Schmidt Trade Boosts D-Corps, But Canucks Must Fill The Void From The Start


VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks entered free will with the ambition to retain star goalie Jacob Markstrom and improve their defense.

They came out of week 1 at 0.500, even though they had lost all of their unrestricted free agents.

Not only were the Canucks unable or unwilling, due to salary cap pressure for the foreseeable future, to keep Markstrom, but they also lost second pair defenseman Chris Tanev and winger from first line Tyler Toffoli. Add in depth defenseman Troy Stecher, whose departure was the most embarrassing for the Canucks because they made him a UFA before trying to recruit him, and general manager Jim Benning pulled all four free agents from the Canucks. In baseball, they call it the Golden Sombrero.

What the Canucks did, however, was add 22-minute mobile defenseman Nate Schmidt of the Vegas Golden Knights for a shockingly reduced price: a third-round pick in the 2022 draft. Schmidt was collateral damage during the season. the $ 61.6 million signing by Knights of free agency top prize defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.

Benning was both good and lucky to have Schmidt, locking him up as a potential target on the first night of free agency – after Markstrom and Tanev signed with the Calgary Flames – then waiting two days to wrap up. the agreement.

Schmidt fulfills the mission of improving Vancouver’s defense. His skating, passing and two-way skills make him an upgrade over Tanev, who will always be missed in the locker room and penalty, and the 29-year-old is expected to be the Canucks’ second-best defenseman behind Quinn Hughes. .

Benning quickly hired Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby to team up with excellent prospect Thatcher Demko in what should be a tandem in the net.

Through player acquisition or development, the Canucks should be able to replace Stecher on the third pair, but that still leaves a hole on the front row where Toffoli was a great temporary fit alongside Elias Pettersson and JT Miller.

The improvement in defense came at the cost of an initial downgrade.

“I’m extremely happy to have Nate Schmidt,” Benning said on Friday. “You look at the free agent market and he’s right up there with the best guys that were available. We’ll end up doing OK on this.

“I will continue to search. It didn’t end just because it’s the end of the week. There is still a lot of discussion between the teams and if I can continue to improve the team, we will.

The Canucks could have re-signed all of their UFAs and been only 0.500 for the week because the defense, which everyone from Benning and coach Travis Green said they needed to improve, would have been unchanged .

The Canucks have candidates within the organization to fill the bottom of the defense. Minor leagues Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty and Jalen Chatfield, as well as college star Jack Rathbone will each have the chance to be part of the National Hockey League roster next season.

But there’s no one to replace Toffoli, which is why Benning is still nibbling at the limits of free agency, seeking a budget forward with an offensive advantage while keeping an eye on teams in case others. players would free themselves.

“In the regular season, let’s not forget, Tyler played 10 games for us,” said the general manager. “So we’re going to come back with pretty much the same group of forwards that we had last year and with our young guys we think they will continue to grow and improve. In doing so, it makes our team better. ”

The Canucks’ cap space has fallen to $ 2 million – an imprecise figure, of course, as restricted free agents Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette are yet to be signed, while there will be savings when Sven Baertschi and / or Loui Eriksson will be demoted to minors and if winger Micheal Ferland and his $ 3.5 million salary go on the long-term injured list.

Virtanen, an 18-goal scorer in the regular season before starting the playoffs in good health, has an arbitration hearing on Oct. 28 and could be awarded a new contract in the order of $ 3 million. If that happens, Benning will have to adjust his roster again and may regret keeping the winger going into this month’s draft.

The Minnesota Wild traded 14-goal scorer Ryan Donato to the San Jose Sharks for a third-round pick, while former seventh overall pick Lias Andersson was distributed to the Los Angeles Kings by the Rangers of New York for a second late.

The Canucks made a qualifying offer to Virtanen, subjecting themselves to arbitration uncertainty as Benning was unwilling to lose the former sixth pick overall like Vancouver lost Stecher: for nothing.

An arbitration settlement would give the Canucks another redemption window, and the team could again consider paying either Brandon Sutter (one year left at $ 4.375 million) or perhaps the fourth liner Antoine Roussel (two years at $ 3 million).

“We’re going to keep all of our options open,” Benning said.

But we doubt owner Francesco Aquilini will allow those extra spending during the unprecedented NHL financial recession, and we know the Canucks are trying to keep their payrolls as clean as possible for 2021-22, when Pettersson and Hughes will have new contracts. As Athletic reported, the team chose to count against next season’s cap all of the surplus bonuses of $ 1.7 million paid to Pettersson and Hughes last season, rather than dividing that sum over two years.

There is an indefinite period until the start of next season, so the Canucks can afford to be patient and vigilant with the roster.

Don’t expect them to sign, as has been suggested, hope bets at the bottom of the list knowing that they can bury any contract up to $ 1.075 million in miners. They will spend enough for Baertschi and / or Eriksson playing in the American Hockey League.

It’s hard to imagine Baertschi playing his way to the Canucks after spending last season with the Utica Comets and becoming undesirable (at his salary of $ 3.37 million) on waivers and on the trading block. But the winger has skills and experience in the NHL, and it would be a heckuva comeback story if Baertschi has an inspired camp and reclaims his old place in the top six, replacing Toffoli.

As 2020 has proven, anything can happen.

“I expect our group to be better,” Benning said. “I expect our young players to continue to grow and improve. We want to continue to build on what we started and move forward. “


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