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PITB's NHL Free Agent Frenzy Meta-Liveblog Spectacular!

Will the Canucks be able to re-sign any of their big-name free agents: Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli, or Chris Tanev?
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Will Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev re-sign with the Vancouver Canucks? photo: Dan Toulgoet, Glacier Media

The NHL's Free Agent Frenzy is finally here, three months after it normally would arrive. It comes with some significant questions for the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks had three big-name players heading to unrestricted free agency and they were expected to at least attempt to re-sign all three: Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli, and Chris Tanev. Now it's an open question whether they'll re-sign any of them.

That leaves things wide open for the Canucks: who will replace those players in net, on the wing, and on defence?

Then there's Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who set a deadline of Friday for a trade from the Arizona Coyotes. Can the Canucks complete that trade while simultaneously shedding a bad contract or two? 

We'll be keeping an eye on those stories throughout the day. Refresh often: new updates will appear at the top of the liveblog.

2:46 pm - I'm going to call the liveblog here, folks. it's been an interesting day, with the Canucks filling just one hole in their roster, but plenty of time to address other needs. Benning expressed an interest in still re-signing Chris Tanev, so that door isn't closed yet, but the Canucks need another defenceman and a top-six forward.

A long, oddly-timed offseason awaits. Can the Canucks find some bargains in free agency? Can they shed salary in a trade? Will they be a better team heading into next season?

2:35 pm - Jim Benning went through the usual assurances on his Zoom call with the media: they're looking at all avenues to make the team better, whether it's free agency, the trade market, or their prospect pool.

While he was clearly disappointed that he couldn't get Jacob Markstrom re-signed, he still had some kind words to say.

"First of all, I'm extremely happy for Jacob and his family today," said Benning. "You know, for him to sign a contract like that that sets his family and him up for the rest of their lives."

While Markstrom isn't married and, as far as I'm aware, does not have a girlfriend, it's still a nice sentiment. And, if Markstrom does decide to start a family sometime in the future, his $36 million contract will certainly set that family up for the rest of their lives. 

"I joked with [goaltending coach Ian Clark] this morning like you're doing too good of a job with our goalies," said Benning. "You're getting them to the point where we can't afford to keep them anymore."

Here's hoping Clark can work his magic with Braden Holtby in the coming season. 

1:41 pm - The no-movement clause (NMC) has been confirmed in Markstrom's deal. As much as the term and cap hit weren't a fit for the Canucks, the NMC was likely a deal-breaker. The Canucks believe in Thatcher Demko as the goaltender of the future and were not willing to risk losing him to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Likewise, Markstrom did not want to risk being claimed to play for an expansion team.

Honestly, as much as it hurts to see the team's MVP signing for a division rival, it was likely the right move to let Markstrom go. 

1:35 pm - Things are quieting down now. Still a lot of big names on the market, with Markstrom the biggest contract of the day. The Canucks don't have a lot of space to work with and some serious holes to fill. Given they're not buying anyone out, it's unclear how they're going to fill those holes and make a significant improvement heading into next season.

1:10 pm - And it's official. Markstrom gets six years at $6 million per year. It's understandable why the Canucks would be hesitant to go with that kind of term and cap hit, but their cap crunch is of their own design. 

1:05 pm - Elliotte Friedman is reporting that Markstrom to the Flames is a done deal.

Meanwhile, the Canucks are reportedly interested in Tyson Barrie, a player they've been connected to multiple times in the past. Barrie would fill the hole left by Tanev and Stecher on the right side, but likely at a high price.

Also, Barrie has some significant defensive issues. He can rack up points, but I don't know how much better he would actually make the Canucks that much better.

1:00 pm - Justin Schultz, who once spurned the Canucks, has signed with the Washington Capitals. Two years at $4 million per year is a pretty hefty price to pay for someone with significant defensive issues and questionable durability. 

So the Rangers add both Schultz and Jack Johnson, two defencemen who don't really play defence all that well, to a team that already struggled to defend. Um...why?

12:48 pm - Something to keep in mind as the Seattle Kraken expansion draft approaches next year and fans fret about the Kraken being gifted a great team: the only reason the Vegas Golden Knights were so good so quickly was because the Florida Panthers gifted them 2/3rds of a top line — Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith — so they could protect Alex Petrovic.

That shouldn't happen again. 

12:37 pm - One intriguing element of the Canucks' signings — RFAs Zack MacEwen and Tyler Motte, and UFA Braden Holtby — is that all three are two-year deals where more actual cash is paid out in the second year of the deal.

MacEwen is $700,000 in the first year and $950,000 in the second year. Motte is $1 million in the first and $1.45 million in the second. The big one, however, is Holtby, who gets paid $2.9 million in actual salary in the first year of the deal and $5.7 million in the second.

You have to think that's a reaction to the current financial situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. League revenues are down and there's no guarantee when fans will be back in arenas, particularly in BC, which has had more restrictions on public gatherings than some other NHL cities. Limiting actual cash spending next year appears to be a priority.

An added bonus, if Holtby gets claimed by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, the Canucks won't have to pay out that $5.7 million owed to Holtby. They'll pay him just the $2.9 million for one season. 

Also, didn't mention it earlier, but Kevin Shattenkirk left the Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning and signed with the Anaheim Ducks. That's a bit of a step down, but I guess he's already got a Cup.

12:33 pm - Craig Button and Carlo Colaiacovo are yelling at each other about John Tavares on the TSN broadcast. It would be more entertaining if they weren't connected remotely and could actually come to blows in the studio.

Also, why are we talking about John Tavares, who is not a free agent, right now? Ah, right, everything has to be about the Leafs. 

12:25 pm - I wrote up some extended thoughts on the Braden Holtby signing, along with some quotes from his media availability on Zoom. There are a lot of reasons to be happy about Holtby signing in Vancouver, even if it's a bit of a gamble that he can return to form after a poor year.

Meanwhile, Matt Benning, Jim Benning's nephew, signed a two-year deal in Nashville worth just $1 million per year. A right-hand shot who is solid defensively and a good penalty killer, I thought he might be a nice fit to replace Troy Stecher. Surprising to see him sign for that little. 

12:09 pm - I'm stunned that Jack Johnson got yet another opportunity after he was bought out by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The New York Rangers signed him to a one-year, $1.15 million deal and that's still too much. Utterly baffling.

12:05 pm - Braden Holtby is not only very well-spoken in his media availability, he's devastatingly handsome, with classic hockey hair and a beard that commands respect. 

11:24 am - During Tyler Motte's media availability over Zoom, he gave a shoutout to The Broadscast, which has been selling "Motte Girl Summer" t-shirts in support of mental health initiatives. Motte has been open about his own mental health struggles, so it's something that hits close to home for him.

11:19 am - No Markstrom and no Toffoli, but there's still a chance the Canucks bring back Chris Tanev. With the team apparently moving on from Troy Stecher, can they afford to lose two of their right-side defencemen?

Also, the TSN broadcast is talking about having "not enough cream in here" which is weird. At some point during Free Agent Frenzy, the broadcast usually goes off the rails. Not sure we're quite there yet, but getting close.

11:02 am - Added details on the Holtby deal: he has a partial no-trade clause, but not a particularly limiting one. He can name four teams that he doesn't want to be traded to. That doesn't prevent the Canucks from exposing him in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft and it gives them plenty of freedom to make a trade in the future.

10:49 am - It doesn't affect the Canucks anymore, but Anton Khudobin is also off the market. He returns to the Dallas Stars on a three-year deal.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators have re-signed Matt Murray, who was an RFA. They traded for him and got a deal done in short order. It's a four-year, $25 million deal. He could have gone to arbitration and likely gotten a higher salary, but four years gives him some long-term security.

10:41 am - Looks like Jacob Markstrom will be landing in Calgary with the Flames, though it's not a done deal.

That adds an extra wrinkle to the rivalry between the Canucks and Flames, as they'll have to face their MVP multiple times per year. The other wrinkle: how will Markstrom perform away from Ian Clark as a goaltending coach?

10:16 am - BIG CANUCKS NEWS!

Seriously. The Canucks have signed Braden Holtby to a two-year contract worth an average annual value of $4.3 million. 

First reaction: I don't like this at all. Holtby is a great human being, love him as a person, but he was dreadful last season with an. .897 save percentage. Hoping a 31-year-old goaltender will bounce back is a risky proposition.

The wild card: Ian Clark. If Clark likes Holtby and believes he can help him get better, maybe Holtby will work out just fine.

10:10 am - We saw a lot of little deals in the first hour of free agency. One and two-year deals, mostly under $2 million. What we haven't seen is the big names and the big money. 

That might be a reflection of the uncertainty of the pandemic and the flat cap, it may just be the lack of a negotiation period ahead of free agency, or it may be a combination of the two. There's also the Seattle Kraken expansion draft next year that could affect things: players may want to negotiate a no-movement clause to avoid the possibility of being claimed by the Kraken.

Are the Canucks going to be in on any of the big names like Taylor Hall or Alex Pietrangelo? Should they be? It might be for the best if they stay quiet in free agency, look for bargains later on, and accept that they might be a little bit worse next season. They don't want to saddle themselves with too much big money when they need to re-sign both Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes next year.

10:00 am - Another goaltending option off the boards: Cam Talbot is signing with the Minnesota Wild. He's been overworked in the past and struggled because of it. Would've liked to see him in more of a tandem role.

It's a three-year deal with an average annual value of $3.67 million per year. Decent gamble for the Wild, who needed to solidify their goaltending.

9:50 am - Henrik Lundqvist, as expected, is signing with the Washington Capitals on a one-year deal. He's a player I liked as a potential 1B with Thatcher Demko if the Canucks can't re-sign Markstrom, but he's off the market.

What are the Canucks going to do with their goaltending? Overspend on a big-name free agent like Braden Holtby? Get a cheaper veteran like Louis Domingue? Sign a really tall goaltender that might just be two kids in a trenchcoat

My preferred option: Anton Khudobin. As long as his asking price doesn't go up too much after his playoff run with the Dallas Stars, he's quietly been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL over the past few years. He'd be a great option to split starts with Demko.

9:36 am - More Canucks news! Jake Virtanen has filed for salary arbitration. That's not surprising and it doesn't mean Virtanen will actually go to arbitration: lots of players sign a contract before actually reaching arbitration.

Virtanen has a very good arbitration case as it's based primarily on the numbers, and his numbers are pretty solid: 18 goals last season. If the Canucks were worried about arbitration when they didn't qualify Troy Stecher, Virtanen's arbitration could be an even bigger issue.


Okay, so it's just a new contract for restricted free agent Tyler Motte. But still, Canucks news!

Motte has signed a two-year deal with an average annual value of $1.2 million. That's an acceptable deal for a fourth-line penalty killer, though you can look at what Maroon, a much better player at 5-on-5, just signed for — two years at $900,000 per year — and quibble. But the Canucks love Motte, particularly after his performance in the playoffs.

9:28 am - The Lightning are bringing back two of their physical depth players from their Stanley Cup win: Pat Maroon and Luke Schenn. 

9:20 am - Bobby Ryan, recently bought out by the Ottawa Senators, will be signing a one-year, $1 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings. He's a player I was interested in for the Canucks, along with a couple of other players that got bought out, simply because such players can usually be had on the cheap.

The Dallas Stars, for instance, got good value out of Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera in depth roles after they were bought out. Because they're still collecting a paycheck from their previous team, bought out players have more financial security than most and can afford to take a cheap, one-year deal.

9:15 am - Would Tyler Johnson make sense for the Canucks? He's a versatile forward that can play every position up front and has four 20+ goal seasons. He had 29 goals just two seasons ago. He creates a lot of offence for him and his teammates, but is a bit of a liability defensively.

He's available for free if you claim him off waivers: he doesn't cost you any assets, just money off the cap.

Unfortunately, his $5 million cap hit for four more seasons hurts, especially for a team as tight to the cap as the Canucks. I don't see a fit.

9:06 am - Oliver Ekman-Larsson is staying in Arizona with the Coyotes according to his agent. The Canucks couldn't get a deal done by the deadline set by Ekman-Larsson and his agent. That might just be a bullet dodged for the Canucks, as he's not the player he used to be and his $8.25 million contract through 2027 could have become an anchor.

Meanwhile, the first deal of the day has been signed: Wayne Simmonds signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs for 1-year, $1.5 million.

And, perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning is on waivers.

9:04 am - Here we go! Free agency is officially open. Bob McKenzie is reporting that Markstrom is unlikely to re-sign with the Canucks, while the Oilers are expected to give Markstrom a max-term deal: 7 years for upwards of $5 million per year.

8:59 am - Couple updates. Darren Dreger is reporting the Canucks have made another offer for Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Meanwhile, Rick Dhaliwal suggests the Canucks might be interested in Braden Holtby. If the Canucks can't get a deal done with Markstrom, Holtby is not the goaltender I would want them to pursue. Holtby wasn't very good this past season and I would be very wary of him. 

8:55 am - This isn't just a liveblog. It's a meta-liveblog. That means we need to talk about everything that's happening, not just the signings and trades. To wit, Craig Button is the early leader for the "best suit and tie combination" awards with his navy blue paisley tie with maroon accents paired with a maroon coat. Fire.

8:50 am - One of the wrinkles in this year's free agency is the lack of a negotiation period. That means it will likely take time when free agency opens at 9:00 am for deals to actually start rolling in, unless teams have broken the rules and talked to free agents early. 

The Canucks have reportedly offered Markstrom a 7-year deal but he'll be testing free agency to see what other teams can offer. Both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are reportedly interested in signing the Canucks' MVP.