Sorry I thought I had posted it before. Here it is but only the grading sections.
UFA Work: C+
Re-signing Travis Hamonic for 2 years, $3 million AAV: C-plus
The value of Hamonic’s extension hinges on whether one still sees him as a genuine top-four calibre defenceman. He’s the front-runner to ride shotgun with Hughes on the top pair but whether he can actually perform at a commensurate top-four level is a major question mark.
We’re skeptical on that front.
Hamonic remains a serviceable player with plus in-zone defensive attributes, but he’s been a drag on his teammates’ five-on-five results for two consecutive seasons. The Hughes-Hamonic pair specifically was decisively outplayed last season, controlling just a 45.3 percent share of expected goals.
We think Hamonic will be closer to the level of a third-pair quality defender for the next two seasons, at which point $3 million becomes a premium price tag. Vancouver’s commitment isn’t out of line with the inflated UFA market prices that were set this offseason for rugged, defensively oriented blueliners but it doesn’t change the fact that this could be an inefficient ticket if Hamonic is close to replacement level over the next couple of seasons.
Signing Tucker Poolman for 4 years, $2.5 million AAV: D
Poolman has yet to prove that he’s a bona fide top-four defender. He logged the minutes of a No. 4 defenceman last season but did so for a Winnipeg blue line widely perceived as one of the worst in the NHL and he didn’t exactly light the world on fire. Think about it this way: If Poolman was truly excelling in his role, then why wouldn’t a Jets team desperate for back end help make a stronger push to bring him back?
Poolman performed well in a traditional third pair role but close observers of the Jets insist that he was overmatched when forced into a matchup top-four role. That’s also in line with the underlying numbers. The 28-year-old can be a useful piece on Vancouver’s back end but it’s hard to see how the club extracts something close to resembling fair value on this contract.
The $2.5 million cap hit, while inflated, isn’t the primary concern, it’s the four years of term that raises eyebrows. Handing out long-term commitments in free agency to players who aren’t genuine top-six forwards or top-four defencemen rarely pans out; it’s going to take a lot to go right for Poolman to buck that trend for the Canucks.
Alex Edler (Anne-Marie Sorvin / USA Today)
Alex Edler walks to the Los Angeles Kings for 1 year, $3.5 million AAV: C
It was probably time for the Canucks and Edler to go their separate ways.
Edler, 36, has given the Canucks franchise his best hockey. He’s still a high IQ defensive defender, but at this stage of his career, his atrophying speed required some work to fit into the lineup.
Pairing him with the right partner was essential for Edler to be effective, and his diminishing utility when checking top skaters — particularly those with speed — was becoming more obvious to the eye, even if his on-ice results continued to be strong.
The problem for the Canucks here is twofold, however, in terms of how the exit was managed. First off, once again, the club was unable to monetize the expiring veteran defender at the trade deadline. This isn’t a huge surprise, Edler had complete control over his destination, and for years refused to waive or consider being dealt. It was so this past spring.
The lost value in Edler declining to be dealt and then leaving for nothing as a free agent has to be taken into account here nonetheless, particularly because it’s been an ongoing theme for the Canucks over the years.
Secondly, the way it went down, with Edler determining that he was no longer having fun in Vancouver, even as the club engaged his camp in talks before the expansion draft got underway, can’t be interpreted as anything short of a body blow for the organization. Aside from the Sedins, Edler is the club’s most loyal player this century.
That a well-respected, long-tenured player like Edler took a look around, lived through the 2021 campaign and decided in mid-July that being part of the organization wasn’t for him anymore speaks volumes, and says very little that’s positive for the Canucks.
Signing Brandon Sutter for 1 year, $1.125 million AAV: B-plus
Sutter has been thrust into a role and pay grade that hasn’t quite matched his ability level for most of his Canucks tenure.
He was an all situations, matchup top-six centre for his first three seasons at a time when he was really closer to being third-line material talent-wise. By the time Bo Horvat and Pettersson emerged as top-flight centres to bump Sutter down the lineup, injuries and age-related decline had taken their toll to the point where he was closer to being a fourth-line calibre centre.
All of that changes going into next season thanks to a one-year deal that will appropriately slot him as the Canucks’ fourth-line centre.
Sutter’s offensive contributions and play-driving impact have atrophied over the years but he still kills penalties at a top level, is the team’s lone right-handed centre who can consistently win draws, is well-liked in the dressing room and has amassed a wealth of experience with nearly 800 NHL games played.
He’s everything that Jay Beagle was advertised to be when the Canucks signed him, except in this instance it’s at a team-friendly rate with very minimal risk.
Signed Jaroslav Halak for 1 year, $1.5 million salary plus $1.5 million in performance bonuses: B-minus
In a competitive, expensive market for backup goaltenders, the Canucks landed one of the most accomplished ones for a reasonable price. With how little cap flexibility they’ve had this offseason, the Canucks had to include $1.5 million in performance bonuses ($1.25 million if he plays in 10 games and a further $250,000 if he nets a .905 save percentage or higher) that will roll over as dead cap next year if they’re met. That’s obviously not ideal but sensible considering how tight the crunch has been this summer.
Halak’s had a graceful transition from tandem starter to quality backup over the years but there is some risk on the horizon for the Canucks. The Slovakian netminder slipped to a .905 save percentage and saved seven goals fewer than expected per Evolving-Hockey’s model last season in front of a stingy Bruins team that ranked top-five across virtually every five-on-five defensive metric. While it’s reasonable to bet on Halak given his strong track record outside of last season, there’s a chance that at 36, he may struggle with the transition to Vancouver’s substantially more permissive defensive environment.
The downside risk really lies in Halak’s no-movement clause. If his game takes another step back this season, the Canucks won’t be able to waive him and find another backup unless they’re willing to carry three goalies on the roster.
Ultimately, this is a reasonably calculated gamble for a historically accomplished backup but there’s risk if last year’s step back is a sign of the continued decline to come.
Stockpiled a ton of credible NHL depth for Abbotsford: A
Abbotsford is coming.
The Canucks franchise, for the first time in its 50 years of existence, will have its top minor league affiliate based locally this season. The Abbotsford Canucks are set to play their inaugural season and give some credit to Canucks ownership here because they’re poised to be stacked.
Depending on who makes the NHL roster, the Abbotsford Canucks could ice the highest payroll in the AHL this season. No matter what, they’ll be an upper-echelon spender.
And in an uncapped league, that’s extremely meaningful, in terms of projecting future outcomes. It has to play out on the ice the way it looks on paper, of course, but Abbotsford is more likely than not to be a juggernaut team.
You also need to hand Ryan Johnson and Canucks hockey operations some credit here, because there’s a ton of intriguing bets among the possibly Abbotsford-bound players that the club brought in. Philip Di Giuseppe is a productive fourth-line player, Nic Petan can play in the NHL and maybe even up the lineup, Sheldon Dries is the sort of fast, versatile, workmanlike presence that Travis Green typically has a ton of time for, Justin Dowling can do it all, Kyle Burroughs and Brady Keeper may have some NHL upside and Brad Huntis either a stud offensive defender in the AHL or the perfect utility player.
The way Abbotsford is built, they’re not just going to be able to sell a winning brand of hockey to the Fraser Valley, but they’ll also give the Canucks the best NHL-level depth the organization has had in a decade or more.
If this is the start of a new, well-funded way of doing business for the Canucks at the minor league level, that could pay real dividends in terms of player development and recruitment in the years ahead.
Conor Garland (Jeff Vinnick / NHLI via Getty Images)
RFA Work: Incomplete
Re-signing Conor Garland for 5 years, $4.95 million AAV: A
Garland may only have played two complete NHL seasons but he’s proven a lot in that short timeframe. A late bloomer at virtually every level coming up, Garland’s cemented himself as a remarkably efficient point producer and ace play-driver. On both fronts, he grades out as a first-line calibre player. Over the last two seasons, Garland’s scored 2.19 points for every 60 minutes he’s played at five-on-five, which ranks 49th among all NHL forwards who’ve skated at least 1,200 minutes.
By swiftly re-signing him to a five-year extension at a shade under $5 million, the Canucks are in a strong position to mine surplus value. All Garland needs to do is play at a similar level as he has in Arizona and he’ll comfortably outperform his cap hit. There’s minimal long-term risk as well since the deal doesn’t extend beyond his age-30 season — Vancouver’s commitment to Garland will end before age-related decline becomes a real consideration.
Garland’s valuation looks especially attractive compared to an RFA contract signed by another 25-year-old this offseason: Sam Bennett’s four-year extension at $4.425 million annually.
Bennett’s been an excellent fit in Florida but he’s only scored 39 points in 100 games over the last two seasons (a 32-point pace over 82 games). Garland, on the other hand, has scored 78 points in 117 games in that same span (a 55-point pace over 82 games). Garland’s better than Bennett and the discrepancy far exceeds the $525,000 difference in cap hit between them — it’s another sign of the excellent value Vancouver netted.
Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes remain unsigned: D-minus
For all of the business the club conducted this summer, the highest leverage deals, the ones that will resonate for years to come in this market, remain unfinished. Pettersson and Hughes are still unsigned a week away from the opening of training camp.
The team has space to get both deals done, so long as they’re prescribed in length. The club could probably carve out the space to do one longer-term deal for its two best players, but at least one of Hughes or Pettersson will have to be bridged.
Even that could get dicey. At a certain point, every dollar spent on Pettersson and Hughes equates to an additional depth player that the club will have to expose on waivers before setting its opening day roster. The club could probably feasibly go as high as $16 million combined at this juncture, but something like $14.5 or $15 million combined would be a better outcome.
Over the coming week, the pressure on Pettersson and Hughes will ramp up.
At this time of year, players want to play. Super competitive professional hockey players, to a man, want to be with their teammates in mid-September, they want the long offseason to end and they want to be on the ice competing at training camp. Pettersson and Hughes are no different.
After camp starts, however, the pressure will flip back onto management. Consider the expectations on this team, the chips that Canucks management have pushed into the middle of the table on this season, and how crucial Hughes and Pettersson bouncing back is to the club’s playoff chances. If camp opens without the club’s most vital young talents signed, the pressure will then ramp up on Canucks management to get these deals done post haste.
We’ll see where it all lands. A week out from when serious histrionics about Pettersson and Hughes’ deals will launch, it’s important to note that this isn’t an emergency. Really high-quality restricted players — from Kirill Kaprizov to Brady Tkachuk — remain unsigned.
It’s still worth noting from a process perspective that the club pretty clearly hasn’t maximized its wiggle room here. Take one mid-tier contract off the books — like Tanner Pearson’s $3.25 million, for example — and the club would have space to go long on both players.
Instead, the club will have a limited pool of cap space to spend to and limited time to get these deals signed. Just process-wise, that’s not where you’d ideally like the club to be while taking care of by far the most important business of this offseason.
Re-signing Jason Dickinson for 3 years, $2.65 million AAV: B
At the start of the 2019-20 season, the Canucks were spending $7.375 million on their bottom-six centres. Heading into this coming season, that figure’s now locked in at a much tidier $3.775 million following Dickinson’s extension.
This feels like the classic example of a win-win deal.
Dickinson netted security with the three years of term at a cap hit that stacks up well considering his muted offensive counting stats. For their part, the Canucks gained cost certainty for a player that fills a crucial positional need organizationally — it’s tough to imagine many other ways the club could have affordably landed a competent third-line centre.
The 2021 NHL Draft: C+
With just one selection in the first four rounds, the Canucks are unlikely to land a high-end NHL contributor from the 2021 draft. No matter how well you scout or what strategies you implement on the draft floor, a lack of quality picks is a nearly insurmountable challenge.
In terms of its actual selections, the club took a fascinating approach to prioritize upside. Vancouver arguably left some talent on the board in the second round but took an ambitious swing for the fences with hard-shooting winger Danila Klimovich. Draft analysts are split on goaltender Aku Koskenvuo but there’s definitely hope for him with Ian Clark’s fingerprints all over that pick.
Jonathan Myrenberg’s selection received mixed reviews but Hugo Gabrielsson, the other big, rangy Swedish defender Vancouver took, represented solid value in the sixth round. Connor Lockhart, meanwhile, may very well be the team’s best bang for buck pick considering his skill, pedigree and track record. There are interesting attributes in seventh-round pick Lucas Forsell’s game as well between his playmaking skill and competitiveness.
Overall, the Canucks fared well to extract value with what they had, but it’s impossible to overlook the lack of high picks they had and how that will affect their odds of mining an impact big-league player.
Cap Management: C
Reallocated cap space from inefficient bottom-six forward contracts B+
This is really where the club excelled this offseason, even if we have to put some qualifiers on it.
Hamstrung by an absolute mess of inefficient contracts for Nate Schmidt, a handful of non-contributors and a backup goaltender, the club managed to creatively shed salary, seize opportunities, carve out additional cap space for use on Pettersson and Hughes’ second contracts and improve their roster. It was a neat trick. Tidy business, as they say.
All told, the club managed to turn $24.8 million in cap space spent on Braden Holtby, Nate Schmidt, Loui Player Name, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle and Jake Virtanen into Garland, Halak, Poolman, Hamonic, Dickinson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and an additional $3 million in cap space to utilize in signing Hughes and Pettersson. That’s really solid work, work that has driven Vancouver’s quantum leap forward in quality up front.
Obviously, the way we rate that work is mitigated somewhat by the inefficient bets on Poolman and Hamonic, the draft pick capital surrendered to accomplish all of this (the No. 9 pick in 2021, an additional second-round pick in 2022, a 2021 third-round pick, offset by a 2022 third-round pick returned in the Schmidt deal), the size of the Ekman-Larsson liability and the fact that the mistakes the club cleared out were uniformly of their own devising.
All of that said, it’s tough to walk the salary cap tight rope and upgrade your lineup in the contemporary NHL. It’s harder still to accomplish both of those goals while also adding to your pool of available cap space.
With a level of polish and professionalism that hasn’t often typified how Canucks hockey operations has functioned in the Jim Benning era, Vancouver management pulled it off.
Braden Holtby (Jeff Vinnick / NHLI via Getty Images)
Bought out Braden Holtby and Jake Virtanen: C+
Buying out Holtby and Virtanen was essential, even for an organization that has typically been reluctant to utilize the buyout device.
The deals themselves were relatively buyout-able as a result of the deals backloaded structure, which itself was a product of the organization’s ruinous penny pinching during the 2020 NHL offseason.
That structure is why we give these necessary moves a middling grade, far more so than the bet on both players, bets that we were leery of at the time and for good reason as it turned out.
On the one hand, the backloaded structure facilitated these buyouts, but on the other hand, and especially in Holtby’s case. It’s here that we’ll separate Virtanen out of the analysis. A buyout in his case was inevitable, he clearly had no trade value in light of the sexual misconduct allegations made against him.
The structure of Holtby’s deal rendered it essentially immovable via trade, even as the market price of netminders ballooned in free agency.
In a retained salary transaction, Holtby with a $4.3 million cap hit would’ve had some market value if the salary was closer to his cap hit than it was to $6 million. That he signed immediately when the market opened for $2 million with the Dallas Stars makes that clear.
Because of Holtby’s outsized salary liability, however, a buyout was ultimately the only way out. And his buyout cap penalty — $1.9 million next season — is part of the sordid legacy of Canucks ownership harmfully tightening the organization’s purse strings in the offseason of 2020.
Took on a significant long-term liability with the Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade: D+
Acquiring Ekman-Larsson’s ticket, a contract Arizona Coyotes ownership was desperate to move, provided the Canucks with a one-stop-shop method of clearing out $12 million worth of one-year cap commitments to a trio of replacement level forwards in Roussel, Beagle and Player Name.
The Ekman-Larsson liability though, well, it’s mammoth. As opposed to the players Vancouver dealt, who expire following this season, Ekman-Larsson is signed through 2027. The deal isn’t buyout proof, but it’s not going to be easy to get out from under if Ekman-Larsson’s recent precipitous decline in form isn’t dramatically arrested in a new environment.
Executing the Ekman-Larsson deal, offloading bad money and harvesting a premium asset in the deal in Garland made short-term sense for the Canucks, but the risk here is just enormous. With the long view in mind, would the club have been better off finding smaller versions of this deal for one or two of Roussel and Beagle and simply allowing Player Name to expire? It’s a worthwhile question.
The Ekman-Larsson trade will make the Canucks more likely to make the postseason in 2022, but it could limit both the ultimate ceiling for their current core group and it certainly makes this club tougher to revamp in the event that the changes made this offseason don’t accomplish what management intended. The deal could work, but the dice rolls exceeds our analytical risk tolerance by a significant margin from a process standpoint.
Jason Dickinson (Derek Cain / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Trade Market: B+
Jason Dickinson acquired for a 2021 third-round pick: A
When we scoured potential third-line centres that could be available via trade or free agency, there honestly weren’t many attractive options. Centres, much like right-handed defencemen, are valued at a premium and fairly hard to acquire outside of the draft unless you overpay.
For months, we stressed the importance for Vancouver to monetize its extra expansion slots to target rival teams with protection issues — credit to management for taking advantage of the opportunity to address a pivotal need. In the end, they only had to surrender a third-round pick which represents a bargain in our view for someone who can credibly hold down the 3C spot.
Dickinson isn’t much of an offensive producer but he’s typically more than made up for it with elite defensive impact. Whether you look at shots, scoring chances or actual goals, Dickinson’s consistently ranked around the 90th percentile of NHL forwards for his key defensive metrics. Last year was his best two-way campaign to date, where Dickinson helped the Stars control 59.5 percent of five-on-five scoring chances during his minutes.
Those defensive qualities should be highly valuable for a permissive Canucks team that bled high danger scoring chances non-stop last year.
Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson acquired for Vancouver’s No. 9 pick, 2022 second-round pick, 2023 seventh-round pick, Jay Beagle, Loui Player Name and Antoine Roussel: B+
It doesn’t get much bigger than this when it comes to high risk, high reward rolls of the dice.
Ekman-Larsson’s contract is worrisome and exceeds our risk tolerance (which we discussed in the last section) but it’s hard to ignore what this trade fundamentally accomplished. In one fell swoop, the Canucks effectively reallocated $12 million of cap space attached to below replacement level contributors into a top-line calibre forward and someone who the organization still believes is a high-end top-four defenceman.
That’s creative cap maneuvering even if you’re understandably concerned about the long-term cap flexibility and No. 9 pick it cost.
There will likely be a price to pay for this trade down the road but patience is wearing thin for the rebuild and there’s no denying that this move makes them significantly better for next season.
Nate Schmidt dealt for a 2022 third-round pick: C
Schmidt didn’t play poorly in his first and only season in Vancouver, but he certainly didn’t meet the club’s lofty expectations and the fit didn’t quite work either on or off the ice.
And so the Canucks were able to flip him to a Jets team that struggled mightily to attract free agent talent for the same exact asset price they paid to acquire Schmidt from the Vegas Golden Knights less than a year prior.
Here’s the thing, though. Escaping from the Schmidt commitment was good work, but you don’t get to win a trade that didn’t work out twice.
The Schmidt acquisition was seen as a home run in the 2020 offseason, but that was perhaps before we understood how significantly cap commitments would impact player trade value in the flat cap era. The fact is that the opportunity cost of spending $5.95 million in cap space on Schmidt in the same offseason in which Troy Stecher ($1.7 million), Chris Tanev ($4.5 million) and Tyler Toffoli($4.25 million) all walked is, in retrospect, enormous. The club clearly would’ve been better off both culturally and in terms of their on-ice ability if they’d signed two of the latter group and never made the Schmidt deal.
That cost has to be factored in here. Getting off Schmidt was good work in a vacuum, but in the context of the club’s 2020 offseason choices and their 2021 performance, this isn’t a trade the Canucks won twice. It was rather, a decision that the Canucks made that didn’t work out at all, even if they did well to move on quickly from it without doing further harm to their long-term interests.
Final Grade: B-
You may or may not agree with just how aggressive the Canucks were this offseason. And to that extent, there’s no question that the organization’s taken on long-term liability with some of the contracts they added while trading away high quality picks for a second consecutive season. There’s a very real chance that this could catch up to them at some point down the line.
But if this aggressive route was the one Vancouver insisted on taking, then they honestly executed quite reasonably within the confines of it.
They took advantage of the expansion draft to acquire a bargain third-line centre in Dickinson, reallocated a ton of effectively dead money into considerably productive NHL talent to improve the roster, secured reasonable valuations for the pending RFAs and UFAs that they’ve signed to this point and admirably restocked organizational depth for Abbotsford.
The liability of Ekman-Larsson’s contract looms large — even though we believe he’ll bounce back and be an effective top-four defender in the short term — and there are valid questions about whether the team has sufficient cap flexibility, expendable trade resources and a strong enough prospect pool to take the step to become a truly elite team one day. But if taking that next step one day does become a challenge, it’s important to remember that the seeds for those potential issues were mostly planted years prior — not necessarily in the body of work we’re examining today.
Vancouver was backed into an extremely tough corner heading into this offseason. And if we’re being honest, most of the challenges, especially as it related to reallocating cap space, were self-inflicted. But in light of that difficult situation and the pressure to improve for this coming season, management did well to creatively and substantially bolster the roster.