VANCOUVER – Squeezed by a lack of cap space, the Vancouver Canucks tried to fill some holes by signing forward Brad Richardson and defenceman Yannick Weber on Friday’s opening day of NHL free agency.
Like a shopper on a strict budget, general manager Mike Gillis was able to find a couple of bargains to meet some of the Canucks’ needs. Gillis is also planning a trip to Florida to speak with Roberto Luongo about the trade that never happened, and hopes to convince the Olympic gold-medal winning goaltender that he remains an important part of Vancouver’s future.
Richardson, a member of the Los Angeles Kings 2012 Stanley Cup-winning team, fills the need for a centre to play behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.
“It’s a guy we wanted for some time,” Gillis told reporters in Vancouver. “We think he can be a versatile player for us, move up and down the lineup.
“It still leaves us a spot open for one of the young guys to come in and compete for.”
Richardson, who had a goal and five assists in 16 games for the Kings last season, welcomed the move after finding himself a healthy scratch in Los Angeles several times last season.
“To be honest I was super frustrated,” he told a media conference call. “It was really tough. They didn’t give me a whole lot of feedback on why I wasn’t playing either, which was tough.”
Richardson signed a two-year deal worth US$1.15 million per season.
Gillis believes the gritty Richardson has a role with the Canucks.
“The games he played against us he was a very effective player,” said Gillis. “He was a very effective player when they won the Stanley Cup.
“Lots of strange stuff happens in a shortened season. I think this year they tried some other things.”
In Weber, the Canucks get a depth defenceman that can add a right-handed shot on the power player. Gillis compared Weber’s shot to former Canuck defenceman Sami Salo.
“We think there is upside there,” Gillis said. “He’s got a great shot.
“We think he can help us on our power play.”
Weber, 24, spent the last five seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. The Swiss blue-liner has five goals and 27 assists in 115 games with the Habs. He had two assists in six games last season.
Richardson, 28, has 43 goals and 62 assists in 391 career games with Colorado and Los Angeles.
Gillis said he has not spoken to Luongo since the Canucks traded goaltender Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the No. 9 pick in Sunday’s NHL draft. Schneider had replaced Luongo as the Canucks’ No. 1 goaltender last season.
“I am going to go down and meet Roberto as soon as we settle down here,” Gillis said.
“There has been so much stuff that has been misrepresented in what’s going on here. I want to make sure he’s absolutely clear about us and our motivation and what was going it. It was a situation that got really complicated because of the lockout.”
The Canucks had been trying to trade Luongo for over a year, but couldn’t make a deal for the 34-year-old who has eight years left on a contract that plays him $5.33 million a year.
When speaking to reporters at the end of the season, Luongo sounded like a man who wasn’t coming back to Vancouver.
On Friday, Renaud Lavoie of RDS sent a tweet saying: “Roberto Luongo is still looking at his options. We don’t know yet if he’ll accept to go back to Vancouver.”
Gillis was asked what Luongo’s options are.
“Play or not play,” said Gillis.
“Roberto is our goalie. He is under contract here. I am going to go down, go through all the events with him, and make sure we have a clear understanding.”
The Canucks don’t have much spending room under this season’s $64.3 million salary cap. Vancouver has about $5.7 million of cap space and needs to sign four or five players.
Vancouver is still negotiating with defenceman Chris Tanev and fourth-line winger Dale Weise, both restricted free agents.
Gillis said talks are going well with Tanev.
“Chris is a player we feel we have developed and he wants to be here,” Gillis said.
The Canucks also signed minor-league defencemen Jeremie Blain and Alex Biega.