There was only one truly big fish in the NHL free agency market and the Toronto Maple Leafs took care of that, scooping up John Tavares.
The former New York Islander’s homecoming (he was born in Mississauga and raised in Oakville) has tied the Maple Leafs with the reigning champion Washington Capitals and the stacked Tampa Bay Lightning for having the best odds of winning the Stanley Cup.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks were also quite active in free agency, but there were no sockeye or trout to be found by general manager Jim Benning and president Trevor Linden.
The Canucks, as it were, got deep in the shallow end.
After signing five free agents of middling quality last year, you’d think the Canucks would have wisened up a tad. Of those five, only Thomas Vanek has proved to be a good addition, and even that’s muted, as the team got the equivalent of nothing for him at the trade deadline.
But the Canucks once again chased veteran players, insisting on adding grit and intangibles.
And this time, they were expensive.
Age at start of season: 32
Cap hit: $3 million / 4 years
Beagle turns 33 in October. That means that he’ll be turning 36 at the start of the 2021-22 season, the final year of his contract. That’s right, the Canucks have essentially guaranteed a fourth-line centre employment (or at least payment) until he’s 36.
The only other players signed for that long are Bo Horvat, Loui Eriksson, and fellow UFA signing Antoine Roussel (we’ll get to him next).
It should be obvious that this is an incredible overpayment for a player that’s best suited to a bottom-six role. He was one of the worst forwards in the entire league when it came to advanced stats last year, even on the Washington Capitals, who won the Stanley Cup. So yeah, smart money is on his underlying stats being absolutely horrific next year.
There are a couple reasons why Benning signed this deal. The first is toughness, as the management team felt that the Canucks got bullied repeatedly last season (it’s a trend you’ll see throughout all three signings yesterday). That’s fair enough; Trevor Lewis's hit on Brock Boeser certainly struck fear in the hearts of Canucks fans hoping slight Elias Pettersson will debut in the NHL in 2018-19.
But there’s a rule around toughness in today’s NHL: you absolutely do not pay a premium for it.
The league is built around skill these days (something the Canucks obviously know if you look at the way the club has drafted), and adding players who can’t skate or win the possession battle will only hurt your team. Yes, it’s helpful having players who can physically punish the opposition and play defensive minutes, but paying a premium for guys that are good at faceoffs (Beagle is one of the better faceoff men in the league) is foolhardy.
Another reason the team brought Beagle in: they want their young players to be able to play offensive minutes while the tough defensive situations are allocated to vets. Well, guess what, that means younger players like Adam Gaudette, Brendan Leipsic, and Jake Virtanen, who are ostensibly well-equipped for bottom-six roles, may be edged out or forced to play reduced minutes.
A two-year deal would have made sense for Beagle. He’s apparently good in the dressing room, so sure, bring him in to boost team morale during what will almost certainly be a couple rough years. To have him clog up the middle of the ice for four years in his mid-30s is just a terrible waste of space.
And to those who think the Canucks will be able to ship him out to a contender in the final couple years of the deal, sorry, but that’s not happening. No team is taking on a contract like that for a player that will surely be in decline then, if he’s not already.
The Canucks have plenty of cap space; the money is not the problem. The length of the contract is. It won’t be long before it becomes terribly apparent that this was a bad move by Benning.
It’s understood at this point that other teams had interest in Beagle, and because the Canucks are bad, they had to offer more. Pretty easy solution for that one: walk away.
Age at start of season: 28
Cap hit: $3 million / 4 years
The Roussel and Beagle contracts will forever be linked, which makes sense as they are identical and were given on the same day, and both players project to play in Vancouver’s bottom-six.
There are, of course, four years separating the two players, as Roussel will turn 29 in November.
Without mentioning the price or length of the contract, the Canucks taking on Roussel is not a bad idea. The former Dallas Star is an entertaining agitator who has registered over 100 penalty minutes each year over the last five.
He’s clearly meant to be a replacement for the retired Derek Dorsett, and he’s a good forechecker who might be able to create havoc in the form of turnovers for his linemates to pounce on.
And after scoring 25 or more points a year for four straight, he had a bit of a rough 2017-18 season, with only five goals and 12 assists in 73 games.
That can sometimes be a positive thing for an incoming free agent, as it usually means the team got him on the cheap.
Au contraire! The Roubaix, France, native signed for far more than his output last campaign would indicate. It’s another four-year deal that will hamstring the Canucks as they attempt to get younger players into the lineup.
Comparable players to Roussel, even ones who had better 2017-18 seasons than him, like Derek Ryan, Riley Nash, or Tobias Rieder, all signed for less time than the four years that Benning apparently had to dish out.
Roussel is a worthy addition to the Canucks and will be fun to watch. However, it’s a bad contract that will only look much worse if it turns out Roussel’s latest season was the beginning of his decline.
Age at start of season: 27
Cap hit: $1.9 million / 2 years
Another player who spent most of last season on a good team’s bottom-six, Schaller was a Boston Bruin for two years and endeared himself to the Beantown faithful with his workmanlike play. It also didn’t hurt that he’s from New Hampshire, an hour away from Boston.
In him, the Canucks are adding yet another grinder. His skill set is somewhat limited to a fourth-line role, as the forward put up 22 points in 82 games on one of the league’s best teams.
For comparison’s sake, Ryan Spooner put up more points on the same team in less than half the games.
Data analyst Matt Cane predicted that Schaller would rake in just over a million per year on a two-year contract. So it seems that Benning overpaid once again to add some more sandpaper to the lineup.
Indeed, a player like Scott Wilson (14 points in 49 games last year) would be a comparable to Schaller. He got just over a million per year for two years from a bad team in Buffalo. Kyle Brodziak scored 33 points in 81 games for St. Louis and signed for two years at $1.15 million per.
Like Roussel, Schaller is not a bad signing in a vacuum. You could see him fitting in as an agitating winger on the Canucks’ fourth line. But with the other acquisitions, it seems pointless, and very clear that Canucks fans will be denied an opportunity for the full-on youth movement that this management team seemed in favour of only a week ago.
With all the signings, the Canucks are left with a forward unit that might look something like this:
Not a lot of forward progress there.More