What recent history says about the Canucks’ chances of finding a third-line centre in free agency

Photo credit:© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Noah Strang
10 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks enter this summer with a big hole at one key position. After trading captain Bo Horvat midway through last season, the team doesn’t have a proven third-line centre. With being strong down the middle crucial for team success at the NHL level, filling that role is clearly a priority this offseason.
There are a couple of different pathways the Canucks could take to solving this issue. There’s no doubt that they would love for someone already in the organization like Nils Aman to step up and claim the role, yet his performance last year didn’t inspire the largest amount of confidence. It seems more plausible that the Canucks look to bring in another centre this offseason, even if it’s just someone to platoon with Aman.
“A grittier guy who can settle things down for sure,” head coach Rick Tocchet said earlier this offseason when asked about what he’s looking for in the position. “Whether it’s a couple of guys we have, but can they fill that role? Or, do we have to go and get it? I’d like a guy who can take faceoffs other than Miller or Petey and give those guys some juice.”
As a non-contender, searching for a third-line centre in free agency can be a dangerous game. Most of the options on the open market are closer to 30 years-old, if they’re not past it, and will have interest from multiple teams. This can result in overpaying for options that are already past their prime, or who will be by the time the Canucks are competitive.
The Canucks have several examples across their recent history of middle-six centre free agent acquisitions that didn’t work out. Was that a scouting issue or is it best to just avoid these free agent options altogether? By taking a look at some of the other notable free agent signings over the past few years in a similar position to the player the Canucks might sign, we can get some insight.
When we take a look at the options that the Canucks might be interested in this summer, there are a few names that stand out. Oskar Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev, and Sean Monahan are just some of the potential targets. All of these names fit a similar player profile.
  • 27-30 years old
  • 30-50 point pace over 82 game sample
  • 6’0″ or taller
Over the past two off-seasons, there are a few different players that have matched at least two of these characteristics and have signed as UFAs. Here is an update on how each of those deals has worked out.

Calle Jarnkrok, Toronto Maple Leafs

When: July 2022
Age when signed: 30 years old
Contract details: Four years / $2.1 million AAV
Previous season stats: 56 GP, 12 G, 18 A, 30 PTS
How is it looking now? 
Jarnkrok signed this four-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer. At the time, he was just over 30 years old and was brought in as a versatile bottom-six forward that could help sharpen up the depth. While Jarnkrok has played a significant amount of time at centre, he was acquired as more of a winger for the Maple Leafs and has played all over the lineup.
After one season, the reaction to this signing has been nothing but positive. Jarnkrok had the best offensive season of his career and managed to carve himself out a very nice role in the Maple Leafs’ bottom-six. He finished the year with 20 goals and 19 assists in 73 games, very solid numbers considering his role and cap hit.

Alexander Wennberg, Seattle Kraken

When: July 2021
Age when signed: 26 years old
Contract details: Three years / $4.5 million AAV
Previous season stats: 56 GP, 17 G, 12 A, 29 PTS
How is it looking now? 
Wennberg was signed by the Kraken before their first season in the NHL. Since he was 26 years old at the time he put pen to paper, he is a bit younger than some of the options that the Canucks might be looking at this summer. However, he was just a year younger than Barbashev will be this summer and just two years short of Monahan.
Since joining the Kraken, Wennberg has managed 75 points in 162 games. At $4.5 million per season, Wennberg has not lived up to that cap number during his stint with the Kraken thus far. He flashed some exciting potential early in his career with the Blue Jackets, even finishing with 59 points as a 22-year-old, but has struggled to repeat that type of performance.
For the Kraken, they would definitely like a do-over on this contract. This is one of their free agent signings that didn’t work out perfectly, although it’s far from a total disaster. Because their cap situation is so healthy, it doesn’t matter too much but if the Canucks were going to miss like this on a deal this summer, that would be devastating.

Max Domi, Chicago Blackhawks

When: July 2022
Age when signed: 27 years old
Contract details: One years / $3 million AAV
Previous season stats: 72 GP, 11 G, 28 A, 39 PTS
How is it looking now? 
Last summer, the Chicago Blackhawks took a flyer on Max Domi and signed the centre to a one-year “prove-it” contract. Domi had shown flashes of NHL success but had struggled to stick in any one location. That flyer contract turned out great for the Blackhawks as they flipped him at the deadline alongside a goalie prospect to the Dallas Stars for a second-round pick and Anton Khudobin.
This was a very successful season for Domi. He scored 56 points in 80 regular season games, decisively outperforming his $3 million cap hit. When the playoffs rolled around, he continued his great play and managed to put up 13 points in 19 postseason games, helping Dallas reach the Western Conference Finals.
Domi is a great example of an undervalued player that can be found in free agency. After bouncing around the NHL, something clicked this year and he managed to create some stability. While he doesn’t fit the archetype of the bigger, defensively responsible third-line centre that the Canucks hope to find this summer, Domi’s success gives Vancouver hope that there are suitable middle-six centres that can be found for cheap.

Check out these posts...