Vancouver Canucks: addressing toughness without breaking the bank

VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 5: Darren Archibald #49 of the Vancouver Canucks skates up ice with the puck during their NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Arena April 5, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 5: Darren Archibald #49 of the Vancouver Canucks skates up ice with the puck during their NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Arena April 5, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /

Jim Benning has made it crystal clear that he wants a little more sandpaper in the lineup next season. The team may be rich with cap space, but there is no need to waste it on toughness.

The Vancouver Canucks weren’t many things last year. They weren’t fast, and worse, they was little skill outside of Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and the Sedins. Injuries proved the team was not very durable and even though certain defencemen on the team had a lot of hits, the team lacked any sort of identity. Honestly, when you remove the impact Boeser and Horvat had, there was little to talk about in a meaningful way.

Now, will toughness fix the whole problem? No chance in hell. The Canucks are soft, but not in the way that you think. In fact, I’m referring to how Travis Green describes his squad when they don’t show their best. Whether it’s lazy checking, puck watching or simply not giving a full effort, those are the things that scream soft to me. Not a lack of fighting or hitting because those things often mean you are chasing the puck instead of controlling it.

There are also those of you who would prefer the team to just turn the other cheek and punish the team on the power play. I commend you for having that stance. Inside, there is something primal in me that wants to see more accountability on the ice. And no, not a fight. Just a symbol that our players won’t get ragdolled out there.

These are the players that we hail as energy guys. Providing little sparks in the lineup and can competently contribute in a checking role. Wanting grit is not a bad thing, but can lead to an ugly place if you overpay.

Expensive players to avoid

Let’s start with the obvious one. I’m sure one of the first examples of fourth line toughness that comes to mind is Ryan Reaves. He’s a throwback player, lauded more for his pugilistic efforts and agitations on the ice. Here’s the problem: too many general managers will line up to pay the premium for him.

The Pittsburgh Penguins used a 1st round pick to acquire him and he didn’t do much for them. But, he ultimately played for a team that went to the Stanley Cup Final. And even though he only had a couple notable games against Winnipeg and Washington, the Hockey Men out there will be slobbering at his feet to sign him to a ridiculous deal.

Reaves is 31 years old. These tough guys decline with age and it gets rough at around this point. If Jim Benning doesn’t want to repeat the Brandon Prust debacle, don’t chase after Reaves.

Another player I would avoid is Patrick Maroon. He’s on the wrong side of 30, and propped up by very good players. Whether it was playing with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton or rocking a shooting percentage of 15 (career average is 8.7) with Taylor Hall, Don’t be fooled. Admiral Ackbar said it best. It’s a trap! Stay far, far away. His next deal could be similar to David Clarkson‘s albatross of a contract, which is already making me queasy. No thank you.

Players on the cheap

Before we pull from the free agent pool, why don’t we look within the organization. Darren Archibald hardly looked out of place late in the season alongside Brandon Sutter. He was defensively responsible, but consistency was an issue for his line. That line showed flashes of brilliance and with the right third piece, they can be the shutdown group that Green will rely on heavily next season.

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I would be interesting in bringing Archibald back and I don’t think he will expect much of a raise. However, if other teams are showing interest, the Canucks may have to sweeten the pot. Regardless, I still see him as a low-cost move that the coach is already familiar with.

One player that would have my attention is Antoine Roussel from the Dallas Stars. He brings speed to the lineup, a sound defensive game and a lot of sandpaper. I figure he’s the kind of guy Green will like right away and can use him throughout the bottom six forward group. Intangibles don’t mean much to me, but considering everything he has to offer, I don’t mind if Benning sees those as his largest strengths. I see it as a win-win if signed in Vancouver.

The French forward has very good underlying numbers and adds that snarl to the lineup. He’s smart too, usually avoiding the dumb penalties that often leaves teams shorthanded. Roussel runs his mouth and unlike Erik Gudbranson, he backs it up. I think he would be a savvy signing and he could be locked down for very little. As long as the Canucks are smart, they can benefit from a market inefficiency.

Poaching players off the Capitals

A name getting a lot of traction out there is Devante Smith-Pelly. I would tread carefully with DSP. He is among the younger options, but I am concerned that his performance in the Cup Final will skyrocket his price on July 1st. The underlying numbers aren’t great, but he ticks all the boxes of an energy guy. Plus he doesn’t have the detriment of age weighing him down. I would be interested, but I don’t think the price will be low.

Jay Beagle is another player of interest. Again, wrong side of 30, brutal underlying numbers and comes from a Cup-winning team. He gets buried in the defensive zone almost as badly as Sutter, but those numbers are concerning. If the Canucks commit to him, I wouldn’t agree to anything over a one-year deal.

Next: Canucks re-sign Derrick Pouliot to one-year deal

I’m always weary of pursuing players off teams who just won the Stanley Cup. It’s usually a scenario where teams pay far too much for certain players because they “know how to win.” That really is the biggest load of garbage out there, next to “he’s tough to play against.” Meaningless phrases that let you say a lot without divulging anything of substance. I would advise against the Canucks going along this path. For now, stick with frugal signings. Don’t be tempted by the cap space to start spending recklessly. Toughness can be important, but you don’t need to spend $10 million over three years to get it.