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3 players with low-cost and high upside the Canucks should consider acquiring

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Photo credit:© Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
9 months ago
With the Oliver Ekman-Larsson buyout, the Vancouver Canucks finally have a little bit of breathing room to maneuver around under the cap as they look to fill out the rest of their roster. Is spending money the right move? That’s up for heavy debate depending on how you view this team.
But, for this article, the premise is looking at some low-cost targets that shouldn’t break the bank, while offering the potential to outperform their salaries and acquisition cost. It’s bargain bin shopping, except this time, it isn’t with blind pro scouting and a gut feeling. We’ll be taking a look at 3 players the Canucks should consider acquiring from an analytics perspective.

Ross Colton – LW/C

81 GP, 16G-16A-32P, current contract: $1.125 million AAV, projected contract: $3.3 million AAV
Ross Colton is probably going to be the latest casualty of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s salary crunch as they look to retain as many of their core players as they can. Colton’s $1.125 million cap hit was a bargain for the type of impact he provided the two-time champs, and while the projected $3.3 million might not be the cheapest of contracts to offer him, Colton should have the ability to outperform that deal.
The 26-year-old posted 32 points in the 2022-23 season, seven shy of his career-high just the season prior. That production lines him up with other players approximately in the $3-$3.5 million AAV ballpark, but that isn’t what should make him an appealing low-cost target. Rather, Colton’s analytics suggest that he’s an ideal fit for a team’s third line with the capacity to play elevated roles should the need arise.
He spent 2022-23 primarily with Tampa’s third line of Nick Paul and Pat Maroon. Even with that cast of known performers, Colton’s advanced stats suggested that he was the one who did a lot of play-driving on the line. Paul and Maroon’s CF% and xGF% drops from the mid to high 50s to the mid 40s when Colton isn’t alongside them. As well, Colton sees even deployment throughout the three zones, suggesting that he isn’t being sheltered significantly against tougher competition.
Whether he can replicate those numbers outside of Tampa Bay will remain to be seen, but with the production that he gives and a responsible two-way style, Colton would definitely be worth a flyer to see if he can be a solution in the third line center role.

Connor Clifton – RD

78 GP, 5G-18A-23P, current contract: $1.00 million AAV, projected contract: $3 million AAV.
The Boston Bruins are another team that have a lot of pending free agents to sign and not a lot of cap space to do so. An underrated piece to their d-corps might slip away in the chaos, and the Canucks would be wise to do their due diligence on Connor Clifton.
Clifton has steadily improved since breaking into the NHL back in 2018-19. This past season, the 28-year-old defenceman put up his best totals yet, racking up over twice the amount of points as his previous career best. Yes, we need to take into account that he played for a historically good regular season Bruins team – but, there’s his defence partner that should be factored in as well.
Playing the large majority of the season with Derek Forbort, the advanced stats paint the picture of Connor Clifton doing a lot of heavy lifting. Together, the pair registered 42.18 CF%, 42.53 xGF%, and 46.60 HDCF%. That might not sound very impressive, because it’s not. However, what is very interesting is seeing their numbers when playing away from each other. Clifton’s line jumps up to 50.38 CF%, 52.81 xGF%, and 52.90 HDCF%, while Forbort plummets to 34.87 CF%, 39.56 xGF%, and 38.64 HDCF%. From this, it can be inferred that one of them was performing better than the other when put together on the same pairing.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to add him into the mix going into the season, especially with the news that Ethan Bear will be out until at least December should the Canucks choose to resign him. Clifton has proven that he can buoy a pairing if need be, stepping into the top 4 when required without missing a beat. Perhaps in an elevated role consistently, he can also prove the investment will be more than worth it.

Mikhail Maltsev – C/LW

(AHL) 28 GP, 11G-10A-21P, current contract: $800,000 AAV, group 6 UFA
This one might sound like a classic reclaimation project like the (thus far) failed Vitali Kravtsov deal, but Mikhail Maltsev has already proven one thing that Kravtsov hasn’t – that he can produce at the AHL level. It wasn’t so long ago that the Russian racked up 17 goals and 31 assists in 56 contests with the Colorado Eagles. He’s made 56 NHL appearances thus far, with six goals and three assists to his name all with the New Jersey Devils.
The appeal with Maltsev would be the relatively small cost that he would demand in both a trade and in contract talks. He hasn’t established himself as a full-time NHLer, but at the age of 25 there’s still some time for that to happen. It’s obviously not easy to try and displace anyone in Colorado’s forward corps, even in a bottom-6 role.
Thanks to the AHL’s poor stat tracking, there’s not much in the way of advanced stats when it comes to Maltsev. But, judging from his point production and how he’s remained a major contributor with the Eagles during their Calder Cup runs, it shouldn’t be a stretch to think that the Russian could do with a look at the NHL level for more than the 5 games he got last season. There’s clearly some offensive talent there along with good defensive play in the AHL, so the question would be if that can and will translate for the Canucks should they want to acquire him. Never hurts to have more lottery tickets, especially if they’re cheap.
Efficiency will be the name of the game for the Vancouver Canucks. They’ll need players on bargains of contracts to hit, especially if they are planning to compete in the near future. While the pressures of the cap have been eased slightly, it’s best practice to manage accordingly with the OEL buyout now on the books until 2031.
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