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Vancouver Canucks Free Agent Forwards

While we’re all here and frustrated about the lack of hockey, that won’t stop us from unseemly speculation! We’re breaking this into two parts, first with the Canucks’ free-agent forwards, then their defence. It’s difficult not to deal with each part of this off-season holistically, given how intertwined the issues are. But that would be a 20,000-word article, and my editor would Have Words With Me. So.

Vancouver Canucks’ Free Agent Forwards

If we’re going to talk about the near (but not too near) Vancouver Canucks‘ 2020-21 season, we’re going to have to make some assumptions. One of which is that the playoffs have no effect on the value of any of these players. So bring your salt lick and let’s go.

The Baseline

First, let’s talk about the league-wide stuff. There will be no player trades until after the playoffs are over. This should be obvious, but with the draft likely moving to early June, it’s gonna get weird. (That they dodge the NBA draft by a couple of weeks is a coincidence, I’m sure.) Not every team is going to be happy with that, of course. Most experts don’t think the Montreal Canadiens actually intend on using fourteen draft picks this year, for instance.

We’re also going to assume that the league will open when fans are allowed to return to arenas, even if it is in limited numbers. Being as reliant on the gate as the NHL is, makes any other option difficult. Likewise, the salary cap is more likely to remain flat than have a rollback or any significant increase.

Perhaps the most controversial assumption we’ll make here is that there will be no compliance buyouts this time. While larger teams will want them, for smaller ones it would just be a way for rich teams to gain an advantage over poor ones. Team owners aren’t just NHL team owners, and any businesses they run are also being hit by this pandemic. It’s not the right time for them to spend money for no return. But as much as they want fans in the seats, returning too soon would be a disaster. The absolute last thing the league wants is to return only to close again.

Currently, experts expect September playoffs – governments permitting – and a start to the new season in December. Fingers crossed for that, anyways. This whole thing is getting played by ear, so let’s stay ready to improvise.

Local Rules

As for Vancouver specifically, trades are too hard to predict – especially this year – so scratch those. This article won’t be tackling the White Collar free agents (like Judd Brackett) because all those negotiations go on behind closed doors. There simply isn’t enough information to go on in anything other than the vaguest notions. And “yeah, it would be great if Judd stayed around” is hardly a groundbreaking take. So the big questions we’re going to deal with here are all about the free agents.

Speaking of which, free agents league-wide are going to have to decide: long-term security, or gamble on themselves? The cap won’t stay suppressed, but how much it opens up and when the different economies recover is unknown. Teams are going to want certainty, so (ironically) might pay a bit more for it now. They could also back-load contracts, but that’s a gamble given the recovery period. If the cap stays flat or close to it for, say, three years, what do you do with a star you’ve underpaid for two in exchange for overpaying them in years three and four?

To recap: no free-money buyouts; a flat cap; no trades during the draft or in the shortened off-season. Going by the omnipresent Cap Friendly, the Canucks will finish the season with just over $20.5 million in space, less around $2 million in bonus overages. We’re also assuming it’s $2.5 million lower than listed as well – that’s the cap staying flat rather than increasing to $84 million. So with fourteen players signed to NHL contracts and $16 million available, what can the Canucks do?

A Bit More Complicated Than That…

Vancouver has a reasonably solid group of forwards right now. Their most skilled forward is still on his entry-level deal. Their high-risk, high-reward off-season trade worked out better than anyone could have predicted. And there are just two Canucks free agent forwards to worry about this year. One’s a big one, certainly, but there’s a bigger concern for not just the team but for another player himself. While he’s not a free agent, what happens to him will affect the entire team.

The Elephant on the Ice

The good news is that the injury bug only hit a few players this year. The bad news is that one of them was the other off-season signing, Micheal Ferland. Ferland was another high-risk deal, with the Canucks offering him a four-year term. Ferland’s attempted comeback this season after another concussion was brief, skating a single period in Utica before pulling the plug on his year.

Having several months off should get Ferland into playing shape again – but for how long? Can he play as the man he was, even if he is cleared to return? The most difficult part is relying on the player to say when he’s good to go. Players want to play. This makes it hard to trust their judgement because they can be lying to themselves as much as to doctors. The risk to his future is already there. Is it right to stop him for his own good? Where does the team’s responsibility end and the player’s begin? The Canucks have been in a similar position before, but not with a concussion.

Ferland might start the Canucks 2020-21 season still on the injured reserve list. If so, he can’t be bought out, but his salary also won’t be applied to the cap. But if he is cleared, will the team (and fans) be playing a waiting game for his next concussion? Assuming he does return, that’s a $3.5 million cap hit the team has to find space for.

Puck Hunter

Three Canucks restricted free agent forwards are arbitration-eligible. This means that even if negotiations reach an impasse a deal will get done. Jake Virtanen is the most obvious of these. He was at 18 goals when the league paused, and odds are good he would have reached 20 goals and/or 40 points. It’s far and away his best production, and with almost two minutes less average ice time than last year. He may be rounding into form as a “middle-six-plus” forward, getting additional time on the power play. If so, his one-year “show me” deal has paid off, but he still might have to make do with another one. He could justify a call to double his salary given his consistent growth, but more likely the team plays hardball with him. I could see a two-year, $4 million deal.

Field Promotion

Zack MacEwen has broken through this year and showed he belonged in the NHL. That being said, where the soon to be 24-year old belongs on the fourth line for now. A qualifying offer plus bonuses or slightly above should satisfy everyone. Though if he wants to go longer at the same price, I can’t imagine anyone in the Canucks management objecting. The free-agent signing out of Gatineau has done yeoman’s work in Utica and has earned his shot. Whatever length he wants to go, tag him at around $950 K for next year.

Thanks A Motte

Tyler Motte is a fine player for the price. He brings a lot of speed and a lot of jump to the bottom six. He’s an absolute cannonball on the ice, and a lot of fun to watch. I suspect he’ll be a regular to get ten goals/ten assists in a full season. I also have doubts he’ll ever play a full season. Given the pressure from other players, I can’t see Motte getting an offer from the Canucks this off-season. The maximum he could receive as a qualifying offer is $1 million, which could be buried in the minors. It’s unlikely he’ll pass waivers, though.

Gaud is Gud

Any time a fifth-round pick tells you he’s ready, make him prove it. Then when he shows you, believe him. Adam Gaudette is exactly what the Canucks need. He’s young, fast, and scored a dozen of his 33 points on a suddenly-dangerous second power-play unit. He has a slight frame and isn’t suited to heavy defensive work, but has scoring bite centring the third line. He’s a category 10.2(c) rather than an RFA, so the Canucks can qualify him at $875 K if they wanted. That seems a bit unappreciative, though. And brief, since qualifying offers are only for one year. His total salary this season is $925 K, so give him at least that as a base.

Let Freedom Ring!

That’s it for the restricted free agents. There are two unrestricted ones that the Canucks are allowed to bargain with before anyone else gets a bite. One made a huge impact on arrival, and the other might be the forgotten man among the Canucks’ free agent forwards.

Take a Forward, Leivo Forward

Hello, Forgotten Man. Josh Leivo is about as hard luck as a successful NHL player can get. Stuck behind a ridiculously deep Toronto Maple Leafs team, Leivo finally caught a break with his trade to Vancouver. Immediately inserted into the middle-six, he scored ten goals and eighteen points in 49 games for a Canucks team desperate for scoring. That got him a one-year deal to build on his career numbers and finally get a payday he was worth. The versatile winger was easily on his way, too, racking up seven goals and nineteen points in just 39 games before his season-ending injury. Leivo is making $1.5 million this year, but with the signing of Marc Michaelis for half that, breaking into Vancouver’s lineup will be harder than last time. And if there’s one thing Leivo does NOT want to do it’s returning to the minors. We think he walks for better and a better chance elsewhere.

Just Our Tyff

For a late-season rental in a forced deal and costing a pick and a very good prospect, a LOT of Canucks fans like Tyler Toffoli. It always helps warm up the crowd when you score six goals and ten points in ten games. But what helps players get those numbers is 120 minutes beside Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. So will Toffoli re-sign with Vancouver, and can Vancouver afford him? It would be crazy to consider him a point-per-game player, but 45-50 points isn’t out of the question. But as with Leivo, is there room for him? Not skill-wise, there’s absolutely room for him there. Financially, on the other hand, it’s going to be a reach. His expiring contract is for $4.6 million, and at 27 years old he’s likely going to want to hit a home run with his next deal. By our calculations so far, the Canucks have $8.625 million left, with a rather large question looming…


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