The Canucks have kicked off free agency by adding two veteran forwards on four-year contracts. Both Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle will have an Average Annual Value (AAV) of $3 million for the next four years.
If you’ll permit me a digression, I’d like to talk about the 2013 Superman film Man of Steel.
In the film, Superman battles Zod, a fellow survivor of the destruction of his home planet, Krypton. Zod’s plan is to terraform Earth into a new version of Krypton, thereby saving his entire race. This would have the unfortunate side effect of killing all of humanity, but the old adage about omelettes and eggs applies here.
Zod’s terraforming (or kryptoforming, to be more accurate) is performed in tandem by Zod’s giant space ship and the World Engine, a giant machine that sends a gravitational pulse through the planet, or some other pseudo-scientific process that’s not entirely clear. All that really matters is that there are two giant machines on opposite sides of the earth that are causing a whole bunch of destruction and Superman has to stop them.
One of those machines, Zod’s spaceship, is conveniently placed directly above Metropolis, putting several characters whose names we know in danger, even if the movie didn’t really give the audience any reason to care about them. Thus, the stakes are clear: the machine is going to destroy the city, so Superman must destroy the machine and save everyone in Metropolis, and thereby the entire world.
Except, Superman doesn’t battle the spaceship in Metropolis. Instead, he flies halfway around the world to battle the World Machine in Indonesia, which spawns weird machine tentacles to throw him around for a while. His battle is intercut with people in Metropolis dying as buildings fall on top of them. It’s pretty dark and depressing.
Superman triumphs, of course, and flies back to Metropolis just in time to save exactly one person, Lois Lane, and then kisses her while standing in the ashes of what was once a teeming city, completely unaffected by the death and destruction around him.
In my view, as a long-time fan of Superman, he should have stayed in Metropolis, where he could have done what Superman should do — save people. Instead of disaster-porn shots of buildings falling on people, Superman could have flown through the city, rescuing people from those falling buildings, while desperately figuring out a way to stop the machine from destroying the city.
This would have still had high stakes — can Superman stop the machine while saving as many people as possible? — but would have also made the battle much more personal. Superman would have been face-to-face with the people he was saving, instead of literally halfway around the world.
Now, when I bring up these objections with fans of the film, they’re quick to come up with reasons why Superman had to be halfway around the world while Metropolis was turned into a smoking crater. There was a gravitational force field around Zod’s spaceship, you see. He had to destroy the machine in Indonesia, because he was the only one who could get there fast enough. He had to destroy the World Engine first, or else the entire earth could be destroyed.
All the reasons basically say the same thing: Superman had no choice. But someone else did have a choice: the writer, David S. Goyer.
The defences of that scene fall apart when you realize that it could have simply been written differently. You can’t say, “Superman had to do it this way,” when the writer could have come up with a scenario that involved him doing something different.
Goyer could have written the story in such a way that Superman didn’t have to let countless numbers of people die and a city get destroyed while he was halfway around the world fighting a tentacle robot. The writer wasn’t forced to write those scenes. He had a choice.
So, what does this have to do with the Canucks signing Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel? This:
There were over 10 teams involved on Beagle and Roussel, with the #Canucks low in the standings, they had to overpay on term and money. These were 2 players they really wanted, it is the way free agency works.— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) July 1, 2018
There’s an argument that the Canucks have to pay money and term to free agents in order to get them to sign with a rebuilding team in Vancouver. Specifically, they had to give four-year contracts to two bottom-six forwards. They had no choice.
There was another option, however: they could just not sign them. Jim Benning isn’t Superman, constrained by the machinations of the plot; he’s David S. Goyer, the writer, and he could have made a different choice.
No one forced Benning to sign Roussel and Beagle, so that he had to accept whatever conditions the market dictated. When the money and term got too high, Benning could have simply walked away.
This is nothing against either player, simply their contracts.
Roussel is a player I’ve liked since he was an invitee at Canucks camp way back in 2011. He’s a feisty, pain-in-the-neck-and-other-regions type of player. He helps drive puck possession and he can pop in a few points from the third line, even if he had a career-low in goals last season.
He’ll also drop the gloves if necessary, though he’s not the biggest guy at 5’11”. Essentially, he’s a pest, but one with a bit of talent. Unfortunately, he tends to take just as many penalties, if not more, than he draws.
One issue is that he's turning 29 in November and is likely on the tail end of his prime. That's a concern on a four-year deal.
Beagle, meanwhile, is a fourth-line centre willing to take on extreme defensive usage without complaint, who brings experience, leadership, and a Stanley Cup ring. He’ll ease the defensive burden on Brandon Sutter, assuming this signing doesn’t facilitate a Sutter trade.
Beagle turns 33 in October. Heading into the fourth year of his contract, he'll be 36.
The idea behind these two signings is likely to take pressure off the Canucks’ young players, who presumably won’t have to take as many defensive zone faceoffs or get in as many faces after a whistle. Whether it actually will work out that way is another story; this could just preclude those young players from getting in the lineup at all or force them into more penalty killing and defensive zone situations.
The dollar amounts are a concern — both overshoot the salary projections from Matt Cane by around a million dollars each — but they’re palatable for a team with an excess of cap space in the here-and-now.
The biggest issue is term.
Presumably, the Canucks hope to be a viable playoff team within the span of these two contracts. In that time, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Jonathan Dahlen, Adam Gaudette, and others will need new contracts. That cap space the Canucks have now could disappear a lot faster than you might think, and it could lead to trouble fitting in new free agent signings when it’s time to contend.
That’s assuming, of course, that the Canucks become viable playoff contenders within the next four years. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that these signings parallel those of the Edmonton Oilers under Steve Tambellini.
That team had some fantastic young players — Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jeff Petry — and they tried to insulate those young players with grit and experience. They signed guys like Darcy Hordichuk, Eric Belanger, Ben Eager, Boyd Gordon, and Andrew Ference.
They missed the playoffs for ten straight years.
Instead of signing two bottom-six forwards for four years at $3 million, they could have been more patient and found similar players at cheaper prices and lower term.
Kyle Brodziak, a capable fourth-line centre, signed with Edmonton for two years at just over $1 million per year. Derek Ryan, a good third-liner, signed in Calgary for $3.1 million — less than Roussel — for just three years. Or there's Tobias Rieder, a 25-year-old centre who kills penalties and has some upside, who signed with Edmonton for just one year, $2 million. And those are just deals that were signed today. Bargains can be found throughout the summer.
Some people will really like the Roussel and Beagle signings — a lot of people likes Man of Steel — as they felt the Canucks were too soft and needed some added toughness and grit. The issue is whether these signings will make the Canucks any better now or in the future.
The future is the biggest concern.