What are the Vancouver Canucks doing?
It’s a simple question. If you’ve been anywhere near the local Vancouver headlines over the past few days, you also know it’s a very pressing one. Talk to anyone in or near the fanbase, including the masked cashier behind a pane of glass at your local grocery store, and you’ll hear that question again.
Canucks general manager Jim Benning has managed to see all four of his team’s critical unrestricted free agents head for the exits. That’s hardly unheard of in today’s NHL and with the uncertainty of this off-season ringing loud and clear, but it is still a little hard to take.
Exhibit A: Jacob Markstrom
This was always on the table, with the netminder set to fetch a fair chunk of change for his next deal. The Calgary Flames snagged Markstrom for six years and Benning didn’t pony up the green, choosing instead to ink Braden Holtby to a two-year contract worth $8.6 million. That mitigates the loss of Markstrom well enough.
And really, Thatcher Demko is the goalie of the future for the Canucks. You know, like Kevin Weekes.
Exhibit B: Chris Tanev
Surprise, Tanev also went to Calgary. The defenceman – at the time, the second-longest tenured member of the Canucks – headed off to a four-year deal worth $18 million. In a sense, Tanev’s departure really was all about the money and it makes sense for Benning and Co. to leave some options open.
Exhibit C: Troy Stecher
So here’s where it gets a little funky. Given that not signing Tanev was, ostensibly at least, designed to save money to sign defencemen like Stecher, not signing Stecher seems a little curious. The blueliner is now a member of the Detroit Red Wings and the deal was not exactly lucrative at two years for $3.7 million.
It is, without a doubt, a great signing if you’re Detroit.
Exhibit D: Tyler Toffoli
Finally, we have Toffoli. The forward wanted to stay in Vancouver, but the Montreal Canadiens came knocking with a four-year contract worth $17 million. No, that’s not a misprint.
Toffoli will be a boon on Montreal’s second power-play unit and he’s coming over on a bargain, especially as they’ve got Brendan Gallagher signed. The 28-year-old has a lot left in the tank and can produce at a high level.
If you’re a Canucks fan, you might be looking at what’s left and wondering what happened. That’s a perfectly reasonable response to what seems to be a rather destructive week.
But here’s the rub: money is the thing.
The Canucks still have a job to do and that has to range beyond preserving a bunch of fan favourites. They have to ice a team that can win, which means decisions have to be made. That goes for Jake Virtanen, who has salary arbitration on October 28 and could fetch a pretty penny – if Vancouver doesn’t sign him first.
Loui Eriksson and Sven Baertschi are still eating up considerable bank and that puts Benning and Co. in an awkward position every time they want to approach a free agent. As much as the GM might like to do something to fill the Toffoli-sized hole on Bo Horvat’s wing, the answers are ephemeral. Things don’t just materialize, which makes hooking up Virtanen vital.
The future matters for the Canucks. It has to. The club has no forwards signed beyond 2022-2023. Two defencemen – Tyler Myers and Nate Schmidt – are locked up for a longer period. Demko will be a restricted free agent after this coming season and Elias Pettersson will be up for some serious cash.
So what are the Vancouver Canucks doing?
Outwardly, they’re planning for the future in uncertain times. With little known about the approaching season and an expansion draft in the wings, tough decisions are par for the course. And while things might seem uncomfortable under current analysis, the big picture suggests most of these painful departures are more than necessary to secure a brighter future.