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Canucks Have Decisions to Make on Young RFAs

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After a 2017 off-season largely filled with the signing of veteran players, it appears the 2018 edition will have a theme largely centered around contracts already within the organization. Indeed, many of the deals at hand will have a large impact on both the team’s present, as well as its future.

Sven Baertschi

Perhaps the biggest name of the bunch, Baertschi could be in for a respectable pay increase. Currently boasting an AAV of $1.85 million, it seems likely that the 25-year-old winger could at least double that number. His pace is currently one that would lead to a career-high 43 points, though injuries will limit his total games played count. Previously, his career high-water mark had been 35 (last year, in the 2016-17 season). This may be where the problem lies. Baertschi, despite his intriguing skillset, top-line placement, and solid production, hasn’t exactly put up monster numbers in terms of points. However, his importance to the team - which is lacking in offensive spark - means he may receive a pay grade above where his actual output sets him. While a bridge deal is possible, look for a length of three-to-five years, and a cap hit anywhere from $3-$4.5 million.

Troy Stecher

Stecher, signed as a college UFA, a couple of years ago, Stecher has developed into a major piece of the Canucks’ defence core. Having started the season regularly as the low-minute man on the back end for head coach Travis Green, Stecher’s game has come around, largely being paired alongside Alex Edler on the team’s top defense pair. Having put up three points in his last five games (half of his total for the year), Stecher appears to be progressing nicely, leading him to, perhaps, a respectable contract come seasons end. The team appears to have two options: a two-year, bridge-esque deal, or a more long-term vision in the vein of four or five years. On a team lacking in young defensive talent, it seems integral that Stecher is brought back, and the direction in which they go will be an interesting one to watch.

Markus Granlund

The story of Markus Granlund with the Canucks has been a peculiar one. After having been acquired for Hunter Shinkaruk in 2016, he was thought to be little more than a depth forward added in hopes of defensive stability. After his first full season with the club, however, he proved he could bring more. The now-24-year-old forward scored an impressive 19 goals in 69 games. Hopes were high coming into 2017-18, and unfortunately, those lofty expectations have not been met. Through 53 contests, he has put up just eight goals (a twelve goal pace over a full season). This leaves the organization in an interesting position - do they re-sign a player based on potential, or cut bait in hopes of making room for prospects (such as Adam Gaudette, or Elias Petterson). Indeed, the untapped potential may be tempting for the organization, though not enough to invest heavily in. This leaves the most likely option being a bridge deal, anywhere between one and three years in length, and somewhere in the range of $2 million.

Jake Virtanen

Jake Virtanen may be the most polarizing player on the entire Canucks’ roster. While some remain tantalized by the speed, the shot, and the size, there is a notable portion that are frustrated by the lack of consistency he plays with. Of course, some of the criticism comes with the hype of being the sixth overall pick in 2014 - and how he’s failed to live up to those expectations. The 21-year-old has had an up-and-down year, making the team out of camp against expectations, but failing to produce at a high-level (with just 14 points in 50 games). Given his billing as a high draft pick, and the amount of time the organization has invested, it is essentially a certainty that he will be brought back into the fold. Again, the most likely outcome for Virtanen is a one-to-three year deal, for a salary cap in the range of $2 million.

Derrick Pouliot

Derrick Pouliot, acquired prior to the season for Andrey Pedan and a 4th round pick (from the Pittsburgh Penguins), has been largely a success. Over the first chunk of the schedule, Pouliot was an offensive contributor, as well as a steady defensive presence (putting up a Corsi comfortably above 50%). However, while perhaps driven by injury, his play has fallen off somewhat, with his Corsi falling to the 44% range over recent weeks and his production largely disappearing. This should not discourage the organization from bringing Pouliot back. The organization lacks young talent on the blue line, making Pouliot (who can play both sides), a valuable asset. His mobility, and relatively savvy offensive instincts are skills largely lacking in Vancouver, meaning the team can’t really afford to be giving him away for nothing. Look for Pouliot to sign a short one- or two-year deal at a cap hit on the lower end of the spectrum.