It has been another busy week for Jim Benning and his team in the Vancouver Canucks' front office.
On Monday, the club announced that it had come to terms on a one-year contract with restricted free agent Adam Gaudette, and signed UFA Jayce Hawryluk.
I wasn't terribly interested in the Hawryluk rumours when they started to swirl over the weekend. Drafted high in the second round, 32th overall, by Florida in 2014, Hawryluk didn't play his first NHL game until December of 2018, a couple of weeks before his 23rd birthday. He finished up with 12 points in 42 games with the Panthers in the 2018-19 season.
Last season, he added 26 more, split between the Panthers and the Ottawa Senators. He had an upper-body injury that kept him out of the Florida lineup for most of November and December, then was a frequent healthy scratch and played limited minutes for Joel Quenneville when he did get into the lineup.
"It obviously wasn't the right fit, and the coach didn't see me in the lineup consistently," Hawryluk said during his Zoom call with the media on Monday afternoon.
Ottawa picked him up off waivers a week before the trade deadline, and he was productive during his brief time with the Senators. His ice time ticked up from 9:41 per game in Florida to 13:00 in Ottawa, where he had two goals and five assists in 11 games before the season was paused.
You may recall — the Sens announced a handful of positive COVID-19 test results early on in the pause, which were believed to have originated during their final road trip to California in early March. Hawryluk later went public, admitting that he was one of the players who had tested positive.
In July, he shared that experience with Thomas Drance of The Athletic
"I think some people are more private about stuff than others," Hawryluk said. "For me, I’m a pretty open guy. Whether it’s the media, or fans.
"Some guys like to stay in more of a shell, but to me, it is what it is. People are going to speculate and I feel like — whatever — if they want to know, they can, it doesn’t bother me."
Hawryluk said that he spoke up to help people understand that the virus can strike anyone — even a professional athlete — and help emphasize the importance of following safety protocols.
In July, he said he's fully recovered, but the virus did impact him physically.
"The cardio definitely took a hit," he said. "I remember when I finally got back to the point where I could go for a jog and whatnot, I did notice that I’d been sitting around. There wasn’t too much I could do to stay active in my parents basement. So I did notice that, but I definitely feel good now. Everything is starting to feel back to normal, so that’s the positive."
Hawryluk signed a one-year, two-way deal that pays $800,000 at the NHL level and $200,000 in the minors, so it's tough to get a read on where he'll fit into the lineup. Last year, he did get claimed when the Panthers put him on waivers, so it's not a sure thing that he'd slide through to the Comets if the Canucks wanted to send him down.
His reputation is that of an agitator who can dish out the trash talk, so he could be a fit in the bottom six.
He checks in at 5'11" and just under 200 pounds — and he did lead the Panthers in hits-per-60 during his two seasons in Florida. He also has a scoring pedigree, which is what got him drafted so high. He had 24 goals and 64 points with the Brandon Wheat Kings in his draft year, and that number grew to 47 goals and 106 points in his last year of junior — second in the Western League in goals and fourth in points on Kelly McCrimmon's Brandon team that also included Nolan Patrick and Ivan Provorov, and which won the WHL championship.
Hawryluk will turn 25 on New Year's Day, so he's about 10 months younger than Tyler Motte. I see some similarities in their profiles, including their scoring touch at lower levels. If Hawryluk develops like Motte did now that he's in the Canucks organization, that'd be a solid win for Benning and company.
Also on Monday, the Canucks announced that they'd come to terms with Adam Gaudette on a new one-year contract that carries a cap hit of $950,000. That's a small increase over the $925,000 that the 24-year-old was paid at the NHL level in the last year of his entry-level contract.
That was a two-way deal. This one is one way. He's no longer waiver exempt, and will be eligible to file for arbitration next season.
This year, Gaudette didn't have much leverage, even before Covid economics were factored in. On his media call on Tuesday, he talked about how he feels like he's the kind of player who needs to prove himself every year. He's currently back at his homebase in Massachusetts with his new wife, living in his parents' basement and going through his usual offseason workout routine — skating at the rink nearby and hitting the gym in an effort to bulk up and get stronger.
For me, two interesting details came out of his Zoom availability:
• When talking about how he'll miss his departed former teammates, he paid tribute to Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev and Tyler Toffoli — but also talked about how he sees Toffoli's departure as a possible opportunity.
I like that kind of thinking — and the fact that he was willing to admit it.
• As far as his new No. 96 goes, that's a bit of a windy road. He said he shares an agent with Nate Schmidt, so when Schmidt was acquired he told the agent Schmidt could keep his old No. 88; Gaudette was going to go back to the now-vacant No. 8 that he wore at Northeastern.
But then — Jordie Benn reached out and asked him how much he wanted to give up No. 8, which Benn wore during arguably the best stretch of his career — his time in Montreal.
"I said, 'Oh, no,' but I ended up giving it to him," said Gaudette. "I respect Benner, he's a veteran in the league, and I thought it was the right thing to do. And, you know, it's just a number. Maybe 96 will bring me some good luck."
I hope no one tells him that Pavel Bure's two years wearing No. 96 were not exactly kind to him. In 1995-96, he was limited to just 15 games due to injury, and in 1996-97, he had 23 goals and 55 points in 63 games — a down year for him. He switched back to No. 10 for the 1997-98 season, his last in Vancouver, and posted 51 goals and 90 points before holding out for the trade that eventually sent him to Florida.
Bure's the only Canuck ever to have worn 96. According to Hockey Reference
, Gaudette will be the ninth in NHL history to wear the number. Tomas Holmstrom had a long run with it in Detroit, and Mikko Rantanen is currently wearing it very proudly for the Colorado Avalanche.
has slotted Hawryluk onto the Canucks' list of non-roster forwards, so with Gaudette's signing, they've got Vancouver with 22 roster spots filled and just over $1 million in cap space. Jake Virtanen will make 23, and will definitely come in well over $1 million whether he reaches a deal with the Canucks or they go through the arbitration process.
Patrick Johnston of The Province
makes a pretty convincing case in this new article that the cap crunch will be solved by placing Micheal Ferland's $3.5 million cap hit will land on LTIR this season — and the Canucks are proceeding as such.
Getting Ferland's agent on the record, saying "We’re going to make sure we’re dialled in on whether Micheal is fit to play or not. We can’t keep doing this," is a pretty significant acknowledgement that Ferland's future is very much up in the air.
I don't imagine anything will be carved in stone until we see how Ferland fares at his physical when training camp opens, whenever that might be. For now, agent Jason Davidson — who also represents Hawryluk — says that Ferland is feeling good and has been skating at a rink near his home in Brandon, Manitoba, while enjoying time with his family.