I'll dig into the latest chatter about the Canucks and free agency in a minute but first off today — if you haven't seen it — the team posted a video on Wednesday that neatly summarizes the activity from the draft earlier last week, complete with some behind-the-scenes footage.
One week ago the #NHL held the first ever virtual Entry Draft.
Alex Edler's name came up more than once. The search is officially on to find the next generation franchise defenseman — ideally, from as deep a draft spot as Edler was uncovered when he was selected with the 91st pick back in 2004.
Secondly, the Canucks made another depth signing on Tuesday, bringing back Utica Comets blueline staple Ashton Sautner on a one-year, two-way deal. Sautner's last contract was for two years, paying him $700,000 at the NHL level and $100,000 in the AHL last season. According to CapFriendly, the new deal maintains the $700,000 NHL salary — now the league minimum — but kicks up the AHL rate to $200,000.
It's still unclear how or when the AHL will operate next season, but Elliotte Friedman mentioned in his new 31 Thoughts this week that the three Canadian NHL teams with U.S.-based AHL affiliates — Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton — may have to look at moving their minor-league squads to Canada when the NHL season gets going, if border restrictions are still in place.
"Not sure if those teams would be based out of the NHL buildings or centralized, but it is something these three organizations must prepare for," Friedman writes.
It'd be a fascinating trial run for the Canucks to move their AHL squad closer. They'd certainly have dates available at Rogers Arena and be able to increase the visibility of the prospect pool — even if fans are still limited or forbidden from watching games live.
This idea also runs hand-in-hand with the chatter we keep hearing about how an All-Canadian division in the NHL might be the best way to deal with travel restrictions that don't look like they'll be lifting anytime soon, with Covid-19 case numbers on the upswing on both sides of the border.
Whenever the Canucks do get going again, they've definitely got themselves a big, bold personality in new defenseman Nate Schmidt, who thoroughly charmed the media in his inaugural Zoom call on Tuesday.
If you have time, watch the whole video. Schmidt brings some valuable life lessons on making lemonade out of lemons, talking about the shock and the hurt he felt when he learned that he had been traded from Vegas, where he had put down significant roots over the past three years. But the way he described it, his mood improved hour by hour, as he spoke to people and thought more about the situation he was coming into in Vancouver.
He emphasized that Vancouver has long been his favourite city to visit on the road — and I liked the fact that he even mentioned that he chose his blue Fargo Force sweatshirt from his USHL days of a decade ago because it was the only thing he could find to wear that was close to Canucks colours.
I mentioned in the last blog that Schmidt headed up the Golden Knights' 'Fun Committee' in the bubble in Edmonton. You can read more about that here.
"I'm sure other teams haven't had the same experience."
While some NHL teams couldn't handle Bubble Life, the @GoldenKnights formed a players-led "Fun Committee." How their hijinks have helped with mental health in their Stanley Cup run. https://t.co/YvjDwQVQDN
According to this story, the Schmidt trade was on the table as early as Friday night, after Chris Tanev had made his decision to sign in Calgary and contingent on the Canucks being willing to absorb Schmidt's full cap hit. Then, it was just a matter of waiting until Alex Pietrangelo put pen to paper for his new contract in Vegas, before pulling the trigger on the trade.
On this week's 'Ray and Dregs Podcast,' Darren Dreger said that the Canucks offered Tyson Barrie upwards of $5 million on a one-year deal before he decided to take less money to sign in Edmonton, for the opportunity to be the No. 1 point man on the power play rather than sharing duties with a Quinn Hughes, or a Cale Makar in Colorado. Drance and Dhaliwal dispute this, saying that the chess pieces had already been arranged for the Schmidt trade.
"By Saturday morning, protecting that cap flexibility was the club’s main priority," they wrote. "The club kept in touch with unrestricted free agent Tyson Barrie, a longtime Benning target, but various Canucks sources disputed the notion that they were major players as Barrie made his decision to sign with the Edmonton Oilers on a one-year deal."
That holding pattern is also what essentially cost them Troy Stecher. Drance and Dhaliwal say that the Canucks would have been willing to match the contract terms that Stecher received from Detroit, but didn't want to make any commitments until they saw how things shook out with Pietrangelo and, subsequently, Schmidt.
They also mention that Schmidt wasn't shopped seriously around the league, and that rumours that Florida had outbid Vancouver were exaggerated. According to their league sources, "trade talks involving Schmidt never even got that far between the Golden Knights and the Panthers."
Whatever the details, there's no doubt that cap space is now tight for Vancouver with deals still needing to be completed with Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette. Virtanen's arbitration date is now set for October 28. Drance and Dhaliwal say that the appetite on both sides is to get a short-term deal done before that — likely in the range of $2.5-$3 miillion per season.
With his 10.2(c) status, Gaudette has little leverage and will probably have to settle for whatever the Canucks can manage to offer him.