Do the Canucks Need to Make a Big Free Agent Signing?

In a period when the Vancouver Canucks and its fan base are looking ahead, recent musings have the Kings’ Milan Lucic, Bruins’ Loui Eriksson and Isles’ Kyle Okposo as potential free agent targets this offseason.

General Manager Jim Benning and the Canucks have already began adding free agents. The team started by inking Swedish Elite League MVP Anton Rodin in late March and recently locked up coveted NCAA blueliner, and Richmond, B.C. native, Troy Stecher, as well as NCAA Hobey Baker Award finalist Thatcher Demko.

Pertaining to Stecher and Demko, Benning certainly has the trust of the fan base in signing NCAA seniors – and there may be more college free agents on the radar, most notably Drake Caggiula.

But looking to the immediate future, the Canucks may need to make a big splash this summer on the free agent market and sign a proven NHLer. The need for forwards is evidently larger than other positions in the Canucks’ lineup; Vancouver set a franchise-record for fewest goals-for in a full season (191), and the outlook on offense will look just as bleak for 2016-17 if nothing drastic happens.

In a season that included the longest goalless drought in team history (234:52), and no more than a two-game win streak until game 79, the Canucks were without answers on the scoresheet far too often. A big-name acquisition up front could be a reality.

Who Would Fit Best in the Canucks Lineup?

While other forwards may become targets as July 1st approaches, we’ll stick with discussing the potential of signing Lucic, Eriksson or Okposo for the time being. Don’t worry, we’ll get to Steven Stamkos as well.

Lucic is a big winger who brings the toughness and physicality that the Canucks currently lack among their top-six forwards. But the 27-year-old seems to fit in well with the Kings’ style and Darryl Sutter’s system. Despite speculation that he and the Kings could be far off in contract negotiations, it’s became clear once Los Angeles was trounced in the first round that Lucic and the Kings may be closer to terms than some may have thought.

Eriksson, meanwhile, a winger three years older than Lucic, is more likely to hit free agency – though the Bruins will likely hope to keep him around. The 30-year-old Swede scored 30 goals for the first time in seven seasons. His 63 points was among some of the best production of his career and Eriksson was Boston’s only player who didn’t miss a game this season.

In his third year with the Bruins, Eriksson posted his best season with the team in every part of the game; coincidence or not, he’s due for a raise from the $4.25 million he earned in 2015-16. The Bruins have room for a sizable contract, and they’ll without a doubt want to throw a line at the main player they received in the Tyler Seguin trade.

However, Boston may not be able to provide Eriksson the best offer – which is where the Canucks could swoop in. The Swedish forward has experience playing on the national team with the Sedin twins, and he’d have the potential to be a top-scorer in the Canucks’ lineup. His presence would give the Canucks a more well-rounded top-six, and provide an offensive threat outside of Henrik, Daniel and Jannik Hansen.

Finally, there’s Okposo – who may really be the best fit of the players listed. The 28-year-old is coming off a season with 22 goals and 64 points, and his 42 assists and 51 penalty minutes matched career-highs. Okposo has scored at least 18 goals in six straight seasons, and at 6’0″, 216 pounds, he’s got the size and physicality that the Canucks are lacking in their top-six.

Okposo will be due for a raise from the $2.8 million he earned last year. He’ll likely be looking for a long-term deal, and the Isles could be hard-pressed to give the Saint Paul, MN native the deal he wants. He may be left to test the free agent waters, and Vancouver would be able to fill noticeable holes in their offense by acquiring the winger’s services.

Now, it wouldn’t be right if Steven Stamkos wasn’t addressed. 

Is it likely that the Canucks could throw money at the Lightning superstar, and make it work for likely 6-8 years? Probably, but as intriguing as acquiring the 26-year-old without forfeiting any assets would be, it’s unrealistic.

Stamkos’ agent, Don Meehan, said earlier this season that the Lightning captain isn’t concerned about who’s willing to offer the most money. At his age, Stamkos would be the catalyst to any forward group of teams interested in him – he’ll want to spend the next few years in a lineup where he can contend for a Stanley Cup. Personally, I think it’s a long shot that he ends up leaving Tampa Bay at all, where the window is wide open for a lot of winning in the coming seasons. 

Regardless of whether or not the Canucks target any of the aforementioned forwards, the truth is they should improve their lineup via free agency. Throw in any one of the top-six forwards listed above, and suddenly the Canucks don’t look so mediocre offensively – combined with the ageless (but aging) Sedin twins, versatile Hansen and the skyrocketing potential of Bo Horvat. 

Some of the Canucks’ future studs including Jake Virtanen, Sven Baertschi and Jared McCann all appear to be at least a couple seasons from being relied on consistently in top forward roles. Vancouver needs a proven top-six forward installed to the lineup this summer if they hope to bridge the gap and not endure another painful season of not scoring goals.