We’re now well into the so-called ‘dog days’ of summer, where the days are longer and the amount of hockey news is sparse. Free agent signings, meanwhile, have also essentially ground to a halt. As we discussed in our roundtable last week, the pickings are pretty slim – but that isn’t to say the cupboard is completely bare. Sometimes, teams manage to come to terms with a player who makes a significant impact well after July 1st. While this has become increasingly rare, there are always bargain signings at this stage in the summer that pay dividends down the round. In Vancouver, the Canucks have had their fair share of hits (and misses) with late signings. With so little else going on in Canuckland these days, let’s have a little fun and take a look back at some late – that is, after July 15 – signings in team history.
Ryan Walter – July 1991
Walter – a B.C. native – came home to Vancouver after eight seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, where he won a Stanley Cup in 1986, and played in another Final in 1989. He had battled injuries and recorded only one assist while playing 25 games the season previous, so the signing was a bit of a gamble for Canucks. The club needed a replacement for the soon-to-depart Steve Bozek (coincidentally, another B.C. native). Walter played two relatively unspectacular seasons in Vancouver to finish out his career. His most notable accomplishment was likely being one of Pavel Bure’s first regular linemates in Vancouver. He spent a number of years as the colour commentator on local Canuck television broadcasts, and then eventually had a short stint as an assistant coach in the early Mike Gillis era. He also did stuff like this:
Rick Vaive – September 1991
This name should sound familiar, right? After all, he was an original Canuck draft pick who managed to score 50 goals with another NHL franchise. But he didn’t finish his career as property of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, or Buffalo Sabres – the teams for which he played the majority of his NHL career. No, he finished it as property of the team that drafted him. Vaive was no longer the player he once was earlier in his career, but the Canucks felt he would be a good mentor to their prospects down on the farm in AHL Hamilton. Vaive played one season with the Baby Canucks as a player-assistant coach and then retired from professional hockey.
Mark Messier – July 1997
It’s important to remember, given how universally reviled this signing is by nearly all Canuck fans, that this signing was viewed as a huge win for the franchise at the time. Messier was coming off of a 36-goal, 84-point season with the Rangers, and even at 36 wasn’t really showing any signs of slowing down. He was (and still is) considered one of the best leaders in sport and the Canucks had looked decidedly leaderless during the previous season. Although his tenure with the Canucks was a complete and utter disaster, dividing the team and turning away the fans, this was still a massive signing at the time. Heck, it would still be a massive signing today – though probably not a good one.
Arturs Irbe – August 1997
The Latvian goaltender’s signing in the late summer of 1997 flew largely under the radar, thanks to the aforementioned Messier signing, but it was arguably the better deal. In a season of turmoil, Irbe and his one-year, $800,000 contract were one of only a few bright spots. He managed to record an above-.500 record (14-11-6) on an awful team (25-43-14) alongside a .907 save percentage, the league average, behind the NHL’s worst defensive team. So why wasn’t he re-signed? Burke informed Irbe’s agent following the season that he would only re-sign the goalie as a backup. “We don’t need two backups,” he said at the time. Irbe then bolted to Carolina on another cheap one-year deal and had himself the last laugh. Irbe went 27-20-12 in 62 games with the Hurricanes that year, and recorded an impressive .923 save percentage while finishing eighth in Vezina voting. He played the next four seasons in Carolina, helping them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002. Backup, indeed.
Murray Baron – July 1998
Although technically he signed on July 15, I couldn’t help but include Baron on this list. By today’s standards, Baron’s three-year, $6.6 million contract would look ridiculous. But at the time, it was seen as a decent move to replace the loss of Jyrki Lumme. GM Brian Burke, who signed Baron, felt the plodding defenseman’s leadership, shot-blocking abilities, and overall stay-at-home style would be a good fit with Mike Keenan’s Canucks. Burke would actually re-sign Baron at the conclusion of this contract, allowing him to play for a full five seasons as a Canuck. He scored a mere 12 goals over that span.
Magnus Arvedson – September 2003
It would be easy to forget that Mikael Samuelsson was not the first Swedish experiment on the Sedin line. That honour actually went to Arvedson, who found himself unemployed by an NHL squad almost until the start of training camp. The former Ottawa Senator, who had carved out a nice career for himself as a speedy winger who could score 15-20 goals in a season and play some decent defense (he was a Selke finalist in 1999), was brought in to play alongside the young Swedish twins. Although he had only two goals by January 8, Arvedson suddenly caught fire and scored 6 goals in 4 games before coming down with a career-ending knee injury against Washington on January 31st. Those six goals came after coach Marc Crawford had planted him on the Sedin’s right side. Oh, what could have been.
Raffi Torres – August 2010
Although Torres only played one season in a Canucks uniform, it sure was memorable. The Buffalo Sabres castoff, who had failed to score a goal in 14 regular season games and four playoff contests with the club, was signed to a bargain one-year, $1 million deal in late August. It was a low-risk, high-reward signing that paid off splendidly. Torres found a spot on the Canucks vaunted third line with Manny Malhotra (later Maxim Lapierre), and Jannik Hansen. He scored 14 goals and added another three in the playoffs, including this beauty:
Yeah, I would say that signing turned out pretty well. Time will tell if the Canucks have another one up their sleeves this summer.