As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look toward the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The fourth and final segment of Offseason Primers sticks to the Western Conference, featuring the Pacific Division. Today, the Vancouver Canucks offseason will go under the microscope.
Vancouver Canucks Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
Jim Benning has to be incredibly happy with his team’s performance this offseason. As general manager, he’s transformed the Canucks back into a potential contender with a bright future. However, there are a lot of core pieces of this year’s team that are on expiring contracts. The Canucks’ pending unrestricted free agents are Tyler Toffoli, Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, Josh Leivo, Louis Domingue, Oscar Fantenberg, Tyler Graovac, and Richard Bachman. Ashton Sautner is a Group Six UFA.
Pending restricted free agents include Troy Stecher, Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, Adam Gaudette, Zack MacEwen, David Pope, Nikolay Goldobin, Reid Boucher, Francis Perron, Justin Bailey, Jalen Chatfield, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jake Kielly.
Salary Cap Outlook
Luckily for Vancouver, they do have a decent amount of cap space to make some maneuvers . It should get eaten up quickly by contract extensions, however. Via CapFriendly, Benning will have $17.08 million in cap room.
Major Likely Departures
Tanev has been a loyal soldier on the Canucks’ blue line for 10 seasons now. Unfortunately, the time to move on has come. Constantly an injury risk, Tanev’s abilities on the back end have clearly become inhibited. And with the emergence of Quinn Hughes on the blueline and the potential arrivals of Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty next season, Tanev will be an ageing veteran taking the place of a young star.
Tanev isn’t done in the league just yet, however. He’s still a reliable NHL player on any team’s third pairing and will likely find a home elsewhere.
Things just haven’t worked out for the former sixth overall pick in Vancouver. While he had undoubtedly the best season of his career this year with 36 points in 69 games, relations between him and head coach Travis Green have soured.
Vancouver will either try and find a trade partner for Virtanen or not qualify him when the time comes. Regardless, the 23-year-old will be bringing his talents to a new team next season. Look for him as a potential breakout season candidate.
After six seasons of misuse in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, Leivo found his groove with the ‘Nucks. After he posted 19 points in 36 games, however, injuries shut him down for the season. As Leivo didn’t get a full chance with the team, it’s unlikely they retain him with their limited cap space. The acquisition of Toffoli also phases out the role Leivo had with the team, as they still have plenty of offensive depth locked up for the next season.
Major Likely Re-signings
The 2014 Stanley Cup Champion was an immediate success in Vancouver after a trade deadline deal with the Los Angeles Kings. Scoring 10 points in 10 games, Toffoli fit right in with the Canucks’ top-six forward group and helped create one of the most lethal offences in the league.
Toffoli enjoyed being in British Columbia as much as the team did. As the Canucks now enter a phase of contention, Toffoli will be an important part of the squad as they try to win a Cup. To re-sign him, Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) predicts a five-year deal worth around $5.75 million per season. The Canucks would be left with $11.33 million in cap room.
Emerging as a full-time starter over the past three seasons, Markstrom has been the rock in the net that the Canucks have missed since Roberto Luongo. But while the Canucks have excellent young goaltenders on the way, they aren’t ready to put all their cards with them yet. Vancouver will be pushing for a Stanley Cup next season, and they’ll need the veteran goalie around for at least a few more seasons.
Markstrom may take a three-or four-year shorter-term deal. However, Vancouver will likely have to pay around $5 million a season to make that happen. It leaves them with only $6.33 million in cap space.
While the 26-year-old defenceman’s usage dipped this season, his presence in the lineup will be crucial with the departure of Tanev. Stecher has shown the ability in the past to play top-four minutes, and can likely crack the 25-point barrier in that role. As the Canucks look to contend, he’s a great safeguard to have in case the Canucks’ youngsters aren’t ready.
Evolving-Hockey projects a contract extension worth $1.96 million a season for two more years. $4.37 million is the name of the game for Vancouver’s cap space.
A fifth-round pick of the Canucks in 2015, the Braintree, MA native has transformed into a full-time stud for Vancouver. Quietly posting 33 points in 59 games for Vancouver this year, he’ll be the Canucks’ third-line centre for the foreseeable future behind Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson. With only one season of that calibre under his belt, though, he’ll only receive a bridge deal from the Canucks.
Evolving-Hockey predicts a two-year deal, worth $1.37 million a season. It leaves Vancouver with $3 million even in cap space.
Potential Free Agent Additions
The Canucks actually have quite a few minor internal pieces that need re-signing as well. They’ll likely make the NHL roster too, which will drain the Canucks’ remaining funds. It’s unlikely the Canucks have room to add anyone major in free agency, and will rely on the improvement and further development of their young players to propel them forward.