With very limited options at centre, should the Canucks prioritize bringing back Teddy Blueger?

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
21 days ago
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In the beginning, this was meant to be one of those articles in which we highlight a need on the current Vancouver Canucks roster, and then go through the various free agent options who might fill that need.
It’s something we’ve already done this offseason for gaps at RHD, LHD, and on Elias Pettersson’s wing.
But when it came to writing such a piece about the Canucks’ impending departures at the centre of their roster, we rapidly reached a different conclusion.
And that conclusion was that there are just not that many centres out there that suit the needs of the Canucks, save perhaps one of the ones who is set to depart.
The Canucks entered the 2024 postseason with some of the best centre depth in the entire NHL. They had the trio of Pettersson, JT Miller, and Elias Lindholm stacked down the middle, with Teddy Blueger filling in at 4C and Nils Åman filling in wherever and whenever needed.
Now, however, Lindholm is almost certainly departing as a free agent. And Blueger is a pending UFA, too, and there has been little to no news on any contract negotiations for him.
The Canucks are not entirely without internal options. The aforementioned Åman is a good bet to stick around as a 4C next year. In the 3C slot, there’s always the option of Pius Suter, though he seemed to settle in better as a winger on Miller and Brock Boeser’s line this past season.
Aatu Raty and Max Sasson are fine in-the-system candidates, but neither is probably ready for prime-time quite yet.
So, chances are good that GM Patrik Allvin and Co. will look to sign (or trade for) at least one additional NHL-level centre. The problem, as we stated earlier, is that there just aren’t that many available.
To be clear, there are definitely some quality centres on the pending UFA market. But most of them, like Lindholm, are of too high a quality to fit the Canucks’ gap at 3C – or their budget.
Chandler Stephenson of Vegas is probably the next best centre available after Lindholm. But he’ll be signing a contract with an AAV well in excess of $6 million. The Canucks can’t afford to spend that on a bottom-six player right now.
There comes a bit of a mushy middle next, with players that will probably be too expensive and/or not quite the right fit for what the Canucks are looking for. The Alex Wennbergs and Sean Monahans of the world. And don’t even get us started on the myriad issues with Max Domi.
Who does that leave on the table?
Hardly anyone.
Kevin Stenlund jumps out immediately as a prime candidate. He’s currently skating as the 4C for the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final, a spot he’s been in for most of their run. He’s massive at 6’4”, 215lbs, and offers own-zone responsibility first and a modicum of offence second.
There’s the sense that he could produce more if placed higher on his team’s depth chart, but that’s not possible in Florida.
Stenlund would make a great Blueger replacement at 3C. And if he’s available on July 1, the Canucks should absolutely make a pitch. But because we’ve identified Stenlund as the primary bottom-six centre UFA available, we can also assume that other teams will be after him. Stenlund seems like someone for whom the bidding could get uncomfortably high uncomfortably quickly, and that could result in the Canucks needing to bow out of negotiations.
So, they need a backup plan.
But there’s not much else out there beyond Stenlund.
There is Sam Carrick, who is currently a healthy scratch for the Edmonton Oilers in those same Stanley Cup Finals. Carrick has played a little 4C for the Oilers on their run, and more minutes on the wing. He’s smaller than Stenlund, but a lot more feisty, and though perhaps not as defensively apt, he’s got a fine two-way reputation all his own. Carrick is also an ace at faceoffs.
And once we get past our two finalists, the pickings get really slim.
There’s Zemgus Girgensons, who has an excellent hockey name but has spent couple of seasons struggling for fourth line minutes on the Buffalo Sabres, and receiving most of them on the wing.
There’s Michael Amadio, who played some limited 4C minutes for Vegas and had some success, but came up primarily as a winger and remains a largely unknown quantity as an NHL centre.
There is Jack Roslovic, a frustrating player who is at his best when handed an offensive role and not a ton of use elsewhere.
And it only gets more ‘meh’ from there.
Except, of course, for Blueger himself.
Blueger proved an excellent signing for the Canucks last summer. For just a one-year, $1.9 million commitment, Blueger returned a career high in assists with 22 and points with 28. He also centred the best third line in hockey with Dakota Joshua and Conor Garland for a while, and then continued to play important minutes all the way through Round 2 of the playoffs.
If Blueger is willing to stay in Vancouver, he instantly becomes the best option on this list, save for perhaps Stenlund. The question then becomes how much of a raise does Blueger hope to leverage his 2023/24 success into, and how much of a raise the Canucks can afford to give him.
One possibility to hope for is that Blueger is seeking an increase in term more than he is salary. The Canucks know he’s a fit, so they may feel comfortable in giving him, say, a two- or three-year extension at something similar to his current salary. That keeps the budget in line, and provides a reasonable timeline for a prospect to eventually step into the role.
Of course, it takes two to tango, and Blueger would have to agree to that. Given what we’ve just laid out about the centre market, we have to assume he’ll receive better offers from other teams than he’ll be able to get from Vancouver.
Does that mean that the Canucks should prioritize signing Blueger now, before July 1 arrives and the offers flow in?
Or should they wait, risk losing him, hope to sign one of the few equivalent centres available if they do, and be prepared to settle for much less if things don’t go their way?
The safest play, certainly, seems to be sticking with Blueger.
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