I'm having a hard time separating the Vancouver Canucks' signing of free agent Michael Ferland from the fact that the team now has way too many bodies and probably not enough cap space.
I gaze with envy at the Colorado Avalanche, who have 20 players signed and $27 million in cap space available to sign four RFA forwards — Mikko Rantanen, who should get a bigger ticket than Brock Boeser, plus new acquisition Andre Burakovsky and incumbents J.T. Compher and Vladislav Kamenev. That's after the Avs have already added Nazem Kadri at $4.5 million, Joonas Donskoi at $3.9 million and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare at $1.8 million during this offseason.
I think Tyson Barrie is going to be a terrific fit on the Toronto power play next season and is going to be up for a huge raise as a UFA in 2020, but it was clear that Joe Sakic wasn't keen to spend what it would take to re-up Barrie on his next contract. So, good on him for cutting bait and getting valuable assets from Toronto in Kadri and Calle Rosen.
Sakic's three-way Matt Duchene trade in November of 2017 revealed him to be a patient, savvy GM who could get creative in order to extract the return that he was after. He has continued to impress ever since. With a super-talented young core, Sakic is now building the Avalanche into a contender and has used his spare cap space strategically to help improve his team — like taking Brooks Orpik's buyout last summer in order to acquire Philipp Grubauer from Washington, and keeping half of Barrie's salary for next season in order to complete his deal with the Leafs.
I wish Jim Benning handled his player acquisitions and cap space as deftly.
On Ferland, the good news is that the Canucks got a pretty good deal by waiting until July 10 to sign him. The terms of four years at $3.5 million per season are a relative bargain when you consider the player was rumoured to be looking for 7 x $7 million when Carolina decided not to work to re-sign him before the deadline last February.
Ferland started off hot and became a quick fan favourite in Carolina when he put up 11 points in his first 12 games in a Hurricanes uniform last October, then added another four goals in November. He played 16:20 a game in October, but saw his ice time drop through the season, presumably as rookie coach Rod Brind'Amour got a better handle on how to get the most out of his group.
Ferland's first concussion of the year occurred at the end of November. That kept him out until just before the Christmas break. When he returned, he didn't score for eight games, but he had a great weekend in early January, putting up a goal and two assists in Carolina's 4-3 win over Buffalo on January 11, then following up with a tone-setting first-period fight with Austin Watson as well as two assists in the Canes' 6-3 win over Nashville two nights later.
If Benning scouted Ferland in those games, while Elias Pettersson was sitting on the sidelines nursing his knee injury after his run-in with Jesperi Kotkaniemi in Montreal on January 3, it's little wonder that he started fantasizing about how Ferland's power-forward game could add pushback to the Canucks while also helping offensively.
When most of us think of Ferland, we think of that playoff series between the Canucks and the Calgary Flames in 2015. The brash rookie threw the Canucks off their game with his battering-ram playing style and three points in the deciding Game 6 of that series, when the Canucks jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead before Ferland got the Flames on the board and kickstarted a comeback that turned into a 7-4 Calgary win.
I'm not going to go into next season expecting Ferland to be that kind of a difference-maker in every game. But with troublemaker Antoine Roussel likely sidelined until Christmas as he recovers from his knee surgery, I can see how this agitating dimension could be useful for Vancouver — and how Ferland's scoring touch is also an asset.
I worry about his injury history, but he actually has played more than 70 games in all four of his full NHL seasons.
Even more, I worry about what all these new acquisitions are doing for the incumbent Canucks. Are Sven Baertschi, Josh Leivo and Nikolay Goldobin the next to land on the Sam Gagner scrap heap? How do they feel about their chances of getting top-six ice time or power play time next season when they hear Ferland make a comment like this?
According to CapFriendly
, the Canucks have now used up 45 of their 50 NHL contracts and have 24 players signed for next season. That includes 14 forwards without RFAs Brock Boeser and Goldobin—and also doesn't include Adam Gaudette, who's listed in the minor-league section.
This feels like last summer all over again. What are they going to do with all those bodies?
Sure, it'd be great if they could clear cap and roster space by moving the contracts of Loui Eriksson and/or Brandon Sutter, but neither of those moves are going to be easy to make. Tim Schaller is probably going to be bound for Utica with a little less than half of his $1.9 million salary lingering on the Canucks' books.
Given Benning's excitement over his new acquisitions, I assume that if everyone is healthy, the top six on opening night will be some permutation involving Ferland, Miller, Boeser and Pearson on the wings with Pettersson and Bo Horvat.
That leaves Sutter and Jay Beagle centering a group that will be built from...
....Baertschi, Leivo, Goldobin, Virtanen, Motte, Schaller and Eriksson....with Roussel on IR. And not even a sliver of opportunity for Gaudette or Zack MacEwen or another prospect from Utica to compete for a job in training camp.
On a conference call with media this morning, Benning didn't offer any clear roadmap of how he plans to deal with his extra bodies.
As for the salary cap, I'm not so concerned about the near term. I think they'll be all right with the opportunity to use the extra cap space generated by Roussel's injury, even after Boeser is signed at a respectable number. But I shudder to see where they'll be at in two years, when Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are due for their second contracts.
Reading between the lines, I think the Canucks' desire to put themselves back into the mix of playoff contenders has as much to do with Jim Benning's tenuous job security as it does with ownership's wish for a splashy and successful 50th anniversary celebration.
Will it work? We saw St. Louis win a Stanley Cup after making significant changes last offseason. But the Blues also had to go through months of torture—and pull an all-world goalie out of nowhere—before their unlikely run took hold.