Free agent frenzy begins tomorrow morning at 9am and the Canucks will need to find a bargain. Vancouver is already committed to 9 forwards, 5 defencemen and 2 goalies for a total cap hit of $56.8 million. That leaves about $7.5 million of a cap space to spend on 4 forwards and 3 defencemen. That means it’s going to be a tight squeeze.
For simplicity, lets assume the Canucks re-sign restricted free agent Chris Tanev to a $2 million contract, re-sign Dale Weise and use college free agent Kellan Lain (signed last season) as their 4th line centre. It sounds like Mason Raymond and Max Lapierre won’t be returning. Here’s how their roster looks:
Sedin – Sedin – Burrows
Higgins – Kesler – Booth
Hansen – 3rd line C – Kassian
Sestito – Lain – Weise
Hamhuis – Bieksa
Garrison – Tanev
Edler – Corrado
Extra D, Extra D
Their greatest need at the moment is a 3rd line centre and they’ll have only about $2 million, maybe $2.5 million to spend on one. Ex-Vancouver Giant Jonathon Blum has expressed interest in joining the Canucks, which would be a welcomed addition at a discount (especially when you consider that he is still young and right handed).
Here are the players I think are best suited to be the Canucks third line centre in their price range:
Stats: 27 points in 42 games
What he brings: He turns 37 later this year, so clearly Cullen isn’t a long term solution, but he might be a nice fill-in for a couple of years until Brendan Gaunce or Bo Horvat develop into 3rd line centres. Cullen has loads of experience, including a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006. He is very versatile and can play up and down in a team’s lineup. He’s an excellent faceoff man (54.7% last year) and is awesome in shootouts (44% lifetime). Cullen plays on the power play (he has played the point before in his career) and on the penalty kill. If they can sign Cullen to a 2 year $2.5 million/season deal, I think he would be a good fit.
Stats: 27 points in 47 games
What he brings: Koivu enjoyed a bit of a renaissance season of sorts last year as the Ducks’ 2nd line centre, but the end of his career is near. I wonder if playing in Vancouver is something he would like, but if he were willing to sign a one year deal to be their third line centre, he is a fit for the Canucks. Even at his advanced age, Koivu killed penalties and played on the power play last year in Anaheim. He was the Ducks’ go-to faceoff guy as well, winning 51.4% of his draws. Above all, Koivu brings a lot of experience and increased skill to the Canucks. He would centre the second unit power play and would be a great insurance policy should Henrik Sedin or Ryan Kesler suffer an injury.
Stats: 8 points in 28 games
What he brings: Lombardi doesn’t come without risk, but when you’re the Canucks and you have limited cap space, you need to be shopping in the clearance section. Lombardi was a very good player that was known for his great speed until injuries began to derail his career in 2010. In the 2009-10 season he put up 53 points with Phoenix. I’m not certain on his physical status now, but if he can play near his old form, he would be worth a look. He is still only 31 years old, so perhaps he can be the player he used to be. Given his struggles the last three seasons, he should come cheap (in the $1 million range).
Stats: 14 points in 48 games
What he brings: Fun fact: when the Canucks re-acquired Trevor Linden from the Washington Capitals in exchange for a 1st round pick, Boyd Gordon was the player that Washington selected with Vancouver’s pick. Gordon is a dependable centre that was the Coyotes’ top penalty killing forward last season. He receives very little time on the power play, but put up decent numbers the last two seasons (considering he was in a Dave Tippett defensive system). Gordon had 23 points in 75 games 2011-12 and 14 points in 48 games in 2012-13. He’s also a dynamo in the faceoff circle, winning 57.3% of his faceoffs. He also led all Coyotes forwards in blocked shots, which should surely endear him to John Tortorella. Gordon is a player that I would commit to for 3 years, if he would sign for $1.5 million-$1.75 million.