The Vancouver Canucks signing two – technically three – forwards at the start of the NHL Free Agent frenzy isn’t what fans expected. If anything, at least one forward getting moved out of town was the minimum.
Vancouver Canucks Signing… Forwards?
“Everyone knows” is an overused phrase by design. It implies a commonality of thought which – as often as not – isn’t there. That being said, everyone knows the Vancouver Canucks have J.T. Miller on the open market. We’ve got four articles up exclusively on Miller since January alone, including what a deal to keep him might look like. That and the murmurings of a possible Tyler Myers deal have kept fans on the edge of their radios.
Unfortunately for those plans, two disastrous things happened during this free agent period. The cost of forwards plummetted below expectations and the value of right-side defencemen skyrocketed. Hopes of moving Miller out for a good-quality defender to shore up the blue line are low. On the other hand, Myers’ value is likely as high as it’s going to get. But who do they replace him with? He costs too much, but Myers has actually been a good middle-six defenceman for the Canucks.
Despite the wrench in their plans, Patrik Allvin has managed some free agent signings. Just two have been for defencemen and both of those are on the left side. Neither one is going to start with the big club, though either may be an early call-up. Oddly, the team defence has likely improved.
Fixing the Problem. Kinda.
Those two signings are for veteran Christian Wolanin and Wyatt Kalynuk. Wolanin is a classic “tweener” playing 70 NHL games since breaking into the league in 2017-18. He has some offence with 15 points in his first 40 NHL games but is more likely to be asked to fill in on a bottom-pair now. Not many coaches want their AHL call-up defenceman leading the rush. He’s familiar with how penalty killing works as well. If he gets more opportunities, he may produce better results. That’s unlikely in Vancouver, but injuries do happen and he’s not a bad bandage for them.
Kalynuk is further down the depth chart but does have a sniff of NHL experience as well. The Chicago Blackhawks had him in the lineup for 26 games in the last two seasons and he scored four goals and nine assists. His offence is solid at the AHL level with nine goals and 37 points in 60 games there. Great for a seventh-round pick in 2017, but he’s not moving the needle for Vancouver.
Not Defensive Depth
In a similar vein is the Vancouver Canucks signing Philip Di Giuseppe. The winger gets a small bump in his AHL salary on another one-year deal, though he didn’t make it to the NHL last season. He’s an irritating forward who loves buzzing the offensive zone but has issues on the defensive side. That will limit his opportunities in Vancouver, as he’d almost certainly be asked to play on a fourth line. Still – fun to watch in Abbotsford, and it’s not like he can’t play in the NHL with 201 career games there.
Bringing him back!
Canucks have agreed to terms with forward Phillip Di Giuseppe on a one-year, two-way contract.
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) July 13, 2022
Dakota Joshua may get a better chance of seeing Vancouver’s home ice. The former St. Louis Blue played 30 NHL games last year, including one in the playoffs. The 6’2″ centre is decent in the faceoff circle and scored four goals and nine points in 42 total NHL games despite averaging below nine minutes per game. He produced excellent results in the AHL playoffs last year, potting seven goals, 15 points, and 58 penalty minutes in Springfield’s 18 playoff games.
Michael DiPietro has long been a favourite of ours here, but the Vancouver Canucks signing Collin Delia makes things complicated. The team has said they want two goaltenders in Abbotsford – ie. prospects only – and now have a veteran to go with DiPietro and Arturs Silovs. Delia has 32 NHL games in five years with the Blackhawks. That’s 23 more than presumed backup Spencer Martin, 29 more than DiPietro, and 32 more than Silovs. They aren’t going to have a three-headed monster in Abbotsford (again) so one of them needs an ECHL seat, split with another team’s AHL squad, or a trade is coming.
Given how the team has messed up DiPietro’s development over the past couple of seasons, he may be the one to go. Goaltending coach Ian Clark directed the team to select Silovs in 2019. If Martin stumbles in what’s really his first NHL season, the Canucks won’t want to replace him with a rookie. Indeed, Martin may well be fighting for his spot in training camp.
The Big Deals
Andrei Kuzmenko has been made an honest player, with his Vancouver Canucks signing made official on the 14th. Follow the link for his write-up.
Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford both mentioned “sandpaper” as one of their big wants for the team. That and a right-handed centre for defensive draws. Curtis Lazar lives up to that description perfectly – and is a local(-ish) boy to boot. While he never managed to live up to his first-round draft slot, he’s built an eight-year NHL career out of hard work. He’s an extremely irritating player with good speed and will fit in well in coach Bruce Boudreau‘s high-tempo forecheck.
The red flag here is Lazar’s extensive injury history. Normally, seeing a fourth-line player get a three-year deal would set off alarms, but that deal pays just $1 million per season, entirely in salary. If he gets outplayed and loses his spot, that salary can be completely hidden in the AHL. He’s a zero-risk signing for a player type Vancouver needs.
Catch Him While You Can
Slightly more concerning is the contract signed by a surprisingly big fish: Ilya Mikheyev. The deal puts Vancouver over the salary cap for now, which was unexpected. Still, you can see why they took the leap with Mikheyev. Both the current and past administrations talked about the need for speed, and he has it in spades. No, he’s faster than that. He was also an integral part of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ penalty killing for the past three seasons – another wish of Allvin’s. Of Mikheyev’s 21 goals last year 13 were at even strength, four on the power-play, and another four short-handed. Not a bad selling point, that.
Mikheyev brings size, elite speed, is a PK ace, & gets a ton of chances. He has a lot of utility & checks several boxes for #Canucks . Personally I'm ok with 4x$4.75M. A bit rich, but it's Free Agency & we beat out Anaheim among others. pic.twitter.com/y0Ouw9Sruz
— NucksWatch (@NucksWatch) July 13, 2022
Mikheyev hasn’t played a full 82-game season yet, and COVID is only to blame for some of that. He has had some injuries, though none of them are of the recurring sort. His play leads to damaging himself, not a shoulder that keeps popping out of joint or a hip flexor that tightens every ten games. So… good?
If any warning comes with Mikheyev this season, it’s not to expect another 21-goal season. He’s very unlikely to get a lot of power-play time in Vancouver, though he will – hopefully – play more than 53 games. He’s neither a great nor prolific shooter, but he should get his opportunities. Another warning comes in his deal: four years at $4.75 million with a modified no-trade clause for all of them. That’s enough to make fans nervous about a player with some injury history and who is turning 28 this season.
The Cap, Frankie! What About the Cap?
Here’s the deal:
Teams can exceed the salary cap in the offseason by 10% though they aren’t allowed to use any of their long-term injured reserve salary relief. So, every team can push their total salaries to $90.75 million until the season starts. Then they need to comply with the cap for the official opening day. Then they can apply for any LTIR relief on the books. The Canucks, for instance, can’t consider Micheal Ferland‘s $3.5 million until after the season starts.
They have three waiver-exempt players they can “paper down” to the AHL to reach compliance. After opening day, the team applies Ferland’s deal and brings the players up again. This means Ferland’s contract has actual value to cap-pressed teams, should the Canucks decide to trade it.
Okay, But What About…?
Yeah, yeah, Miller. The team wants him to stay, but he’ll need to take a lot less than planned and he certainly doesn’t want to do that. It might yet happen, but it’s going to be complicated.