GM Jim Benning and the Vancouver Canucks are off to a hot start to free agency, signing a major name from all three positions: forward Sam Gagner, defenseman Michael Del Zotto, and goalie Anders Nilsson.
Gagner, a play-making center who enjoyed a bounce back season with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2016-17, has signed on for three years at $3.15MM per year, via TSN’s Pierre LeBrun. After making just $650K on a one-year “show me” deal with the Jackets, this is a nice reward for Gagner who returned to form with a career-high 50 points after a disastrous 16-point campaign with the Flyers the year before. Yet, other than 2015-16 in Philadelphia, Gagner has been a consistent 40-50 point man and is still only 27 despite having a decade of NHL experience under his belt. Gagner will be happy to make nearly five times his 2016-17 salary, but this still comes off as quite a bargain for the rebuilding Canucks.
Del Zotto, a capable puck-mover who struggled to carve out a role with the Philadelphia Flyers, will get a new opportunity in Vancouver on a two-year, $6MM contract, according to TSN’s Frank Servalli. Not since his third year in the league with the New York Rangers in 2011-12 has Del Zotto truly been relied upon as a starter. In stints in New York and Philadelphia, Del Zotto has shown ample offensive ability, but little defensive reliability. A career -26 player, Del Zotto may never develop into a true all-around NHL defenseman, but at $3MM per year, the Canucks will expect him to strive to be such a player.
As for Nilsson, the former Buffalo Sabres backup has earned himself a nice raise, as LeBrun reports that he has signed a two-year deal worth $2.5MM annually to play 1B to Jacob Markstrom’s 1A in the Vancouver net. Nilsson was a savior of sorts for the Sabres in 2016-17, posting a career high .923 save percentage and 2.67 GAA in relief of Buffalo starter Robin Lehner. Nilsson outplayed Lehner, but Buffalo still informed Nilsson that they would move forward with Lehner as the starter and rather than play second-fiddle again in the same situation (like Chad Johnson is now doing), Nilsson has moved on to another situation where he may be able to outplay the incumbent and steal starts.