Sergei Belski: USA Today Sports
You can tell hockey season is just around the corner when the professional tryouts start rolling in. That’s usually one of the first signs that summer is almost at a close.
For Canucks fans, though, it’s often an off-season ritual their favourite team’s notably absent from more often than not. In fact, the last PTOs the Canucks offered were to a geriatric Owen Nolan and Todd Fedoruk back in 2010-11. It’s been a while, really.
To their credit, the Canucks haven’t had the need to. They’ve been mostly competitive, or at least expected to be, for all but the last two-three years and didn’t have many holes they could plug with a veteran tryout. That or they’ve tried to keep as many openings for young players as possible.
While you could certainly make the case that the Canucks are in a similar position to the two I broached for years past, their publicly stated need for help in the middle of their lineup indicates they’re still looking for a helping hand. I’ve a few suggestions in mind, on the other side of the jump.
For whatever reason, Justin Fontaine’s had a difficult time cementing his status as a full-time NHL’er. Fontaine, 28, is a what you’d call a late bloomer, having made his NHL debut with the Minnesota Wild in his age-25 season in 2013-14. In that first campaign, Fontaine notched a respectable 21 points in limited ice-time and produced healthy underlying results. In the season’s that have followed, he’s hit 31 and 16 points respectively.
I’m of the mind that Fontaine’s underlying results overstate his true talent. Frankly, I have a hard time seeing Fontaine scored at a high-end second line clip in a second line role. In general, though, I think he’s provided enough offensively in the past to suggest he can produce offence at a level that exceeds the fourth line ice-time he mired in season after season.
For a team that struggled to score last season, taking a flyer on someone with Fontaine’s pedigree would be a savvy, inexpensive and relatively risk-free move. At the very least, he could prove to be cheap deadline fodder for draft picks, should the season go awry.
The Canucks are a team that likes to use speed through the neutral zone to dictate the flow of play. They haven’t made that clear with their depth pick-ups in recent off-seasons, though. They could take a step in the right direction by adding Gabriel Bourque, who although slight in stature, is speedy and relentless on the forecheck.
You’re not going to get much in the way of offence from Bourque. That’s not been his strong suit at the NHL level, though. He’s going to score like an average to above average fourth liner and wreak havoc on the opposition at both ends. Bourque is just a disruptive player. The Canucks could use a few of those.
This one is sure to raise eyebrows, but there’s a method to the madness here, I swear. For starters, the Canucks couldn’t couldn’t score goals to save their lives last season. While Alex Tanguay’s been on the ice these last few seasons, he’s done exceedingly well at creating an environment where his team can convert on an abnormally high amount of their chances.
Consider for a second that only five players have exceeded Tanguay’s 10.2 On-Ice Sh% in the last five seasons. That list includes Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Jiri Hudler and Ondrej Palat and the sample is sizeable enough that it can’t or shouldn’t be brushed aside as luck.
Tanguay’s teams only converted on 8.77% of their shots last season, which shows that age is starting to take its toll on the veteran playmaker. Still, players who play a playmakers game are known to age much better than their finisher counterparts. Tanguay could very well have another one or two productive seasons left in him.
I don’t think the Canucks are going to go this route for late additions to their lineup. I’m not even entirely sure I would in their shoes. It’s not like there are a wealth of openings in their lineup. In fact, one could argue that quite the opposite is true.
Still, injuries can happen and in the event they do, it would serve the Canucks well to have the market cornered on serviceable replacements. At the very least, signing some of these players means they can protect their established veterans from the rigours of the pre-season and the potential for injury. There is the pre-season veteran minimum to consider after all.