The Vancouver Canucks have been busy over this past week. The team lost Kole Lind in the Expansion Draft, made a blockbuster trade for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland and waived Jake Virtanen and Braden Holtby for the purpose of buyout. The club still has a few more needs they need to fill this offseason. General manager Jim Benning had been searching for a top-nine forward, but with the addition of Garland, that is possibly no longer a top priority. Instead, the Canucks should look to add a shutdown defenceman this offseason, preferably a right-handed player.
Canucks Are Loaded With Offensive Defenceman
The Canucks added Ekman-Larsson to a d-core which is already loaded with offensive-minded blueliners. The Swedish defenceman joins restricted free agent Quinn Hughes, Tyler Myers, rookie Jack Rathbone and Nate Schmidt. The organization could bring Travis Hamonic back, and he would help as a defensive defenceman, but he is only one of six defensive-minded players. Therefore, the Canucks will need to go out and find another shutdown defenceman to balance out their blue line.
Add Through Trade
One of the options the Canucks have is trading for a shutdown defenceman. Schmidt has both been rumoured to be involved in trade talks. Trading him will free up some much-needed cap space for the club.
Trading Schmidt clears up $5.950 million over the next four seasons. With the addition of Ekman-Larsson and the emergence of Rathbone, the Canucks should prioritize a Schmidt trade. Additionally, the defenceman has been rumoured to want out of Vancouver. Trading him for a shutdown defenceman makes the most sense if Benning can find a team willing to give one up for Schmidt. Otherwise, trading him while not taking any cap back is another option.
After adding Ekman-Larsson and his contract, the club can afford to trade Schmidt without hurting their blueline.
Add Through Free Agency
The other option the Canucks have is finding a shutdown defenceman through free agency. If the team doesn’t trade for one, they will still have to clear up cap space in order to add one in free agency. There are a few players Benning can look to contact when free agency opens on Wednesday.
David Savard, at 30 years old, is the expensive option of the three shutdown defencemen the Canucks can attempt to sign. The 11-year veteran is coming off a Stanley Cup-winning season with the Tampa Bay Lightning and will bring a few useful tools to Vancouver next season.
At 6’2″, 230 pounds, Savard brings good size to shut down the opposing team along with his newly gained championship experience. He’s a player who eats up a good amount of minutes, averaging 20:26 minutes of average time on ice throughout his career, and can kill penalties as well. Since the club is filled with offensive-minded blueliners, Savard will be a key player on the penalty kill. He is coming off a five-year contract with an annual average value (AAV) of $4.250 million and will likely get a similar AAV in his next contract with a shorter term.
Jake McCabe is 27 years old and could be the best fit for the Canucks. According to The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn, McCabe is projected for a contract of one to two years with an AAV of $1.7 million, which is one part of why he is a perfect fit for the club (from ‘Top 50 NHL UFAs: From Dougie Hamilton and Gabriel Landeskog to Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf,’ The Athletic, July 27, 2021).
Luszczyszyn also points out McCabe is a solid second pairing defensive defenceman. He can suppress chances at an elite level and has been a positive asset the past three seasons while playing with the Buffalo Sabres, one of the league’s worst teams. The Canucks could use McCabe on a pairing with Hughes to get the most out of their young superstar. Meanwhile, if everything goes right for the 27-year-old, he could develop into a quality pickup for Vancouver.
Luke Schenn played for the Canucks before but for a very brief period of time with the club, as he played 18 games in the 2018-19 season. He’s been involved in rumours of a potential return on a two-year deal.
Unlike the other two defencemen, Schenn will be used in a depth defenceman role. He will likely get a larger role if the Canucks are unable to sign one of the other two shutdown d-men. He’ll be useful on the penalty kill and is a physical blueliner, throwing 81 hits in the 18 games he played with the team in his last tenure.
Canucks Have Work to Do This Offseason
Not only do the Canucks need to find a shutdown defenceman, but they also have a few other players to re-sign and others to replace. Elias Pettersson and Hughes still need an extension, and as cornerstone players, it’s important Benning gets that done. Also, the club needs to find a replacement for Holtby, either they’re comfortable with Micheal DiPietro, or they sign a backup. Lastly, they have to re-sign their new addition Jason Dickinson, as well as Olli Juolevi.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.