On Friday, the first day of free agency, two Vancouver Canucks fixtures moved about 1000 kilometers east. First, it was Jacob Markstrom; then it was Chris Tanev. One after another, the veteran Canucks players signed with the Calgary Flames.
Both moves, I admit, totally caught me by surprise. I had heard rumors that Markstrom might test free agency and, during the frenzy that became a failed Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade attempt, I thought I gained a glimpse of how Canucks general manager Jim Benning was beginning to envision his team a few seasons down the road. In the end, both former Canucks found great paydays with the Flames – and, good for them.
In this edition of Canucks News & Rumors, I’ll share some specifics about these two player movements as well as help Canucks fans keep more up-to-date about other movements from the team.
Item One: Defenseman Chris Tanev Signs for 4 Years, $18 Million in Calgary
The Flames signed Chris Tanev to a four-year, $18 million contract. Tanev ended the 2019-20 regular season with two goals and 20 points in 69 games. During the postseason, he tacked on seven points in 17 postseason games. Tanev also blocked 159 shots, which was the third most of his 10-year career.
The 30-year-old rugged defenseman averaged just under 20 minutes (19:32) of ice time during the regular season and just over 20 minutes (21:18) during the playoffs. Currently Tanev is only the second right-shot defenseman on the Flames roster. Rasmus Andersson is the other. Tanev will fill Travis Hamonic’s spot on the Flames’ second pairing as a shutdown defensemen.
Tanev will be missed in Vancouver because he provided a great partner for the Canucks rising star Quinn Hughes. With the Flames, he’ll likely skate with either Noah Hanifin or Mark Giordano.
Item Two: Goalie Jacob Markstrom Signs for 6 Years at $36 Million with the Flames
Markstrom signed a six-year, $36 million contract with the Flames on Friday and will become the Flames starter ahead of David Rittich. Today, Cam Talbot left the Flames to sign with the Minnesota Wild. If Markstrom can stay healthy, he seems like a lock for 30 wins during the 2020-21 season (unless the season is shortened).
Markstrom had a strong 2019-20 regular season with a record of 23-16-4 in 43 games. His save percentage was .918, a goals-against-average of 2.75, and he had two shutouts – including a great 49-shot shutout game the night the Sedin twins banners were lifted to the rafters of Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
By signing with Calgary, Markstrom inked the largest contract of the first day of free agency. He obviously was the goalie the Flames believed would help the team solidify its long-term goalie situation.
Item Three: Braden Holtby Signs for 2 Years at $8.6 Million
It didn’t take Benning long to replace Markstrom in the Canucks net. Not long after it was announced the Flames had signed Markstrom, it was announced that former Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby had signed a two-year, $8.6 million contract with Vancouver.
Holtby, a native of Lloydminister, Saskatchewan, was a 2008 fourth-round draft pick and has played every game of his 10-season career with the Capitals. He was a team leader as Washington finally captured the Stanley Cup in 2018. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2016 with an amazing 48-9-7 record and came in second in Vezina voting in 2017. Last season, Holtby’s record was 25-14-6.
Related: Vancouver Canucks All-Time Team
By allowing Markstrom to leave for the Flames, the Canucks are giving 24-year-old Thatcher Demko, who played amazingly well during the postseason against the Vegas Golden Knights when Markstrom was injured, a chance to become the starter. Likely Holtby will play backup, mentor young Demko, and become an insurance policy – albeit an expensive one.
By the way, Iain MacIntyre reported that the Canucks could have completed the trade with the Arizona Coyotes for Ekman-Larsson earlier if the team had thrown Demko into the deal. However, Benning refused, and the trade fell through.
As MacIntyre reported, Markstrom had grown under the tutelage of goalie coach Ian Clark into a top NHL goalie. He cited Benning as saying:
“I joked with Ian this morning, ‘You’re doing too good a job with our goalies. You’re getting them to the point where we can’t afford to keep them anymore.’ He laughed. But we’re happy for Jacob.”
Then Benning added that Holtby is “just a great person. He’s a total team player. He’s looking forward to working with Ian. He’s excited to come to Vancouver and join our organization, excited about our young players and our team. So we think it’s going to be a good fit.”
What’s Next for the Canucks?
I’m wondering if today’s actions settle the bit of a tempest the team was facing with Ekman-Larsson’s trade talk up in the air; Benning working like crazy to keep Markstrom; the recency of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, and the questions about which RFAs to qualify or not.
If things are settled, I’m wondering what happens to Tyler Toffoli. A few days ago Toffoli was given the green light by Benning to see how he could do on the open market as an unrestricted free agent.
The almost $4 million the Canucks saved by Markstrom’s leaving and Holtby’s arrival might give Toffoli the salary wiggle room to re-sign with the Canucks. At the end of the day, it might be that the Canucks’ salary-cap situation is a bit less complicated than it was yesterday.
Canucks fans will know more soon.