Aside from the fact there have a been a couple of maneuvers that were back-tracks on previous team transactions, or corrections if you will, it’s been a pretty impressive week for Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning and staff. Since acquiring a legit’ 3rd-line centre in Jason Dickinson from Dallas back on July 17th, the team has done a solid job bolstering its roster and filling in some holes. And it’s not only the Vancouver Canucks they’ve had in mind, it’s the new Abbotsford Canucks of the American Hockey League as well.
First, The Big Club
They add Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland from Arizona while dumping contracts and sacrificing this year’s first round, ninth overall, draft pick. Worth it. The Coyotes captain, Larsson was desperate for a change of scenery, tired of trade talk, and now gets a chance to ply his trade in a hockey market that will be unforgiving if he doesn’t step up, given he brings along a contract worth another $50-million over the next six years. All things considered, he should find his game again, while intangibles are always a bonus in this game. OEL is a pro’, simple as that, who’s attitude and approach will benefit the young core. Garland is a gem. He’s a 25-year-old “Energizer bunny” who quickly signed a 5-year deal after arriving, worth $4.95-million a season, with an offensive upside that has really just started to swing.
The next task was to eliminate or move salary. 1) Waivers and a buy-out of goalie Braden Holtby, who has already since signed with Dallas, saving $3.8-million in cap dough. 2) Trading Nate Schmidt to Winnipeg in exchange for a 3rd rounder; he has four years left on a deal that pays him just under $6-million per. These efforts occurred yesterday to free up that cap space just ahead of the “Frenzy”.
Today they went through the checklist. Top priority at the most important position on the ice, find a reliable back-up to a number-one goalie, Thatcher Demko, who has 72 games of NHL experience. They did it, as expected, by landing the very experienced Jaroslav Halak. The 36-year-old Slovak has been in the mix for awhile and will be a stabilizing mentor. From pulling off one of the great stand-on-your-head goaltending performances in recent history, for Montreal in their first-round upset of top-seeded Washington back in 2010, to filling in admirably for temperamental Tuukka in Boston the last two seasons, Halak has had mostly peaks over valleys. He gets a two-year, bonus-laden contract that amounts to a $1.5-million cap hit.
The next priority was defensive depth, particularly on the right side. Welcome Tucker Poolman from Winnipeg, a big boy with a burgeoning physical edge, who should solidify the third pair. He was playing 24-minutes-a-night by the end of the playoffs. The righty, who hails from that hockey hotbed of Dubuque (“da-buke”) Iowa, gets $2.5-million-a-season for four years. Jets play-by-play guy Paul Edmonds has seen every NHL game that Poolman has played.
“He skates well and likes to get up in the rush,” Edmonds points out, “and he’s more effective when he does it. Not a ‘tough guy’ but his physicality progressed as the season moved along. Poolman has battled some injuries in his short career, including a concussion and contracting Covid. He’ll be well suited for the 5/6 role on the blueline there.”
The Vancouver Canucks ended up bringing back RH D-man Travis Hamonic for two years at $3-million per. He’ll have an opportunity to continue meshing with Quinn Hughes. What the heck, how about more D-depth with right-shots: 31-year-old Luke Schenn ladies and gentlemen, a veteran depth move at $850K per-season for two, fresh off back-to-back Cup wins in Tampa.
Olli Juolevi and Hughes remain unsigned, but here’s one potential starting line-up.
Hughes and Hamonic
Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers
Jack Rathbone and Poolman
It’ll be a competitive camp at the 5/6, with some feisty options assigned to Abbotsford.
Up front, the Vancouver Canucks re-signed Brandon Sutter, key to the PK and to keeping their bottom-six depth in order. He gets a tidy $1.125-million for one season.
JT Miller / Elias Pettersson / Brock Boeser
Nils Höglander / Bo Horvat / Garland
Tanner Pearson / Dickinson / Vasily Podkolzin
Tyler Motte / Sutter / Matthew Highmore
Motte and Highmore can play either side, as can Höglander, while Dickinson can play centre or wing. They have others who, if pressed, could offer similar versatility. Injury depth below these units is nothing to write home about, but the bottom line is initially creating a line-up that’s strong up the middle, strong on the blueline, and better than steady in goal. Speaking of which …
That’s one line-up sheet. More tweaks to come along for sure. Next step: Umm, sign those Hughes, Pettersson, Dickinson guys.
Life in Abby
Meanwhile, the Canucks have added or will be adding local talent to the new AHL franchise. Great idea when you’re ramping up the season ticket sales campaign, on top of the fact it should be a very competitive club. Brad Hunt (Maple Ridge), a potential captain who could step up to VAN for depth and Devante Stephens (White Rock) are two names in the mix. Brady Keeper, another right-side D-man, is a great story from the First Nation community of Cross Lake, 7-hours north of Winnipeg. He signed a two-year deal today. The club also inked Nic Petan, best known for being a WHL sniper in Portland and a 2nd-round pick of the Jets back in 2013, his 2020-’21 NHL season consisted of 7 GP for the Leafs. And add Sheldon Dries, most recently of the Avalanche, a two-way, Michigan-born lefty centre.