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2014 Free Agency Primer: Part II

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks cleared close to $5 million in cap space by shipping out Jason Garrison to the Lightning on draft day last week.

Garrison is very solid top-four defenseman, but the Canucks couldn’t find a way to make him and Alex Edler work together as each defenseman struggled when moved to the right side.

In goal, the Canucks are very unproven as things stand right now. Eddie Lack did an admirable job after he was thrown to the wolves down the stretch last season, but the Canucks would love to add some insurance to push him. Jacob Markstrom is a huge wild card – the former blue-chip prospect has had to rebuild his game in recent years. Is he still NHL material? This offseason and training camp could be make-or-break for him.

The Canucks are relatively set on the back end, but adding a depth piece there would help solidify things. There are a few goalies available that may be worth pursing as well.

Here is the back end and goaltending situation as things stand right now:

Dan Hamhuis – Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler – Chris Tanev
Luca Sbisa – Frank Corrado
Ryan Stanton

Eddie Lack
Jacob Markstrom

The Stars

Dan Boyle

The 37-year-old Boyle is moving on from San Jose (and from Long Island too, technically). He is still a terrific power play defenseman but is likely looking to land somewhere that gives him a great shot at a Stanley Cup. The Canucks could use another offensive defenseman on the back end, but Boyle will probably be too rich for their blood.

Christian Ehrhoff

The Sabres decided that they didn’t want Ehrhoff only three years into his 10-year contract. The two-way workhorse was elite during his time with the Canucks and the team has struggled to replace his ability to transition the puck up the ice.

Would he be willing to come back to Vancouver? He will be receiving a nice annual buyout stipend from the Sabres for the foreseeable future, so perhaps he won’t seek to maximize his open market worth once again.

This type of transition play is much needed:

Matt Niskanen

Niskanen, to his credit, has turned his game around after coming over to Pittsburgh from Dallas. He’s a solid second pairing defenseman who can play in all situations and move the puck up the ice effectively. He will get a lot of money and a lot of term from an NHL team, but it won’t be Vancouver.

Anton Stralman

The understated Swede had a coming out party during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Rangers. He was once slated as a future power play quarterback, but over time has shown himself to be more of a defensive specialist who can skate and move the puck. Stralman’s success on the big stage will likely price him out of Vancouver’s range, but he is a steady second-pairing defenseman just coming into his own. He could be worth a big money, longer term deal (although his small-ish sample size of strong play may scare some teams off).

The Depth

Andrej Meszaros

The former Vancouver Giants star has had an interesting NHL career. He appeared to be on his way to establishing himself as a very solid top pairing defenseman with Ottawa before taking a huge contract to go play in Tampa Bay. Since then, Meszaros has battled frequent injury and inconsistency. He has great size and is a good skater, and can log minutes in any situation. He spent only one year in Vancouver playing for the Giants, but perhaps those fond memories will be enough to entice him to come back?

Clayton Stoner

The first of two Port McNeill free agents on this list, Stoner is a no-nonsense defensive defenseman who has worked hard to shore up the rest of his game over the last few years. He has just four goals in 227 career NHL games – the Canucks won’t bring him in for his offensive prowess. However, as a net protector and third pairing physical presence, he may welcome the return trip home.

Willie Mitchell

Mitchell’s decision to leave town and sign with the Kings wasn’t entirely his own (at the time, the Canucks were unsure of how he would bounce back after suffering a serious concussion), but it sure worked out for him, as he is now hitting the open market with a pair of Stanley Cup rings on his hand. His play hasn’t slipped at all since he left Vancouver back in 2010 – Mitchell is big, strong, and can log tough defensive minutes against anybody. Does he want to return home for one more shot at bringing a Stanley Cup to his home team?

At the very least, Mitchell would get the opportunity to dust off his super stick:

There is a bit of a who’s who list of former Canucks defensemen on the open market – Sami Salo, Ed Jovanovski, Mike Weaver, Alexander Sulzer, and Aaron Rome are all also available. None of them make much sense for the current squad, though.

Tom Gilbert

Gilbert had a very quiet year in 2013-14, but quiet isn’t always bad for defensemen. He logged a lot of minutes for the Panthers (close to 22 per night) and skates and sees the ice well. He is a right-shooting right-side defenseman, and his signing would provide insurance if Corrado isn’t ready yet.

The Goalies

Ryan Miller

The Canucks would love to add a veteran goaltender this summer. Miller is the best free agent available. But does he want to go somewhere to win a Stanley Cup? He struggled in St. Louis – it was obviously a difficult transition to go from facing 30+ shots a night with Buffalo to about half of that with the Blues. Miller has a solid track record and would be a solid stop gap to give the Canucks time to see what they have in Lack. But would Markstrom clear waivers? How much money would Miller be looking for?

Jonas Hiller

The Canucks have seen a lot of Hiller over the past few years. In addition to always possessing the coolest mask in hockey, he is really good at stopping the puck, too. But, like Miller, he only makes sense on a short term deal – starting to see a trend here?

Thomas Greiss

Greiss doesn’t have the track record of Miller or Hiller, but he has established himself as a legitimate NHL goaltender. Is he a significant upgrade on Lack? And do the Canucks feel comfortable attempting to sneak Markstrom through waivers? That is a question that the pro scouts should be asking themselves, as the club’s two Swedish netminders both possess immense upside. The key is not putting them in situations that they aren’t ready for (see: Lack in 2013-14). Greiss is 28 years old and is just entering his prime years – he may be ready for a bigger role with an NHL club. And he would definitely come in at a much more affordable price tag than either Miller or Hiller.

The biggest improvements for the Canucks next season need to come from within. Save for one or two guys, every single core player struggled mightily in 2013-14. But if the front office is able to augment the roster with a few well-placed free agents, 2014-15 could be more than just a transition year.

And just to serve up one final reminder – remember that overpayment is the name of the game with free agency. Don’t expect any players to sign for below value with the Canucks (or any other team, for that matter). As long as the fit is right and the contract term provides flexibility, overpayment isn’t the worst-case scenario.

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