Now that another draft is in the history books, every team is transitioning to free agency, which starts promptly on July 13 at 12 pm ET. The Vancouver Canucks will obviously be looking at the market to upgrade their team with speed, skill and sandpaper as the new front office headed up by Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford dive into the crazy season for the first time. As each general manager (GM) and player agent gets ready to start their engines, let’s take a look at a couple of free-agent targets from their former employers, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For the first time in his NHL career, Evgeni Malkin will be dipping his foot into the free-agent waters. Yes, you read that correctly, the 35-year-old Russian superstar and veteran of 981 games (all with the Penguins) could be wearing different colours in 2022-23. The question is, which ones? Could it be the Canucks’ blue and green with Allvin at the helm, who was with the organization back when he broke into the NHL at age 20? Maybe, maybe not, but you can’t tell me Rutherford and Allvin haven’t thought about the idea.
With the Canucks looking for more scoring depth throughout their lineup, Malkin would represent a huge upgrade – especially if J.T. Miller is eventually traded. Despite the injury issues and mileage on his body, he is still a superstar having scored 20 or more goals in 13 of his 16 seasons in the NHL. In fact, he is usually good for 70-plus points as well, hitting that mark 11 times over the course of his career. Now, he may not be the century man of old, but he is still better than most top-six pivots in the league when it comes to offensive production. He would also be able to teach Elias Pettersson a few things as Malkin has won multiple scoring titles and plays a game similar to the Swedish star (albeit 19 pounds heavier).
Unfortunately for the Canucks, Malkin might end up being too expensive salary-wise. Since his buddy Kris Letang, who is also part of the 35-plus brigade, signed that massive six-year deal worth $6.1 million in average annual value (AAV), he might be looking for something similar. If that’s his price tag, Rutherford and Allvin should hang up the phone and thank their lucky stars they didn’t go down that road. Signing a veteran forward for that long will most certainly spell trouble for a franchise trying to re-sign a key piece like Bo Horvat in the future. Not to mention, Nils Hoglander, Vasily Podkolzin and even newly drafted Jonathan Lekkerimaki for that matter.
Now if Malkin is open to signing a contract with a maximum term of three years at $4-5 million, then the Canucks should definitely be interested. Just imagine a line with Andrei Kuzmenko and Vasily Podkolzin on his flanks flying down the ice at Rogers Arena; or Malkin and Pettersson on the same power play. All I have to say is, sign me up.
This may be a pipe dream, but since he will be on the market come July 13, it could actually come true given the fact two former Penguins executives – who know him very well – will be working the phones when the clock strikes 12.
If the Canucks can’t convince Malkin to move out west, then maybe they can get his teammate Evan Rodrigues to make the journey. After a season that saw him score a career-high 19 goals and 43 points, he might be a flash in the pan or someone who has finally hit his prime. At 28 years old, he’s not necessarily young, but he would bring speed and versatility to a roster that is in desperate need of it. He’s also proven that he can play with skilled players as evidenced by his time on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, which would make him even more valuable considering the number of injuries that usually occur in Vancouver’s top six during the season.
It’s important to note that Rodrigues’ production went down when all the stars returned to the lineup, but that could just mean he needs to play with offensive players to have his own offence shine through. He could get that in Vancouver playing with guys like Kuzmenko, Podkozlin, Hoglander and Conor Garland. As such, if the Canucks can grab him for under $3 million on a short-term deal, then he could prove to be a useful signing for the top nine.
Canucks Need To Shed Salary To Enter the Premium Market
The Canucks won’t be dabbling too much in the high-end free-agent market (i.e. Malkin) if they don’t shed some salary first. After signing Brock Boeser to that $6.65 million AAV contract, they now have a little over $2 million (according to CapFriendly) to spend in what a lot of people are calling the “crazy season”.
Good thing is, that the Canucks can be over the ceiling until the beginning of the regular season, so they could essentially sign a few players and then trade others to get under the limit before the puck drops in October. All in all, Rutherford and Allvin will have their work cut out for them if they want to upgrade their team using the assets available to them on Wednesday. However, if they do, they can’t go wrong with signing a two-time Stanley Cup champion like Malkin or a speedy versatile forward like Rodrigues.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.