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Why fans shouldn’t worry about the Canucks targeting “Big Fish” free agent Jake Guentzel

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Photo credit:James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
21 days ago
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For the first time in eight seasons, the Vancouver Canucks enter free agency as a buyer, and not in a bad way. During that time, the Canucks have needed to overpay lesser players to come in and play for this team during the club’s down years. But after this season, the team has a taste of success. Now, they’re ready to make a big swing for the “big fish” on the market.
Here are the top 12 available forwards (in order of point totals) that, if unsigned, will become unrestricted free agents come July 1st:
Only four of these 12 forwards could be categorized as “big fish”: Sam Reinhart, Steven Stamkos, Jake Guentzel, and Jonathan Marchessault.
It is believed that the Florida Panthers and Sam Reinhart will reach an agreement after the Stanley Cup Final. There is also mutual interest between Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Marchessault could sign with the Vegas Golden Knights as well.
There are no rumours that Reinhart, Stamkos, or Marchessault are linked to a certain team or that a team is expressing interest in targeting said forward if they hit the market.
So that leaves one big fish forward, Jake Guentzel.
The long-time Pittsburgh Penguin was acquired by the Carolina Hurricanes at this year’s trade deadline for a massive haul, including Michael Bunting, three prospects, and two picks in this year’s draft. Despite the Hurricanes’ efforts, it looks as though they aren’t going to get an extension done with their acquisition. The team announced in early June that Guentzel was available for a mid-round draft pick.
Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli speculated what teams could be after the newly available Hurricanes forward.
Seravalli highlighted the Canucks as a team (among four others) expected to make a strong push for Guentzel. Vancouver showed interest in him before the trade deadline but acquired Elias Lindholm instead.
But now, the club has the opportunity to sign the highest-profile forward in recent memory. Since Loui Eriksson in 2016. Maybe that’s not a good example. How about Mats Sundin in 2008? Hmm, what about Mark Messier in 1997?
Well, I guess the Vancouver Canucks don’t have the best track record of signing free agents. But let me tell you why, if signed, Jake Guentzel will be a different story.

Why Jake Guentzel will succeed in Vancouver

What can you say about Guentzel? He’s an aggressive winger who’s not afraid to go into the dirty areas in front of the net or the scrum of the board battles. Guentzel’s a swift goal scorer who finds different ways to beat the goaltender.
Guentzel can use his speed to beat the defender on the rush down the wing.
He’s got high-end hand-eye coordination to tip pucks in front of the net.
Or he can beat you by his pure snipe.
But where he would look best for the Canucks? Fill the void Bo Horvat left in the bumper spot on the powerplay.
Guentzel has eclipsed 30 goals in three straight seasons and 20 goals in seven consecutive. And if it wasn’t for a 41-game rookie season, he could have scored 20 in all eight seasons of his career. If that hasn’t proven he’s a sniper, Guentzel has a career 15.2% shooting percentage on 1,493 shots on goal.
To highlight how impressive this is, according to QuantHockey.com, Guentzel has the 116th-highest career shooting percentage in NHL history –– the 11th-highest active player.
The Omaha, Nebraska native has 227 goals, 491 points in 520 career games and a plus-69 rating. He’s played on the first line since joining the NHL. Granted, he did have a pretty good running mate in Sidney Crosby.
The biggest question mark surrounding Guentzel has always been, “What type of player is away from Crosby?” Many believed the former third-round pick was just a nice compliment to Sid, though he heavily relied on him to produce offence. But the hockey world finally was able to put that to the test when he got traded to the Hurricanes.
Guentzel played 17 regular season games with the Hurricanes, scoring eight goals and 25 points and finishing with a plus-16 rating. He assumed his role in the top six alongside Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov.
While they are still great players in the NHL, they don’t compare to Sidney Crosby’s generational talent level. Guentzel played 38 games without Crosby in his Penguins career. He scored 16 goals and 40 points with a plus-nine rating, proving that Guentzel can produce his own offence.
If Guentzel joined Vancouver, he would slide in perfectly on Elias Pettersson’s wing –– the top six forward the Cauncks desperately needed during this playoffs. This would have been a perfect marriage because of how Guentzel ups his game in the postseason.
Penguins fans knew he was going to be a performer when he scored 13 goals in 21 playoff games as a rookie on their way to their second consecutive Stanley Cup. Guentzel has missed the playoffs in just one season of his career and has 67 points in 69 games. He also proved that a new team doesn’t affect the next gear he can turn on come playoff time. In 11 games with the Hurricanes, Guentzel scored four goals and nine points, good for third on the team.
If the Canucks acquire the services of Guentzel, it won’t be cheap. According to AFP Analytics, he projects to make $9.31M annually on a long-term contract. Once Vancouver puts Tucker Poolman on LTIR, they would have $18.5M in cap space. So nearly half of the remaining salary cap would need to be spent on Guentzel –– but he’s worth it.
Sure, the club’s last three highest-profile free agent signings didn’t work out, but this scenario differs from all three.
The Canucks signed Loui Eriksson to a six-year at $6M per contract in 2016. Eriksson was coming off a career year, scoring 30 goals and 63 points. But the writing was on the wall for Eriksson before his resurgence, as his first two seasons with the Boston Bruins weren’t promising.
Also, look at where the team was when they signed him. It was the second season the club had missed the playoffs in seven years, and they were still hanging on to a lot of their 2011 Stanley Cup core. The team was headed for a rebuild, and the actions showed that signing Loui was their move to avoid it.
After 13 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mats Sundin signed with the Canucks in the 2008-2009 season. The fans were happy, but signing a 35-year-old for $5.6M per season on December 18th was odd, nearly halfway through the season.
Starting so late into the year, it’s no surprise Sundin only had three points in his first nine games. Sundin helped them get into the playoffs, scoring nine goals and 28 points in 41 games, but that’s about it. In the second round, Vancouver ultimately lost to their kryptonite, the Chicago Blackhawks. Sundin would retire after that season.
The Canucks upper management took the “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach when they signed Mark Messier in 1997. Messier led his New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup over the Canucks in 1994. And that’s the type of leader Vancouver thought they were getting. Boy, were they wrong.
Vancouver thought they brought in one of the greatest captains to help push them over the hump after making the playoffs in six of the previous seven seasons. But it only got worse and more chaotic after he joined.
Messier signed a five-year deal at $6M per season at age 36. It doesn’t sound like much in today’s NHL, but it’s the equivalent of $11.4M today. After meeting his multiple demands, the Canucks had no choice but to buy out their captain after three seasons. The team failed to make the playoffs with Messier, who finished with a minus-37 rating.
But this time will be different. The situation is different.
The player they’re acquiring is in his prime. Guentzel’s coming off his second-highest point total of his career and third consecutive 30-goal season. Not a player who’s coming off two straight down seasons or 35+-year-old veterans on the decline of their career.
The team is in a phenomenal place now. They’ve got young, elite talent that makes Vancouver a very attractive destination for free agents to want to play. The club is on the rise after getting that taste of winning, unlike in 2016 when they were entering a rebuild.
That’s why, given their trajectory, the Canucks should not be worried about signing the biggest fish on the market, Jake Guentzel.
What do you think, Canucks fans? Do you want the Canucks to be aggressive and sign Jake Guentzel? And how much are you willing to spend on his AAV?
 

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