Vancouver Canucks Best and Worst Free Agent Signings

Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2022 summer series, exploring the best and worst free agent signings for each NHL team of the post-lockout, salary cap era. With this past offseason seeing some big splashes (and potential gambles) like Johnny GaudreauClaude GirouxJohn Klingberg, and others, it’s time to take a look at how teams have boosted and stunted their progress in recent history. Today, we take a look at the Vancouver Canucks free agent signings history.

Vancouver Canucks Free Agent Hits and Misses

Contrary to popular belief – especially among Canucks fans on Twitter – there have been good Canucks free agent signings. It’s just that those signings have always come with some sort of caveat. Either the player was signed and brought into the system which THEN produced great results or the great signing didn’t actually help the then-miserable team. And the best signing of all – so far – happened at the very beginning of the era we’re looking at. If you’re a Canucks fan, you probably know this one.

Best Signing: Alexandre Burrows

“But wasn’t he already in the system?” No. Well, yes, but no. Can we go with Kind Of here?

Alexandre Burrows had been signed to an AHL deal by Vancouver’s farm club, the Manitoba Moose, in 2003. That deal was primarily to help fill out the roster of Vancouver’s ECHL affiliate, the Columbia Inferno. But if he became a player, the Moose could call him up. Burrows did get that call and spent 2004-05 being a rowdy boy for the Moose. His role as a fast, irritating mess of a player was something Vancouver decided they needed, and the deal was struck to bring the undrafted player up one more level.

That seemed to boost his confidence because Burrows added near point-per-game scoring to his rambunctious play. He earned the call-up, played his first NHL Game on January 2, 2006, and never played in the AHL again. Burrows eventually got a shot with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin scoring 117 goals and 218 points between 2008-09 and 2011-12. Those were the best points per 60 minutes of Daniel and Henrik’s career. And that is because they had a linemate who knew exactly what to do: go get the puck, give it to a Sedin, go to the net, put his stick down.
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Other contracts followed, but the first deal to get Alex Burrows into the NHL was easily the best Canucks free agent signing.

Best Signing Honourable Mentions

Ryan Miller

How do you follow up an act like Roberto Luongo? Obviously, you don’t, but you hope the guy you traded him for can soften the blow. The good news is that the person traded for was Jacob Markstrom. The bad news is that he wasn’t JACOB MARKSTROM yet. In fact, he was so far from what he would become that Markstrom passed through waivers in 2014-15.  And while Eddie Läck did great in his first NHL season, expecting him to carry the load was a lot to ask. And Vancouver still thought they could get back to the Stanley Cup Final any day now.

So Ryan Miller – arguably the best free agent available in 2014 – was brought in. His veteran leadership would either help the Canucks return to the Final or would ease the transition as Markstrom developed. Whatever they expected, safe to say Miller delivered. In his three years with Vancouver, Miller played 150 regular-season games. His 64-68-16 record wasn’t great, but that couldn’t be chalked up to him. His save percentage averaged out to .914 with a 2.69 goals against average.

Thomas Vanek

Jim Benning went bargain hunting in 2017, and late in the free agent season bagged Thomas Vanek. The one-year deal for a paltry $2 million brought the team their fifth-highest scorer of 2017-18 despite playing just 61 games. Vanek’s 17 goals and 41 points – while playing just 14 minutes per night – brought a great return in trade, too. Flipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets for their playoff run, the Canucks got Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte back.

Jokinen retired at the end of the year, which everyone knew. Motte, on the other hand, gave the Canucks speed in their bottom six. He became a fan favourite, eventually pricing himself out of the market. Before getting traded away, he gave Vancouver 196 games with 28 goals and 50 points. The fourth-round pick he brought back has yet to be used.

Worst Signing: Loui Eriksson


Why be mysterious? The man who was a big part of the HUGE* 2016 Free Agent Frenzy came in with all the hopes of a one-tournament use with the fading Sedin twins. The hope really was that Loui Eriksson could find the magic he had with the Sedins at the 2016 World Cup. Well, in the pre-tournament games, anyway. They worked together once, they could do it again, dang it!

Spoiler: nope. Nope, they couldn’t.

Eriksson’s debut has become a part of Canucks mythology now. That’s not a great thing. Indeed, his entire first season was a year – or most of one, as he only played 65 games of it – of hearing a stadium sigh. He scored 11 goals and 24 points in Season One, finishing seventh in team scoring. That was followed by tenth, sixth, and sixteenth place finishes. By the fifth year of his contract, the team simply kept him off the ice. He played seven games and registered one assist.
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Then the worst ever Canucks free agent signing… well, we won’t spoil the surprise.

Worst Signing Honourable Mention

Jay Beagle

The temptation is to claim all of the 2018 offseason in this category. That’s not quite fair, as at least Antoine Roussel brought something the Canucks lacked. His size, speed, and toughness were a good addition – just not for four years and $12 million. The same size of deal Jay Beagle signed as it happens. Lots of that going around, we suppose. Tim Schaller might have worked out, but his two years and $3.8 million were bundled away before they ended.

Thing is, even Benning’s most desperate signings can be deciphered. If you squinted and cocked your head at the right angle, you could see what he wanted to happen. With Beagle, though, it was just bewildering. Paying an older vet who has always been a defensive specialist $3 million to be on the fourth line for four years? Being good at faceoffs couldn’t cost THAT much, surely? They had Brandon Sutter as a match-up guy already, so what value exactly could Beagle bring?

That his tenure joined forces with the OTHER worst Canucks free agent signings – along with Roussel – and was sent to Arizona in an incredibly high-risk deal is just icing on the cake.

 

*No, really. Owners went nuts for it.