Canucks rumors: Sam Gagner, Michael Del Zotto, Anders Nilsson

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 05: Michael Del Zotto
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 05: Michael Del Zotto /

The Vancouver Canucks aren’t going to spend big in free agency this year? Think again.

With the Vancouver Canucks fully committed to a rebuild, no one expected big free-agent signings. However, TSN’s Bob McKenzie has some news. Keep in mind, though, that nothing is official yet. Deals can be made official starting at noon ET, 9 a.m. PT.

As 2016-17 starting goalie Ryan Miller is likely headed to the Anaheim Ducks, finally moving closer to his LA-based wife, the Canucks need someone new to back up projected 2017-18 starter Jacob Markstrom.

Anders Nilsson is coming off of his strongest NHL season yet, recording a .923 save percentage in 26 games for the Buffalo Sabres. He made his NHL debut in the 2011-12 season, but has never played more than 26 games in a single season. If everything goes as planned, that won’t change in Vancouver. However, if Markstrom fails to prove himself as a starter, the duo could split the 82 games evenly.

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On D, the Canucks lost Nikita Tryamkin, who went back to the KHL, as well as Luca Sbisa, who was picked by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. So, despite the signing of Philip Holm and the likely addition of prospect Olli Juolevi, the Canucks need to add someone.

Michael Del Zotto would not be a top defenceman on many teams, but he is an immediate upgrade over Sbisa. More specifically, Del Zotto would bring some offensive upside that not many of the Canucks’ players have. It would be foolish to believe Del Zotto can carry the Canucks far away from 31st in the standings, but he would be a very solid signing.

Potential D-pairings:

Ben HuttonChris Tanev
Alex Edler — Troy Stecher
Michael Del Zotto — Erik Gudbranson
Olli Juolevi, Jordan Subban

Lastly, the Canucks could add forward Sam Gagner. Like Del Zotto, Gagner mostly brings offensive skill, especially on the power play, which was one of Vancouver’s biggest issues last season. Gagner, a former sixth-overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers, had 118 points in 53 OHL games in his draft year. He never managed to prove himself as a top-six forward, but he recently enjoyed great success as a bottom-six player and power-play specialist with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

However, it is again important to keep our expectations low. With an average Philadelphia Flyers team in 2015-16, Gagner only had eight goals and 16 points in 53 games, and even spent some time in the AHL. His production in Vancouver could end up looking very similar.

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It’s difficult to see what exactly the Canucks’ plans are. They say they are rebuilding, but these moves suggest they want to ice a somewhat competitive team next year.

On the bright side, these deals are unlikely to have the same price tag as Loui Eriksson did last year.