Grading all six of the Vancouver Canucks’ July 1st signings

Photo credit:© Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports
Lachlan Irvine
9 months ago
In the hours since the NHL’s free agency period began, Patrik Allvin and the Canucks have been much busier than anyone expected.
By the time 2 PM rolled around, five new players and one AHL promotion had joined the club’s ranks, hoping to help push the Canucks to the next level. And in a serious breath of fresh air for the organization, Allvin got through Canada Day by signing only short-term, low-cost contracts that give the team more flexibility into this season and beyond.
Avoiding paying through the nose for big names or expensive risks were the pitfalls the Canucks desperately needed to avoid. And with potentially one minor exception, they largely passed with flying colours.
So today we’ll be taking a look at every player the Canucks signed on July 1, the cap hits and term they come attached with, and grading the team’s work on each individual deal. Let’s dive in.

Teddy Blueger (C, LW) – 1 year, $1.9 million AAV

Teddy Blueger was one of the six options I floated in a recent article about bargain hunting through this year’s free agent class, and he comes to the Canucks as their potential solution at third line centre.
Blueger split last season with Pittsburgh and Vegas, earning a Stanley Cup ring as a part of the Knights’ taxi squad and taking over 500 faceoffs with a success rate above 50 percent. The Canucks are hopeful that Blueger will take some heat off of Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller in the offensive zone, and provide crucial help defensively on the penalty kill.

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As a former Penguin, Blueger is well-known to the Canucks’ top brass, but he’s definitely going to be leaned on more heavily here than he was in his last two stops. Luckily, with a one-year deal at an extremely team-friendly rate under $2 million, it’s impossible not to like this low-risk bet.
Signing grade: A

Ian Cole (D) – 1 year, $3 million AAV

Like Taylor Swift, Ian Cole arrives in Vancouver with a Big Reputation.
Cole has spent the last two seasons on one-year contracts in Carolina and Tampa Bay, posting 19 and 17 points respectively. Cole spent the majority of 2022-23 on a pairing with Erik Cernak, playing over 600 minutes at even strength and posting an Expected Goals For percentage of 54.13, among the highest of any regular Lightning defensive group.
But Cole’s real value comes in his defensive game, and he excelled at preventing scoring chances last season.
Chart courtesy of Evolving Hockey.
Cole’s deal with the Canucks is practically identical to the one he took in Tampa, with the only real difference coming in signing bonus money; Cole immediately earns $1.5 million today, as opposed to just $500 thousand with Tampa last year.
As a 34-year-old defender who plays a hard-checking game, any sort of term for Cole would have been a big risk. By electing to take the one-year option, the Canucks have taken a wise direction that allows them more cap flexibility in the future.
There might’ve been some better options out there in terms of finding scoring help from the blue line, but improving in their defensive end clearly had to take priority. And at just $3 million Cole’s deal will still be manageable even if things go south.
Signing Grade: A-

Matt Irwin (D) – 1 year, $775,000 AAV

At 35 years old, Matt Irwin has been around the block many times.
The Brentwood Bay, BC native played 61 games for the Capitals last season, notching five points and 36 penalty minutes. Irwin arrives as a cheap depth option on defence if injuries to the main cast creep up, and will likely end up providing veteran leadership in Abbotsford more than Vancouver.
Is this a particularly sexy free agent signing? Obviously not. But with a league minimum, two-way contract for a single season, there’s really nothing but upside for both Irwin and the Canucks.
Signing grade: A

Tristen Nielsen (C) – 1 year, $950,000 AAV

You always want great things for the people who work hardest, and Tristen Nielsen sure earned his first NHL contract today.

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The 23-year-old centre was crucial to the Abbotsford Canucks’ success last year, finishing fourth in team scoring with 41 points and tacking on four more during the playoffs. That run was enough to warrant an upgrade from his previous AHL contract to one with the big club that could earn him $950 thousand if he spends the full year in Vancouver.
It’s more likely he’ll split the year between Vancouver and Abbotsford in some capacity. But the fact that he’ll get that opportunity is a testament to how hard the former Vancouver Giant has worked to get here.
Signing grade: A

Zach Sawchenko (G) – 1 year, $775,000 AAV

Finally, a goalie signing!
With Collin Delia headed for the colder pastures of Winnipeg, the Canucks needed another depth option in net to stash in Abbotsford. And former San Jose Shark Zach Sawchenko fits that bill perfectly.
The 25-year-old from Calgary has seven games of NHL experience under his belt, all with the San Jose Sharks in 2021-22, and spent last season in the Hurricanes system making 41 starts for the Chicago Wolves. His numbers weren’t particularly fantastic – he posted 17-18-3 record and a sub .900 save percentage – but if the Canucks are good at one thing with Ian Clark on staff, it’s rehabilitating goalies.
And with Sawchenko on a league minimum deal, that’s an experiment worth trying.
Signing grade: B

Carson Soucy (D) – 3 years, $3.25 million AAV

The rumours surrounding Carson Soucy and the Canucks have been unavoidable for weeks, and today they finally signed on the dotted line.
Soucy is a big defenceman who plays a heavy game with decent numbers in his own end at the cost of any major offensive contributions. But while he’s been brought in to help stabilize the penalty kill, the most glaring issue with Soucy is how often he’s the cause of his team landing on the PK in the first place, earning 68 penalty minutes with the Kraken last season.
Chart courtesy of Evolving Hockey.
With all of that in mind, a three-year contract is a risk, one of the few the Canucks ended up taking today. A $3.25 million cap hit is a bit pricey and might be difficult to trade if things don’t work out, but in a vacuum, it’s a pretty manageable number.
But where the Canucks really lost points was by giving Soucy a no-trade clause on top of it.
The main value of a short-term contract is supposed to be the freedom it gives the player to sign a new deal sooner, which should take a no-trade clause out of the negotiations. So electing to offer one up here, after buying out an unmoveable defenceman just a few weeks ago, is a move that could hurt the club later on.
Of course, it’s not the end of the world given the three-year timeline, but it does provide less flexibility to a team that needs as much of it as they can get.
Signing grade: C+
All in all, it was a largely successful July 1 for the Canucks, and hopefully the start of a more sensible direction for the organization.
How do you feel about the deals Patrik Allvin and the Canucks made on Saturday? Let us know in the comments below!

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