Kuzma: List of available scorers is dwindling for Canucks
Most of the big free-agent names are off the board, but Canucks GM Jim Benning still hopes to land an player with offensive skills
Canucks GM Jim Benning had high hopes of landing Jarome Iginla in free agency, but the former Bruins forward inked a deal in Colorado instead, where his shot at winning — not to mention the lack of team drama — was much improved over Vancouver.
Photograph by: Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto, Getty Images
In an exchange near the end of what he would describe as a painful season, Ryan Kesler said it wasn’t about coaching in Vancouver. It was about skill.
A lack of offensive support was why the centre waived his no-trade clause, was dangled at the trade deadline and finally moved to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.
He obviously wanted to move to a Stanley Cup contender and joining the league’s top-ranked offence was a no-brainer for the frustrated former Selke Trophy winner.
How difficult it’s going to be for Canucks general manager Jim Benning to replace Kesler’s team-high 25 goals — including nine power-play goals — and two-way effectiveness became evident Tuesday.
Benning worked hard on the first day of NHL free agency, probably harder than many of his peers. He was able to address one of his needs by signing unrestricted free agent goaltender Ryan Miller, 33, to a three-year, $18-million US contract, but he couldn’t get Jarome Iginla or any other free-agent winger to say yes to a team that missed the playoffs yet still thinks it’s good enough to get back there next season.
Iginla, 37, agreed to a three-year, $16-million deal with the youthful and fast-rising Colorado Avalanche. Benning had other irons in the fire but they didn’t heat up to a significant degree, so he went back to work after a news conference to announce Miller. He didn’t make much progress.
“We were close on a couple of occasions,” said Benning. “We’re still in on some things to add scoring and if it doesn’t happen today, maybe it’s the secondary market in the next few days or the week. We still want to add. When I took the job, I said we’re going to do everything we can to make this team be a success and win.
“I think I’ve done that, and we’re going to keep working hard to do that. We were in on it (Iginla) and I can tell you that. I was in Boston last year and Jarome had a very good season (30 goals, 61 points), but he made a decision that he thought was the best for him and his family. So, we have to move to who we think the next player who is going to help us.”
That list of available wingers has dwindled.
There is Radim Vrbata, 33, who had 20 goals and 51 points with the Arizona Coyotes last season and earned $3 million. Benning has discussed the winger and there are five other teams interested in his services, so cost is going to be a concern. There’s also the well-travelled and forgotten Dustin Penner, 31, who had 14 goals and 35 points between the Ducks and Washington Capitals and pocketed $2 million. As the day was winding down, they were still available.
More importantly, coveted free-agent wingers were snapped up in a hurry. Mike Cammalleri went to the New Jersey Devils (five years, $25 million), Thomas Vanek chose the Minnesota Wild (three years, $19.5 million) and Matt Moulson was signed by the Buffalo Sabres (five years, $25 million). When winger David Booth became a compliance buyout, the Canucks added to their available cap space. And because only time will tell if Zack Kassian can transition consistently into a top-six role, it’s a not just a hole — it’s a black hole.
Right now, the second line looks like Nick Bonino between Chris Higgins and Kassian. Bonino had a career-high 22 goals last season on a very good team, but if that’s the alignment he’s going to centre here, it won’t scare any rivals — especially in the Pacific Division where the Canucks won one road game last season (1-8-2) and were outscored 35-14.
The Canucks had $18 million in cap space and while Miller eats up $6 million, signing the trio of restricted free agents in Chris Tanev, Kassian and Linden Vey could eat up $7 million and leave about $5 million to land a decent free agent.
Another problem is convincing free agents to come to Vancouver. It was a freak show here last season from coaching to a crazy system and players pushed to the limit and over the edge.
The pledge is to get back to the playoffs but a roster thin on skill makes that a tough sell. It’s why Iginla chose the Avalanche, but Benning believes the reputation of the Canucks isn’t muddied by last season.
“People realize last year wasn’t a typical year for the team,” he said of the club missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and then firing general manager Mike Gillis and coaches John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan.
“There were injuries and with whatever happened with some of the players’ confidence and other stuff. We’re all going to be on the same page this year. We have a goal, to be competitive and make the playoffs every year.
“We’re going to look at everything. There are still some free agents we’re interested in and we want to add some scoring.”
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