The Vancouver Canucks held a season-ending media availability with their general manager (GM) Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green last Friday. The GM mentioned the team will be aggressive this offseason in order to make sure the Canucks make the playoffs next season. Benning plans to make changes by exploring buyouts, trades and help through free agency.
The club has a few key restricted free agents (RFA) they have to re-sign before adding to the roster. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are the team’s cornerstone players and should get paid this offseason. As a result, the Canucks, who are already strapped for cash, will have less cap space to work with. To create more space, Benning will likely buy out one of Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle or Antoine Roussel. With the additional cap space created through a buy-out, the Canucks can attempt to add depth scoring.
After the media availability, Benning clarified the veteran depth players the club is looking for are skilled veterans. The Canucks have a few options for skilled depth veterans through free agency.
Erik Haula signed a one-year, $1.750 million contract with the Nashville Predators last offseason. Through 51 games this season, he scored nine goals and posted 21 points with the Predators. Throughout his eight-year NHL career, he has provided depth scoring, with the exception of the 2017-18 season, when he posted 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games with the Vegas Golden Knights. He has a career total of 94 goals and 196 points through 456 games.
He’s made the postseason in seven of his eight years in the NHL. He scored 11 goals and 26 points in 52 career playoff games. Haula was a member of the Golden Knights when the club made it to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, scoring three goals and nine points in 20 games.
The Finnish forward has come with a cheap cap hit throughout his career, usually with a cap hit between $1-2 million. His highest cap hit came with the Golden Knights, only making $2.750 million per season over three seasons. The Canucks could add Haula at a $2 million cap hit, and he’d improve their bottom six and give the team third scoring line. He is a versatile player who can play centre and wing. The Canucks need a third-line centre, and he could be the player to fill the spot.
The Canucks had Markus Granlund, who played for the club for four seasons. His older brother, Mikael, is a player the organization could target this offseason. Mikael has struggled to produce at the same rate as he had earlier in his career the past few seasons. After registering 60+ points back-to-back in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, his production started to drop in the following seasons.
After seven seasons with the Minnesota Wild, he was traded to the Predators. He posted 18 goals and 35 points in 79 games after the trade. After playing two seasons with the Predators, he re-signed to a one-year, $3.750 million deal. In the 2020-21 season, he scored 13 goals and 27 points in 51 games.
The 29-year-old has played centre his entire career, and similar to Haula, he can be useful to the Canucks as a third-line centre. The difference between the Finnish countrymen is the cap hit, as Granlund will likely cost between $3-4 million. He is the younger of the two and has a higher offensive upside, so the extra cap hit may be worth it.
Kyle Palmieri posted impressive numbers with the New Jersey Devils through six seasons, scoring 20+ goals in every season except the 2020-21 season. He peaked at 30 goals in the 2015-16 season, which the Devils rewarded him with a $23.25 million, five-year contract.
His offensive production dipped in the final season of his contract with the Devils, and he was traded to the New York Islanders before the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. Through 17 games with the Islanders, he scored two goals and posted four points. So far in the playoffs, he has two goals through five games. Although it may seem like he may no longer be the 20+ goal scorer he was, he is still a valuable asset to add to a team’s bottom six.
The Canucks could pursue Palmieri in free agency, but out of the three, he may not be the best option for a few reasons. First, his cap hit will likely be higher than the other two, and secondly, he’s a winger. The Canucks need a third-line scoring center more than they need a depth winger.
Benning Has to Avoid Overpaying
Although Benning will have options to go after this offseason, he has to be careful of making the same mistake he has made in the past. Previously, he has overpaid players and has signed them for a longer term than he needs to. Eriksson is the best example of this, as he signed a six-year, $36 million contract with the team in 2016.
“We were looking to add scoring to this group [for 2016-17] and Loui is a player that scored 30 goals in the League last year. We feel he’s a real versatile player, can play left wing or right wing. He’s a first-line power-play guy and he can kill penalties. We think he’s a good all-around player and there’s a fit there with the Sedins. We just think that at the end of the day he was the best fit for our club.”Jim Benning said about signing Eriksson.
Out of all the reasons Benning listed to sign the forward, his ability to kill penalties is the only one that has been seen during his tenure, which isn’t worth the $6 million cap hit. The price was too high, and the term was too long. A two to three-year deal would have made more sense, considering he was brought in to play alongside the Sedin twins, who retired after Eriksson’s second season with the club.
The term hurt the team last season when they lost four unrestricted free agents. Therefore, this offseason, Benning has to sign skilled veteran forwards to short-term deals, so he doesn’t hurt the team’s future.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.