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2014 Free Agency Primer: Part I

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
Jim Benning and the Canucks enter free agency with dollars to spend and a few holes to fill on the roster. However, this year’s crop of free agents isn’t incredibly rich with talent nor does it boast impressive depth at any position.

With that being said, there are several players who may be able to a fill a need for the Canucks in 2014-15 (and beyond). Which players should Benning and the Canucks offer contracts to on July 1st?

In Part I, we will take a look at the forwards – who the Canucks have right now, what holes they need to fill, and which free agents make the most sense. Here is the current roster as it stands. Keep in mind that these line combinations are just best guesses:

Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Zack Kassian
Alex Burrows – Nick Bonino – Jannik Hansen
Chris Higgins – Bo Horvat – Linden Vey
Shawn Matthias – Brad Richardson – Derek Dorsett
Tom Sestito/Nicklas Jensen

Vancouver needs to upgrade the second line – that much is obvious. Horvat is not a lock for a roster spot, but his game looks NHL ready. Vey is listed as a center but he is arguably more effective on the wing (he’s a crafty playmaker – think Ray Whitney but bigger). The fourth line looks very solid, and the third line should be solid with two-way wingers like Burrows, Hansen, and Higgins in the mix.

The Canucks should be looking for a top nine center and a top six winger. Who could fit the bill?

The Stars

Thomas Vanek

Thanks to Kevin Lowe, Vanek is already a very wealthy man, having accrued over $50 million in his career to date. He should be able to cash in once again this summer as he is the top free agent available in a very mediocre group. Vanek had a disappointing postseason for Montreal, but he is still one of the more dangerous players around the net in the league. He can create offense himself and is arguably the best player in the league at deflecting point shots. He isn’t the easiest player to play with, though, and this will require teams to do their homework on potential linemates before sending him an offer. At one point, Vanek to Minnesota (where he played college hockey) was thought to be a slam-dunk. However, after his postseason, that is no longer a guarantee.

Vanek doesn’t make much sense for the Canucks. He’s a solid second line winger, but the team doesn’t appear to be at the right stage to be offering big money to a secondary scorer. Just because cap dollars are available doesn’t mean you need to use them immediately. Giving a big money short-term contract makes sense for the team (hopefully the Canucks have decided against offering another two-year, $20 million contract though…), but free agents of Vanek’s age and stature can (and likely will) demand long term career contracts.

Paul Stastny

The 28-year-old American pivot had his best season in 2013-14 in over four years. Stastny is a solid two-way center that can both finish and create plays in the offensive zone. Never the fleetest of foot, Stastny has been successful because of his hockey sense and tremendous instincts. He just finished up a five-year deal that earned him $6.6 million per season – he may be able to convince a team to give him those dollars once again this summer, but it definitely won’t be coming from the Canucks. Stastny likely won’t be back in Colorado, either, as Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog all need new deals within the next year or two.

Do the Canucks want to create a top-six logjam with Bo Horvat waiting around? Stastny makes much more sense on a team looking to take the next step – Dallas and Columbus make a lot of sense.

Matt Moulson

The Ontario native is one of the best players in the league within five feet of the crease. He possesses great hand-eye coordination and always seems to find a way to get his stick on the puck. Moulson is an average skater with average strength, but he is a very smart offensive player. He would look great alongside the Sedin twins on the top line, and would be a huge boon to Vancouver’s struggling power play unit as well. Although he is 30 years old, Moulson doesn’t rely on physical attributes as much as other goal scorers – he should be an effective sniper for many years to come.

How much of Moulson’s success on Long Island was because of John Tavares? Should the Canucks give big money and long term to a player who only makes them incrementally better? It depends how the team views the rebuild/retool/transition (whatever you want to call it).

Mike Cammalleri

Cammalleri has been linked to the Canucks a few times in the past. He has performed reasonably well in recent years and is still a solid top six winger, but where do his priorities lie? Does he want to maximize his earning potential? Does he want to continue to play in Canada? Does he want to have a shot at the Stanley Cup?

Among the four star forwards listed above, Cammalleri makes the most sense for the Canucks in terms of what he brings to the table (skill, speed, and scoring).

The Depth

Jarome Iginla

There are rumors floating around that the Canucks are going to aggressively pursue Iginla on July 1st – should he make it to the open market.

He is well past his prime but his experience and leadership would be very welcomed by a young club with a rookie head coach. Iginla has always had a good relationship with the city of Vancouver and its fans – actions like this have certainly helped in that regard:

Linden and Iginla have immense mutual respect for each other. If Iginla wants another go at a Stanley Cup, he will have better options than the Canucks. But if he wants to return to Western Canada to finish his career, there could be a good fit for him in the top six. If only the Sedins and Iginla could have linked up four or five years ago, though…

Ales Hemsky

Hemsky has always been a player who leaves you wanting more. He plays hard and has a tantalizing skill set, but for various reasons (injuries, mostly) he never took the step from “very good” to “star.” He recently rejected a three-year contract offer from the Senators (for $10 million total). Does he want more money and more term? Yes is the likely answer to both. The Canucks lacked any sort of playmakers on their team last year outside of Henrik Sedin and Mike Santorelli. Zack Kassian sees the ice well but his game is very much a work in progress. Vey is a wizard with the puck but he is unproven at the NHL level. Hemsky sees the ice very well and is an unselfish player and on a two or three year contract would be a great fit on the second or third line.

David Legwand

The speedy two-way pivot has lost a step over the last few years, but he is still a very dependable top-nine center. Legwand would be a great insurance policy in case Bonino regresses or Vey/Horvat struggle to make the full-time leap to the NHL.

Steve Ott

The Canucks have tried – unsuccessfully – to acquire Ott numerous times over the past few years. Does the current regime like him as much as the past one did? The team already possesses agitation in spades with Richardson, Burrows, and Dorset, but Ott brings a lot more to the table than a face opposing players want to smack. He’s a beast on the draw and his versatility between wing and center would also be welcomed. Like Legwand, Ott would be a great insurance policy on the third line – he’s capable of playing top-six minutes but is much more suited to a bottom-six role.

Dave Bolland

Bolland is a very familiar name to most Canucks fans. Although the former Blackhawks pest struggled to transition his game effectively from Chicago to Toronto (much like Kris Versteeg), he is still a very solid top-nine center with a lot of great attributes. However, there is a downside to targeting Bolland on July 1st, as he is rumored to be seeking a significant contract (seven or eight years at just under $5 million per) this summer. This is a player who has scored over 40 points only once in the NHL. Overpaying is the name of the game during free agency frenzy, but that kind of term and dollar figure doesn’t make any sense.

The Canucks have ample cap space and a few roster holes to fill. But they are a team in transition right now and can’t be signing players for the sake of it. Smart (ideally short-term) contracts that act as stop gaps until Horvat, Jake Virtanen, and the other prospects are ready to step in make the most sense. Overpaying on short contracts should be the strategy the Canucks employ on July 1st as they look to improve their forward group.

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