When the Vancouver Canucks entered the 2015-16 season, they were coming off a 101-point season and felt as though they had another strong shot at the playoffs, with Daniel and Henrik Sedin still in the mix and up-and-coming center Bo Horvat showing he was ready for a larger NHL role. What they got instead, was a disastrous season filled with injury and ineffectiveness, leading to a 31-38-13 record and finished ahead of only the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers in league standings. This summer they’ve already started their re-tool, trading 20-year old Jared McCann to Florida for former third overall pick Erik Gudbranson. Here’s a look at what else they have to do this summer:
Key Restricted Free Agent: W Emerson Etem – After a deal that saw Etem move across the continent (for the second time), the former Ranger got into 39 games down the stretch for the Canucks. A prolific scorer in junior – who tallied 143 goals in three seasons for the Medicine Hat Tigers, including a 61 goal effort in 2011-12 – Etem hasn’t been able to find much consistency in the NHL.
Now six years removed from being draft in the first round (29th overall), Etem has to show that he can be the offensive force he was once seen as. Perhaps it will help that Canucks’ coach Willie Dejardins was Etem’s coach in Medicine Hat for two seasons before being hired on with the Dallas Stars.
He’s coming off a one-year deal worth $850,500 and shouldn’t cost much more than $1MM in his first season of arbitration eligibility. With the other young forwards Horvat, Sven Baertschi and Jake Virtanen, Etem could be a long-term piece for the Canucks if he can ever reclaim that scoring touch.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: RW Radim Vrbata – While the Canucks struggle through the last few years of their now 35-year old franchise twins, another veteran is hitting the open market after a terrible season. Vrbata seemed to have found the fountain of youth in 2014-15 after signing a two-year pact with the Canucks; he put up a career-high 63 points and broke the 30 goal mark for the second time.
This season, he lit the lamp only 13 times and collected just 27 points – his lowest mark since 2008 when he played just 18 games before heading back to his native Czech Republic to be with his pregnant wife. He’ll hit the open market as a 35-year old coming off his worst year and will probably have to settle for a one-year deal somewhere; it almost surely won’t be in Vancouver. Vrbata was ranked 27 on our list of the top 50 free agents available this year.
D Dan Hamhuis – After another injury shortened season (this time from a gruesome slapshot to the face), Hamhuis is hitting free agency as somewhat of a risk, given his age and durability issues. While those issues may be somewhat overblown, Hamhuis isn’t going to get the big money deal he did a few years ago.
Even so, he is a strong shutdown defender when healthy and there are many teams who would love to have him in their top-4. If Hamhuis decides to take his talents elsewhere, he’ll try to catch on with a team with deep playoff aspirations as the 33-year old has only progressed past the first round once in his twelve year career.
Projected Cap Room: $9.2MM, 21 players under contract.
The Canucks will continue their tear-down as they wait out the last few Sedin seasons, and look for progression from their young players. If they do sign any free agents, it would have to either be young players or cheap veterans that they’d look to deal closer to the next deadline.
We predicted them to sign both Lee Stempniak and Matt Martin, but look at other players like Sam Gagner or John-Michael Liles that fit in one of those two categories. It should be another long season for Canuck fans.