Vancouver Canucks Free Agents: Evaluating RFA Defenseman


Last week in my continuing off-season investigation into the Canucks’ free-agency goals, I started things off by bidding a fond farewell to depth center Brad Richardson. This week I’m going to switch my sights and look at the logjam of Restricted Free Agents that the Canucks have on defense, at both the NHL and AHL level.

First off, just as I expressed desire to move on from UFA Shawn Matthias earlier in the season, right before he priced himself out of the Canucks’ range with a bunch of goals, I also already wrote about how it would be wise to lock Yannick Weber up, as his underlying numbers were predicting the exact kind of break out he had, finishing the year with a career high 11 goals. Those goals may have made him a little bit pricier as well, but I still think the Canucks should work hard on a contract that brings Weber back in a capacity that helps him reprise his roll on the first unit power-play, as he did to end last season.

This will be a little bit tricky, as the Canucks currently only have about $3 million in capspace, and a whole bunch of RFAs to re-sign. Still, I’m going to be writing this under the assumption that at least one or two larger contracts will be coming off the books via trade (something I’ll get into more detail with in later editions of this series), so while I’ll keep the cap-space in mind, I’m not going to let it limit my speculation on what I think would be best for the club.

So, assuming the team can clear some space and offer Weber something in the $1-1.5 million range on a short term “prove it” type contract, where does that leave the rest of the RFAs?

Well, according to the handy Free Agent chart Canuck Way’s own Jeff Langridge gave us, that still leaves the Canucks with Ryan Stanton, Adam Clendening, and Frank Corrado, with the NHL team’s depth chart looking like this:

Edler — Tanev

Hamhuis — (Weber)

Sbisa — Bieksa


Looking at everything below Edler and Tanev, it’s obvious that changes are going to need to be made. Re-signing Weber gives the Canucks an instantly serviceable, if not exactly elite second pairing, by slotting him on Hamhuis’ right side. Beyond that, though, there are a lot of promising or once-promising pieces, and it’s hard to know who to hang on to, and who to cut ties with. After watching Bieksa and Sbisa get torn apart in the Calgary series, it would be nice to have some flexibility on that bottom pairing, which I think either Corrado or Clendening are ready to provide. Knowing that Sbisa probably won’t be going anywhere for the next three years, that means that Bieksa will probably have to be shipped out–something I was mocked for when I suggested it mid-season, but now seems a sad inevitability.

With the assumption that at least Bieksa is out, this leaves two more spots on the roster for a sixth and seventh defencemen, plus AHL depth. Barring other trades or signings, the competition mainly comes down to our RFAs Frank Corrado, Adam Clendening and Ryan Stanton. There are many factors that might go into their re-signings or roles with the team, but let’s take a look at their underlying numbers to see, if we were assessing their talent in a vacuum, who might be most valuable to hold on to:

First off, in limited games (10), Frank Corrado posted an Even-Strength Corsi For% of 49.72%, along with an unfortunately low PDO of 93.5, which would account for some of the trust issues he received from coaches, as he was definitely on the wrong end of some unfortunate bounces. He also played great with Dan Hamhuis in a limited run, posting a 53% CF at evens with Hamhuis in 56 minutes. Perhaps even more encouraging for his expected role next year, he somehow managed to post a 58% EVCF with Luca Sbisa–however it was in a very limited run of 40 minutes. While none of this information, due to Corrado’s limited playing time, gives us enough to guarantee any future success, it does paint an encouraging picture going forward. If given the chance, I would love to see if Corrado can continue the kind of depth play he gave the team in flashes last year. It would definitely be a shame to give up on him and see him flourish somewhere else.

Meanwhile, in roughly twice as many games (21) as Corrado, Adam Clendening fared about equally well, putting up a 49.81 EVCF%, while enjoying a slightly elevated 101.93 PDO, while chipping in 4 points to Corrado’s 1. Clendening definitely has more tantalizing offensive upside, and has a higher prospect pedigree, being a first-round pick from a well-reputed Chicago organization. Even given the larger sample size, it’s still just as hard to know what the Canucks have in Clendening as they do in Corrado–it’s basically a toss up, and will probably comes down to either trades or training camps. Interesting to note, though, is that while he proved himself more than capable in a large chunk of minutes with Ryan Stanton (50.2% EVCF%) he did terribly with Luca Sbisa in limited minutes (45% in roughly 25 minutes). The time with Sbisa is pretty negligible, but Clendening spent almost 200 minutes with Stanton, which might be enough to show they at least have the potential to form a pretty decent bottom pairing, if something, god forbid, was to happen to Sbisa.

Finally, we come to Ryan Stanton, possibly the best example of how potential and past results can’t always predict the future. Coming into last season, Stanton had proved a savvy pick-up, coming off a successful rookie year that saw him play 64 games, and put up a remarkable 53.07% EVCF while contributing 16 points. For reasons hard to fathom, other than maybe injury, or a failure to adjust to a new system, Stanton took a huge step back last year and became a liability on the blueline, posting an abysmal 44.86% EVCF, in 54 games, the worst percentage on the team. So, when both versions of Stanton played an ostensibly equal amount of time, how do you judge which version the team will get in 2015-16? It’s a tough gamble to take, but the team’s lack of depth on the left-side probably means they have to take it and hope for the best. However, of the three non-Weber defencemen the Canucks have to re-sign, he is perhaps the one to be most wary of. Of course, he’s also proof that despite the strong results of Corrado and Clendening so far, there’s no guarantee that that represents their true talent going forward either.

Jim Benning has said he has interest in having a roster that is 11 defensemen deep, and that he wants to get younger, so there is a chance that he retains all three of Stanton, Corrado and Clendening. Of course there is still an equal chance that any of those get either non-tendered or tendered then traded. Of the three, talent-wise I would love to see Benning hang on to Corrado and Clendening, as both proved capable of steady NHL minutes last season. However, one complication is the fact that of those players, only Stanton is a left-sided defenceman, something which the Canucks severely lack, compared to right-handed shots.

For this reason, barring any trades, I would expect that the seventh defenceman role would go to Stanton by default, and the battle for who plays on Sbisa’s right side will go down to Corrado or Clendenning.

Clendenning is waiver-eligible next year, meaning that if he makes the roster, he can’t be sent down without being potentially snagged by another team. Because he is a prized trade acquisition of Benning’s (and the Sbisa and Dorsett deals prove how loyal he is to those), it would be hard to see the Canucks risking losing him for nothing, so my guess is, if Clendening has a strong camp, the job is his.

Corrado as well, despite being solid by the underlying numbers in limited games, didn’t seem to have much trust with management, and was unfortunately part of the glut of injuries to the Canucks’ blueline last year that prevented him from proving himself in tougher situations.

Because of this, despite their fairly even talent levels, it’s pretty clear who has the advantage here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Clendenning make his way onto the team as the sixth defenceman, and I wouldn’t be surprised (but I would be sad) to see Corrado packaged in some kind of deal that brings back either picks, or some other D options.

Overall, the Canucks’ options for RFA defence are full of lots of promise and potential but no guarantees. For a developing team, this might be fine. But for a team whose stated goal is to make the playoffs, running with any of these options for an extended time comes with a lot of risk. One thing we know for sure, the Canucks’ defence needs to be seriously upgraded from last year, and whether these are the internal candidates they choose to go with, or they decide to seek out trades and free agency, a lot of work is still left to be done.

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