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Free Agent Primer: Part II

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

There has been some talk of letting prospects Brendan Gaunce and Kellan Lain compete for the third and fourth line center vacancies, and Jordan Schroeder will definitely have his say as well. However, Vancouver would like to provide a veteran option or two to coach John Tortorella, and they also need to pick up some insurance for Ryan Kesler.

Let’s look at some free agent options.

Max Lapierre

Key Number: 130

The above key number is Lapierre’s penalty minute total from 2011-12. The team has benefitted from his grit and edge, but at times his undisciplined play has gotten him in trouble. To his credit, Lapierre has improved his reputation around the league significantly over the past few years – he fights his own battles, and he doesn’t talk as much between whistles. But the agitator role is one that he needs to play in order to be as effective as possible.

He is looking for a three or four year contract, and the Canucks may not want to give that kind of term to him. He has been a fantastic role player for Vancouver since coming over at the 2011 trade deadline, but the team may want to go with a different look on line four.

Likelihood of Signing: Low

If the team wanted him back, he very likely would have been re-signed already. It looks as if Lapierre’s days as a Canuck are numbered. And if they are, we will always remember him for his Game 5 goal against Boston back in the 2011 Cup Final.

Boyd Gordon

Key Number: 57.3

Gordon is one of the best faceoff men in hockey (as evidenced by his 2013 success rate of 57.3%). He is a different player than Lapierre – less physical, not an agitator – but arguably a more effective one. The Canucks tried to trade for him at the trade deadline, and there will be several contending teams looking to acquire his services come July 5th.

Likelihood of Signing: High

Gordon would be an instant upgrade to Vancouver’s forward group. He would take a lot of defensive pressure away from Henrik and Kesler, and he would give the team an ace faceoff man, something they have really been missing after shutting down Manny Malhotra. A Gordon signing wouldn’t generate a ton of media attention or fanfare, but it would be exactly what the team needs.

Mike Santorelli

Key Number: 20

The Vancouver, BC native scored 20 goals with Florida back in 2010-11, but he failed to build on that success in either 2011-12 or this past season. He finished the 2013 season with Winnipeg, recording only one assist in the final 10 games. He is more of an offensive player than a defensive one, and signing him would likely signal that the team wants to go with three offensive lines up front. Santorelli may be willing to sign on the cheap to come and play for his hometown club, but I’m not sure he is much of an upgrade on what the team already has.

Likelihood of Signing: Medium

This would be a low risk and a medium reward move. Santorelli certainly wouldn’t solve any of the issues that the team currently has, but he would add some scoring depth and versatility to the forward group.

Matt Cullen

Key Number: 36

Cullen is the oldest player on this list at 36 years old. The 6-1, 200 pound speedster has spent the past three seasons in Minnesota, and he will test the open market in a few days. He has scored over 20 goals in a season twice in the NHL, and he was instrumental in Carolina’s Stanley Cup victory back in 2005-06.

Likelihood of Signing: Medium

On a two year deal, Cullen would be a great stopgap until one of Gaunce, Lain, or Bo Horvat is ready to step in and center line three (or two, for that matter).

Kyle Chipchura

Key Number: 210

At 210 pounds, Chipchura would bring a lot of size and toughness to the bottom six in Vancouver. He hits consistently and fights when necessary, and he isn’t a liability at even strength, either. Chipchura wouldn’t be counted on for a lot of offense, but he did score twice against the Canucks back in late February (small sample size alert).

Likelihood of Signing: Medium

If the Canucks decide he is the guy they want to center one of the bottom two lines, they have the resources to offer him what he wants (likely a three or four year deal).

Tyler Bozak

Key Number: 1063

Bozak took the second most faceoffs of any NHL center in 2013 (1063 – behind only Claude Giroux), and he won close to 53% of them. He played on Toronto’s top line with Phil Kessel, which definitely inflated his offensive totals. Bozak isn’t a bad player, but he isn’t a top line center on a good hockey club. The analytics crowd points to his poor possession numbers relative to his more skilled linemate (and there is an argument to be made that the Leafs should have played Mikhail Grabovski in that role), but Bozak brings a lot to the table. He’s solid defensively and he wins a ton of faceoffs.

He was interested in signing with the Canucks before choosing Toronto back in 2009 as a free agent coming out of college. The Leafs have moved on after acquiring Dave Bolland from Chicago. Will Bozak choose Vancouver this time around?

Likelihood of Signing: Medium

For the right price, Bozak makes a lot of sense as Vancouver’s third line center. However, because he has spent a lot of time playing a first line role, teams may have to pay more money for him. He isn’t a top line player (and probably not a top six one, either), but in the right role he would help the Canucks a lot.

David Steckel

Key Number: 6-5 (I guess that is two numbers…)

At 6-5, Steckel is an imposing presence on the ice. He isn’t an overly physical player, but he uses his size to protect the puck and wear down opposing defensemen. He would be a great option to have against bigger and stronger teams from Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Boston. Steckel is great on the draw and a solid defensive forward, too. He makes a lot of sense for the Canucks.

Likelihood of Signing: Medium

If the team wants to add size to the bottom six, Steckel is the biggest center available. He isn’t the grittiest or toughest, but there are other ways to use your size effectively. And he’d be a guy Tortorella could lean on for defensive faceoffs and killing penalties.

Matthew Lombardi

Key Number: 40

40 is the number of games that Lombardi has missed over the past two seasons (concussion issues). The speedy center is a very effective player when healthy, but concerns over his durability have to be taken into consideration. After scoring 19 goals with Phoenix back in 2009-010, Lombardi has scored only 12 goals in 92 games (on four different teams to boot).

Likelihood of Signing: Medium

He isn’t a faceoff ace like Bozak or Gordon, and he doesn’t bring size to the table like Chipchura, Lapierre, or Steckel. But he is one of the fastest skaters in hockey, and he can play in many different situations. Provided he can stay healthy, he would give Tortorella some different options on lines two, three, and four.

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