For the second year in a row, the Canucks have chosen not to give restricted free agent Derrick Pouliot a qualifying offer. Last year, it was because they wanted to avoid arbitration that might have granted the puck-moving defenceman a contract richer than they wanted to give him. He ended up signing a one-year deal with the Canucks worth $1.1 million.
According to a report from Sportsnet 650’s Rick Dhaliwal, the Canucks will once again eschew a qualifying offer for Pouliot. This time around, however, it doesn’t appear to be to avoid arbitration but to avoid Pouliot altogether.
Pouliot has been polarizing for years, predating his time with the Canucks. At one point he was the Pittsburgh Penguins top defensive prospect, but his value deteriorated over his first few years in professional hockey until the Canucks acquired him for the low, low price of Andrey Pedan and a fourth-round pick. Pouliot went from untouchable to, as Jim Benning said at the time, a “gamble worth taking.”
The gamble never quite paid off. Pouliot was a pleasant surprise early on in his two seasons with the Canucks, but quickly became just as polarizing in Vancouver as he had been in Pittsburgh. At times, he as the smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman that he had been in Junior. At other times, he stopped moving his feet or took too long to move the puck, giving up far too much defensively.
The Canucks got two serviceable seasons out of Pouliot. The hope, however, was that Pouliot be more than serviceable. The Canucks were hoping he would finally follow through on his pedigree of being an eighth overall pick and become a top-four defenceman, capable of putting up offence and quarterbacking a power play. That never happened.
Instead, Pouliot primarily played on a sheltered third pairing. He could put together some decent results from shelter, depending on his partner, but it limited how the Canucks could deploy their defence when he was in the lineup.
The heat maps from Hockey Viz of shots for and against with Pouliot on the ice paint a pretty clear picture: Pouliot gave up too much defensively and didn’t contribute enough offensively.
Canucks moving on from Derrick Pouliot: the obvious move. pic.twitter.com/jOVaGqgMxH— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) May 8, 2019
Playing on a sheltered third pairing could have worked for Pouliot if he had found success in a specialized role on the power play. That was thought to be a strength of his game when he was drafted, but it never quite materialized at the NHL level.
Pouliot got a big opportunity on the power play this past season when Alex Edler got injured. Pouliot was moved to the first unit, but struggled to produce and was eventually supplanted by Ben Hutton. In fact, the Canucks barely outscored their opposition on the power play with Pouliot on the ice: the Canucks had three power play goals with Pouliot and gave up two shorthanded goals.
Beyond Pouliot’s play on the ice, the numbers game on the Canucks roster just wasn’t in his favour.
The Canucks will be adding Quinn Hughes on the left side next season and they’re hoping he’ll be joined by Olli Juolevi. They’re also trying to re-sign Alex Edler and will presumably re-sign RFA Ben Hutton as well. That’s already a small crowd on the left side and it doesn’t include solid depth options like Ashton Sautner, Josh Teves, and Guillaume Brisebois.
Perhaps the Canucks could re-sign Pouliot with an eye towards waiving him to send him to the Utica Comets next season, just to cover their bases in case of injuries at training camp, but perhaps it’s more fair to Pouliot to give him the opportunity to sign elsewhere and earn his spot in the NHL on another team.