With free agency now less than a month away, many teams are already looking ahead to when it opens up. There will be several prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. Vancouver has several big decisions to make concerning their team, especially in goal.
Key Restricted Free Agents
F Jake Virtanen – Virtanen is an interesting case in which the former first-round pick has made improvements every year and this year was no different. After a 15-goal, 25-point season in 2018-19, Virtanen improved to 18 goals and 36 points this season. However, while that’s a definite improvement, his playoff performance this year left a lot to be desired. He managed just two goals and three points in 16 games and saw his playing time fluctuate while spending some time on the fourth line. His time with the Canucks could be up as the 24-year-old could end up being trade bait as he has slowly worn out his welcome with Travis Green and the coaching staff. Regardless, the forward still has the potential to become a top-six forward.
F Tyler Motte – A fan favorite in Vancouver had an up-and-down year, missing a chunk of the regular season with a shoulder injury, but is a key player for the team’s fourth line. The 25-year-old only posted four goals in 34 regular season games, but then was more impressive in the playoffs with four goals in just 17 games. However, he does bring the team some much needed physicality with 318 hits over his last 108 regular season games. At just $975K, he shouldn’t require the Canucks to break the bank to sign him.
D Troy Stecher – The blueliner will be an interesting test for GM Jim Benning, who has quite a few unrestricted free agents to make decisions on and limited cap room for that. One suggestion that has been made by many is sending the 26-year-old off in a trade. He made $2.33MM the past two years and that is money that might be better spent elsewhere to retain some of their other players. Stecher also only averaged 15:21 of ATOI, not exactly the type of playing time you’d hope for for someone making that much money. With younger defensemen ready to step in such as Olli Juolevi and Jack Rathbone, the team may look to trade him during the offseason.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents
G Jacob Markstrom – What once was considered a slam dunk of a re-signing has now become less of a certainty after a three-game performance from young backup Thatcher Demko. Granted, Benning did admit that bringing Markstrom back was a priority, regardless of what Demko did in the playoffs, but with so little cap space to work with, there have to be some doubts whether signing the all-star goaltender to a long-term deal is a good idea if Demko is ready to be a No. 1 goalie. The 30-year-old Markstrom, however, has been consistent in net, boasting a .912 save percentage during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons and followed that up with a .918 save percentage this year, looking almost as impressive in the playoffs before going down with an injury. It could also be more costly for Vancouver to re-sign him with several other teams reportedly interested in bringing him aboard. While his $3.67MM AAV was a nice one for their cap, he is likely ready to move into the $5-6MM range, a costly one when someone behind him might be ready to move into his place for quite a bit less.
F Tyler Toffoli – After an inconsistent career in Los Angeles, the Canucks snagged the 28-year-old forward at the trade deadline and he was exactly what the team needed, posting six goals and 10 points in 10 regular season teams with Vancouver. He provided four points in seven games too and Vancouver would like to add Toffoli as a long-term piece. That could prove to be expensive and the Canucks will likely have to move some of their other pieces to make that happen. There is also rumors that Toffoli would like to return to Southern California, which will make his status interesting to watch during the offseason. At $4.6MM for the past three years, could he make more than that now?
F Chris Tanev – The 30-year-old blueliner has spent his entire career in Vancouver and been a solid defensive player. The team would like to bring back the veteran, but again, much depends on what other moves the team makes. If the team does re-sign both Markstrom and Toffoli, it’s possible that Vancouver just won’t have the money to sign him. At $4.45MM, that’s a high price to pay for a player that is likely to begin to see his game decline over the next few years.
Projected Cap Space
At the moment, Vancouver has about $14.3MM in cap space to spend with a half dozen-or-so players they must re-sign. There is little room to maneuver. The team could try to find a taker for Loui Eriksson, who is killing the team’s cap situation at $6MM for the next two years, but with the cap flattening out, it could cost the team quite a bit to unload a contract like that. Throw in two more years of Roberto Luongo’s recapture penalty at $3.04MM, the team may have to watch as several free agents either walk away or the team trades away others to hold onto them.
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