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  • Kyle Welsford

Free Agency Review 2023

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Report Card


A: Exceptional, Fantastic, Great

B: Good, Solid, Quality

C: Average, Ordinary, Me

D: Bad, Poor, unsatisfactory

F: Terrible, Fail, Insignificant

N/A: Incomplete

 

Teddy Blueger: (1 x 1.9M) - C/LW

(Grade B)


GP: 63 G: 4 A: 12 TP: 16 (NHL)


The Canucks were in desperate need of centers as previous signings haven't worked out and there isn't immediate help within the organization's prospect pool. Teddy Blueger has been a solid defensive bottom-six center throughout his career, averaging 28 points per 82 games.


Blueger's tenure in Pittsburgh undoubtedly played a pivotal role in the Canucks' decision to sign him. Considering the shared background of general manager Patrik Allvin and president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford with the Penguins, Blueger's value became evident. Securing a hard-working, reliable bottom-six forward on a one-year contract worth under $2 million could prove to be a steal.


The one downside I see with this signing is that Blueger isn't known for his offensive prowess. With the gluttony of wingers currently on the Canucks roster it would have been nice to sign a center with higher offensive potential. All in all, this is a low-risk, cost-effective signing that adds to the Canucks center depth!


Blueger will be wearing number 53 for the Canucks :)


 

Ian Cole: (1 x 3M) - LD

(Grade B+)


GP: 78 G: 3 A: 14 TP: 17 (NHL)


The Canucks purged their defence this offseason as OEL, Kyle Burroughs, Travis Dermott, and potentially Ethan Bear will not be returning, thus Patrik Allvin had his work cut out for him. Signing Ian Cole to a one-year deal worth 3 million was a good start as Cole played on the second pairing in Tampa Bay, seeing 19:23 a night, the second most in his 13-year career.


Whilst in the twilight of his career, Cole is still a good penalty killer as he was the second most used player on the Lightning penalty Kill (2:53 PK ATOI) and more importantly was reliable, playing in 78/82 games.


3 million may be a tad of an overpay for a 34-year-old left-handed defenseman, but the contract being for only one year gives the Canucks flexibility. He can easily be traded at the deadline if the Canucks are clearly out of the playoff contention or at the very least not be resigned if his play doesn't live up to expectations.


Ian Cole provides legit top-4 upside, solid penalty killing, and adds veteran leadership to a squad that is desperate for NHL-level defensemen... well done Allvin

 

Akito Hirose: (2 x 787.5K) - LD

(Grade A)


GP: 7 G: 0 A: 3 TP: 3 (NHL)


The Canucks were busy once NCAA free agency began, landing Max Sasson, Cole McWard, and Akito Hirose. Hirose was the most coveted of the signings as he played 38 games for Minnesota State University putting up 27 points. He immediately jumped into the Canucks lineup for the final 7 games of the regular season, notching 3 points while averaging 17:02 of ice time.


Hirose's contract is unique as it features a two-way contract structure in 2023–24 and a one-way contract structure in 2024–25, meaning that he can go down to Abbotsford this season without the risk of a waiver claim. It is important to note that he will be an RFA at the end of the 2024-25 season when he is 26 years old.


Hirose is only 24 years old and will be in the middle of the competition for the last left-handed spot out of training camp. Don't be surprised to see him play big minutes in the AHL if he doesn't make the big club out of camp.


This is another solid contract by Allvin and it is great that he will be an RFA at the end of it!


 

Nils Höglander: (2 x 1.1M) - RW

(Grade A-)


GP: 25 G: 3 A: 6 TP: 9 (NHL)


Nils Höglander's fall from grace hit a new low last season as he only managed to play 25 games in the NHL, spending most of the season in Abbotsford. He suited up for 48 games in the AHL, netting 32 points whilst also scoring 6 points in 6 playoff games.


Höglander is still only 22 years old and has shown flashes of his offensive upside. This short-term prove-it deal seems very appropriate for both him and the Canucks as the low average annual value of his deal makes his contract completely buriable in the minors, and he will be an RFA with a qualifying offer of 1.2M at the age of 24. This gives the Canucks control over Höglander's contract for a minimum of 3 more years!


I really like Höglander, just so many wingers on this team...


 

Matt Irwin: (1 x 775K) - LD

(Grade C+)


GP: 61 G: 2 A: 3 TP: 5 (NHL)


The Canucks went back to the veteran well, signing 35-year-old Matt Irwin to a one-year, two-way contract worth 775K. Irwin previously played in Washington where he saw himself in a very limited role, playing 13:02 a night.


Irwin serves as defensive depth who can play for both Vancouver and Abbotsford. He will be fighting for a spot out of camp with the likes of Christian Wolanin, Akito Hirose, Jack Rathbone, and Guillaume Brisebois.


It's hard to imagine him on the opening roster, but it's possible...


 

Tristen Nielsen: (2 x 870K) - C

(Grade A)


GP: 64 G: 14 A: 27 TP: 41 (AHL)


One of the best surprises from last season in Abbotsford was the emergence of Tristen Nielsen. After dealing with injuries in his first rookie year with the Abbotsford Canucks, playing only 41 games and registering 11 points, Nielsen exploded for 41 points in 64 games, adding 4 points in 6 playoff games.


Nielsen is an incredibly versatile player as he can play all 3 forward positions, is a fantastic penalty killer, and has been used from lines one to four. In all likelihood, he will play in the AHL once again but will be a nice call-up option if a center or two go down in Vancouver.


He will be an RFA at the end of the 2024-25 season when he is 25 years old.


Fun fact! Nielsen played for the Vancouver Giants from 2018-2021. Guy loves the lower mainland!


 

Zach Sawchenko: (1 x 750k) - G

(Grade C)


GP: 41 GAA: 3.10 SV%: .895 (AHL)


With Colin Delia leaving the organization in free agency and taking his talents to Winnipeg, the Canucks re-upped on goaltending depth by signing Zach Sawchenko to a one-year, two-way deal worth 775K.


Sawchenko playing in the AHL for the Chicago Wolves (Carrolina's affiliate) put up some pretty dismal numbers and his 6'1" frame is undersized for Ian Clark's system. Sawchenko is still just 25 years old, and I would imagine that he will be competing for the backup spot in Abbotsford with free agent signing Nikita Tolopilo.


In Ian Clark we trust 🙌


 

Carson Soucy: (3 x 3.25M) - LD

(Grade B-)


GP: 78 G: 3 A: 13 TP: 16 (NHL)


The Canucks continued to bolster their defence as they made their biggest splash in free agency, signing Carson Soucy to a 3-year deal worth 9.75M ( 3.25 AAV). Soucy adds some much-needed size, coming in at 6'5" and the deal will cover ages 29-31, falling at the tail-end of a player’s expected prime.


Soucy isn't an offensive dynamo as he only averages 22 points per 82 games but he has been a consistent defender throughout his career. Since the 2019-2020 season, Soucy has the 14th-best plus/minus for defenders at +63, while averaging 16:17 of ice time. He is a good shot blocker and was a regular on the PK for the Kraken last season.


Over two seasons with the Kraken, Soucy averaged just shy of 17 minutes per game, playing primarily on the bottom pairing. Even with a lack of substantial ice time, Soucy does take a lot of penalties which isn't ideal for a team with a historically bad penalty kill. His contract has a full no-trade clause for the first two years going down to a 12-team no-trade clause in year 3 which also isn't ideal. There will be a modicum of pressure for Soucy to perform well throughout his Canuck tenure and I am sure the Canucks view him as more than a bottom-pairing guy... what could go wrong

I am rooting for Soucy to do well but this signing makes me a tad nervous...


 

Final Thoughts:


Patrik Allvin's second free agency as the Canucks General Manager was a breath of fresh air considering previous years.


Low term + Low AAV = Low Risk.


The Canucks added some much-needed reinforcements to the defensive core and the addition of Blueger should play a key role down the middle. The signings of Höglander and Hirose are both team friendly and both see the player as an RFA at the end of their contracts, a tidy piece of business


Soucy being the longest and most costly commitment is a worthwhile gamble as he brings much-needed size and physicality to the back end while being defensively sound in his own end. I am not convinced he can play regularly in the top 4, but we are surely going to find out this season... trial and error style.

With the additions, is this team good enough for the playoffs?


Grade: B+

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