Canucks: 3 Free Agent Defense Targets

The Vancouver Canucks lost Chris Tanev to the Calgary Flames and Troy Stecher to the Detroit Red Wings through free agency. Both defenders played on the right side of the club’s defence. Tanev occupied the right side on the first pair with Quinn Hughes, while Stecher played with Alex Edler on the second pairing. 

Chris Tanev Vancouver Canucks
Chris Tanev, former Vancouver Canuck (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Canucks are now left with Tyler Myers as their only returning option as a right-handed defenceman from last season. The Canucks lost their MVP from the 2019-20 season in Jacob Markstrom. They also failed to land Oliver Ekman-Larsson through trade and then missed out on Tyson Barrie, who signed a one-year deal with their division rivals, the Edmonton Oilers.

Related: The Worst Free Agent Signings in NHL History

The Canucks signed Braden Holtby, but general manager Jim Benning has had a tough start to the 2020 offseason. Although they’ve lost out on quite a few key players, the Canucks have other options through free agency. 

Sami Vatanen

The Canucks have reportedly checked in on Sami Vatanen, who is an unrestricted free agent. Vatanen spent last season with the New Jersey Devils before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. With the Devils, he had five goals in 23 games last season, and he didn’t play a game with the Hurricanes until the playoffs, where he had three assists in seven games. 

New Jersey Devils Sami Vatanen
Former New Jersey Devil Sami Vatanen (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Although Vatanen is no longer the two-way defenceman he was with the Anaheim Ducks earlier in his career, he is worth the risk for the Canucks next season. Vatanen is an injury risk, as he hasn’t played a full season in his eight-year career, but the Canucks can bank off of his history with the Ducks, where he posted 126 points in 280 games. He would likely play with Edler next season if he signs with them, therefore replacing Stecher. 

The Finnish defenceman can quarterback the club’s second power-play unit as he has 86 power-play points in 434 games throughout his career. If Vatanen can regain his two-way game, he will be a successful signing for the Canucks. A short term deal around one to two years and worth $3.5 million per season would be ideal.

Travis Hamonic

The Flames signed Tanev to a four-year deal worth $18 million, which likely means they will not re-sign Travis Hamonic. The defender opted out of the NHL’s return-to-play program, which marked the end of his time with the club. The Canucks are also interested in him. Hamonic is very similar to Tanev as he is a stay at home defender and is one year younger. He can kill penalties and would be perfect with Hughes on the top defensive pairing. He also isn’t known for his offensive abilities as he has 188 points in 637 games. 

Travis Hamonic Calgary Flames
Travis Hamonic, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Manitoba native has done somewhat of a better job of staying healthy compared to Tanev. He’s played 643 games of a possible 773 games in the regular season throughout his 10-year career. If the money makes sense, Hamonic would be a great option to replace Tanev on the blueline.

Erik Cernak

Although Erik Cernak is a restricted free agent, the Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t in a great spot to match an offer sheet. The 2020 Stanley Cup champs have $2.895 million in cap space and are attempting to move players with a high cap hit. Benning would be wise in offer-sheeting Cernak, as he fills one of the two holes left by Tanev and Stecher. He is only 23-years old and brings a defence-first style of game. 

Erik Cernak, Tampa Bay Lightning
Erik Cernak, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Cernak would be a perfect fit along with Hughes since he is a 6’3, 230-pound defenceman. Through his first two seasons in the NHL, he had a Corsi for % of 50.4. Cernak can clear the defensive zone and block shots, similar to what Tanev brought to the Canucks. They could offer him up to $4.363 million, which means they’d only have to give up a 2021 second-round pick if the Lightning can not match.

Canucks Need to Add a Defenceman

Whether the Canucks trade or sign a defenceman, Benning needs to acquire one. If not, the organization will have to look toward a defensive prospect, which leads to questions of whether the players are ready to play in the NHL or not. Young players such as Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty, and Jalen Chatfield will have an opportunity to play for the Canucks next season, but having them fill in for Tanev and Stecher would lead to too much inexperience on the blue line.

Related: The Best Free Agent Signings in NHL History

Adding one of the defencemen mentioned above allows the Canucks to avoid rushing their young players while staying competitive. The success the Canucks had in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs has raised expectations for the club next season. Therefore, Benning has to put forward a playoff team once next season start.