A weak free agent market for defensemen may be getting an unexpected major addition. With the deadline to qualify restricted free agents arriving tomorrow, teams are down to the last minute to extend offers to retain their young RFA’s. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Vancouver Canucks are not planning to make that offer to one of their top defensemen, Ben Hutton. If Hutton is not qualified, he will become an unrestricted free agent and would jump to the top of the list available defenders in terms of ice time and arguably all-around role last season.
According to Friedman, the Canucks and Hutton had not come close to an extension as of yet and the team was worried about a possible arbitration award for the capable defenseman. Vancouver has ample cap space heading into the off-season, but need to re-sign Brock Boeser and were already rumored to be in the market for a top free agent defenseman. The team clearly prefers spending money on the existing UFA blue liners more than retaining Hutton, as his departure will only exacerbate their need for help on defense. Top free agent options Jake Gardiner and Tyler Myers are surely to be targets of the team now, if they weren’t already.
Hutton will get his money from another team, if not the Canucks. The 26-year-old University of Maine product recorded 20 points this season, his third year of 19+ points in four NHL seasons, and set a career high with 22:21 ATOI. A reliable two-way contributor, Hutton’s defensive game has also grown and Vancouver relied on him in all situations last season. Few available defenseman can eat minutes and play competently at even strength, man-up, and man-down to the degree that Hutton did last year, so he will likely draw considerable interest if and when he hits the market.