This Friday is one of the most exciting days of the year for hockey fans, July 1st, the start of free agent season! Only trade deadline day and the draft (especially this year with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards getting traded) can come close to matching the intrigue of July 1st. Last year Mike Gillis signed Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra and Jeff Tambellini on the first day of free agency. The previous year Gillis re-signed Daniel and Henrik Sedin, just hours before July 1st.
This year probably won’t be as eventful for the Canucks. Kevin Bieksa signed a five year deal today, worth $4.6 million per season. Core players such as Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo are all still unsigned as of this moment. Depth players such as Andrew Alberts, Raffi Torres, Chris Higgins, Tanner Glass and Jeff Tambellini are also set to be unrestricted free agents on July 1st. Some are more likely to return than others, and it will be a balancing act for GM Mike Gillis. Ehrhoff, Salo, Torres and Higgins could go either way, and I think the rest will not be returning.
With all of that said, Gillis is likely to have a little bit of spending room (especially if they are able to unload Keith Ballard and his $4.2 million cap hit), and should be active on the free agent front. I believe that Gillis will be in the market to get tougher on the fourth line, get depth on defense (especially if he isn’t able to re-sign Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo), and improve scoring from the second line. The likely result on defense will be the return of at least two of Ehrhoff, Salo and Ballard.
With that in mind, here are the players that GM Mike Gillis should have on his free agent wish list:
2010-11 Salary: $5.25 million
2010-11 Statistics: GP: 63, G: 17, A: 23, Pts: 40
2010-11 Playoff Statistics: GP: 15, G: 5, A: 7, Pts: 12
The most talented free agent forward not named Brad Richards, one might think that Simon Gagne will probably get overpaid this offseason. But with his concussion history, maybe not. Gagne is not the player he once was, but he is still very effective, offensively and defensively. He would slide into the Canucks system seemlessly and would help out Ryan Kesler tremendously on the second line. He is a gold medal winner, and has been to a Stanley Cup final. Gagne likely won’t duplicate his career year from 2005-06 (47 goals and 79 points), but he could easily put up a 30 goal/60 point season (if healthy). But with Gagne, health is always the number one concern. If the Canucks decide to sign him, it’ll be a gamble. If Mike Gillis can convince him to sign a short term deal for $3 million, I think Gagne is worth the risk.
2010-11 Salary: $2.9 million
2010-11 Statistics: GP: 82, G: 26, A: 26, Pts: 52
2010-11 Playoff Statistics: n/a
A gritty power forward with a scoring touch, Erik Cole could be a nice fit with on the Canucks second line. He has a Stanley Cup ring and has been a consistent 20-30 goal scorer. But he does not come without risk. Firstly, he has a long injury history. Secondly, his heart seems to be in Carolina. He played his entire career in Carolina, save for one disappointing year in Edmonton. But he might be worth the risk. If they can get him for $2.75 million on a 1-2 year deal, I say roll the dice.
2010-11 Salary: $0.8 million
2010-11 Statistics: GP: 81, G: 19, A: 34, Pts: 53
2010-11 Playoff Statistics: GP: 11, G: 3, A: 2, Pts: 5
One of the Flyers playoff heroes from 2010 (21 points in 19 playoff games), Leino is a candidate to play with play a scoring role on the Canucks second line. He has proven that he can produce at a second line level, and more importantly he has proven that he can do it come playoff time. He’ll be in the market for a new contract worth probably in the neighbourhood of $2.5-3 million.
2010-11 Salary: $1.7 million
2010-11 Statistics: GP: 82, G: 16, A: 15, Pts: 31
2010-11 Playoff Statistics: n/a
Chad Larose would be a good fit for the Canucks third line. He’s a gritty player that will likely put up 15 goals while delivering bodychecks (he was 4th on the Hurricanes in hits) and killing penalties. If they can add Larose for about $1.75 million, it would be a good find.
2010-11 Salary: $1.5 million
2010-11 Statistics: GP: 80, G: 10, A: 19, Pts: 29
2010-11 Playoff Statistics: GP: 12, G: 7, A: 6, Pts: 13
Joel Ward was an absolute force in this year’s playoffs, but whoever signs him this offseason should not expect that same player for 82 regular season games. Ward has size and a scoring touch, but he has never put up more than 35 points in a regular season. He would fit onto the Canucks 2nd or 3rd line and the hope would be that he would be able to elevate his game in the playoffs. Sign him for under $2 million and you’ve got a bargain.
Maxime Talbot: A gritty player with a Stanley Cup ring, Talbot is loved by his teammates. He also finds a way to step up in big games. He scored both of the Penguins goals in game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2009. His regular season numbers are a little underwhelming, never putting up more than 26 points in a season. It is in the playoffs where he has made his reputation. He has 33 points in 66 playoff games.
Mike Grier: At age 36, his best days are clearly behind him, but Mike Grier would provide experience and physical play, likely in a fourth line role.
Ben Eager: He’s not exactly the most popular player among Canucks fans, but Eager would give the Canucks a lot of things they don’t have right now. He is a big bodychecker and a good fighter. He has championship experience and even a bit of a scoring touch. He scored 11 goals for the Blackhawks in 2008-09, and had 7 last season.
Michael Rupp: Another player with championship pedigree (notice a trend here?), Rupp would be a nice fit on the Canucks fourth line. At 6’5″ and 230 lbs he is a big man with the ability to pop in the odd goal. He had 9 goals last year and 11 the year before.