With the second buyout window come and gone already, and any hopes of trading a high-priced bottom-six forward dwindling by the day, it appears quite likely that the Canucks will head into the 2021 season with roughly the same roster that they currently employ. There’s simply no room for any further additions, unless they make near-minimum salary.
On that note, if there’s going to be another signing or acquisition this offseason, expect it to come at the lower end of the D corps. As it stands, the Canucks will be dressing two rookies and Jordie Benn as defenders five-through-seven on the blueline, which still leaves room for a veteran addition at number eight, or even higher, on the depth chart. There’s just no way that Vancouver rolls into a condensed season with only seven D on the roster.
Fortunately for Jim Benning and Co., if there’s one thing the market is still flush with, it’s depth defencemen, and the Canucks will have options if they decide to replace, or even upgrade, on Oscar Fantenberg. Each member of the following list is not just available, they’re free for the taking, and likely employable for a million or less.
The UFA Market
LHD, 26, 6’2”, 193lb, UFA (Chicago)
Koekkoek’s name has been bandied about in connection with the Canucks this offseason, and it’s not hard to see why. The former 10th overall selection has struggled to establish himself in the NHL since being drafted, but seemed to really find himself this past season with the Blackhawks, conveniently enough after being switched to his off-side.
Though a hint of Koekkoek’s former offensive prowess peeked through last year, he’s best understood as a strong skating defender who can use his size well and has a defensive conscience. He even managed a positive advanced statline on a middling Chicago blueline. In fact, he’s so perfect for a team’s bottom-pairing that it’s downright suspicious that he hasn’t been signed yet.
RHD, 30, 6’3”, 200lb, UFA (Tampa Bay)
The corpse of the Stanley Cup champion Lightning has been picked clean this offseason, and the only player of note left on the market is Rutta. He performed spot-duty for Tampa Bay this year, as he has through three NHL seasons thus far, and at 30 he’s very much a finished product.
Still, Rutta’s experience this year — he played in five postseason games en route to the Cup — is invaluable, and that he couldn’t crack the Lightning blueline full-time shouldn’t necessarily be held against him. He showed in Chicago that he can score at a decent clip, he’s reliable beyond that, and he’s a natural righty, to boot.
RHD, 30, 6’2”, 205lb, UFA (Calgary)
There once was a time we discussed Hamonic as a potential, if dicey, top-four solution, but then Nate Schmidt arrived and we thankfully forgot all about that. As an everyday top-four guy, Hamonic would have likely been a disaster, but he’s not a bad option for the bottom-pairing, provided the price is right.
And the price may very well be right. This late in the free agent game, Hamonic’s choices are limited, especially if he wants to stay in Western Canada, as has been heavily reported. It’s pretty much down to Winnipeg or Vancouver for Hamonic, and it’s always encouraging to be competing against Winnipeg when it comes to habitability. At somewhere in the range of a million, Hamonic would bring toughness, leadership, and strong penalty-killing ability to the D corps, and if he wants more than that, the Canucks will just have to pick someone else from the list.
RHD, 25, 6’2”, 202lb, UFA (Detroit)
Bowey’s name has been thrown around by plenty of Vancouver pundits, but that probably has more to do with his time on the Kelowna Rockets than anything. On the surface, Bowey had a fine season last year, setting career highs across the board, but he did so with an excess of opportunity on the lowly Red Wings, and it should say something that even they cut him loose.
Bowey brings that coveted combination of size and skating ability, but he also brings a defensive game that is full of holes. If the Canucks’ own blueline was built of sturdier stuff, he might be an intriguing addition, but at this point, he brings a different skill set than they should be looking for.
LHD, 27, 6’2”, 206lb, UFA (Los Angeles)
Hello, old friend.
There must be something about Hutton that GMs don’t like, because he had a fine season in Los Angeles and, yet, here he remains, unsigned well into the offseason. On one of the worst teams in the league, Hutton put up respectable point totals and posted surprisingly strong possession numbers.
The fact that Hutton is a leftie who plays much better on his natural side is a strike against him when it comes to rejoining the Canucks, as they’ve got Olli Juolevi and Jack Rathbone ready for action. Otherwise, he’d be well worth the retread.
RHD, 30, 6’3”, 210lb, UFA (Calgary)
After missing most of the 2018/19 season, Stone struggled to bounce back this past year, and he’s since been cut loose by the Flames — and after being bought out and then re-signed the previous offseason, no less. Despite being one of those players who seem like they’ve been around forever, Stone is still only 30, and one has to think he’s got at least another year or two of good hockey left in him.
Stone is your classic stay-at-home, sacrifice-the-body-type defender, which is part of why he’s been on the IR so frequently of late. He might be an adequate Chris Tanev replacement, both in style of play and in that he’s likely to provide playing time for young defenders with his many injuries.
RHD, 29, 6’3”, 204lb, UFA (Montreal)
Folin is a big, physical defender who is tough as nails and questionable in most other areas of the game. Despite this, he’s posted generally great underlying numbers since joining the Canadiens, and there’s at least some small reason to believe he’s greater than the average pressbox defender.
Folin would be the sort of depth defenceman the Canucks might add if they were quite confident in their rookies, and just wanted a little supplemental truculence on the backend.
RHD, 38, 6’2”, 212lb, UFA (Vegas)
Okay, we can keep this one short.
With Engelland, you get two things: legitimate heavyweight status and premier leadership qualities. Other than that, he’s a replacement-level defender — albeit, one with shockingly solid possession numbers — firmly on his last legs at 38.
He would, at the very least, be capable of handling his old teammate, Ryan Reaves, should the need ever arise.
LHD, 29, 6’0”, 206lb, UFA (Vancouver)
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that the ultimate Oscar Fantenberg replacement is still available in the form of Oscar Fantenberg.
Though, given that Fantenberg posted some of the worst postseason shot and chance shares of ANY defender in the league, one has to hope there’s a better way.
Waivers Candidates To Watch
If none of the above UFAs strike your fancy, worry not. This upcoming preseason promises to be a busy one on the ol’ waiver wire, and there’s a number of talented defencemen that the Canucks could snag if they’re willing to wait.
LHD, 23, 6’0”, 200lb, Boston
Two years @ $725K
Since being infamously drafted ahead of such players as Mathew Barzal and Thomas Chabot, Zboril has developed reasonably well as an all-around for the Bruins, yet he’s also in danger of being squeezed out of their roster as younger prospects usurp his spot.
No longer waiver-exempt, Zboril could easily find himself on the wire, especially if Zdeno Chara chooses to return. He may not do anything exceptionally well, but he doesn’t have any major holes in his game, either, and that versatility is a major plus.
RHD, 23, 6’2”, 174lb, Montreal
One year @ $700K
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Juulsen has had a rough run of development, taking a puck to the face in late 2018 and then suffering from migraines and other related ailments on-and-off ever since. He finally returned to full health and action with the Laval Rocket in mid-March, and then the pandemic hit.
Though he’s a bit of a wild card at this point, Juulsen already has 44 NHL games under his belt and seemed well on-track to establish himself as a full-time defender with an all-around skill set. Hailing from Surrey, he’s also a local product, which might make up for the loss of Troy Stecher.
And, amidst a crowded Montreal depth chart, he’s very likely to hit the waiver wire unless he absolutely blows the doors off in camp.
RHD, 26, 6’2”, 201lb, Arizona
One year @ $1 Million
One often hears Arizona fans lamenting that coach Rick Tocchet doesn’t use Lyubushkin enough, which is exactly what one wants to hear when shopping around for potential bargains. He had a greater defensive point-share than any of the other Arizona depth defenders, and he’s known to throw some massive hits, sometimes to his own detriment.
He could be a fun one to try out if he did hit waivers, but it’s just as likely that the Coyotes stuff him in their own pressbox.
LHD, 23, 6’2”, 194lb, Edmonton
Two years @ $850K
Jones has developed well with the Oilers, even though he’ll never be up to the standard of brother Seth, and he’s done so while playing the bulk of his minutes on his off-side. By any reasonable measure, he looks more than ready to start holding down a full-time job at the NHL level — he just might not do it in Edmonton.
In his first year post-waiver-exemption, Jones is starting out as the seventh defender on the depth chart, with the potential to be surpassed by one, or both, of Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg.
LHD, 24, 6’1”, 176lb, Winnipeg
RFA (No arbitration rights)
Niku has been reportedly on the cusp of breaking out in Winnipeg for a couple years now, but he’s yet to make it happen. Last season was probably his worst yet, but he continues to dominate offensively at the AHL level, granting some hope of a delayed breakout — and then there’s that hair.
Run out of waiver exemption, Niku starts 2021 as the eighth of eight Jet defenders, with plenty of prospects knocking on the door. He may not be as defensively sound as the Canucks might hope for from their bottom pairing, but he’s got enough potential at the other end to be worth a gander.