By most accounts, Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Free Agency period was a success for the Vancouver Canucks and General Manager Jim Benning.
While adding five players – six if you include re-signing potential UFA Anton Rodin – who are all expected to be contributors at the NHL level might not seem like an appropriate tactic for a team on a so-called rebuild, I thought all their additions made on Saturday made good sense.
The signings of Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto give a team that finished with the second-fewest goal totals a year ago with an offensive boost both up front and on the back end, while Anders Nilsson fills the hole in net left by the departure of Ryan Miller while providing fans what they’ve been hoping to see now for a couple of seasons and that is a chance for Jacob Markstrom to run with the starting job.
Patrick Wiercioch is a solid, depth defenceman who comes with an inexpensive price tag and you can never have too many of those. Last season the Canucks used 10 different defenceman and the only one who appeared in all 82 games – Luca Sbisa – is now a Vegas Golden Knight.
Alexander Burmistrov’s prove-it contact might be the most intriguing and is certainly loaded with possibility. I think most teams that add a former first rounder to their roster all feel they can be the one to unleash the potential. Burmistrov has certainly not lived up to his draft hype from 2010 but it’s a low-risk, high-reward opportunity and it’s more depth at centre for the Canucks.
I thought, though, the best part of the day were the moves that weren’t made. In the days leading up to the opening of free agency the Canucks were linked to several impending UFAs or players on the trade block ranging from the head-scratchers (Karl Alzner) to the absurd (Joe Thornton).
I think, as a good general manager, you’re always out there kicking tires whether or not it actually fits into your original plan. If Joe Thornton wants to play in Vancouver and do so at significantly less than market value would you really say no?
The one move not made, but apparently the closest to coming to fruition, was the rumoured swap of defencemen between the Canucks and Panthers that would have sent Erik Gudbranson back to Florida in exchange for Jason Demers. It was a move vetoed by Demers.
This one I couldn’t understand at all if it was a straight-up one-for-one swap. Gudbranson certainly had a challenging first season in Vancouver hampered by injuries but it’s not as if he’s suddenly lost all the qualities that sold you on him a year ago when you dealt away one of your top prospects for him.
Gudbranson is four years younger than Jason Demers, and at least for the time being, is someone you have under cost control. One of the reasons the Panthers moved him a year ago was because they were afraid he’d command a huge salary increase this summer – something that obviously didn’t happen for a myriad of reasons.
At the same time, tying themselves to a defenceman who would have instantly become their second-highest paid blue-liner (behind Alex Edler) and one with a partial no-trade clause just seems counterintuitive.
Had it gone down it wouldn’t have wiped out what was otherwise a solid day for the Canucks, but it certainly would have dampened it.
I’ll count it as the first win of the 2017-18 season.