusted by both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Corey Perry this past season.
We get the feeling that Holl might be significantly more appreciated in Vancouver than he was in Toronto, and could be the perfect fill-in signing while the team waits for a longer-term solution on RHD.

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