Free-Agent Frenzy indeed! Canucks' roster remake includes Halak, Poolman
There may be more moves still to come, but we've seen way more than a blog's worth of action go on around the Vancouver Canucks over the last 48 hours. I'll dive in to get us up to date, for now. Not a lot of room or time for deep analysis today. I feel like we'll barely have time to sort through this massive remake before training camp kicks off in September!
Before I dig in — a huge thank-you to CapFriendly for having enough bandwidth to keep their site up and running on what I'm sure is a monster day for them. Also, great job by them in keeping up with all the deals, providing a comprehensive clearinghouse of everything that's going on in an easy-to-follow format.
Now — on to the Canucks:
Let's start with Braden Holtby — bought out, somewhat unexpectedly, when the Canucks couldn't find a trade partner that was willing to take on most of his salary for next season.
Holtby, of course, was signed as a free agent last October — to a two-year deal with a cap hit of $4.3 million, but with just $2.9 million in salary due in the low-revenue 2020-21 season and $5.7 million pushed back to 2021-22.
Under the terms of the buyout, Vancouver is on the hook for $3.8 million in real dollars and $2.4 million in cap space — $500,000 this season, and $1.9 million next year.
I believe I saw Ben Kuzma of The Province report that the Canucks were only willing to retain $500,000, which scuttled their trade options. So I guess the key number for them was making sure they didn't have more than $500,000 in dead cap space on their books this year — to go along with the $50,000 from Jake Virtanen's buyout.
As for the $1.9 million for next season — that probably doesn't matter much to Jim Benning right now. Everything is on the line for him now; no sense fussing about the future.
Also on Tuesday, the Canucks signed newly acquired Conor Garland to a five-year contract that carries a cap hit of $4.9 million a season. Money-wise, the deal starts at $3.75 million next year, then peaks at $6 million in years three and four. And for a guy who earned $800,000 last season, I'm thinking this is enough of a bump that he should be able to find himself a nice place to live in Vancouver — and not have to deal with too much sticker shock when he sees his new tax rate.
Finally, the Canucks closed out their business on Tuesday by shipping out disgruntled defenseman Nate Schmidt. After we heard Tuesday morning that Schmidt had refused to waive his no-trade clause for a trade to Winnipeg, he capitulated by Tuesday evening.
In return, the Canucks get the Jets' third-round pick in 2022. The Canucks gave up their third-round pick in 2022 to acquire him, so the deal's essentially a wash — depending on whether Vancouver or Winnipeg finishes higher in the standings next season.
And despite how busy they've been over the last couple of weeks, no one can say Jim Benning 'ran out of time' when the free-agent market opened this year. The way the CapFriendly transaction list sits as I type this at lunchtime on Wednesday, two incumbents and eight new players have been signed to free-agent deals. And there are more transactions in the hopper.
The club found time to get top draft pick Daniela Klimovich signed to his entry-level contract as well. And there's no waiting around — he'll be here this fall!
As for the free agents, let's start with the familiar faces: the Canucks are bringing back both Travis Hamonic and Brandon Sutter.
Hamonic's deal is reportedly for two years at a $3 million cap hit, which is in the range I expected for him. We'll never know for sure, but I kind of assumed that the announcement that he'd be willing to sign anywhere in the league this summer was intended to build him some negotiating leverage. It's tough to play hardball against a cap-strapped team, when that's where you want to play.
If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you'll know I've been a Hamonic fan since his early days with the New York Islanders. After a bit of a bumpy start with Vancouver, I thought he really found his footing as the season went on, and continued to provide strong leadership even while the team was playing out the string. Very happy to see him back.
As for Brandon Sutter, his deal is reportedly for just one year, at $1.125 million — a little less than Tyler Motte. Sutter had always maintained that he wanted to return. With the way that Jim Benning was talking over the last week or so, it seemed like a strong possibility that it would happen.
The term is short, the money is very reasonable and there's now some room in the bottom six with Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel shipped out to Arizona. I'm OK with this, too.
The Canucks are also bringing back one returnee, in defenseman Luke Schenn. He played 18 games in Vancouver at the end of the 2018-19 season — and hit everything in sight while he was here. Then, he headed to Tampa Bay in a depth role, where he won two Stanley Cups.
In his first season with the Lightning in 2019-20, Schenn appeared in 25 regular-season games and eight in the playoffs. Last year, he was on and off the taxi squad but finished with 38 regular-season games, and added another eight in the playoffs.
Schenn returns to Vancouver on a two-year deal with a reported cap hit of $850,000 per season. Can't complain about that number! And he's still just 31. He'll be a great bottom-pairing/depth guy, and I'm sure the experience he gained during his two years with the champion Lightning will also be a good add in the dressing room.
Now — the new guys.
Let's start in net, where Thatcher Demko's backup is now going to be 36-year-old Jaroslav Halak. He comes in on a one-year deal with a cap hit of $1.5 million. Again, very reasonable money.
Originally drafted out of Slovakia in the ninth round by Montreal back in 2003, Halak will join his sixth NHL team when he pulls on a Vancouver jersey.
For me, the first thing that comes to mind with Halak is how he bumped Carey Price aside during the Montreal Canadiens' run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2010. I also think of how he's never been a true starter, but has been on some great tandems over the years.
That being said, he has played more than 40 games during seven seasons in his career. And he's a two-time Jennings Trophy winner, having allowed the fewest goals in the league alongside Brian Elliott in St. Louis in 2011-12 and Tuukka Rask just a year ago in Boston, in 2019-20.
And even at his somewhat advanced age, Halak has been super durable (knock on wood — I remember writing that about Brandon Sutter when the Canucks acquired him, too!)
The last time Halak missed time with a body injury was a groin issue all the way back in 2016. Last season, he was sidelined for 10 games in April with Covid-19. Not much you can do about that!
By the time he came off the Covid list in late April, the Bruins had pretty much moved on to their new young guns, Jeremy Swayman and Dan Vladar. He got a relief nod on April 23, stepping in for Rask with the Bruins down 4-1 to Buffalo early in the third period, and got dinged with the loss because he quickly gave up goal No. 5 — which turned out to the be the winner as the Bruins battled back to 5-4 before Sam Reinhart sealed the game with an empty-netter.
Halak's time in Boston ended with a 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey on May 4. All told, he had a 9-6-4 record last season, with a .905 save percentage and 2.53 goals-against average.
With his rather nomadic career, it seems like Halak has found a way to fit in and overperform pretty much everywhere he has played. Fingers crossed that he can continue that trend in Vancouver, and provide some quality starts when Thatcher Demko needs a rest.
After dealing Schmidt to the Jets on Tuesday, the Canucks essentially replaced him with the player that Schmidt is likely replacing on the Winnipeg roster — right-shot defenseman Tucker Poolman.
The 28-year-old has reportedly been signed to a four-year deal with a cap hit of $2.5 million a season — pretty economical, but a nice raise from his previous contract, which was for three years with a $775,000 cap hit.
Born in Iowa, Poolman was drafted in the fifth round by Winnipeg in 2013. He played three seasons at North Dakota before moving up to the NHL, so he was teammates with Brock Boeser for two years, including the national championship season in 2016.
Over his three NHL seasons, he has seen his workload in Winnipeg increase fairly significantly. He played 12 games in 2017-18, averaging 12:34, then spent the entire 2018-19 season in the AHL. In 2019-20, his ice time with the Jets increased to 17:27, and he had 16 points in 57 games. Last season, he got up to 18:18 in 39 games, but earned just one assist all year. He was on the Covid list for 11 games early in the season, then missed three games in late February with an upper-body injury.
He also missed the last three games of the regular season for an undisclosed reason. In the playoffs, his ice time increased again to 21:07. He had a goal, an assist, and was even in plus-minus in the Jets' eight playoff games.
CapFriendly also has the Canucks listed as having signed wingers Nic Petan and Phil Di Giuseppe, and bubble defenseman Brady Keeper. I've also seen the names of AHL blueliners Brad Hunt and Kyle Burroughs — both local boys — and center Sheldon Dries all linked to the team on Twitter. And I should probably have him higher in this blog, but the Canucks have also announced that they've re-signed Justin Bailey, though there's no report yet on the contract on CapFriendly.
As of 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, the only official announcements from the Canucks so far are Bailey, Klimovich, Sutter and Hamonic — and Halak *just* came in. Given how many players we're dealing with, the press releases could be dropping for the next couple of days!
It feels like we're starting with almost an entirely new team. Happy so far?