July 04, 2017

Canucks Gamble on Gagner

One of the more notable signings on free agency day 2017 was the Vancouver Canucks signing Sam Gagner to a three year, $9.45 million contract.

A year ago Gagner was a questionable NHLer at best, a defensive liability just looking for a chance to stay in the league after years of failing to live up to high expectations after a spectacular junior career.

Gagner got that chance in Columbus where he was an unlikely successful reclamation project of coach John Tortorella, who himself was an unlikely reclamation success story.  Gagner responded with a career high 50 points, including 18 goals. He was key part of a red hot Blue Jackets power play.

The Canucks, whose power play could only be described as pathetic the last couple of years, are hoping the right shooting Gagner can connect with the playmaking Sedin twins to rejuvenate the power play. The team is also banking on the return of assistant coach Newell Brown, who was the architect of the Canucks power play years ago when the team was a true contender.

But the Canucks should be a bit wary of Gagner in that Tortorella used Gagner mostly on the fourth line when at even strength. It worked well for the Blue Jackets at times, but he also went through a 30 game goalless drought.

Gagner, by the way, becomes the second son of a Canuck to also play for the Canucks. Sam's father Dave was a really solid NHL for nearly 1000 games. He finished his career quietly with 33 games in Vancouver in 1998-99. From 2008-2013 he also served as the Canucks director of player development.

The other father/son connection in Canucks history is father Jiri Bubla and son Jiri Slegr.

The Canucks are rolling the dice with Gagner, which is really saying something considering they made a much safer bet to plug this hole last year with Loui Eriksson, and that surprisingly failed. But the team made a much better bet on defense by adding Michael Del Zotto. The oft-injured rearguard can be a top four defender for the Canucks or many other teams. And come trade deadline in either of the next two years his small contract will look very appealing to contenders.

The Canucks signing of Anders Nilsson in net is not nearly as exciting. Ryan Miller was heading to family in California so a replacement was needed. Jakob Markstrom faltered last year and was not ready to step up. We're not sure if he can finally now. And Nilsson is even more of a question mark. The Canucks had a lot of problems last year, but goaltending was the least of their concerns. Now it very well might be.

The Canucks also signed Alex Burmistrov and Patrick Wiercioch, who are underwhelming roster fillers at best, and stealing roster spaces from young talent at worst.

In his tenure with the Canucks Jim Benning has made a number of moves that made sense at the time but just never worked out. Del Zotto aside, these UFA moves are underwhelming at best and puzzling at worst.

It would seem the Canucks are committing to another awful season and filling NHL roster spaces so that their next generation - Jonathan Dahlen, Olli Juolevi, Jake Virtanen, Nikolay Goldobin, Thatcher Demko and possibly Brock Boeser - will spend the year together in the minor leagues.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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