Yes, we’re five weeks or so from the Autumnal Equinox, so we still officially have a decent chunk of time remaining until fall. And although there are three important transactions waiting in the wings, let’s go Top-5 up until now for summer of 2021. These are Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning‘s best efforts thus far. I have emphasized the impact on this next season in particular as multiple elements change each and every year.
Honourable Mention in no particular order: Moving the four years remaining on defenceman Nate Schmidt‘s contract, July 27th, in a trade to Winnipeg for a 2022 3rd-round pick. Acquiring outgoing Jet defenceman Tucker Poolman via free agency one day later. Re-signing defenceman Travis Hamonic for two years on July 28th. Signing Maple Ridge native Brad Hunt for $800,000 on July 28th for defence and forward depth in Vancouver and/or leadership and impact in Abbotsford.
Number 5 – Dumping the contracts of Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel in the deal with Arizona that acquired Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland on July 23rd. When healthy, these three players account for a $12-million dollar cap hit with half of that credited to Eriksson. This isn’t the most exciting place to start but it did help free up the necessary money to start a chain reaction of signings, one that hopefully culminates in practical contracts for Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson.
Number 4 – Acquisition of forward Jason Dickinson from Dallas on July 17th for a 3rd round pick in this year’s draft (Ayrton Martino). Depth up the middle is the next best thing to terrifically consistent goaltending and a strong back-end. The Canucks hope they have found it in Dickinson. He’s definitely a defensive stalwart with excellent analytics on suppressing opponent’s chances. He hits, he blocks shots and he’s consistent on the penalty kill.
A former late first-rounder, the 26-year-old is entering his second NHL organization. Dallas is a popular place for players to play, just ask them. But this Ontario native is stoked to be returning to the his native land and apparently had some interest in watching the Canucks as a young fan. He won’t light the lamp much, but that’s not why he’s here. I refer to him as a “forward” because he is capable of playing the wing and he may line up there during face-offs. He needs to improve on his 46% winning percentage. He needs a contract and he should have one before his arbitration hearing that is set for August 20th.
Number 3 – Jaroslav Halak, free agent netminder signed to a one-year contract on July 28th. The goaltender position matters so much that I almost put this a notch above OEL’s acquisition. If you’re looking ahead to this all-important season, the mandatory step is making the playoffs. Vancouver fans are counting on it and the head coach and general manager definitely are as well. For the Canucks to take care of business this season, barring a calamitous injury, they’re in good shape with the Slovakian.
If Thatcher Demko has a bad spell, or a minor injury setback, Halak is the calm, reliable veteran to step in. He still has the potential to be occasionally spectacular. There’s a mentor factor that comes with his vast experience, and in a push for the playoffs he’s likely to pick up some wins as the back-up. Let’s face it, the new roster may be a little unpredictable, which is an understatement in describing the Pacific Division, so steadiness between the pipes is a must.
Yes, Halak is 36-years-old and his numbers did slip a bit last season, but he’s out from under the ongoing Tuukka drama in Boston and he can focus on hockey life in beautiful British Columbia. I made that sound idyllic didn’t I. Wouldn’t that be nice, a season of goaltending where you can just lock them in and throw away the key. Another issue; his recent numbers would suggest he prefers to play more rather than less, but if Demko stays healthy it’s going to be the latter for Halak.
Number 2 – Acquisition of defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson from Arizona on July 23rd for three draft picks including the 9th-overall this summer (Dylan Guenther). Yes, for multiple reasons this could and should be number-one. If you’re looking long term it definitely is because OEL’s performance and his impact on the salary cap will be felt for years to come. But let’s just say OEL performs adequately or substantially better than that this coming season. While that will indeed make Canucks fans very happy, it’s not the “sexy” choice. He’s supposed to do his job well and contribute. We need a little more hot sauce on our enchilada, a little more tequila in our margarita.
I’m confident the 30-year-old Swede will remain mostly reliable in his new environment, eating up the necessary minutes to justify his existence and semi-star-like status, all while hiding just a wee bit behind the pizzazz of Hughes. OEL is not likely to bring you out of your seat. Will Canucks fans be chanting OEL, or will they be chanting Gar-land, Gar-land? Probably neither, but there’s your spoiler alert …
Number 1 – Acquisition of Conor Garland with OEL from Arizona on July 23rd. The wild card is always exciting and that describes Garland. He’s been on a dramatic upswing the last two seasons and it should be very entertaining to see where it leads next. His energy is infectious and his talent it still relatively untapped. If you had a chance to watch any recent Arizona Coyotes games, (yeah, I know), you would have noticed. He’s one of the main reasons the Arizona club felt like a minor threat entering the bubble two postseasons ago. He adds a threat and scoring depth to a forward group that needed it.
Garland comes from a place in the US, Massachusetts, that’s one of the hockey hotbeds south of the border. He grew up appreciating the finer points and traditions of the game, and it’ll be a vast change for the better being in a real hockey market and environment. Just the level of media attention will be a remarkable change for him and I’d expect Garland to embrace it.
So, if you were to invert this list in a sense, and make it about “which move, if it backfires, would be Benning’s worst”, then OEL takes the cake for sure. It would definitely be more glaring and important if he bombs out than if a winger like Garland goes through a prolonged scoring slump. But since we’re not projecting negative outcomes, for straight up entertainment and potential, I’m putting this 25-year-old at the top.