The Vancouver Canucks will head into this offseason with a difficult assessment to make. The 2021-22 NHL season has been distinctly broken into two parts for the club with a dreadful start under Travis Green being followed by strong play led by Bruce Boudreau. The polarizing nature of the two sections makes it difficult to get a clear-cut read on the team.
Whatever conclusions Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin arrive at will decide the direction the team goes in the offseason. It’ll likely involve shedding salary in an attempt to get faster and more difficult to play against. Among the many decisions on their plate, they will have to decide which unrestricted free agents they want to attempt to re-sign.
While there aren’t any big names that will be UFAs for the Canucks this offseason, there are a handful of skaters that have played for the team. Among the most notable are Brad Richardson, Alex Chiasson, Nic Petan, Sheldon Dries, and Brad Hunt.
Brandon Sutter is also a UFA this offseason. The veteran has been suffering from long-haul COVID-19 symptoms. He’s been left off of this list as his health is still up in the air and it remains to be seen what will happen with his NHL career. Hopefully, he returns to full health soon and can get back on the ice, if that’s what he desires.
While there are others in the minor league system, the five skaters mentioned above have been the most regular contributors to the big club this season. Should the Canucks bring them back? That depends on the player.
Brad Richardson was picked up off waivers late in the season by the Canucks. Fans may remember him as it’s his second stint with the team. Thus far, he has three points in ten games for the Canucks while winning 56.25% of his faceoffs.
While Richardson has played his role fine, there’s no reason the Canucks should bring him back. He’s going to be turning 38 next season and the foot speed just isn’t there. His spot on the roster would be better utilized by a younger player with a higher ceiling.
Verdict: Let him walk
When Alex Chiasson was invited to training camp for a tryout, there weren’t many expectations for him. He’s certainly outplayed his contract and been a solid contributor for the Canucks. While many of his goals have come in a recent hot stretch, he does have double-digit goals. He’s been exactly the type of depth player that you want on your team, even if there have been some brutal turnovers.
The Canucks’ power play has been the best in the league over recent months and Chiasson has been a reason for that success. He’s done a good job at playing the net-front role, making smart passes, and finding loose pucks in the crease. He definitely could have a place on the roster next season.
Verdict: Bring back on ~$1 million deal
Nic Petan has appeared in 13 games so far for the Canucks this season. He’s a local kid, born in Delta, and has just one point this year. He does have 44 points in 37 games for the Abbotsford Canucks but hasn’t been able to translate that AHL success into NHL production.
He’s on a two-way contract that allows the Canucks to move him up and down without worry. If they are going to bring him back, it would mostly be to bolster the AHL squad. He hasn’t impressed enough at the NHL level for there to be much excitement about what he brings to the table. However, it’s clear the organization values building a winner in Abbotsford and he can be a part of that.
Verdict: Bring back on a 2-way deal at or near league minimum
Of the many AHL / NHL tweeners the Canucks signed the last offseason, Sheldon Dries has perhaps been the most successful. The 27-year-old forward has torn up the AHL to the tune of 62 points in 54 games, including 35 goals which is good for third league-wide, even though he’s played nine fewer games than the leader.
Dries scored his first goal as a Vancouver Canucks against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night. He’s only played four games with the NHL club but does have more offensive potential than a player like Petan. It would be well worth it for the Canucks to keep him in the system, ideally on a two-way contract if he would accept that.
Verdict: Bring him back, ideally on a two-way contract
Brad Hunt has played in 43 games for the Canucks this season, recording 14 points over that time. He’s also a local product as he was born in Maple Ridge. He hasn’t been bad this season, playing the fifth-most minutes at 5-on-5 of any Canucks’ blueliners. The Canucks allow 2.82 goals per sixty minutes at 5-on-5 with him on the ice, the worst mark of anyone in the organization that played at least 10 games with the NHL team.
Unfortunately, Hunt is older and his spot on the roster would be better used for a player like Travis Dermott or Jack Rathbone. While Hunt is more reliable than those two players, he’s easily replaceable and doesn’t move the needle enough to keep around.
Verdict: Let him walk