The Canuck Way Mailbag: Virtanen, free agency, trade targets, more

Vancouver Canucks Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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DALLAS, TX – JUNE 23: Jim Benning attends the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 23, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The real work begins for Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning. With that in mind, it’s time for this week’s edition of the mailbag!

Now that the Vancouver Canucks are out of the playoffs, general manager Jim Benning has shifted his focus to the offseason and the many decisions he has to make.

The draft is also just around the corner, so it’s going to be a busy few months. After an exciting run to the second round of the playoffs, there is a lot to look forward to with this team. Unfortunately, the salary cap will get in the way of keeping this group together for the long-term future.

The offseason won’t be boring by any means, as Benning attempts to upgrade his team through free agency and trades while also trying to recoup some picks in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory.

Will he be able to trade away some of his mistakes? Who will stick around in the triumvirate of Chris Tanev, Tyler Toffoli and Jacob Markstrom? Those are just some of the questions that will get answered in the coming months. So while we’re speaking of questions, let’s get to some of yours in this week’s edition of The Canuck Way Mailbag!

It’s going to be a struggle to add anything significant in free agency this offseason due to the lack of cap space. That being said, if Benning can move out some high-priced contracts, then maybe a mid-value defenceman could be had for a decent price. However, I am on the side of making it work with the young core the Canucks have right now.

I would try to move on from Jordie Benn and Troy Stecher and hand the reigns to Olli Juolevi and Jack Rathbone. I would even entertain the idea of moving on from the oft-injured Chris Tanev if that means bringing in a younger, more mobile option. As much as I love Tanev, I think that could be the best way forward for the team.

So to answer your question, if I were forced to choose a free agent defenceman at a decent price, I would target Dylan DeMelo, formerly of the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets. He’s still young at 27-years-old and won’t command a lot in free agency.

As pointed out by Thomas Drance and Harman Dayal of The Athletic (subscription required), he played efficiently with Thomas Chabot and Josh Morrissey. If Tanev isn’t retained, he could be a perfect fit with Quinn Hughes, as he’s also a right-hand shot familiar with playing the role of sidekick to a young phenom.

Like Tanev, DeMelo is a smart defender with a great stick who makes excellent reads in all zones. He could be the perfect complement to Hughes if Tanev ultimately leaves the team via free agency.

As much as I appreciate what Markstrom did for the Canucks in 2019-20, I think it’s better to walk away from him and hand the mantle to Thatcher Demko. I realize it was only three games, but in those games, he showed everyone why he’s going to be an elite starting goaltender in the NHL. He was calm, cool, and collected while the Vegas Golden Knights threw everything at him. His mental makeup is suited to the number one position and he’s only going to get better under the tutelage of goalie coach Ian Clark (if he’s re-signed).

Markstrom is going to cost a pretty penny, potentially upwards of $6 million annually on a long-term contract. Going down that road could create more problems when the Canucks need to re-sign Hughes and Elias Pettersson to expensive long-term deals. They have a young goaltender right now under an entry-level contract. They need to take advantage of that while they can.