VANCOUVER – After a busy week there won’t be much relaxation over the weekend for the Vancouver Canucks.
The Stanley Cup finalist Canucks head into Friday’s first day of NHL free agency still talking to some of their own players while keeping a close eye on the talent that comes available.
As of Thursday, Vancouver had not reached a deal with veteran defenceman Sami Salo, who is poised to become a free agent. Salo earned US$3.5 million last year but indicated he was willing to take less money to remain with the Canucks.
Other Canucks scheduled to become free agents are forwards Chris Higgins, who earned US$1.6 million last season; Raffi Torres (US$1 million); Tanner Glass (US$625,000) and Jeff Tambellini (US$500,000).
Salo, who turns 37 in September, battled back from a career-threatening Achilles tendon tear last season. In 27 regular-season games he had three goals and four assists.
He appeared in 21 playoff games, scoring three goals and adding two assists.
The Canucks spent the week getting several of their ducks in order.
They signed defencemen Kevin Bieksa and Andrew Alberts to deals before they became free agents. Centre Maxim Lapierre, who was scheduled to become a restricted free agent, also came to terms.
Vancouver traded the rights of defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, due to become a free agent, when his asking price became too high. The Buffalo Sabres signed Ehrhoff to a reported US$40 million, 10-year contract.
Bieksa agreed to a five-year, US$23-million contract. Lapierre signed a US$2-million, two-year deal while Alberts signed a US$2.45-million, two-year contract.
Vancouver has 16 players under contract for US$52.5 million, leaving around US$11.7 million in cap room.
The Canucks, who lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Cup final, want more depth at forward. They also may be in the market for another defenceman.
A serious back injury suffered against Boston could keep speedy winger Mason Raymond out of the lineup until November. The Bruins also pushed the Canucks around, and Vancouver might be looking for more size on the second and third lines.
Ehrhoff was a mobile defenceman who scored 14 goals last season, six of them on the power play.
The free-agent forwards available include Simon Gagne, Tomas Fleischmann, Ville Leino and Michael Ryder.
Among defenceman are James Wisniewski, Matt Gilroy and Ian White.
Vancouver’s management team have indicated they are in no hurry to make any deals. They could even go the trade route to acquire a player they want.
Backup goaltender Cory Schneider will be paid $900,000 this season before becoming a restricted free agent next summer. After posting a 16-4-2 record last year with a 2.23 goals-against average, he might draw some interest on the trade market.
General manager Mike Gillis has said he’d like to keep Schneider, even though he has Roberto Luongo locked up through the 2021-22 season with a 12-year, US$64-million deal.
Another player the Canucks might offer in trade is centre Cody Hodgson. The former first-round draft pick will be paid US$1.6 million in each of the next two years, but has had trouble working his way into the Vancouver lineup.
The Canucks also have to decide what they are going to do with defenceman Keith Ballard. Despite earning US$4.2 million, Ballard appeared in just 10 of Vancouver’s 25 playoff games and dressed for one game in the final, a 4-0 loss in Game 4.
While Ballard carries a big price tag, he could be packaged in a deal. He also may be attractive to teams looking to reach the US$48.3 million salary cap floor.
The Canucks were active during last year’s first day of free agency. Vancouver signed former Nashville Predator defenceman Dan Hamhuis to a six-year, US$27-million deal. Former San Jose Shark centre Manny Malhotra agreed to a three-year, US$7.5-million deal.
Hamhuis underwent sports hernia surgery last week. He was injured while hip checking Boston Bruins winger Milan Lucic in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. He is expected to be ready for training camp.
An eye injury sidelined Malhotra for the last part of the regular season but he did return to play in the final.