Canucks’ Aggressive Offseason a Success So Far

The Vancouver Canucks have had a busy offseason so far with two additions to the coaching staff, three trades, 15 free agent signings, and two buyouts. They also added six new prospects to their pipeline via the NHL Entry Draft and filled the roster of their new American Hockey League (AHL) team in Abbotsford. Needless to say, general manager Jim Benning and his staff have been aggressive in their pursuit of making both their Canucks teams playoff contenders in 2021-22.

Related: 2021 NHL Free Agency Tracker

Benning’s work isn’t done yet though, as he still has the contracts of Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson on his offseason to-do list. With just a little over $14 million in cap space to sign not only his two young superstars but also Olli Juolevi and Jason Dickinson, more salary-dumping trades are sure to come.

It will be interesting to see how much better the Canucks will be with all the changes Benning has made to the roster and coaching staff. Unfortunately, we won’t get to find out until the season gets started in October. In the meantime, as we continue to push through the dog days of summer, let’s have some fun and grade the moves so far in the first report card of the offseason.

1. Canucks Add Brad Shaw, Remove Newell Brown

The Canucks’ first move of the offseason was adding assistant coach Brad Shaw from the Columbus Blue Jackets and removing power play coach Newell Brown. As I said in a previous article, he brings a lot of defensive prowess from his time with the Blue Jackets where he oversaw the development of Seth Jones and Zack Werenski. The team itself also saw a lot of success on the penalty kill and 5-on-5 as they finished in the top ten in multiple defensive categories. With how leaky the Canucks have looked in that department in the past few seasons, Shaw’s addition to the coaching staff might end up being the biggest move of the offseason.

Brad Shaw assistant coach, Columbus Blue Jackets
Assistant coach Brad Shaw, seen here with the Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Removing Brown as the coach of the power play was also a good decision as they have become somewhat predictable with the man advantage. His inability to adjust from the previously successful drop pass in the neutral zone was frustrating, to say the least. Early indications are that Jason King will take over his duties, which could work if he uses the same power play setup Henrik and Daniel Sedin used when he was lucky enough to play with them during the 2003-04 season.

Grade: A+

2. Canucks Extend Goaltending Coach Ian Clark

Coupled with the addition of Shaw, the Canucks also extended the contract of goaltending guru Ian Clark. Again, not an addition to the roster, but important nonetheless. As much as Shaw is the defenceman whisperer, Clark is that for goaltenders. His resume of Roberto Luongo, Sergei Bobrovsky, Jacob Markstrom, and Thatcher Demko speaks for itself as they all became elite starters under his tutelage, well at least when he was there to coach them.

Related: Canucks Clark Has Become the NHL’s Goalie Guru

The Canucks’ goaltending depth of Demko, Jaroslav Halak, Mikey DiPietro, and Arturs Silovs will benefit the most from Clark staying with the team for the foreseeable future. Demko and DiPietro, in particular, have sung his praises ever since they started working with him, using superlatives like, unbelievable, amazing and even going as far as calling him “the best goaltending coach in the world.” So extending him and adding Shaw behind the bench might end up being more impactful than any of the other additions to the roster.

Grade: A+

3. Canucks Bolster Third Line With Dickinson From Stars

From the beginning of the offseason, Benning preached the need to improve his top nine. With the recent success of the Tampa Bay Lightning and their now-disbanded third-line juggernaut of Blake Coleman (Flames), Yanni Gourde (Kraken), and Barclay Goodrow (Rangers), it has become vital to have a third wave of attack to win championships.

Jason Dickinson Dallas Stars
Jason Dickinson, Dallas Stars (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Acquiring Jason Dickinson from the Dallas Stars helped do just that. The defensively conscious and tenacious Ontario native was at risk of being lost to the Seattle Kraken, so the Canucks managed to get him for only a 2021 third-round pick (Ayrton Martino). He will add a presence to the third unit that has not been seen since the days of Manny Malhotra, unfortunately without the faceoff prowess. Now with a trio of Tanner Pearson, Dickinson, and Vasily Podkolzin, the Canucks will finally have a checking line that does not include the name, Bo Horvat.

Grade: A+

4. Canucks Acquire Ekman-Larsson & Garland From Coyotes

After pursuing Oliver Ekman-Larsson last offseason with reckless abandon and no results, Benning finally got his man just before the 2021 NHL Draft began on July 23. The cost was failing to re-sign Tyler Toffoli, Chris Tanev and Jacob Markstrom, but the reward ended up being the removal of past mistakes, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, and Loui Eriksson. Nothing against those players, but their production never lived up to the size of their contracts. Roussel and Eriksson became shells of their former selves and although Beagle was an effective fourth-line center and penalty killer, he was overpaid at $3 million in average annual value (AAV).

Related: Canucks Blockbuster Trade with Coyotes a Big Win for Benning

Replacing them will be Ekman Larsson and Conor Garland. After Garland’s extension at $4.95 million AAV, their contracts take up a whopping $12.21 million of their salary cap next season. Considering Roussel, Beagle and Eriksson took up $12 million, Benning did the impossible and moved out salary for salary and upgraded his team in the process. As much as people criticize him for his free-agent signings, that’s some tidy work in the trade market by him.

Now to the players he acquired. We all know Ekman-Larsson by now, seeing he’s been around the NHL since the 2010-11 season. He hasn’t seen elite numbers for a couple of seasons, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get to that level again with the Canucks. With passing options like Pettersson, Horvat, Garland, Nils Hoglander, Brock Boeser, and J.T. Miller at his disposal, I’m sure he will be getting his fair share of assists. If he plays the point on the power play with Hughes and the Lotto Line, all bets are off as I could see that unit feasting on opponents’ penalty killers.

Getting Garland included in this trade was a stroke of brilliance, as he’s turned into a legitimate top-six winger in the NHL. The previously undrafted 25-year-old will bring speed and scoring to Horvat’s flank, potentially replacing the somewhat unproductive Pearson. He is already a 20-goal scorer and could team up with Horvat and Hoglander to form one of the best second lines in the league. Not to mention create a potentially lethal second unit power play as a set line with Podkolzin and Jack Rathbone.

Grade: A

5. Canucks Continue to Rebuild Defence in Free Agency with Poolman & Schenn

After denying rumours that Nate Schmidt wanted out of Vancouver, Benning ultimately traded him to the Winnipeg Jets for the same thing he got him out of the Vegas Golden Knights for, a third-round draft choice. That meant going into free agency on July 28, the Canucks needed to replace him and his minutes. Enter Tucker Poolman. Ironically, a former Jet, they essentially traded Schmidt for him.

Signing a $5 million contract that will take up $2.5 million of cap space for the next four seasons, he will likely man the right flank alongside either Ekman-Larsson or Rathbone either as a shutdown first pairing or sheltered third pairing. Criticized heavily for his bad analytics the minute he was signed, Poolman spent a lot of his time with Josh Morrissey on the top unit where the duo posted a rather pedestrian 44 Corsi-for percentage (CF%) and 15 goals against.

Tucker Poolman Winnipeg Jets
Tucker Poolman, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If I was head coach Travis Green, I would pair him with Rathbone on the third pairing and try to avoid repeating the results of last season. With a style similar to Jett Woo, he should thrive with a player like Rathbone seeing that the rookie played very well with him in the AHL. Poolman should bring mobility and a penalty killing presence to the defence core, as he finished 2020-21 with an average of 1:19 shorthanded.

Finishing the day with a familiar face in Luke Schenn, the Canucks brought the two-time Stanley Cup winner back into the fold with a budget-friendly two-year contract worth $850,000 AAV. Known for his physicality, leadership, and shot-blocking, he is the perfect seventh defenceman for this team. Already boasting chemistry with Hughes, he might see some spot duty beside him if the recently re-signed Travis Hamonic falters or gets injured.

Grades: Poolman (B-), Schenn (A+)

6. Canucks Replace Holtby with Halak

From one veteran starter-turned-backup to another. After buying out the last year of Braden Holtby’s contract, the Canucks needed a backup goalie. So they turned to 36-year-old Jaroslav Halak. Formerly of the Boston Bruins, he is used to playing second-string to an all-star goaltender. Demko and him will probably do a 60/40 split throughout the season, and if he can replicate the results he’s had over the last three campaigns, I think Canucks Nation will be very happy with him.

Jaroslav Halak Boston Bruins
Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Averaging a 2.40 goals-against average (GAA) and .918 save percentage (SV%) over the last three seasons, Halak has been a rock-solid backup to Tuukka Rask. He’s a veteran leader that’s been around the block a few times and even saw a stint with someone named Carey Price when the now world-class goaltender was 22 years old. So he knows the plight of a young star trying to make it in the NHL. I think he’s going to be a great mentor for Demko and the perfect stop-gap until DiPietro is ready to take over next season.

Grade: A

7. Canucks Improve Fourth Line with Sutter & Di Giuseppe

Facing the prospect of having Matthew Highmore as their fourth-line center in 2021-22, the Canucks went and brought back veteran Brandon Sutter to assume that position behind Dickinson instead. Perfectly suited to be in that role, he will continue to bring his faceoff and penalty-killing prowess to the rink and leadership and character to the dressing room. At a very reasonable $1.125 million to boot.

The other addition to the fourth line battle will be worker bee Phillip Di Giuseppe, formerly of the New York Rangers. Initially drafted in the second round by the Carolina Hurricanes, he was once thought of as a future top-six forward with tremendous offensive instincts and playmaking abilities. Fast forward to now and he is 27 years old and only has 16 goals and 53 points in 201 career games. He may not be the offensive star he once was with the NCAA’s Michigan Wolverines but he is an effective bottom-six forward with a bit of a mean streak. With 462 hits in 201 games, he is not afraid to throw the body around, and at 6-feet, 193 pounds, he packs a punch when he goes in on the forecheck.

Phillip di Giuseppe New York Rangers
Phillip di Giuseppe, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With a fourth line of Tyler Motte, Sutter, and Di Giuseppe, the Canucks might have two so-called “checking lines” to deploy against the top players on the other team. Both will be solid defensively and more importantly will have physicality, speed, and the potential for offence. I already have a great nickname for the fourth line too…the “Pizza & Clamato Line” (I’ll let myself out).

Grade: A+

8. Building the Abbotsford Canucks Roster With Homegrown Players

The rest of July 28 was spent building the new cohort in Abbotsford. With the additions of Brad Hunt, Kyle Burroughs, and Devante Stephens, they brought three players home to British Columbia too. Hailing from Maple Ridge, Vancouver, and White Rock respectively, they will be playing in front of friends and family that saw them grow up in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL). They will also bring enthusiasm and hometown pride to the rink every day as they attempt to make the inaugural season of the Abbotsford Canucks a successful one.

Brad Hunt Minnesota Wild
Brad Hunt, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Alongside them will be skilled forwards Nic Petan, Justin Dowling, Sheldon Rempal, Sheldon Dries, John Stevens, and maybe even 2021 second-round pick Danila Klimovich. They will join the leadership of Saskatoon Blades’ captain and star Chase Wouters and the holdovers from the Utica Comets to create a very competitive team that should be seeing the win column more often than not. I think it goes without saying, but it should be exciting to watch the Abbotsford Canucks this season.

Grade: A

9. Hughes & Pettersson Remain On To-Do List

As much as the Canucks have improved on paper, they still have two major items on their to-do list. Hughes and Pettersson still have to be re-signed. The all-star restricted free agent (RFA) duo, who share JP Barry as an agent, has been talking to Benning and the Canucks but has not made a lot of progress lately.

We had to take a little bit of a hiatus with the craziness of the last several days…we had communication throughout but we have to get right back at it here this weekend and next week.

Agent JP Barry in an interview on Donnie and Dhali

Hopefully, at least Pettersson’s contract gets done in the next couple of weeks because the longer it goes, the more likely a team will offersheet him with a crazy amount of money. Teams like Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens could make Benning’s life harder with a contract that is out of his control. Just ask the Hurricanes when they were presented with Sebastian Aho’s five-year $42.295 million contract back in 2019. They obviously matched it, but it was a set amount they could have potentially avoided with quicker negotiations.

Grade: Incomplete

Overall Grade So Far: B+

The only reason Benning and the Canucks get a B+ for their offseason is simply because of the ongoing battle to get Hughes and Pettersson signed. He basically gets an “incomplete” on his report card. Depending on where the numbers fall and the moves that need to be made to make it all work, his final grade could fluctuate. We will just have to wait and see how it all shakes out over the next month or so.

Overall, fans have to be happy with what has transpired over the last week or so. Just getting out of the Eriksson, Roussel, and Beagle contracts has to be considered a win even with Ekman-Larsson and Garland replacing them. In my mind, that money is better spent on impactful players in the defence core and top-six rather than on ones that either sit in the press box or the fourth line. The defence may look troublesome on paper, but you never know what a good defence coach in Shaw can do on the ice. In the end, we might be pleasantly surprised.

As for the forward group, they are going to be one of the strongest in the Pacific Division. Every line has the ability to score and provide pressure in the offensive zone and most importantly, Horvat is not going to be the matchup center anymore. That alone makes the group a lot more lethal. Saddled with the defensive duties, he has been a consistent 20-goal scorer. Now imagine him with more energy and offensive zone starts. I don’t know about you, but I see 30 goals in his future.

How would grade the Canucks’ moves this offseason? Let us know in the comments below!

Summarizing the Canucks Offseason Moves

Here is an overall summary of the moves the Canucks have done since the doors closed on the 2020-21 regular season.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson (LD)Alex Edler (LD)
Tucker Poolman (RD)Nate Schmidt (LD)
Luke Schenn (RD)Jake Virtanen (LW/RW)
Brad Hunt (LD) Jayce Hawryluk (C)
Brady Keeper (RD) Jimmy Vesey (LW/RW)
Kyle Burroughs (RD)Travis Boyd (C)
Devante Stephens (D)Braden Holtby (G)
Jason Dickinson (C) Jay Beagle (C)
Conor Garland (LW/RW)Antoine Roussel (LW/RW)
Justin Dowling (C)Loui Eriksson (LW/RW)
Phillip Di Giuseppe (LW)Marc Michaelis (C)
Sheldon Rempal (LW/RW) Brogan Rafferty (RD)
John Stevens (C)Josh Teves (LD)
Sheldon Dries (C)Jalen Chatfield (RD)
Nicolas Petan (C) Sven Baertschi (LW/RW)
Danila Klimovich (RW)Tyler Graovac (C)
Jaroslav Halak (G)Ashton Sautner (LD)
Brad Shaw (assistant coach)Newell Brown (assistant coach)
Kyle Gustafson (assistant coach)

All stats were taken from Elite Prospects and Hockey Reference

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