Well, that was quite the ride! Nerve-wracking for Vegas Golden Knights fans, exciting for Vancouver Canucks fans. But now the universe has righted itself and the Golden Knights move on to face the suddenly-dangerous Dallas Stars. Vancouver, on the other hand, now faces a very different battle: what happens with the Canucks free agents.
Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside a Salary Cap
It’s hardly a secret that the Canucks are headed for a salary crunch. They hit one last year but still came out of it with two big free-agent signings. Tyler Myers has been… fine. Not the answer you want to hear from a $6 million man, but the Canucks were in desperate need of experience on defence. And not the usual reclamation project, signed with crossed fingers.
More relevant to budget discussions is Micheal Ferland. No one sane doubts his will, but that’s not the deciding factor in whether he plays or not. Odd as it sounds for a well-liked player, we hope we’ve seen the last of him on the ice.
We last discussed the Canucks free agents in early May (links below). Normally you would not let a single playoff run – however well or poorly it went – make player decisions for you. But things have changed since then, and it’s not all about the run. We’re not going to say how to balance the budget here because we did that last time. It’s still a consideration, but an individual one rather than a holistic.
(May’s free-agent forward article here)
There are only three unrestricted free-agent forwards, and we can’t imagine anyone would complain about re-signing Tyler Graovac. So on to the other two.
Josh Leivo has had horrible luck in his career so far. Between getting stuck behind winger depth in Toronto and a freak injury last year, he has a lot to prove. He signed his highest-value contract last year at just $1.5 million. The gamble was paying off, with 19 points in just 36 games. Whether he wants to try another one-year deal or will take a longer-term, he should be a player the Canucks target. Lack of middle-six skill is an Achilles Heel for them, and that just happens to be what Leivo brings.
Somewhat trickier is Tyler Toffoli, and not just because of alliteration. He cost a good prospect and a second-round draft pick. Losing that for a single playoff run is… okay? Let us clarify: Yes, he stormed in when he arrived, scoring six goals and ten points in ten games. But more realistic is that he is a 45-point producer in the regular season. He is earning $4.6 million, and won’t be happy to sign for less. He’s also 28 years old, so signing anything past three years is hazardous at best.
And just between you, us, and the empty Rogers Arena? This is where Marc Michaelis comes in. Or, if he’s one to forgive and forget and get his career back, there is still Sven Baertschi available. Besides, if Graovac makes the team that keeps their Tyler quota full, so no loss there.
There are a number of RFAs that Vancouver has who can be re-signed or released without much impact. Of the restricted Canucks free agents up front, the NHLers are a lock. Tyler Motte, Adam Gaudette, and Zack MacEwen are booked for next season at what should be reasonable deals.
There are few interesting AHL RFA forwards, but Justin Bailey can certainly get another look. He’s been to the NHL before, had an excellent season with Utica, and is familiar with the Canucks’ injury history.
Jake and the Fat Deal
Jake Virtanen is… *sigh* A lot is going to be written about him, isn’t it? The regular season breakthrough was great, and he could be a fine complement to the team even if he wasn’t drafted as one. He added 150 shots to 102 hits and was sporadically very effective. Which is great if he’s in his second season instead of his fifth. The Canucks lack speed, size, and middle-six scoring (see also: Josh Leivo, above) all of which Shotgun Jake has. Alas, he also has the brains of a cabbage.
He was underwhelming in his first playoffs, taking penalties at bad times and getting two of his three points in one game. But he is also cheap. It’s hard to find 20-goal scorers for $1.25 million. He knows that, and his agent knows that. It’s not hard to see the 24-year old pushing for a longer-term, more expensive deal. But it could be time to finally move him on.
(May’s free-agent defence article here)
There are only two defensemen who are unrestricted Canucks free agents. Well, two and a half: Ashton Sautner is a Group Six unrestricted, which means he can sneak out early. Oscar Fantenberg is unlikely to stay, though that’s more from internal pressure than his play. Which leaves one.
Chris Tanev has earned it. Whatever else you want to say about him, Chris Tanev has earned it. Of all the Canucks free agents, the Tanev decision may be the most angst-inducing for fans*. The 30-year old Tanev has put his body on the line for the Canucks for a decade, and his ridiculously long injury history shows it. He’s been well-compensated, with this year’s salary at $5.25 million. But how much longer he can be an effective shut-down performer is a mystery. It’s hard to see him returning at anything close to that number if he wants a multi-year deal. And if he wants a multi-year deal, well, he’s earned it. But it’s probably not coming from Vancouver.
The two restricted free agent defencemen in the system are oddly similar to each other, though on opposite sides. Both Jalen Chatfield and Guillaume Brisbois are steady, reliable defenders who often face the oppositions’ best. Chatfield may have a step up by virtue of playing the right side, but neither is going to save the world. They could get a shot at the 6/7 spots if they get re-signed, though.
The more difficult choice sits with Troy Stecher. Troy-from-Richmond did what he seems to do every year: start on the third pair, jump in when someone is injured, do fine there. He’s not a scoring beast, but the undrafted, undersized Stecher always earns his minutes by the end of the year. After two two-year deals, he’ll be looking for more. He’ll want a raise from his $2.325 million, but not as much of one should the team goes long. To our eyes, he’s a low-risk, low-mileage player they can sign for four years without worry.
(May’s free-agent goaltending article here)
Then there’s… this. We said it before, we’ll say it again: Jacob Markstrom is the Vancouver Canucks’ MVP. The 30-year goalie has gone from waivers to playoff star with the Canucks, and doesn’t want to leave. And Vancouver doesn’t want to lose him.
The pushmi-pullyu Markstrom is staring down is his desire for stability, which he’s certainly earned, and getting as much money as he can. Athlete careers are short and peak earning ability is brief. He’s frequently said that he wants to stay with the young team. The job here isn’t finished. But with expansion looming, how can they afford to keep him?
The horns of the Canucks’ dilemma is similar. Markstrom has been great, and only added consistency to his game over the last three years. He’s been one of the best values in the league. Surely, he deserves to be rewarded for that? But he’s also 30 years old and will want a stability Vancouver can’t promise him. With the expansion draft coming, the team is likely to lose a goaltender for nothing. The only decision they really have is to lose one now or lose one then.
A lopsided series is when the goaltender with three shutouts isn’t the best one on the ice. But the best one wasn’t the Canucks’ starter, either. Markstrom may have been excellent until injuries and fatigue caught up with him, but Thatcher Demko stole the show. His regular season wasn’t great, but he was improving before the break. Memories of those 27 regular-season games have been obliterated by three playoff ones against the Golden Knights.
It currently doesn’t look like there is any way to keep Markstrom and Demko through expansion. Best odds? Markstrom walks this off-season and the Canucks pick up a veteran to replace him. It’s going to be someone who has been there, already got their Big Deal at some point, and doesn’t mind splitting duties – and possibly being exposed to the Seattle Kraken.
Does anyone have Ryan Miller‘s number?
By getting to Game 7 of the second round, the coach squeezed champagne out of pruno. Let’s get Travis Green signed up, shall we? He doesn’t even count against the salary cap.
*Pretty sure it’s also a Robert Ludlum novel.