The biggest question mark for the Canucks heading into the 2013-14 season is at centre, or, as Ben Kuzma is fond of saying, the Canucks have a “riddle in the middle.” Henrik Sedin is firmly entrenched as the first line centre and, in theory, Ryan Kesler will be fully healthy and ready to centre the second line.
The other two centre jobs, however, are up for grabs. The Canucks have a number of options, from veteran free agent signing Brad Richardson, to sophomore Jordan Schroeder, to 18-year-old first round pick Bo Horvat, but each one of those options is filled with uncertainty. Richardson could slot in as the third or fourth-line centre and could even move over to the wing if need be, but he was also a frequent healthy scratch with the Los Angeles Kings. Schroeder’s ability to handle larger players in the defensive zone and provide offense at the NHL-level is still in question. And Horvat is, well, 18.
It would be in the Canucks’ best interest to add a few more names to their list of centre options, but the Canucks’ funds will be limited once they re-sign Chris Tanev. As much as I might want the Canucks to acquire Mikhail Grabovski, they simply can’t afford him unless he takes an insane paycut. Instead, they’ll have to look for cheaper options, either by signing a legitimate centre to a cheap contract before training camp or by inviting some veterans with more uncertainty to camp to provide competition and potentially earn a contract.
The Canucks have brought in veterans to battle for roster spots in training camp in the past, such as Peter Schaefer, Owen Nolan, and Todd Fedoruk. That’s not he most inspiring group of players, but with the lowered salary cap, there are still some valuable free agents on the market who might be available on bargain basement prices.
Here are five free agents that the Canucks should consider bringing in as competition.
The Canucks need to fill spots on both the third and fourth lines. Aside from the aforementioned Richardson, Schroeder, and Horvat, the Canucks also have Brendan Gaunce, Mike Santorelli, Kellan Lain, and Hunter Shinkaruk. Given the number of unproven prospects in the mix, bringing in a veteran or two to challenge for those roles would certainly provide some peace of mind.
Over the past couple of seasons, Halpern has started the vast majority of his shifts in the defensive zone and still posted very respectable puck possession numbers, while winning a lot of faceoffs. Most importantly, he would be very cheap to sign, coming in at just $700,000 last season. He could be a fit on the fourth line and penalty kill, though at 37, he may not have much left in the tank.
The biggest issue, however, might be that he was on John Tortorella’s Rangers last season and seemed to fall out of favour with the Canucks’ new coach, getting waived and claimed by the Montreal Canadiens.
The Canucks were rumoured to be interested in acquiring Reasoner back in 2011. At 36, the veteran Reasoner is on the downside of his career, but he could still be a fit on the fourth line and penalty kill and he can still win faceoffs. He has also provided a modicum of goalscoring in his career, but may not be able to do so at this point.
I have to believe that Steckel will be signed by someone before NHL training camps open as he is the prototypical big-bodied, defensive specialist, faceoff-winning fourth line centre. He’s more of a second-unit penalty killer, but the Canucks do have a bevy of other options on the penalty kill. If he’s not signed in the next month or so, the Canucks should certainly consider signing him to a league minimum contract to compete with Kellan Lain, who projects to be a similar player in the future.
This may raise some eyebrows, as the injury-prone Connolly couldn’t even stick with the Maple Leafs last season and went unclaimed on waivers when they sent him to the AHL. That’s a Tim Connolly who was on a $4.75 million contract, however. Might he be willing to take a one-year contract worth $1 to $1.5 million in order to resuscitate his reputation and career?
Connolly was miscast in Toronto, first as a first-line centre and then as a checking-line centre. In Vancouver, he could potentially be neither, centring a more offensively-oriented third line with the second and fourth lines taking more defensive responsibility. Connolly is a talented playmaker and could centre the second unit on the powerplay.
I might be out to lunch on this one, but I think he would be worth the risk on a cheap contract to, at the very least, ensure that a young centre like Schroeder, Gaunce, or Horvat has to earn their spot in the lineup.
How can I not mention Wellwood, one of PITB’s all-time favourites? The perennially unsigned Wellwood is once again a free agent, despite some good seasons in San Jose and Winnipeg. Wellwood is a sublime puckhandler and has superb underlying puck possession statistics. Even while playing bottom-six minutes, Wellwood drives puck possession, which makes him a better defensive player than most might expect.
Would Canucks fans accept a retread and, more importantly, would Tortorella accept a player who drives possession but doesn’t hit or block shots? When he’s as effective at the former as Wellwood is, I would hope so. Wellwood can also win faceoffs and is a decent option in the shootout, so he has those minor arguments in his favour, but Wellwood seems to suffer from the “seen him good” problem; he doesn’t look like an effective hockey player, so in some people’s minds, he couldn’t possibly be an effective hockey player.
I would love to see Wellwood come back to the Canucks on a cheap, one-year deal to challenge for a spot on the third line, though I am admittedly biased. On a cheap enough deal, however, he would provide no risk, as he could be waived if he is outbattled by a younger player.Tags: Blogs are for lists, the conundrum at the core