Canucks 2021 Free Agency Preview: Needs, targets, issues

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Having pledged to be aggressive in upgrading his team, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning was so aggressive on the trade market (see, Oliver Ekman-Larsson), he hasn’t much cap space left to be aggressive in free agency.

CapFriendly.com shows the Canucks with $20.14 million of available cap space, but restricted free agents Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will each command $7 million (give or take a mill) in bridge deals, and newly-acquired forward Jason Dickinson also needs a deal. This will all be money well-spent, but also all the money spent. And the Canucks’ lineup will still have just 18 players, including only four defencemen under contract.

No wonder Benning bought out goalie Braden Holtby and continues to explore a trade for top-four defenceman Nate Schmidt, who between them could be parcelled off into five or six new players.

Vancouver still has serious needs, especially on defence, where quantity has suddenly joined quality as an issue. So, Benning will shop in free agency, but he’ll be looking for bargains – like Tampa Bay depth defenceman Luke Schenn, already linked to the Canucks before free agency even opens.

Salary cap space: $20.14 million

Roster size: 14/23

Cap costs for nine forwards: $28.49 million

Cap costs for four defencemen: $20.16 million

Cap costs for one goalie: $5 million

Potential Free-Agent Targets

James Reimer, G: The 33-year-old Reimer is regarded as an all-world guy – and not just by professional sports standards. He seems an ideal fit as a veteran backup who will support Canucks starter Thatcher Demko but has the chops to handle a string of starts if needed.

His six years in Toronto have conditioned him to Canadian markets, and coming off a five-year, $17-million contract, Reimer may be ready to accept a backup role for less than $2 million annually that will also give him a leadership voice.

Travis Hamonic, D: Never say never. Although Hamonic and the Canucks have failed so far to reach an agreement on a new contract, the defenceman who had a solid show-me season in Vancouver despite the challenges of the pandemic, genuinely wants to return and the hockey team would like him back. The discussions are just about a little more term and money than the one-year, $1.25-million Hamonic played for in 2021.

In this depressed NHL market, which is especially hard on players in the bottom third of rosters, Hamonic will see what he might fetch in bids from other teams. But if his hometown Winnipeg Jets don’t sign him, don’t be surprised if Hamonic is back in Vancouver as a right-side partner for Quinn Hughes.

Jujhar Khaira, C: With Jay Beagle bundled up with other unwanted items Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel and donated to the Arizona Coyotes, the Canucks could use a big, physical centre who can kill penalties and work cheaply. And Jujhar Khaira needs a new team after the Edmonton Oilers declined to qualify their fourth-line forward. Khaira, who is from Surrey, may also actually like playing in his home town.

His offence is severely limited and Khaira won’t sell any tickets for the Canucks – except to his friends and relatives – but the needs for both sides are real enough that a free-agent deal just above entry-level salary should be possible. At 26 years old, the six-foot-four, 210-pound Khaira also fits the age profile the Canucks are looking for.

Luke Schenn, D: OK, we’re cheating because it was already reported out of St. Louis (news obeys no boundaries, not that Twitter has any) that Vancouver has been talking to the Tampa free agent about returning to the Canucks, where Schenn had a very enjoyable non-fat soy latte with the team near the end of the 2018-19 season.

The big, rugged defenceman – a species Benning desires – shepherded Hughes into the league and the 18 games Schenn played for the Canucks after being rescued from the minors probably saved his career. He is good-guy tough, understands his role and seems an excellent depth choice on the right side at anything close to the $767,000 he averaged over the last three seasons on one-year contracts.

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