The offseason is soon completely upon us, and this year promises to be the most entertaining in a while. The NHL is expanding for the first time in nearly two decades, and the pending Expansion Draft will no doubt complicate the offseason roster plans for most NHL teams.
The Vancouver Canucks, however, stand to lose relatively little via Expansion, and they will also have the opportunity to make up for whatever loss they incur almost immediately via free agency.
Who Will The Canucks Lose?: The Canucks are probably going to lose one of either Luca Sbisa, Brendan Gaunce, or Reid Boucher. Of the three, Sbisa is probably the most effective player, but he is expensive and Vegas stands to have better options than him available at D. Gaunce has the most potential, but has shown himself to be an offensive black hole at the NHL level. Boucher is probably the best combination of current skill and potential, and is my personal bet to be selected. Other possibilities include Michael Chaput, Alex Biega, Jayson Megna, and Andrey Pedan.
What Will They Need Going Into Free Agency?: To replace the player selected in the Expansion Draft, the Canucks are going to need some added depth. This is especially true if Sbisa is selected, as the defense will have lost Sbisa, Nikita Tryamkin, and Philip Larsen in the same offseason (Although the signing of Philip Holm will help). If one of the forwards is selected, however, forward depth will be important, too, and a focus on depth centers is probably a good strategy heading into free agency, as center depth is always valuable.
The Canucks, looking at another potential lottery season, should focus on those free agents that are willing to sign for relatively cheap and, preferably, for only one year. This would allow the Canucks to sell some pieces at the deadline to accrue more draft picks. If any of these signings have playoff experience, that’s an added bonus.
Potential Depth Center/Forward Signings:
Andrew Desjardins, C- Desjardins offensive production has fallen off a cliff, with only one point in 46 games last season. That being said, Desjardins has a ton of experience, is only 30 years old, and is only two seasons removed from his turn as a Cup-winning fourth line center. Desjardins would likely be a deadline commodity.
Vern Fiddler, C- Fiddler is 37 years old, and was almost kept off the list because of it, but his trade deadline acquisition and run to the Finals with Nashville proves he is still a valuable NHL commodity. Fiddler could help mentor young forwards, and would likely be of interest to a contender at the deadline. Plus, his Kevin Bieksa impressions would endear him to fans instantly.
Stanislav Galiev, LW- Galiev is an odd case. He’s a group VI unrestricted free agent, meaning he’s hitting the open market at the unusually young age of 25. He’s torn up the AHL, but Washington’s depth has resulted in limited NHL opportunities. If Galiev is looking for a better opportunity in the big leagues, he’d make an excellent replacement for Boucher or Gaunce.
Dwight King, LW- King is only 27 years old, but he has an abundance of playoff experience with the LA Kings. His performance in Montreal was disappointing, but that’s true of countless Habs. If King could be signed at a bargain price, he’d be an excellent addition to any forward corps, and his experience would make him a definite target at the deadline.
Jay McClement, C- McClement, at 34, is getting up there in age, but he’s still able to maintain his position as an incredibly solid fourth-line center. He’s been toiling away in relative obscurity for the Hurricanes recently, and it’s a bit surprising he wasn’t dealt at the deadline this year. McClement is great on the defensive side of the puck, but offers little offense.
Nate Thompson, C- Thompson, 32, has been quite injury prone of late, but other than that he’s an ideal depth center. Thompson can play up and down the lineup, and he chips in plenty of offense for his role. Thompson’s great performance in the playoffs this year may result in a team overpaying him, however.
Chris Thorburn, RW- That Thorburn is the longest-tenured Winnipeg Jet says a lot about his versatility. Thorburn can play all forward positions, and he brings a large amount of toughness and grit to the lineup. At 34, his offense has dried up, but he’s the type of player that can make the game easier for his teammates just by being out there. A likely target for playoff bound teams at the deadline.
Scottie Upshall, LW- Upshall has been hanging around the NHL for over a decade and he’s remained relatively consistent throughout. At 33, Upshall has no room for improvement, but he’s a reliable depth scorer who can play on any line when called upon. Has a reputation of being a great teammate.
Ryan White, C- White, a 29 year old scrappy centerman, seems to be quite underrated. He played an important role in both Arizona and Minnesota this year, and even suited up in the playoffs for the Wild. He can play defensively, defend his teammates, and even chip in a bit of offense. Not a bad deadline target for any team.
Tommy Wingels, C- In addition to having one of the funnest names in the NHL, the 29 year old Wingels is a really versatile player. He can play any forward position and serve in multiple roles, although he’s best as a depth forward providing energy. His offense is nowhere near what it used to be, but he was still sought out by Ottawa to complement their roster this season.
Daniel Winnik, C- Winnik has an established history of garnering big returns at the trade deadline, having been traded for high picks on multiple occasions. He had a great regular season for Washington, notching 25 points, but disappeared in the playoffs, which may drive his price tag down a bit. At only 32, Winnik has a few good years left in him.
Potential Depth Defenseman Signings:
Yohann Auvitu- Auvitu was a darkhorse to ever play in the NHL, but he surprised by playing some competent minutes for a dreadful New Jersey team this year. His real coming-out party was at the World Championships, however, where Auvitu starred for an impressive Team France, hinting at some untapped potential at age 27.
Deryk Engelland- Engelland has spent the past few seasons being grossly overpaid by the Calgary Flames, but that could mean he is willing to sign for cheap to stay in Western Canada. He’s 35, and his best days are behind him, but he is one of the toughest d-men in the league and could replace some of the snarl of Sbisa and Tryamkin.
Cody Franson- The Sicamous-born D-man is not too far removed from some excellent seasons in Toronto, but his stints in Nashville and Buffalo were nowhere near as successful. At 29, Franson has definitely peaked, but he still provides a decent amount of offense and some competent defensive play. Most importantly, he likely has an interest in coming home to BC.
Eric Gryba- Gryba is a rough-and-tumble defenseman who performed well in limited showings for the Oilers this year. At only 29, Gryba has plenty of miles left on him, and he makes for a cheap Sbisa replacement if Sbisa goes to Vegas. Expect hitting, not offense, from Gryba.
Roman Polak- Polak is only 31 years old, and most would have probably pegged him as being much older. Polak’s style of game has worn his body down immensely, and his horrific injury in the playoffs probably won’t help his speed any. Still, Polak is a reliable veteran who is always in demand at the trade deadline, and the Canucks could do worse when looking for a Sbisa replacement.
Paul Postma- Hey-ey, wait a minute, Mr. Postma! Beatles references aside, the 28 year old defender has been held up by the defensive depth of the Jets, but still managed to put up 14 points in 65 games this year. Now a full-time NHLer, Postma might be looking for a home with a more definitive opportunity next year.
Potential Non-Tenders to Watch Out For:
“Non-tenders” are players who are technically Restricted Free Agents, but who might not be qualified by their teams and will thus become free agents. These would mostly be “reclamation projects,” but Jim Benning has shown an aptitude for such things in the past.
Nail Yakupov, RW- Yakupov is one of the most high-profile busts in recent memory, but the skill that made him a first overall pick hasn’t gone away. Yakupov will be a low-risk, high-reward sort of signing. Why not give him a shot?
Mikhail Grigorenko, C- Grigorenko was once highly-touted, but he’s failed to do much at the NHL level in either Buffalo or Colorado. Still, he was a part of some really weak teams, so the 23 year old might still find success with a new franchise. Grigorenko is weak defensively, but perhaps Travis Green could shore that up.
Eric Gelinas. D- Gelinas, 26, had a dreadful season, but he was playing for the worst team in hockey. He’s shown more potential in the past while a New Jersey Devil, so perhaps he can turn it on again in a city where Gelinas’ have been successful before.
Joe Morrow, D- Morrow is only 24, despite seemingly being “on the cusp” forever. He’s been a part of three organizations already, and has failed to make a significant impact on any of them. That being said, his last four seasons were in the Bruins organization, which has a large amount of defensive depth. There’s still potential there waiting to be uncovered.