With franchise cornerstones Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin each nearing the end of their great careers and after missing the postseason by a whopping 12 points, it would appear the Vancouver Canucks should strongly consider tearing down then rebuilding their roster. Instead, Vancouver seems to be trying to walk the fine line between being competitive today while still trying to add youth to the organization to make them better tomorrow. The signing of Loui Eriksson and the trade for Erik Gudbranson – a deal that cost Vancouver young forward Jared McCann and a second-round pick – reinforces the idea the Canucks want to try to compete for a playoff berth this year, even if they sacrifice young talent to do so.
Along those lines, GM Jim Benning has been open about his efforts to add a scoring line winger, whether by trade or by signing one of the few remaining quality free agent forwards on the market, in an attempt to further improve his club’s chances at the postseason. The club has been linked to potential trade target Evander Kane, among others, this summer but James O’Brien, writing for NBC Sports, argues that Vancouver should steer clear of the trade market in their search for an “experienced 15-20 goal-scorer,” and instead add one of the skilled forwards left in free agency.
Vancouver likely has little chance to make the postseason in a division that includes three, near-certain playoff teams and three others who may have made enough roster improvements this summer to realistically challenge. Defending Western Conference champion San Jose should be a near lock for the playoffs, as should Los Angeles and Anaheim. Arizona, Calgary and Edmonton each made major moves that could result in postseason contention. With the playoffs unlikely, Vancouver shouldn’t give up any of the few valuable assets they have in exchange for a marginal increase in their postseason odds this year.
Considering a reunion with UFA Radim Vrbata is unlikely, signing one of Brandon Pirri or Jiri Hudler – two of PHR’s five top remaining UFA’s – would improve the Canucks on the ice for the 2016-17 campaign and won’t cost the team anything other than cash. Additionally, if either player has a productive season for Vancouver, the Canucks could move them at the deadline for future assets. Remember that Hudler, a pending free agent at the time, was dealt from Calgary to the Panthers for second and fourth-round draft choices. That’s exactly the type of move a club like Vancouver should make as opposed to dealing for a veteran player under contract long term.
Hudler, a three-time 20-goal-scorer, had a down season in 2015-16 but is just one year removed from a 31-goal campaign with the Flames. He still tallied 16 goals last year in 72 games, splitting the season with Calgary and Florida. But even in a “down” year, his goal-scoring rate was still comfortably that of a top-six winger. Hudler averaged 0.79 G/60 this past season, a total which ranked 91st overall among forwards who saw at least 500 minutes of even strength ice time. With 30 teams in the league, each with three top-line players, Hudler’s goal production ranks just outside what you would expect from a first-liner.
Pirri averaged 0.74 G/60 last season, good for the 105th best rate among forwards who played 500 minutes at even strength. As with Hudler, in terms of goal scoring alone Pirri is comfortably a second-line player. His career rate of 0.91 G/60 suggests that given more ice time, Pirri would easily exceed 20 goals in a full season.
If Vancouver is simply looking for a player who can put the puck in the net, signing Hudler or Pirri to a one-year deal makes far more sense than giving up assets to acquire a goal-scorer via trade. Considering how late in the summer we are and after seeing how much of a pay cut Sam Gagner took after a lackluster season, it’s likely Hudler is only worth around $2MM per at this point. Pirri probably would sign for less than that figure. Additionally, assuming the club signs one of those free agent wingers and they go on to produce solid numbers, the value Vancouver could extract from a contender at the deadline makes this route far and away the better option for a team that should be focusing more on the future than the present.