Free agency is just around the corner, and several NHL teams will take this opportunity to try and bolster their rosters for the upcoming season.
The J.T. Miller trade was proof that the Vancouver Canucks believe they are ready to push for a playoff spot next year. GM Jim Benning is believed to be aggressively pursuing additional upgrades to the team through free agency, looking for a top-four defenceman and/or a top-six forward.
He said as much to reporters on Thursday:
“Last year, we knew with the Sedins not coming back we were going to go with young players at skilled positions and we wanted to try to support them with some character players, some guys that could kill penalties, and that’s why we signed the players (Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Tim Schaller) we did last summer.
“Now I think we’re in a different spot. If we try to sign players in free agency it’s going to be with the intent that we think they’re top-six forwards or top-four defencemen.”
- 5 under-the-radar free agent forwards the Canucks could target
- 4 young undervalued free agents the Canucks could sign
- 4 under-the-radar free agent defencemen the Canucks could target
They have the funds to do it, too. Even with Roberto Luongo’s retirement triggering a $3 million cap recapture penalty, the Canucks currently have roughly $15.5 million in cap space to work with.
About half of that will go to the Canucks signing their RFAs – most notably Brock Boeser – but the Canucks should still have enough to add a big piece in free agency if they choose to do so.
Here are five unrestricted free agents the Canucks could realistically sign this summer.
(Note: All projected contracts courtesy of EvolvingWild’s Contract Projections Model.)
1. Jake Gardiner
Projected Contract: 7 years, $6.82 million
You’ll notice Tyler Myers’ name does not appear on this list.
Though the Canucks are heavily rumoured to have interest in the 6-foot-8 defenceman, it’s hard to understand why, considering the contract he will likely command.
If the Canucks are dead-set on adding a top-four defenceman, a wiser gamble would be on 28-year-old Jake Gardiner.
While Myers and Gardiner are likely to get similar contracts on July 1, the latter appears to be a superior player both offensively and defensively.
Gardiner was on pace for 39 points last year and had 52 points in 2017-18. Meanwhile, Myers hasn’t eclipsed 40 points since his rookie season in 2009-10. Gardiner also has the better possession metrics between the two.
No one makes difficult plays look easier than Jake Gardiner. pic.twitter.com/HSUtyAs4W3
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) April 7, 2019
The obvious drawback on Gardiner is he’s a left-handed shot, while the Canucks are sorely lacking on the right side of their blue line.
But that alone shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. The Canucks could simply put Quinn Hughes on the right side, as he spent a lot of his time in college with the Michigan Wolverines playing his off-side.
2. Gustav Nyquist
Position: Left Wing
Projected Contract: 6 years, $5.65 million
Another free agent the Canucks have been linked to, Gustav Nyquist would slot right into the Canucks’ top six forward group.
It’s easy to see why the Canucks would have interest in the Swedish winger. Nyquist had a career-high 60 points last season playing with both the Detroit Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks. But he’s been a lock for 40-50 points in each of the five seasons prior while putting up strong possession numbers on some pretty bad Red Wings teams.
Nyquist is a player that could help the Canucks on both ends of the ice and plays a position the Canucks have a dire need for. He could slot on the left side with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, or ride on Bo Horvat’s wing on the second line.
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) January 1, 2019
3. Marcus Johansson
Position: Left Wing
Projected Contract: 4 years, $4.58 million
The Canucks were targeting Marcus Johansson back at the trade deadline, and they could get their guy now in free agency without giving up any assets.
Johansson has had some injury struggles in the last few years, playing only 58 games last year and just 29 in 2017-18, but he’s consistently scored at a 40-50 point pace throughout his career.
Johansson also brings a lot of playoff experience. The 6-foot-1 winger has played in 94 career playoff games, and played 22 this past season with the Boston Bruins, tallying 11 points.
Great goal by Steven Kampfer but look at Johansson tip this away at the blue line and then set Kampfer up.
Don Sweeney is smiling pic.twitter.com/k860pWtmoN
— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) May 10, 2019
4. Ryan Dzingel
Projected Contract: 4 years, $4.26 million
Another forward option the Canucks could look at adding for their top six is Ryan Dzingel.
Similar to Miller, Dzingel has experience playing all three forward positions which would give the Canucks even more versatility in their lineup.
The 6-foot American forward had 56 points in 78 games last season between the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets, and has upped his production every year in the NHL thus far.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) February 17, 2019
One of the biggest concerns in free agency is whether a player will still provide value in the later years of their deal, but at 27 years old Dzingel should be able to produce at an adequate rate throughout the entirety of a four- or five-year contract.