There is a lot of focus and hype on the NHL Entry Draft at the end of this month, and rightfully so.
But there is another big event shortly after that, on July 1. Better known as Canada Day, it’s also the day when the free agent market opens in the NHL. Teams are allowed to speak to free agents during the five days prior to July 1st, but no players can officially sign a contract until the first day of July.
The Canucks are expected to be in pursuit of a high-end winger that can help give their offence a boost. Two names they are rumoured to be targeting include local kid Milan Lucic and Swedish winger Loui Eriksson. Both would go a long way to help the Canucks’ anemic offence that finished 29th in goals-for per game last season.
The optics of adding a big fish on the UFA market would also be beneficial, as it shows that Canucks management is looking to win and put an entertaining product on the ice next season. A big name free agent signing coupled with a recent high-end first round pick and there would be things to be excited about in Canucks Nation.
But there is one thing that the Canucks need to be leery of when targeting these free agents, and it’s what kind of commitment they will have to make financially and in term to land them.
Obviously at this time of year, there is a lot of posturing by teams and player agents hoping to get the upper hand in negotiations. So you have to talk all the reports and rumours with a grain of salt, but sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
In regards to Milan Lucic, he is currently in negotiations to stay with the Los Angeles Kings after a successful season that saw him post 20 goals and 55 points in his first season there. Pursuing Lucic if he becomes a UFA makes sense from a Canucks perspective.
Born and raised in Vancouver and a former Vancouver Giants, Lucic also has ties to Canucks GM Jim Benning from their days in Boston. The Fourth Period reported on Monday morning that the Kings and Lucic remain in discussions about a contract extension. That’s not surprising given that the Kings traded a first round pick, goaltender Martin Jones, and defensive prospect Colin Miller to acquire Lucic last summer.
Also reported is that Lucic is asking for a deal in the $6 million per year range for 6 years.
If we turn our attention to Loui Eriksson, the same thing is happening in Boston. Eriksson and the Bruins are in negotiations to get a new deal done before the Swedish winger becomes a free agent. Eriksson makes sense for the Canucks as he has played on a line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin at the World Championships and Benning was part of the Bruins management group when they acquired him as part of the Tyler Seguin deal with the Dallas Stars.
Joe Haggarty with CSN NE is reporting that Eriksson is looking for a 5-6 year deal in the $6 million range.
Without a doubt, both of these players would help the Canucks this upcoming season. But for a team in the Canucks’ situation, we must look beyond the short-term.
Will Lucic be effective enough to justify his contract in the 5th or 6th year of the deal, when the Sedins are likely retired? He’s only 28, but his style of play does not lend itself to longevity.
Eriksson will turn 31 before next season begins and just reached the 3o-goal plateau for the second time in his career. If he is seeking a 5-6 year deal, it’s fair to assume he won’t be as effective at 36 or 37 years old.
While Lucic and Eriksson have been the two pending UFAs most linked to Vancouver, the potential onerous contracts are not limited to them.
Back in January, Maple Ridge’s Andrew Ladd was reportedly looking for a six-year deal worth at least $41.0 million from the Winnipeg Jets. He was then traded to the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline and is expected to test the UFA market.
After that, forwards like Eric Staal, Teddy Purcell, Radim Vrbata, and Jiri Hudler come with questions marks along with wanting some financial security.
All of this isn’t to say that the Canucks shouldn’t be active in the market, as they absolutely should. They need to add some offensive punch to this young team and would be wise to add a player this way rather than trading for one. They just need to careful not to commit themselves to a player for too long.
As we’ve seen many times before, long-term contracts that look good to start with can end up being anchors for teams in the long run. For any team looking to be competitive for years to come, you have to be careful to not put all your eggs in one basket.