The Vancouver Canucks have yet to find the right fit for their second-line left wing.
Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning has been looking for left-wing help for a while now. So far, his efforts did not come to fruition. Most recently, free agent Jiri Hudler was rumored to be signing with the Canucks, but ended up signing in Dallas instead. Dallas is also the place where the Canucks could find a different winger for their middle six: Valeri Nichushkin.
Nichushkin was drafted 10th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2013 and it is believed that he dropped a bit due to the “Russian factor”. Like Russian Canucks defenseman Nikita Tryamkin, Nichushkin let teams know he would only sign an NHL contract if he was guaranteed to play in the NHL. The Stars were fine with that, signed him to an entry-level deal right after the draft and Nichushkin played 79 games in the 2013-14 season.
His rookie season was definitely promising. At just 18 years old, Nichushkin recorded 14 goals and 34 points. From there, it could only go up, and Nichushkin would be an elite winger by 2016.
That didn’t happen.
In the 2014-15 campaign, Nichushkin missed all but eight games — and five in the AHL on a conditioning stint — after suffering a hip injury that eventually required surgery. Nichushkin did return late in the year, but he was never the same again.
So, in the 2015-16 season, the Russian recorded just nine goals and 29 points in 79 games — five fewer than in his rookie season.
Nichushkin is now a restricted free agent and can’t seem to agree to a new deal with the Stars. The issue is obvious:
- Nichushkin likely wants term and money like he never got injured and his production didn’t dip.
- In Russia, he could easily make that money and he never seemed opposed to playing in the KHL.
- The Stars see a young player who hasn’t proven he deserves a big contract, likely offering him little term with little money.
So what’s in it for the Canucks?
Well, Nichushkin is a big, speedy winger with great skill, a strong shot and good playmaking ability. He is an all-around offensive player who could definitely help the middle six.
But what would he cost?
The most comparable player on the Vancouver Canucks is likely Sven Baertschi. Unlike Nichushkin, Baertschi has just one year of NHL experience, but they have played a similar amount of games in the league. Baertschi is two years older than Nichushkin but also produced 28 points in 10 fewer games than Nichushkin last season.
Baertschi was an RFA this summer as well, and the Canucks were able to sign him to a very team-friendly deal — two years with a total value of $3.7 million. That deal was widely regarded a steal for the Canucks, so paying Nichushkin a tad more wouldn’t be terrible. The question is just how much more, and how they can acquire him in the first place.
The simplest option would be to send him an offer sheet. Vancouver has around $3.5 million in cap space, according to GeneralFanager.com, and could spend that (or part of it) on Nichushkin. Up to an annual average of $3,755,233, it would only cost a second-round pick, which would be a great price for a player like Nichushkin, even if he ended up being a career 30-point player.
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However, $3,755,233 is probably still little enough for the Stars to match — even though it’s not little at all — especially considering that a second-round pick is terrible compensation from the Stars’ point of view.
According to GeneralFanager.com, Dallas has roughly $4.6 million in cap space. So, to really hurt the Stars (or to actually get the player), the Canucks would probably have to spend more than that. But, a contract with an annual average of $5 million would be terrible overpayment and would cost a first and a third-round pick in addition.
So, Vancouver would probably have to try offering $3.5 million which might be too much to justify while being matched by the Stars. Offer sheets rarely happen and work out even less, and this is the reason why.
The alternative to an offer sheet is a trade. Obviously. If the Canucks wanted to acquire Nichushkin on a reasonable deal, this would be the way to go. But at what cost?
Despite Nichushkin’s recent struggles, he is still a former 10th-overall pick and blue-chip prospect. He is just 21 years old and already has two full NHL seasons under his belt — he will definitely have a good career in the league. So, it would probably cost a first-round draft pick and/or top prospect.
Acquiring Nichushkin for a top prospect wouldn’t quite be like trading Hunter Shinkaruk for Markus Granlund. But there probably aren’t many who would be willing to give up a Brock Boeser for Nichushkin anyway.
You see, a trade isn’t much easier than an offer sheet.
As long as Nichushkin is still unsigned, he is definitely a player the Canucks should consider. He is certainly the type of player Benning likes, and he has top-line potential. Therefore, he won’t be easy to acquire.
Perhaps the Canucks should indeed just throw an offer sheet his way and see where it goes. If he signs it and the Stars let him walk, that’s awesome. If he signs and the Stars match it, the Canucks screwed with a Conference rival which can be a good thing as well.
If Benning really wants to do something about the second-line left wing, this is his chance. Nichushkin seems to be the last free agent worth pursuing, but he might become unavailable within the next few weeks.