The Canucks have a problem: they only have five proven NHL defencemen and one of those five is coming off the worst season of his career. On top of that, with the departure of Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher, only one of those five is a right-hand shot.
It’s not surprising, then, that the Canucks might still be in the market for another defenceman, preferably with a right-hand shot.
According to a report from Bob “The Moj” Marjanovich on TSN 1040, the Canucks are interested in signing Travis Hamonic, with one particular person driving that desire.
“One of the things I’ve heard over the weekend, and [Rick] Dhaliwal’s also on this as well, is that Travis Green is really making a case to management to try to get another defenceman in,” said Marjanovich. “And the guy that I think he would like to see coming to Vancouver is Hamonic.”
It makes sense that Green would want Hamonic. The Canucks’ head coach, along with defence coach Nolan Baumgartner, has a preference for playing defencemen on their strong side — left-hand shots on the left and right-hand shots on the right. Heading into next season with not just one, but two defencemen playing on their off-sides can’t feel very comfortable.
Currently, Tyler Myers is the team’s only proven NHL defenceman with a right-hand shot. Nate Schmidt is expected to play on the right side, where he’s played big minutes for the Vegas Golden Knights, but the third pairing is more of a conundrum.
Jordie Benn was arguably the Canucks’ worst defenceman last season, but he’s the only option left for the right side, where he had some success with the Montreal Canadiens before signing in Vancouver. In terms of right-side depth behind Benn, the Canucks only have question marks: prospects Brogan Rafferty, Jalen Chatfield, and Jett Woo.
Adding Hamonic, a 30-year-old defenceman with a lot of experience, would make sense for the Canucks. It would also be poetic to sign a Flames free agent after they signed so many of the Canucks'.
"A one-year 'show me' deal."
Hamonic averaged over 22 minutes per game over the course of his career, generally playing a physical, shutdown role. In some ways, he’s similar to Chris Tanev, playing big minutes on the penalty kill and blocking a ton of shots: over the last three seasons, Hamonic has blocked 95 shots on the penalty kill, tenth most in the NHL. Tanev has blocked 94.
The question is why isn’t a defenceman like Hamonic already signed? Why is he still available in free agency?
There are a couple of issues for Hamonic. One is that he’s coming off a pretty terrible season. The other is the flat salary cap and loss of revenue due to COVID-19, meaning teams don’t have money to burn on defensive defencemen that might have lost a step.
Hamonic is coming off a seven-year contract with an average annual value of $3.875 million per year. The Canucks can’t afford to pay him anywhere near that much — few teams could — and it seems that no teams are willing to do so. If he was hoping for a raise, he picked the wrong time to have a bad year.
The best bet for Hamonic is to take a cheaper one-year deal, hope for a bounceback season, and try to get a longer-term deal in free agency next year. That puts Hamonic in the realm of possibility for the Canucks — if they can find a way to create the cap space.”
“I’m hearing that Calgary and Vancouver are in on Hamonic and whoever can clear enough space — the Flames are trying to make room as well — will probably wind up getting Hamonic on a one-year deal, a one-year ‘show me’ deal at this point,” said Marjanovich.
The Flames have a little uncertainty of their own on defence, with Nikita Nesterov, coming off three seasons in the KHL, expected to play on the right side of their third pairing. Nesterov is a left-hand shot, so bringing back Hamonic does make some sense. After spending big on Chris Tanev and Jacob Markstrom in free agency, however, the Flames are short on cap space and still need to sign restricted free agent Oliver Kylington.
There is one way the Canucks could clear cap space, but it’s out of their hands.
Will Micheal Ferland play next season?
“It all starts with [Micheal] Ferland and his situation, if they can put him on long-term IR,” said Marjanovich.
The Canucks signed Ferland last offseason to a four-year, $14 million deal worth $3.5 million per year. In the first year of his contract, however, Ferland barely played. Already with a significant concussion history before signing with the Canucks, he suffered another concussion just 12 games into the season in a fight with Kyle Clifford of the Los Angeles Kings.
Every time Ferland tried to return to the ice, he was forced to leave. His first attempt in December was derailed when he threw a hit and immediately felt dizzy. When he went to the AHL for a conditioning stint with the Utica Comets in February, he left the game before the second period with “concussion-like symptoms.”
It was hoped the long break before the playoffs might have given Ferland enough time to recover. He fought Marcus Foligno in Game 1 of the Canucks’ qualifying series against the Minnesota Wild, then played just 2:36 in Game 2. He was declared “unfit to play” and left the playoff bubble.
It’s entirely possible that any attempt to return next season would exacerbate Ferland’s symptoms, but that’s not something the Canucks can control. It’s understandable that Ferland would want to return to play — it’s his life and his career — but it might be in his best interest long term to instead go on LTIR.
There is one wrinkle: reports indicate that Ferland’s contract isn’t insured, thanks to his preexisting concussion history. That means if Ferland goes on LTIR, the Canucks’ ownership will still be footing the bill for his contract. Since B.C.’s health orders will prevent the Canucks from having fans in seats, the team won’t have as much revenue coming in and have already taken steps to tighten their belts.
“I’ve heard from people within Rogers Arena that ownership is willing to spend to the cap,” said Marjanovich. “Now I’m hearing from other people that perhaps the Canucks ownership group isn’t as enthusiastic about spending to the cap. To me, that could be a bit of an issue.”
In this case, it won’t just be spending to the cap, but spending beyond the cap, adding Ferland’s uninsured contract to the rest of the cap hits for players on the roster.
How much cap space could the Canucks clear?
According to Canucks’ GM Jim Benning, Ferland was still not cleared to play as of 11 days ago. It’s unclear if Ferland will be at Canucks’ training camp when it starts in early January.
If Ferland goes on LTIR, that could clear enough space to fit Hamonic on the roster if the Canucks are willing to spend the money. With Sven Baertschi sent down to the AHL and cheap depth in Jayce Hawryluk and Guillaume Brisebois on the roster, the Canucks would have a little over $2.4 million in cap space. They could get up to around $2.7 million by burying Loui Eriksson in the minors and keeping Zack MacEwen on the roster instead.
That might be enough for Hamonic on a “show me” deal for one year, particularly if he can’t find a long-term deal anywhere else. Last year, after a strong season and with no one seeing a pandemic in the future, he likely could have commanded $5 million per year on a multi-year deal. This year, he may have to take what he can get.
Signing Hamonic would be an immediate upgrade, especially if he can bounce back from a bad year. He could pair with Olli Juolevi on the third pairing to show the rookie the ropes or with Benn if Green and Baumgartner prefer a veteran pairing.
Most importantly, Hamonic would provide injury insurance if one of the Canucks’ top-four defencemen got hurt, as he has plenty of experience playing big minutes.