Free agency officially opens on Sunday, July 1st, but the week-long negotiation period prior to July 1st means there’s plenty of information out there about where players might sign.
Last year, for instance, the Canucks were rumoured to be frontrunners to sign Michael Del Zotto heading into free agency. Sure enough, on July 1st the Canucks signed Del Zotto. While the negotiation period takes some of the frenzy out of free agency, it does give players, agents, and teams more time to consider their options. Theoretically, that should lead to more reasonable contract decisions, though that doesn’t always work out in practice.
This year, the rumours surrounding the Canucks revolve around a couple of gritty bottom-six forwards: Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel.
Bob McKenzie originally reported the Beagle rumours, while Elliotte Friedman reported Vancouver’s interest in Roussel. Then Vancouver’s Rick Dhaliwal got on the phone with his sources and dug up some potential contract numbers for both of them:
I’m hearing Roussel with #Canucks could be a 4 year deal worth just a tad over 3 million dollars per season.— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) June 29, 2018
$2.5 million for Beagle and $3 million for Roussel is quite a bit of coin for two bottom-six forwards. Even more concerning than the cap hits, however, is the term. Generally speaking, it’s not a great idea to hand out three and four-year deals to role players, particularly ones like Beagle that are on the wrong side of 30, and particularly when your team is rebuilding.
The Canucks don’t have any cap issues now, but they should avoid getting hamstrung a few years down the road. That’s when Brock Boeser, Adam Gaudette, Jonathan Dahlen, Nikolay Goldobin, and others will all be on new, more expensive contracts and, hopefully, the team will be in a position to add good free agents to a playoff-contending roster.
There’s another option that the Canucks should consider: don’t sign anyone at all.
Sure, re-sign your restricted free agents like Sven Baertschi, Jake Virtanen, and Troy Stecher. But perhaps Jim Benning and his team should take the day off on July 1st, celebrate Canada Day with their families, and come into the office on Monday looking to start fresh.
Honestly, the Canucks are not in a position where they absolutely need to add free agents. Let’s take a quick look through their current forwards, with their RFAs signed.
Let’s be clear: this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the roster of a good team. But it’s also not outright terrible.
Gagner could start at centre to ease Pettersson into the job. The left wing could have lots of movement: perhaps Goldobin or Leipsic play on the first line, Gaunce plays with Sutter, Eriksson provides some veteran experience with Pettersson, and Baertschi joins Gaudette and Virtanen on a fun, offensive fourth line.
No matter what you think of that lineup, however, it seems pretty clear that it won’t be significantly improved by adding a couple bottom-six forwards like Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel. Adding those players, in fact, would push young forwards out of the lineup.
If Beagle gets signed, that likely means Adam Gaudette starts the season in the AHL. Antoine Roussel takes Brendan Leipsic or Nikolay Goldobin out of the lineup, not to mention making it difficult for Jonathan Dahlen to impress and make the Canucks out of training camp.
The Canucks had no rookies in their opening night lineup for the 2017-18 season; it’s entirely possible that they could have just one, Elias Pettersson, in the opening night lineup for the 2018-18 season.
While competition at training camp is a good thing, the Canucks will already have a decent amount of internal competition, particularly on the wings. Depth at centre is sketchier, but the Canucks don’t need to spend big on a fourth-line centre to provide competition for Gaudette. If there’s ever a bidding war for a fourth-line forward, take a step back and reconsider your priorities.
Update : Despite the market driving up the price, the #Canucks are very very much in the race to land Beagle. This is a player they really like.— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) June 30, 2018
Some might suggest that the team needs to add more veteran leadership to this team with the Sedins leaving, but at what point is enough veteran leadership enough?
Isn’t that part of the reason why the Canucks signed Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto last year? Isn’t that what Brandon Sutter is supposed to provide? Are not Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Loui Eriksson, and Erik Gudbranson veterans?
Heck, Bo Horvat is entering his fifth season, is seen as a leader both on and off the ice, and is the presumptive next captain of the team. Doesn’t his example of hard work and determination set the tone for the young players joining the team?
Instead of rushing to sign veteran bottom-six forwards to three and four-year contracts, why not wait out the summer and look for bargains instead? Thomas Vanek was available on the eve of training camp, signed for one year on a cheap contract, and provided veteran leadership, mentorship of Brock Boeser, and 41 points in 61 games. While Vanek didn’t net the return at the trade deadline that many had hoped, he was still a good free agent signing for a rebuilding team.
It just seems like the smartest thing a rebuilding team could do in free agency is to do nothing at all for a month or so.