As many as a dozen Vancouver Canucks could hit free agency this offseason.
For an organization like the Vancouver Canucks, who have traditionally struggled year after year to stay under the salary cap, news that more than $15 million worth of contracts is coming off the books should be pure delight.
That list is headlined by top-six scorer Radim Vrbata, top-four defenceman Dan Hamhuis, and Brandon Prust, all of whom are more than 30 years old. “Top-six” defencemen Yannick Weber and Matt Bartkowski are also set to hit the unrestricted market.
Sure, those five names add up to $15.25 million. But there are four others who are also coming to the end of their current contracts.
Enter the restricted free agents.
Sven Baertschi is finding his chemistry with Vancouver’s hope and salvation, Mr. Bo Horvat. Emerson Etem and Linden Vey have formed a formidable third line with veteran Alex Burrows. Defenceman Alex Biega, although an unrestricted free agent, has earned himself Jim Benning‘s spoken promise of a contract extension — essentially an RFA status.
Of those four bolded names — Baertschi, Etem, Vey, and Biega — three can expect a healthy raise. Vey may be the only one getting the shorter end of the stick, already being inked to a million-dollar contract.
"With the expiring contracts of Radim Vrbata, Dan Hamhuis, Brandon Prust, Matt Bartkowski and Yannick Weber, the Canucks will have $15.25 million to spend in free agency. But how do they fill the voids left by the aforementioned players?"
He goes on to say that pushing Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann to bigger roles can be a way to fill those voids, perhaps even Hunter Shinkaruk. Well, count Shinkaruk out and Brendan Gaunce, too, after what GM Jim Benning said earlier this week.
Let’s face it, McCann is stuck as the fourth-string centre behind Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter, and Horvat. Jake Virtanen does not look like anything that could become a Vrbata-calibre scorer overnight. The only hope is Biega and Ben Hutton stepping up to fill Hamhuis’s void. That means Biega will be getting a good raise. Perhaps just shy of $3 million?
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Expect Sven to earn a contract just above the $3.25 million mark. His work with Horvat has been fantastic.
Vey, if he stays with the Canucks, will not be getting much of a raise. Should Vey demand more than two million dollars, the Canucks would not have any issue cutting ties with him. Etem should get a bridge deal of sorts, similar to what Baertschi got last season — sub-million dollars at minimal duration. Of course, that could go up to two years at about two million dollars annually if he has a solid end to the season.
So there is a good chance that the $15.25 million dollars of freedom could be about $8 million when free agent frenzy hits, with Sutter’s extension kicking in at $4.375 million a year. Stamkos? Not much hope there if you ask me. Even less of a chance, should he get dealt before the summer comes.
Taking a quick look at the free agency for the coming summer, Milan Lucic stands out at left wing. At defence, Keith Yandle is the top pick. Unless a player like Jason Demers hits the open market, there are virtually no top-six wingers or top-four defencemen beyond these names. If the Canucks have a swing-and-a-miss at a big name like Yandle or Lucic, all the free cap space will have to go towards making a “patchwork bottom-six defence” or a “patchwork fourth-line”.
If that isn’t already what we have in Bartkowski and Weber, and in Prust and Cracknell, I don’t know what else this Canucks lineup is.
If you can’t fill the void, don’t create one
Hence comes the argument: why not keep Hamhuis around?
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Hamhuis is coming off of a seismic injury with potential concussion aftereffects. The Canucks would like to trade him for a pick, but with how the end-of-season cap is working out, it might serve the Canucks well to keep Hammer this trade deadline — for two reasons.
Does Hamhuis have a market after the injury? He would not be returning until only a few games before the deadline. After not having played for more than two months, even for a contender looking for insurance, that would be an unideal flimsy rental. The market is there for a top-four defender. But for Hamhuis?
The Canucks need immediate top-four help. And they might not have the free agent pool to fetch a top-four defenceman. If you don’t want Biega-Hutton as your second pairing, keep Hamhuis around. Simple. Bring in a partner for Sbisa, and keep Andrey Pedan or another free agent for the number seven on the blueline.
Pedan? He leads the list of another handful of prospects whose current contracts are terminating at the end of this season. Taylor Fedun and Alex Grenier are the others who have potential NHL upside. Make that three, add it to the five veterans and the four NHL-calibre youths, and you got a dozen. A dozen expiring contracts.
Sure. January might not be the time to kick around free agency. But with much of the team potentially bound for the open market and leaving significant gaps in the lineup, the Canucks might have to consider extending some offers to their veteran free agents. Want to keep kids in a winning environment? Keep the right veterans around.
Or win with the kids. But that’s a completely different story.
What do you think? Let us know what you think the Canucks should do with their expiring contracts! Comment below or tweet us @FSTheCanuckWay!
*All contract details from GeneralFanager.com