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Canucks Targeting Defenceman In Free Agency; Who Should They Go After?

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Jim Benning mentioned to the media following the Kevin Bieksa trade they he'll be active on July 1st trying to land a defenceman after clearing out $4.5 million in cap space; the Canucks head into free agency with approximately $8.3mill to play with. Here's a look at 7 potential defenceman that the Canucks could afford to sign in free agency.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Benning Interview

Jim Benning freed up a sizeable amount of cap space by moving veteran defenceman Kevin Bieksa to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a 2nd round pick in the 2016 draft on Tuesday. The Vancouver Canucks head into the NHL free agent frenzy on July 1st with $8,230,834 in cap space, according to GeneralFanger.com.

With that in mind, the Canucks still need to re-sign restricted free agents Sven Baertschi, Alexandre Grenier, Frank Corrado and Adam Clendening, four players that could be in the Canucks lineup come fall.

The Canucks are unlikely to add much up front as they have an abundance of bottom-six forwards competing for spots come training camp. Many fans of the team would rather prefer to see prospects such as Sven Baertschi, Alexandre Grenier, Jake Virtanen and Brendan Gaunce given a real chance to crack the opening night roster when they visit Calgary on October 7th instead of substituting them with depth free agent signings.

Vancouver has 12 forwards on their roster will be on their opening night roster barring any transactions. Sven Baertschi is the only RFA forward essentially guaranteed to be on the Canucks roster come opening night because of waiver restrictions that isn't currently signed.

Benning reaffirmed this notion of having younger players stepping into a role with the team next season when he spoke with the media following the trade with Anaheim.

"Going forward we have to make tough decisions. We want to get younger, we got some young players now in our system," Benning said. "We want to give these young players a chance to play."

If Benning is to be active in the free agent market, it will likely be for a puck-moving defenceman that can lead a breakout with controlled zone entries and ideally boost their abysmal power play units. There's a logjam in the forward groups and it seems Jim Benning would rather spend money on a defenceman and rather let a prospect of two round out the forward group.

"I think we could add another defenseman with mobility, another defenseman that can get back and transition the puck so we spend less time in our own end. That would be the No. 1 thing for me."

Benning also commented on the surprising decision to not tender restricted free agent Yannick Weber a qualifying offer. Weber is now an unrestricted free agent and could potentially sign elsewhere, but Jim Benning seemed confident that they'll get Weber extended on a multi-year contract.

"We're talking to his (Weber) agent and I think we'll get a deal done with Yannick."

If Benning re-signs Weber, it seems likely that he'll pursue a left-handed defenceman considering the Canucks already three right handed shooting defenceman expected to be on the roster next year -- Chris Tanev, Adam Clendening and Frank Corrado.

Defenceman Ryan Stanton is unlikely to re-sign as he was not tendered a qualifying offer, subsequently making him an unrestricted free agent.

The Canucks only have four defenceman signed heading into free agency and could sure use another body in their lackluster d-core.

Losing Weber for nothing could be bad asset management by Benning if Weber gets rewarded for his 11 goals and 11 assists performance in 65 games in the 2014/15 season by another team. The 26-year-old with the big slap shot lead the Canucks defence in goals last season and had 5 power play goals.

Minor-league signing Bobby Sanguinetti is also likely to sign elsewhere in pursuit of landing an NHL contract.

Here's 7 potential unrestricted free agents Benning could target when the insane dollar figures start being handed out on the morning of Canada Day:

Matt Irwin

27, LHD 2-way defenceman with offensive capabilities

2014-15 contract: $1,100,000 with the San Jose Sharks
From: Brentwood Bay, British Columbia


Matt Irwin just completed his third full season in the Nation Hockey League and registered a career-high 8 goals in 53 games played with the San Jose Sharks. A product of the Nanaimo Clippers and UMass-Amherst, Irwin could be a promising late blooming defenceman that has progressed in every single year since making his debut in 2012. Could see increased power play time if picks up where he left off last season. Irwin averaged 17 minutes a game with the Sharks and mostly played with Scott Hannan, Brent Burns and Matt Tennyson. Irwin finished second only to Brent Burns in Points/60 and Shots/60. Irwin finished with a 51.5 CF% last year that ranked. Because of Irwin's impressive 0.5 Goals/60, Irwin is likely to command somewhere in the market of  $3.5 - $4 million per year especially with his desirable 6'2", 210 lbs size. Jim Benning may have just enough wiggle room to get Irwin signed. Irwin would be a great comforting cushion to play alongside Frank Corrado or Adam Clendening.

From Hockeysfuture.com:

Talent Analysis

Irwin is a big, strong puck-moving defenseman who likes to jump up into the rush as the trailer and has a blast from the point. He has the offensive skills to lead the power play and has good vision to make the tape to tape outlet passes. The Big blueliner needs to play with more physicality while improving his defensive zone positioning and board play down low to play at the NHL level.

Christian Ehrhoff

32, LHD with booming shot that could benefit PP

2014/15 contract: $4 million with the Pittsburgh Penguins
From: Moers, Germany


The former Canucks defenceman was an integral part of the Canucks power play that was successful in leading the team to the Stanley Cup final in 2011; Ehrhoff posted 44 and 50 points in his two season in a Canucks uniform and found chemistry with Alexander Edler. Ehrhoff is coming off an injury-riddled season in Pittsburgh where he was limited to 48 games and only picked up 3 goals on offensively gifted Penguins team. He's show in the past that he can play either side on D, which could be useful since the Canucks plan to bring in two right-handed shooting d-men in Corrado and Clendening. His ability to carry the puck well through the neutral zone is  exactly what the Canucks need from their back end as they try to seek more production from the blueline. Ehrhoff was bought out of that ridiculous 10-year contract that he signed with the Buffalo Sabres and may not be seeking a absurd amount of money like the majority of the free agent d-men, which may be a positive for Benning if he tries to land the former Canuck. If Benning can get Ehrhoff on a cap-friendly contract in the neighbourhood of $3.25 million for one-year contract, then bringing back Ehrhoff would be a relatively low-risk move with the potential for vast benefites on the mad advantage.

News 1130 tweeted out back in May that Ehrhoff's agent Richard Curren told the radio station that Ehrhoff had interest in returning to Vancouver.


Matt Bartkowski

27, reliable stay-at-home LHD is a safe player

2014/15 Contract: $ 1,150,000 with the Boston Bruins
From: Pittsburgh, PA

There were rumblings in the regular season that Jim Benning was shopping Zack Kassian to the Bruins for his former player Matt Bartkowski. Benning knows that if he signed Bartkowski he'd be getting a reliable defenceman that is a tremendous skater. Listed at 6'1" 196 lbs, the He'd fit nicely in a top-four pairing and would likely come cheap. Limited offensivly , Bartkowski has just managed to pot one goal in 151 games with the Boston Bruins.


Matt Hunwick

30

LHD solid bottom pair that can move the puck. Competitive leader. Needs to improve skating

2014/2015 contract: $600,000 with the New York Rangers
From: Warren, MI

The former University of Michigan native has seen his production drop ever since putting up 6 goals and 21 assists back in 2008-09 with the Bruins in 53 games played. Hunwick the 2013-14 season in the American Hockey League playing for Lake Erie (Colorado Avalanche). Hunwick found himself back in the league this past season on a cheap contract from the Rangers and performed reasonably well finishing with a 52.8 CF%. It's expected Hunwick will command closer to $1 million this offseason and could be a great replacement for Ryan Stanton who would come affordable. Hunwick saw time mostly paired with Kevin Klein and Keith Yandle last season in New York.


Talent Analysis

First and foremost, Hunwick is a responsible player in his own zone. He is strong in his defensive positioning and decisive in reading his coverage as evidenced by his team leading +14 rating. He is an asset carrying the puck up the ice and is an integral part of Michigan’s transition game. On the power play, Hunwick moves the puck quickly and makes hard, sharp passes. His shot from the point is average at best.

John Moore

24, LHD former 1st round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009

2014/15 contract: $850,000 with the Arizona Coyotes
From: Winnetka, IL


Moore was acquired by the Coyotes in the deal that saw Keith Yandle head to the Big Apple on the trade deadline day and finished the season with 2 goals and 9 assists in 57 games split between Arizona and New York. Drafted 21st overall, Moore is an exceptional skater and can really move the puck well for a player listed at 6'3" and 202 lbs. The Coyotes made a rather shocking move by not qualifying Moore. He'd be a nice piece to add to the Canucks blueline that would instantly add youth, size and speed. Moore generates shot attempts at a very high rate. This would be a great signing if Benning if he could add Moore for under $2 million per year since his value slightly dropped from not being tendered.

From TheHockeyNews.com:

Has a big frame and owns exceptional skating ability. Can play an offensive role when it's required, but is otherwise a very steady defender. Shoots the puck with aplomb. His speed is useful everywhere.


Mark Barberio

25, LHD offensively orientated that is a defensive liability. Great skater, makes solid pass and have great puck control

2014/15 Contract: $874,125 with the Tampa Bay Lightning
From: Montreal, PQ

Barberio is another young defenceman that was not tendered a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent by Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Barberio was scratched down the stretch as the Lightning geared up for their Stanley Cup playoff run; Baberio suited in only one Lightning playoff game (Game 4 of Eastern Conference Finals). Barberio registered only 7 points (1-6-7) in 52 games after putting up 5 goals and 5 assists in 49 games in 2013/14. He's only 25-years-old and could be worth to take a mild risk on given he was stuck behind Nikita Nesterov and Slatter Koekkoek in the Lightning depth chart. Barberio could flourish in the Canucks lineup given the chance. He's listed at a sturdy 6'1", 200 lbs and could add on more weight to help his balance. He's intellectually talented enought to quarter back a power play unit.



Talent Analysis

A highly-touted offensive blue liner, Barberio can lead the rush, make the smart first pass out of the zone and quarterback the powerplay. His puck control skills and his low, hard point shot makes him dangerous in all situation. Barberio has improved his defensive play but can still struggle at times when faced with physical pressure. As with many offense-oriented defensemen, he had a knack for being overly creative and taking high risk chances early in his junior days.




Matt Donovan

25, another LHD that can move the puck for a stocky player

2014/15 Contract: $826,875 with the New York Islanders
From: Edmond, Oklahoma


Matt Donovan's best asset is his skating ability because he comes in at a firm size thst'ds low to the ground. He must continue to add on more size to his frame and needs to be more physical at the NHL level as he continues to grow as an NHL defenceman. Known to make bad decisions with the puck. Donovan has tallied 19 career points in 67 games in an Islanders jersey. Produced at a 0.63 PPG in the American Hockey League with the Bridge Port Sound Tigers in 147 games. He's capable of seeing some power play time in the NHL. Another possible puck-moving d-man Jim Benning could sign rather easily.

From: HockeyFutures.com

Talent Analysis

Donovan is a big puck-moving defenseman. He makes a great first pass and has great vision. He has the ability to anchor the power play as well. In his first pro season he has shown a lot of improvement in his foot speed and will continue to improve all aspects of his game.

Canucks fans hoping Benning will sign former Vancouver Giants d-man Cody Franson will be disappointed to hear that the Canucks general manager will not overpaying for a defenceman.


"We’ll meet Monday and we won’t be in the high-end free agency market, but if there’s something that makes sense and we can improve our team, we’re going to look to do it."


**Contracts taken from GeneralFangar.com and statistics taken from war-on-ice.com