No NHL GM has been busier this summer than Jim Benning. Little more than one week into free agency, the Vancouver Canucks architect had signed 12 players, making a big splash with the addition of Tyler Myers, strengthening the blueline with the signing of Jordie Benn and patching organizational holes with deals for the likes of Tyler Motte, Josh Leivo and Oscar Fantenberg.
But on Wednesday, Benning brought his signing total to a baker’s dozen as the Canucks came to terms with big, bruising winger Micheal Ferland on a four-year, $14-million pact.
On the surface, the signing itself isn’t all that bad. Frankly, given the deal is two years shorter and carries a cap hit identical to the six-year pact handed to Brandon Tanev by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the signing is probably better than fine and quite possibly about $1 million cheaper than most would have expected given how sought after Ferland was heading into the trade deadline. And Ferland has upside for the Canucks: legitimate 20-goal potential, back-to-back 40-point seasons and while his minutes suggest he’s a bottom-six winger, he’s proven he’s a capable top-six scorer if he finds the right chemistry with a pair of linemates. Case in point, he was one of the hottest scorers in the league and formed a dynamite trio with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen while with the Carolina Hurricanes last season.
Ferland has potential to be that kind of fit in Vancouver, too. Depending on who he ends up playing alongside and which unit coach Travis Green favors the winger on, Ferland could spend significant time with either Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat. Both have offensive acumen, both can move the puck and act as set-up men and both would be able to rely on Ferland to be the heavy that digs out pucks or whacks home rebounds. The issue, really, isn’t whether or not Ferland can produce with the Canucks. He can and chances are he will.
Rather, the concern – or concerns – is that signing Ferland feels somewhat redundant and creates a financial logjam that is entirely of Vancouver’s own doing.
While Ferland undoubtedly has more high-end ability and a proven track record of offensive success than some of the others on the Canucks roster, one can’t help but look up and down the Vancouver lineup and see a handful of other mid-range producers who at least partially predicate their play on the type of grinding style that’s a hallmark of Ferland’s game. Just last summer, the Canucks inked pesky winger Antoine Roussel to a four-year, $12-million deal. Jay Beagle, who likewise got a four-year, $12-million pact, isn’t quite as physical, but he’s certainly a grind-line guy. Jake Virtanen was basically Ferland Lite last season, scoring 15 goals and 25 points in 70 games and finishing second on the team with 154 hits. That was 46 hits back of Motte, and even he chipped in nine goals and 16 points of his own in a crash-and-bang role.
More than that, though, the worry about the Ferland deal should come down to money, or, put another way, how the Canucks intend to navigate the impending cap crunch. With Ferland signed, Vancouver now has less than $5.1 million with which to work for the remainder of the summer. Now, normally, given the Canucks have 14 forwards, eight defenders and two netminders primed for big-league duty next season, that wouldn’t be an issue. But with restricted free agent Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s most pure goal scorer, still yet to put pen to paper on a new pact, it’s clear that the Canucks’ work can’t end here unless Boeser is willing to take an extraordinarily team-friendly bridge deal.
It’s not as though there’s a simple cap solution, either. Among those who won’t need to clear waivers if demoted to the minors are Pettersson, Boeser, Quinn Hughes and goaltender Thatcher Demko. All four are NHL-quality, opening-day players. Thus, the Canucks can’t and won’t simply shuffle them to the minors to clear additional cap space. A buyout won’t work, either, because the savings by executing such a move on the only real candidate, Loui Eriksson, would be minimal. And that leaves one option: a trade.
For that, there are candidates, Eriksson being the top choice. That said, moving Eriksson is going to require Vancouver adding a pick or prospect or both, and even then the Canucks still might not be able to move the full weight of his $6-million cap hit. Chris Tanev has been mentioned for seasons on end as a trade possibility, but moving the defender will assuredly reduce Vancouver’s odds of snapping its four-season playoff drought. Maybe that leaves players such as Roussel, Beagle and Tanner Pearson on the chopping block, but chances are Benning would get little in return for any of the three. He’d likely be selling them at a loss, the cap space as the only tangible return.
So, sure, the Ferland signing is a nice bit of business in a vacuum. It’s a solid deal and the right price for a top-six talent who can aid the Canucks’ offense. But it comes with consequences, and Benning will need to address the cap concerns, specifically, in short order, especially with Boeser’s extension on deck.
(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)
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