Who’s Left?: 7 free agent LHD to consider if the Canucks can’t re-sign their own

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
29 days ago
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The slow but steady march toward nearly half of the Vancouver Canucks reaching free agency continues.
Of particular note is the impending dissolution of the blueline. Of the eight defenders who were on the team’s roster at the end of the season, a full five are set to be free agents come July 1, and all but Filip Hronek would hit the market as unrestricted free agents, at that.
This list includes two of the team’s left-handed defenders in Nikita Zadorov and Ian Cole.
We’ve already heard that Cole intends to test the market.
We have also heard that, although negotiations remain ongoing, the Canucks and Zadorov are not yet “close” in their talks, even with a discount on the table.
All of which leaves the very real possibility that both players ultimately depart via free agency. If that comes to pass, it leaves just Quinn Hughes and Carson Soucy as LHD on the roster, and with no obvious or immediate candidates from within the system to take over.
What that means is that, if both Zadorov and Cole depart via free agency, they’ll need to be replaced by at least one new LHD from outside the organization, and that will probably also take place via free agency.
With that in mind, we’ve thrown together a list of candidates from the rest of the UFA market. In seeking replacements at this position, we’re not looking for top-pairing quality. Hughes already has at least 22 minutes a night locked in, if not more. We’re looking for someone who is capable of, at the very least, splitting a pseudo-top-four role at that side with Carson Soucy, clocking in at about 17-19 minutes per night. We’re thus picking from the upper-middle of the pack, not from the top.
Ideally, this player would have a strong defensive focus to their game, like Cole, and some serious physicality, like Zadorov.
An expected price tag somewhere between about $2.5 and $4 million seems appropriate to aim for.
And with all these qualifications, it’s perhaps no surprise the list comes out a bit short.
Brenden Dillon, Winnipeg Jets
LHD, 33, 6’4”, 220lb
 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/24$3.9 mil778122018:4447.8%
The first, and best, player on our list is also the most obvious one, in that he’s already drawn some headlines this summer about the possibility of his returning to his hometown Canucks.
Dillon is getting up there in age, but he’s still a veteran battler with size, snarl, and a general ability to remain in the lineup despite the style he plays. Dillon is just coming off a campaign in which he played a fairly consistent top-four role for Winnipeg. Is he capable of doing the same, perhaps with slightly reduced minutes, in Vancouver for a year or two? We’d guess yes, and mention that Dillon is still a year younger than Cole was when he signed last summer.
Count down Dillon as the most physical option on this list and perhaps the best defensively, too, which should also make him the most expensive. Thus, if any hometown discount is offered here, the Canucks should probably take him up on it.
Joel Edmundson, Toronto Maple Leafs
LHD, 31, 6’5”, 221lb
 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/24$3.5 mil5315616:4047.2%
From one veteran battler to another. Edmundson is a little younger than Dillon, and a little less skilled at either end of the ice. But he’s just as tough, and plays the style of game that tends to thrive in the playoffs. That’s probably why Edmundson seems to be constantly moving around at the Trade Deadline.
To be clear, Edmundson’s lack of footspeed has always been a bit of an issue, and is becoming more of one as he moves into his 30s. But that could be seen as more of a regular season issue…so long as it’s also a factor when term is considered. Edmundson strikes us as someone who could be useful for a year or two, but perhaps not beyond that.
Oliver Kylington, Calgary Flames
LHD, 27, 6’0”, 183lb
 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/24$2.5 mil3335817:1548.7%
Kylington is a very interesting case. He’s hitting UFA status at a relatively young age, and is doing so after having taken nearly a year-and-a-half away from the game to take care of his mental health. As such, he’s still a bit of an unknown quantity.
Kylington was once a fairly highly-touted prospect who built his reputation on his smooth skating and puck-carrying abilities. But he’s been working at rounding out his game, too, and while he’s not anywhere near a Cole-type, can at least no longer be referred to as a defensive liability.
Kylington seems like an intriguing player on general upside alone, if not the ideal fit for what the Canucks are looking for. It’s hard to say for certain without knowing which RHDs the Canucks will have on hand to potentially partner Kylington with. If a more two-way, or even outright defensive, option is found, maybe Kylington makes more sense.
Mike Reilly, New York Islanders
LHD, 30, 6’1”, 196lb
 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/24$1 mil616182417:0951.0%
Reilly is a tough defender to get a read on. He’s capable enough at either end of the ice, but might not quite qualify as what we typically call “two-way.” He’s perhaps better described as a relatively “safe” defender, who is best at keeping the puck moving in the right direction and eating up some quiet minutes.
He had a strange 2023/24, being placed on waivers by Florida and then picked up by the injury-plagued New York Islanders. But then Reilly proceeded to play a fairly important role for the Islanders, including playing more than 20 minutes a night in some of their playoff matches against the Hurricanes.
Reilly represents a fine middle-ground on a one- or two-year contract if no more direct analogue for what Cole and Zadorov provided can be found.
Matt Grzelcyk, Boston Bruins
LHD, 30, 5’10”, 176lb
 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/24$3.687 mil63291117:3645.1%
The phrase “all-around” gets thrown about a bit too much these days, but it does really apply to Grzelcyk, a defender said to have everything but size. He can skate, he can move the puck, he’s safe defensively, and he’s surprisingly physical given the frame. He’s also a player who was expected to take a further step forward at some point, but hasn’t, perhaps a combination of injuries and having to fight for minutes on a strong blueline in Boston.
The Canucks would probably prefer to avoid icing a left-side with two sub-6’0” defenders on it. But if they had to pick up another small LHD, Grzelcyk is definitely the best they could find, and probably a better overall option than some of the heavier players on this list. A reasonable consideration, but a questionable fit.
Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers
LHD, 33, 6’1”, 201lb
 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/24$1 mil761192016:3154.0%
Kulikov stocks have never been higher. He signed a one-year flyer with the Panthers and now finds himself in the Stanley Cup Final, skating effectively in a bottom-pair role.
At this stage in his career, Kulikov is what he is, but that’s a defensively-responsible depth defender who makes few mistakes and can be downright annoying to play against.
The only real worry here is that Kulikov cashes in on playoff success with a contract that compensates him beyond what a bottom-pair player should make. If he is available in the $1-2 million range, however, he’s a sensible Cole replacement that also brings at least a little of Zadorov’s opponent-infuriating center-of-attention-ness, too.
Alec Martinez, Vegas Golden Knights
LHD, 36, 6’1”, 210lb
 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/24$5.25 mil554131719:0343.9%
Don’t let that age scare you away. Even at 36, Martinez remains a strong skating and reliable defender capable of eating up huge minutes on a contending roster. He’s a proven winner, safe in any situation, and with so much experience to share.
That being said, he is starting to show the results of his advanced years. This season, in the playoffs, Martinez’s minutes ranged from as low as 13:29 to as high as 19:43. That shows that while he can still be counted on, he might not be able to be counted on every night.
Martinez still makes some sense as a one-year Cole replacement, so long as he’s interested in one last kick at the can. But he’s definitely not a long-term solution, and might not prove much of a solution at all, depending on how his offseason goes.
Haydn Fleury, Tampa Bay Lightning
LHD, 27, 6’4”, 208lb
 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
We might be guilty of stretching the list out at this point. But Fleury has also seemed like a player with a lot of untapped potential, as much as anyone can be by the time they reach UFA status.
He’s always had the size and skating going for him, but has struggled to put that package together into something consistently reliable at the NHL level. An injury kept Fleury out of the Tampa lineup for the end of the regular season and all of the playoffs, and he was struggling to get into the lineup on a nightly basis before that. But there’s still a chance that Fleury could thrive in a bottom-pairing role somewhere else if given one more chance, and that chance will probably come this summer.
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