Who’s staying, who’s going? A look at the Canucks’ free agency roster decisions
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
14 days ago
Over the weekend, we told you that it was far too early in the offseason to project the Vancouver Canucks’ forward group, and proceeded to do it anyway.
In that article, it was clear that the reason it’s far too early in the offseason to project such a thing, is that the Canucks’ roster is going to look different next season. In fact, it almost has to look different, as the Canucks are the only team in the league who are over the salary cap with their cap commitments for next season.
It’s going to be a busy offseason, and ultimately, it’s going to come down to decisions from President Jim Rutherford and General Manager Patrik Allvin. Some decisions will be easier than others, and others will be of the difficult variety.
The unrestricted free agents
The Canucks head into the offseason with Kyle Burroughs, Collin Delia, and Micheal Ferland as their unrestricted free agents at the NHL level. Ferland is simply coming off of Long Term Injured Reserve and won’t ever play in the NHL again due to his multiple head injuries.
As for Burroughs and Delia though, things are a bit more complicated. Burroughs is a Canuck through and through. Having grown up in the lower mainland, Burroughs has another level of passion when he puts on the blue and green that many of his teammates just simply didn’t possess for much of this past season.
Despite being undersized, he never shies away from an opportunity to throw his weight around, and like a mercenary on skates, stick up for his teammates whenever possible. He can play both sides, and he should come in at or around league minimum. It’ll be hard for the Canucks to walk away from Burroughs, who has made his interest in returning clear already. Unless they’re able to move a Tyler Myers-sized defenceman out via trade, it may be hard for the Canucks to make a reunion with Burroughs work out.
Finally, Collin Delia presents an interesting case for the Canucks, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed that the Canucks signed European free agent goaltender Nikita Tolopilo from the Allsvenskan league. The 23-year-old authored a ridiculous .924 save percentage through 45 games, taking a major step from his 2021-22 campaign, where he posted an .898 save percentage while playing for the same club. The Canucks are excited about this goaltender, who should report to Abbotsford to begin next season.
The other thing to consider when it comes to Delia’s future with the Canucks is that Spencer Martin is on a one-way deal that doesn’t expire until the end of next season. That means that regardless of where he plays, Martin will be paid $775,000 regardless of where he plays. Sure, he won’t appear on or affect the Canucks’ big club salary cap, but that’s a lot of money for ownership to pay an AHL backup/1B goaltender.
So while Delia may have finished out the season backing up Thatcher Demko while Martin was the one demoted to the AHL, the organization hasn’t given up on Martin in any way. Instead, Martin was sent down with the goal of getting some more games, building up his confidence, and resetting his game. In essence, the Canucks need Martin to get it back to who he was: being a goaltender fully capable of backing up Demko at the NHL level.
If an injury to Demko were to occur, you can expect to see the Canucks call up Silovs, who showed well in the five NHL games he played as a 21-year-old this season, to split starts with Martin, or perhaps even start the bulk of the games. The organization will want to make sure Silovs is playing games, which is why he’s almost certainly going to start the season in the AHL.
In conclusion, we don’t expect the Canucks to bring back Delia, and wouldn’t suggest holding your breath for Burroughs, either. Yes, we think the Canucks will let all three of their NHL level unrestricted free agents walk on July 1st, although Burroughs feels like the one on that list who we still may see the Canucks work something out with.
At the AHL level, John Stevens, Justin Dowling, Brady Keeper, and Noah Juulsen are all set to become UFAs, and it’s hard to imagine any of those players want to leave the situation down in Abbotsford. None of them have really earned a one-way deal and could be hard-pressed to find a better salary or situation on the open market. It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen with AHL UFAs, but we’d expect Juulsen back for depth, at the very least.
The restricted free agents
If the Canucks can’t get deals done with their restricted free agents but still wish to retain their negotiating rights, they’ll need to extend those players qualifying offers by June 25th. The Canucks have seven of these players, and we expect them to qualify all but two of them.
The two we don’t expect to see extended qualifying offers are Travis Dermott and Carson Focht.
The Canucks sent a third round pick the Maple Leafs’ way in order to acquire Dermott in the final hours of Patrik Allvin’s first traded deadline as general manager. The club clearly saw some top four upside in Dermott, and that may not have been a bad bet. Unfortunately, Dermott’s time as a Canuck has been injury-filled and has seen him play in just 28 games. Concussion problems plagued Dermott’s 2022-23 season, and it would be extremely surprising to see the Canucks qualify the RFA defenceman’s contract.
As for Focht, he’s spent two seasons in the AHL, but this past season, the now-23-year-old spent the majority of his year in the ECHL. We don’t expect the Canucks to bring him or Dermott back.
Now, the players we do expect to see qualified are Vitali Kravtsov, Ethan Bear, Akito Hirose, Nils Höglander, and Jett Woo.
Let’s start in Abbotsford and then make our way up.
If you asked in November — or hell, even December — we’d have told you without hesitation that Jett Woo was not going to be receiving a qualifying offer from the Canucks. Now, we’re almost certain that he’ll be given one, and that he’ll even play NHL games next season when injuries occur on the Vancouver blue line. Woo found his stride this year after some lacklustre seasons in both junior and the AHL following the Canucks drafting him in the second round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Under head coach Jeremy Colliton and the Abbotsford development staff, Woo reimagined his game and looks like a much more complete defenceman who impressed down the stretch and into the Calder Cup Playoffs. He’s earned a qualifying offer and another look with the Canucks on a two-way contract.
Nils Höglander finds himself in a similar situation despite having played two seasons at the NHL level already. He may be looking for a one-way deal, and he may just get one despite not having a super clear spot on the NHL roster at the time of this writing. Höglander took major strides in Abbotsford this year, and was oftentimes the best player on the ice in his AHL games. Unless he’s traded, the Canucks are certainly going to work something out with their 2019 second round pick.
As for Akito Hirose, the defenceman signed as an NCAA free agent late in the season and was given the chance to get his feet wet at the NHL level. Once given that chance, Hirose did nothing but impress, and while some may argue they were mean-nothing games, Hirose’s poise with and without the puck is undeniable, and his mobility on the backend combined with his ability to break the puck out instantly make him someone the Canucks should keep around.
Now to Vitali Kravtsov, who basically is in make-or-break mode. The Canucks acquired him from the Rangers for pennies on the dollar, and for good reason — nobody really knows what Kravtsov, who was drafted ninth overall in 2018, is as an NHL player. He showed flashes with the Canucks, but was never consistent enough to get an extended look in Rick Tocchet’s top six. Tocchet spoke about how this would be a big summer for the 23-year-old Russian, and he’s right. It’s basically now or never for Kravtsov, who has opted to head for the KHL instead of the AHL when things didn’t work out at the NHL level in the past. We’ll know where Kravtsov stands almost as soon as training camp is over. At the very least, the Canucks will give him that shot to show what he’s improved on this summer.
Finally, Ethan Bear. The right-shot defenceman was a player the Canucks had been connected to for a long time, and who they eventually acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes for just a fifth-round pick. This season, Bear played plenty of minutes alongside Quinn Hughes, and showed well through 61 games this season. He also wants to stay in Vancouver, and Vancouver wants Bear to stay in Vancouver. The two sides should have no issue getting a deal worked out.
So to answer the million-dollar question, here’s how this should all shake down for the Canucks:
GOING: Travis Dermott, Carson Focht, Collin Delia, Kyle Burroughs (maybe), and Micheal Ferland’s contract.
STAYING: Vitali Kravtsov, Ethan Bear, Akito Hirose, Nils Höglander, and Jett Woo.
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