Vancouver Canucks: The “right” way to treat your free agent signings

VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 27: Sam Gagner #89 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Arena March 27, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 27: Sam Gagner #89 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Arena March 27, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /

This year’s crop of free agent signings have been a large subject of debate since the ink dried on their contracts. Some people think the Canucks have no choice when dealing with free agents, but honestly, it should not matter.

There is something odd about free agency. Apart from seeing which teams get burned by the silly season, we see local media and fans justifying moves panned around the league. For the Vancouver Canucks, they have not exactly been the gold standard for free agent pick ups since 2016.

We have thoroughly discussed the moves made on this year’s frenzy. I have made it very clear how much I disagree with the ridiculous amount of term and money handed out to the bottom of the roster. But instead of naming names, I want to look at the reasoning behind these signings outside of their on-ice contribution. That means we will not discuss defensive ability, leadership, grit and anything else that I think we have done a deep dive on this summer.

My concerns for this year’s camp is the illusion of competition by plugging up roster spots and leaving few openings for young players. Realistically, there is only one spot available and an effective, young defensive forward will likely be pushed out because of it.

This brings me to a fundamental problem that plagues all NHL teams at training camp. There is no such thing as “earning” it in this league. Earning it is just coach speak for “I’ll play you when you change you meet my arbitrary standard for defence.” The exception to this is when a player is so good that by not playing them, the coach looks blatantly incompetent.

No matter what coaches and managers tell you, competition is an empty term when you have a fresh crop of free agents on the roster. Those players are not losing a roster spot, especially the ones with longer term deals. Short of skipping training camp altogether, they will start with the Canucks this season.

Why is that? Well, the common answer you hear is that you need to treat your free agents “right” so you can attract more of them later on. Even if a player is not very good, they will get the benefit of the doubt from their veteran and contract status. So, as long as you have a significant contract, you are guaranteed a spot. And that is where this goes wrong.

Without the fear of losing their job, there is little that motivates these players outside of pride. But if we’re being honest here, a player can just sit back and cash those cheques while coasting along. Alternatively, they may try their best, but their best is at a replacement level.

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I’m repeatedly told that we had to overpay because nobody would agree to sign here. I doubt that. The team just wanted a big name when we could get the same skill set for league minimum. We keep hearing that you can’t waive one of these players because of the message it sends to future free agents. Nobody will want to sign in Vancouver if veterans are getting buried in the minors left and right.

That doesn’t make any sense. By doing that, you let these players walk all over you. It paints Vancouver as a soft target. Need a retirement contract? Sign here. Are you a veteran that is sick of being held accountable for poor play? Step right up. Personally, that’s not the message you should send to the league. You earn a contract by proving your worth and when you don’t, you are replaced. I would also accept trades in lieu of waivers, but most of these deals are unmovable.

But waiving them sends the right message. You have to contribute something if you want to stick around because frankly, there are hundreds of players on the fringes that could easily take their spots. Hockey players can get too comfortable sometimes. Complacency sinks in and that motivation I talked about erodes.

You want a fire lit under them? Put their jobs on the line. Use that hyped up prospect pool and the players desperate to stay in this league as motivation. They can easily be replaced and it’s about time free agents in Vancouver learned that lesson. I’m not saying to waive them out of spite. But if they are outclassed at training camp, you are being dishonest by declaring this a meritocracy.

dark. Next. Let our prospects carve their own path to the NHL

And this doesn’t just apply to the 2018 free agent group. It should be a standard that every single player competing for a spot is held to. But it won’t be. I can’t wait to hear the pathetic excuses at the end of the month. Personally, I can see right through them and I hope Canucks fans will too.