The Canucks are expected to improve their blueline this week through free agency beginning July 1st.
The team didn’t extend qualifying offers to Ben Hutton and Derrick Pouliot and have been linked to top free agent defensemen Tyler Myers and Jake Gardiner.
Sources from Buffalo at the NHL combine tell me they hear the #Canucks will go after UFA defenseman Jake Gardiner or Tyler Myers. Which one do you prefer?
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) June 3, 2019
This article will look at the few big names the Canucks may be interested in, but will also examine a couple cheaper targets who may provide good value.
Height/ Weight: 6′ 8″, 229 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 80 GP, 9 G, 22 A, 31 points, 49.14 CF%
Previous Contract: Seven years, $5,500,000 Cap Hit
Projected Contract: Seven years, $6,055,556 Cap Hit
If you’ve talked to hockey fans in Vancouver recently you’ll know there’s been an overwhelmingly negative response to speculation the Canucks are targeting Tyler Myers in free agency. Most of the outrage isn’t around the player, but rather around the contract.
.@renlavoietva: I do believe Myers will be a 7 year contract. it could be $8 million per season. $6 million might be a bit low. GM's are looking at the cap being lower and demand for young players – could be less money spent in FA but there's a lot of demand for defensemen.
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) June 24, 2019
Myers is a feasible No.4 or bottom-six blueliner. Unfortunately, he’s going to get paid like he’s top-two. He’s an intimidating presence and a good source of offensive production, but his defensive game isn’t at the ideal level. The Canucks would get some solid years from Myers, but with the direction the team is heading in, they need to be careful before committing long term to a player who is almost 30.
Our friends over at JetsNation wrote a review of Myers’ 2018-19 season. There’s certainly things to like about Myers and what he brings to the table. There’s also reasons to walk away. They ended up giving him a ‘B’ grade for his performance over 80 games last season. You can read the full post here.
Height/ Weight: 6′ 2″, 203 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 62 GP, 3 G, 27 A, 30 points, 51.53 CF%
Previous Contract: Five years, $4,050,000 Cap Hit
Projected Contract: Seven years, $6,820,761 Cap Hit
With Erik Karlsson re-upping in San Jose, Gardiner is likely the best defenseman that will be available to the Canucks on July 1st. The left-shot defenseman is a potential casualty of Toronto’s impending salary cap squeeze.
Gardiner had his turnovers and mistakes amplified in Toronto, but he’s a solid defenseman with great offensive upside. He’ll probably land more money than Myers in free agency and be the highest paid UFA blueliner. Comparing Myers and Gardiner, a look at advanced stats indicates both players are good at exits and entries, while Gardiner has the clear advantage in entry defense.
Myers has been declining since his rookie season, while Gardiner has taken steps forward and developed into one of the better offensive blueliners in the game. He missed time this year due to back issues, but he recorded a career-high 52 points just one season prior. With Alex Edler re-signed for two more years and Quinn Hughes arriving on the left side, Gardiner may not be an ideal fit for the Canucks at this time. But if it came down to Myers or Gardiner, it’s clear which defenseman is heading in the better direction and has more offensive upside.
Height/ Weight: 5′ 11″, 190 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 47 GP, 2 G, 15 A, 17 points, 48.07 CF%
Previous Contract: Five years, $4,500,000 Cap Hit
Projected Contract: Three years, $4,475,273 Cap Hit
Anton Stralman is a tier below Jake Gardiner and Tyler Myers, but he’s still a serviceable two-way defenseman. He saw around 22 minutes of ice time in his five-year stint with the Lightning and has averaged around just 25 giveaways a season throughout his NHL career.
If the Canucks are looking to avoid going long term with a top blueliner, Stralman would be worth considering at lower term and less money.
A number of teams reached out to pending UFA RHD Anton Stralman today. His agent Marc Levine says next step is to iron out the interview schedule.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 23, 2019
Stralman is mainly a defensive defenseman who can chip in 20-30 points. He had a couple really good years in Tampa Bay but is now on the decline.
While he is 32 years old, Stralman can still be an effective blueliner. He won’t necessarily create as much offense as he once did, but he can be counted on in the defensive zone.
If it’s a shorter deal at the right cost, Stralman could be an effective two-way defenseman and veteran presence on the right side behind Troy Stecher.
Height/ Weight: 6′ 3″, 205 lb
2018-19 Stats: 81 GP, 5G, 17 A, 22 points, 49.35 CF%
Previous Contract: Two years, $3,000,000 Cap Hit
Projected Contract: Two years, $3,648,382 Cap Hit
Hainsey will be the oldest option available to the Canucks on defense July 1st. A seasoned NHL veteran with over 1,000 games played, Hainsey would bring leadership and experience to Vancouver’s blueline. The 38-year-old has logged 20-plus minutes a night over the past 10 seasons and consistently averages around 20 points a season. He also consistently manages to stay healthy, with the last time he missed more than 10 games in a season being 2012.
Rumours of UFA D Ron Hainsey potentially retiring are premature:
“When the phone stops ringing, Ron will retire, but it’s been ringing plenty so he will keep playing,” his agent Matt Keator said today.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 28, 2019
At this point in his career, Hainsey doesn’t offer much outside of reliable defensive play. You have to go back to his time with the Thrashers for the last time he put up more than 25 points in a season. Hainsey is on the decline, but he still has a few quality years left to give.
Toronto wants to bring him back for a reason. While it’s unlikely that happens due to the team’s cap problems, Hainsey put together decent back-to-back years with Toronto. He recorded 23 points in each of his two years with the Leafs and is a plus-42 during that period. His defense partner last season was Morgan Rielly — and they were counted on to shutdown opposing team’s top lines.
As pointed out by LeafsNation, Hainsey’s stats were inflated to a degree by playing alongside Rielly, who exploded for a career-high 20-goal, 72-point season.
Hainsey, of course, spent the majority of the season as the stay-at-home defender alongside the more offensively-oriented Morgan Rielly. The two played 1066:45 together at even strength and produced a 49.6 Corsi For percentage and a 58.8 Goals For percentage. In the 293:31 even strength minutes the two didn’t play together, Rielly put up superior numbers both in terms of shot attempt and goal differential while Hainsey’s numbers diminished substantially.
You wouldn’t want more than a two-year contract for a player such as Hainsey, but he’s an option to bring leadership and defensive stability to the Canucks’ second or third pairing.
Height/ Weight: 6′ 2″, 199 lb
2018-19 Stats: 81 GP, 5G, 17 A, 22 points, 53.95 CF%
Previous Contract: Three years, $1,100,000 Cap Hit
Projected Contract: Four years, $3,489,088 Cap Hit
Jordie Benn is coming off of a career-season where he put up 5 goals and 22 points in 81 games. He’ll be looking for a nice little raise after making $1.1 million the previous three years.
Benn has been a steady defensive presence throughout his NHL career. He isn’t viewed as a puck-moving blueliner or an impact player offensively, but he’s a reliable blueliner who could slot in nicely on your third defensive pairing. He had 124 hits, 128 blocked shots and a plus-15 rating last season.
If the Canucks aren’t planning on bringing Ben Hutton back as a UFA in free agency, Benn could be a good choice for taking that third spot on the left defensive side behind Quinn Hughes and Alex Edler. It also doesn’t hurt that he grew up in Victoria, BC.
The Canucks could sign a big-name blueliner in free agency or go for a cheaper option. If they avoid signing Tyler Myers or Jake Gardiner, there’s always a chance they could try and sign prized RHD Tyson Barrie if he makes it to free agency next summer.
There are plenty of options for the Canucks come July 1st, and it’ll be interesting to see what they do to try and improve the team heading into next season.