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Free Agency Primer: Part I

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks enter the 2013 offseason with a few important holes to fill on the roster.

The NHL’s salary cap will temporarily drop to $64.3 million for the upcoming season (although many experts believe that the cap will once again return to its annually increasing ways beginning in 2014-15), and the Canucks are one of several NHL clubs under a bit of a cap crunch.

Looking at the current roster, the Canucks need to add a top six forward, a fourth line center, and a depth defenseman. Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman will have to work hard to find a way to upgrade the team while remaining below the salary cap. Vancouver may look to some of its younger players on more cap-friendly rookie contracts for this season, including defenseman Frank Corrado, and forwards Brendan Gaunce, Bo Horvat, Nicklas Jensen, and Kellan Lain.

But even if a few of the young guys have strong training camps and make the final roster, the Canucks need to provide some veteran insurance. Let’s look at some available free agents who may interest the Canucks – at the right price, of course.

In Part 1 – a look at some top six offensive options

Right now, the second line (on paper) is comprised of Ryan Kesler and David Booth. Kesler will likely slot in at center, but the team has toyed with the idea of moving him to the wing and acquiring a center. The Canucks would love it if one of their young players (be it Jordan Schroeder, Zack Kassian, or one of the rookies) steps up and seizes the vacant top six spot, but they won’t be expecting it. Assuming that young players are ready without having them prove anything is often a recipe for disaster.

David Clarkson – RW

Key Number: 30

The number of goals Clarkson scored in 2011-12. The gritty winger could be the most sought-after commodity on the open market this year. He’s tough and skilled, and he is one of the best net-front presences in the league. Clarkson has been linked to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs (along with 231 other free agents). He won’t be back in New Jersey.

Likelihood of Signing: Low

The Canucks would love to add Clarkson, but he will very likely be too rich for their blood. There are reports that he is seeking a multi-year contract in the $5.5-$6.5 million range.

Nathan Horton – RW

Key Number: 28

At 28 years old, Horton is younger than most of the other top six free agent options. He has battled concussion issues over the past few years, but when healthy there are few more physically dominant scorers in the league. He has informed the Bruins that he wants to test the open market, and teams will be crawling over each other for the opportunity to talk to him and his representatives. Outside of an injury-plagued 2011-12, Horton scored at least 20 goals in each of his first six NHL seasons. He’s an underrated playmaker, too.

Likelihood of Signing: Very Low

As I said above, the Canucks would love to add a big right winger – but Horton may be even more expensive to sign than Clarkson.

Valtteri Filppula – C/LW

Key Number: 1

The slick two-way center is headed for the open market, as well. He may end up back in Detroit, but the Wings will be in tough to find the dollars to match up with some of the offers he is likely to receive. Filppula is the typical Detroit forward in many ways – he is fantastic at both ends of the ice, really strong on the puck, and sneaky tough. Signing him would mean that the Canucks would either roll with three scoring lines, or Kesler would line up at the right wing at even strength.

I am of the mindset that Kesler is better on the wing – he would still take faceoffs and match up against the top forward on the opposing line, but he is more of a shooter than a playmaker.

However, Filppula only has one season (hence the key number) where he has eclipsed the 41-point mark (2011-12 with 66). It would be a bit of a risk to give him big money and big term.

Likelihood of Signing: Low. He will probably price himself out of Vancouver’s range, and he may very well want to go somewhere where he will be the top center (or at least have the opportuynity to compete for the top spot).

Stephen Weiss – C

Key Number: 3

Before struggling this past season, Weiss had recorded three consecutive 20+ goal seasons in Florida. He is the perfect second line center – strong on the draw, solid defensively, a good possession player, and creative offensively. There will be a lot of teams after him, but at this point in his career the chance to compete for a Stanley Cup will likely factor in significantly to Weiss’s final decision.

Likelihood of Signing: Medium

Weiss would be the ideal fit behind Sedin in the top six. And a second line of Booth-Weiss-Kesler has a little bit of everything. And it would continue the annual migration of a Florida Panther to Vancouver (Keith Ballard in 2010, Booth in 2011, and Jason Garrison in 2012).

Clarke MacArthur – LW

Key Number: 28

Like Horton, MacArthur is on the younger end of the free agency age spectrum at 28 years old. He has quietly developed into a solid second line scorer while in Toronto, and he won’t cost as much as some of the other options on this list. He is gritty and has a knack for finding the open ice in the offensive zone. However, MacArthur isn’t an elite playmaker (although he did have 41 assists back in 2011-12), and the Canucks need to find a distributor to play with shoot-first players like Kesler and Booth.

Likelihood of Signing: Medium

MacArthur would fit into Vancouver’s budget (also known as the salary cap) a lot easier than the likes of Horton or Clarkson. He has scored 20+ goals twice in this league, and plays with an edge. He’s a solid second line winger who will make whatever team signs him better.

Danny Briere – C/RW

Key Number: 50

One of the best playoff performers of this generation, Briere has lit the lamp 50 times in 108 postseason games. He also is the owner of the best fist pump in hockey. At 35 years old, he wouldn’t be more than a short term solution, but he could be a nice two or three year bridge until one of the prospects emerges as a viable replacement on the second line. Briere can line up at center or on the right side, and he fits the bill as a natural playmaker. On paper, he would be a fantastic fit for Kesler and Booth, and his playoff pedigree would be welcomed in Vancouver.

Likelihood of Signing: Low

Briere is a family man, and he reportedly wants to remain close to his kids (who live on the East Coast).

Coming up in Parts 2 and 3 – a look at a number of depth centers and defensemen who will be available on July 5th (including a few familiar faces).

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