The Vancouver Canucks will be looking to upgrade their blueline this offseason, either by trade or free agency. Matt Dumba, Aaron Ekblad, and Damon Severson have been discussed, but there’s a player entering unrestricted free agency that will only cost cap space, not assets. His name is Alex Pietrangelo, soon to be formerly of the St. Louis Blues. Talks have broken down between the two sides, and it looks like he will be available to the highest bidder come Oct 9.
If the Canucks are able to move some money around, it is possible they could be in the running for his services. The question is, should they be? If they can get him on a four-year deal at a reasonable cap hit, I think they should definitely pursue it. He is exactly what they need to significantly upgrade their blueline.
Perfect Partner for Hughes?
Chris Tanev is a great partner for Quinn Hughes, there’s no doubt about that. Though, if you can make your top unit better with a defenceman like Pietrangelo, you aggressively pursue it. He plays the right side, has tremendous puck-moving abilities, and is an analytics darling. Between the two of them, they are a coach’s dream on the top pairing. They could also team up on the power play to form a terrific one-two punch and subsequently create more room for the talents of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, and Brock Boeser to shine.
Pietrangelo also plays in all situations and is a workhorse just like Hughes. The puck would probably never be in the defensive zone with them on the ice. Team them up with the top line of Miller, Pettersson, and Boeser and let the offence flow through them.
Canucks Need More Offence From the Blueline
The Canucks’ defence was a black hole for offence before Hughes entered the fold. With Pietrangelo as a part of the team, teams would have to worry a lot more about what was coming from the backend, rather than just the forward group. The more threats this team has, the better off they will be.
Hughes cannot be the only defenceman capable of moving the puck up the ice. Tyler Myers was a good start, but the Canucks need another elite presence back there to push the pace and get the puck in the hands of the forwards. With how much talent the Canucks are accumulating on that front, they need to have the puck as much as possible.
As you can see from the graphic above, Pietrangelo is definitely capable of doing that. In addition to his efficient zone entries and exits, he has averaged a 52 Corsi-for percentage over the course of his 12-year career. That means his team has the puck more than half the time when he is on the ice. Given the fact that only Hughes was over 50 percent in that statistic last season should be all the evidence you need when looking for a reason to upgrade this blueline.
That Pesky Salary Cap
The Canucks won’t be able to enter into the Pietrangelo sweepstakes if they don’t find a way to clear out some cap space before free agency hits. The contracts of Brandon Sutter, Sven Baertschi, Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, and Jay Beagle are eating up $19.6 million and none of them are worth the salary they are taking in. Without them, they would have plenty of space to re-sign their key free agents and have some money to spend in free agency as well.
Unfortunately, that is not the reality we are living in. Jim Benning’s questionable decisions are coming back to haunt him, and it is his job to get himself out of at least a few of them to improve this team for the future. Pietrangelo will cost at least $8 million in average annual value (AAV) and if he wants to pursue him, he will have to move out some money soon.
Choosing Between Tanev, Toffoli, and Markstrom
In order to get Pietrangelo’s name on the Canucks’ roster, they will have to choose one of Tanev, Tyler Toffoli, or Jacob Markstrom to keep in the fold. They cannot have all three if they want him patrolling the defensive zone in the near future. If I had to choose between them, I would go with Toffoli since he makes the top-six a significant threat.
Tanev is more than adequately replaced by the productive, less injury-prone Pietrangelo, and Markstrom is replaced by the younger, more budget-friendly Thatcher Demko. I think the Canucks are a way better team with Toffoli and Pietrangelo than they are with Markstrom and Tanev. In the end, this game is a business, and you have to sometimes think more with your head than your heart.
As much as I appreciate what Tanev has done for the Canucks over the years, they need to improve their defence to move forward and take advantage of the prime years of Hughes and Pettersson. That’s just the bottom line of it all.
Short Term Contract for Pietrangelo Is a Must
Despite the obvious upgrade to the team, the Canucks need to be careful of long-term contracts, especially with the flat cap complicating things for the foreseeable future. With Pietrangelo rumoured to be demanding upwards of $9.25 million, he could end up being too rich for Benning’s blood, especially if it’s more than a four-year deal. He simply cannot be locked into another lengthy contract for a 30-year-old.
If Benning can negotiate Pietrangelo down to a short-term deal around $7-8 million, it could be worth it. The Canucks future is bright, but it has to be managed very carefully from a money standpoint. Hughes and Pettersson are going to cost a pretty penny when their entry-level contracts end, and they will need to be signed no matter the cost. They are the future of this team and generational players like them don’t come along every day. So if Pietrangelo wants a lot of money and term, Benning needs to look elsewhere.
Will Pietrangelo Want to Join the Canucks?
As much as the Canucks should pursue Pietrangelo, the final decision will, of course, lie with him. With all his potential suitors ranging from Stanley Cup contenders to young, up and coming teams, which one will he want to tie the knot with? Pettersson and Hughes offer him excitement and a bright future, but potentially not another championship right away. He has seen first hand what Hughes can do on the ice, so maybe he would want to be a part of that?
Canucks May Not Be Able To Comfortably Fit Pietrangelo In
Unfortunately for the Canucks, this whole scenario may never happen. They would have to move a lot of pieces to fit Pietrangelo into the salary cap structure they have right now. There will be a lot of teams lining up with better situations and more cap space to work with than them, and Benning only has a few weeks to sort everything out. On top of it all, he has said in the past that he will not be pursuing high priced free agents with the depth he has in the system right now.
The Canucks should be in the market for another top-four defenceman like Pietrangelo, but it probably won’t be him. It would be great to have him next to Hughes on the top pairing, but the dream may turn out to be a fantasy in the end. Whatever the case, the offseason continues to throw curve balls as we wade through the various free agent and trade scenarios they could pursue as they get prepared for the 2020-21 season. If nothing else, it creates some great discussion as we suffer through the dog days of an offseason in September.