Elias Pettersson, Jake DeBrusk and the Canucks winners and losers in free agency

A familiar frenetic churn of reckless, desperate bets characterized the opening of the market and the NHL’s annual free-agent frenzy.

Against the backdrop of a rising salary cap, the NHL’s 32 clubs approached free agency with a certain sense of abandon. Combined, there were over 150 standard player contracts signed on the first day of the 2024-25 league year, and the total amount spent exceeded $1 billion for the first time in NHL history.

During a day of the hockey calendar when more mistakes get made than on all of the other days of the year combined, traditionally speaking, mistakes were made once again.

Some teams improved, some players were overpaid and only a few bargains were found amidst the steady flow of NHL news on July 1. And the Vancouver Canucks were in the thick of the action, signing seven players to contracts worth north of $50 million in total value.

As we sift through the news and analyze what it all means, we wanted to pick out some Canucks winners and losers based on what we’ve seen so far from the free-agent frenzy.


Elias Pettersson

Ilya Mikheyev shared the most five-on-five minutes with Elias Pettersson of any Canucks winger last season. Jake DeBrusk, who Allvin confirmed would start with Pettersson, represents a massive upgrade for Vancouver’s star Swedish centre.

DeBrusk is a good finisher, can fly up and down the wing with his speed and drives solid two-way results. The last time DeBrusk had an elite centre to play with was 2022-23 when he potted 27 goals and 50 points in 64 games on a line with Patrice Bergeron, so there’s a chance he can unlock a higher production level in the 25-goal, 55-60 points range depending on his fit with Pettersson and his power-play opportunity.

In a perfect world, Pettersson would have walked away with Jake Guentzel or Sam Reinhart level star as his shiny new winger. But the Canucks never had an opportunity to bid on those players and with a lot of the other top-six wingers flying off the board, Allvin could have done a lot worse than finding DeBrusk as Pettersson’s new running mate.

Oh, and Pettersson just got a $12 million signing bonus from his new extension officially kicking in.

Adam Foote

Between Ian Cole, Teddy Blueger, Elias Lindholm, Tyler Myers, Dakota Joshua and Nikita Zadorov, the Canucks entered the offseason with six of their most important penalty killers set to hit free agency. Assistant coach Adam Foote, who will be taking over the penalty kill portfolio from the departing Mike Yeo, must have kept a keen eye on the club’s plan to replenish its PK talent.

With so many roster needs to address, it would have been easy for the PK to become an afterthought. Instead, Foote has to be pleased with the short-handed personnel he’ll have at his disposal.

Retaining Teddy Blueger, the Canucks’ forward leader in penalty kill ice time last season was massive given Lindholm’s departure. Joshua blossomed on the PK, especially with his disruptiveness in defending entries, so his extension was good news. DeBrusk and Heinen were regular PK contributors in Boston too, leaving Foote with several forward options.

On the back end, Forbort is a penalty-killing specialist. He averaged 3:00 per game short-handed — just five seconds back of Brandon Carlo for the blue-line lead — on a Bruins penalty kill that ranked top 10 in the NHL. Desharnais played a major role for Edmonton’s PK and Myers’ return is significant too.

Foote should feel comfortable with the smarts, size and experienced PK talent he’ll have to work with.

Danton Heinen

Ever since he was non-tendered by the Anaheim Ducks back in 2021, Danton Heinen has had to scrap to remain in the NHL.

In the summer of 2021, he signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins two weeks after the market opened and performed like a versatile, capable, defensively reliable middle-six forward capable of pitching in some offence.

The next summer, however, he had to wait even longer after the market opened to get another one-year deal with the Penguins. And he performed like a versatile, capable, defensively reliable middle-six forward capable of pitching in some offence.

The next summer, however, Heinen didn’t earn a contract at all. He went to Boston Bruins camp on a professional tryout, and wasn’t signed until October 30th — two weeks after the 2023-24 regular season began. Once he finally earned that deal, however, Heinen performed like a versatile, capable, defensively reliable middle-six forward capable of pitching in some offence.

Finally this summer Heinen got some term and security with his hometown team. It’s a two-year deal worth $2.25 million per season. At long last, after three years working hard to stick around, Heinen has the contract commensurate with his evident abilities as a versatile, capable, defensively reliable middle-six forward capable of pitching in some offence

Jake DeBrusk

DeBrusk secured $38.5 million in total value on this deal, which is nearly five times greater than the last biggest contract he’d signed in his NHL career. This is life-changing money.

There’s also a huge element of security with the seven years of term he received. He was the only winger besides Jake Guentzel and Sam Reinhart to sign for seven years or longer. For reference, comparable wingers like Teuvo Teravainen, Tyler Bertuzzi and Viktor Arvidsson all signed for somewhere between two to four years. DeBrusk is younger than most free agents at 27, which would have made the Canucks more comfortable going long, but he’s probably still thrilled to get that kind of term on the back of a 40-point season.

On top of that, DeBrusk also earned a full no-movement clause for the first three years of his deal. That will transition to a 15-team no-trade list for the final four years of the deal, which is still some decent trade control.

Tyler Myers

The Canucks have tended to build out their blue-line depth in recent years with the apparent goal of bumping veteran defender Tyler Myers down the lineup and into a third-pair role.

Because Myers is a big, reliable veteran that always earns the trust of his coaches, these best-laid plans have usually been for nought. No matter what the club’s depth chart has looked like on a whiteboard in August, Myers has ended up back in the top four year after year with his minutes ticking up throughout the campaign.

This year, however, Myers is clearly ensconced in a second-pair role with the Canucks from the get go. Rather than pursue another top-four option on the right side, the Canucks extended Myers to a deal with term and have opted to make value signings to fill out their third pair.

Myers would’ve probably been magnetized into a top-four role anyway given his history, but this time, it’s by design. And that makes him a major Canucks winner in free agency.

Rick Tocchet

Vancouver’s July 1 moves weren’t just made in a vacuum. All of them were tailored toward aligning with Tocchet’s stylistic preferences and system.

In DeBrusk, Heinen and Sherwood, Tocchet has three new speedy wingers who can excel within Vancouver’s fast north/south playing style. All of them are heavy and reliable on the walls and all of them can be counted on defensively, meaning they’ll be able to adhere to Tocchet’s “staples.”

Sherwood’s distinct identity and grit will make the Canucks’ fourth line harder to play against. Allvin also cited Heinen’s versatility in being able to play both wings and slide up and down the lineup as an important quality to give the coaching staff more options when jugging the lines.

Forbort and Desharnais, meanwhile, give Tocchet the rugged, jumbo-sized defence he covets.

Overall, Allvin didn’t just find good players, he found skaters with the specific attributes and skill sets that Tocchet values within his system.

Patrik Allvin’s discipline

As the market went wild around them, the Canucks were cautious and prudent in their approach to free agency.

Now this caution played itself out on two tracks. On the first track, Vancouver took a sizeable, max-term swing on DeBrusk, a top-six forward who had significant options on the open market. In line with this club’s willingness to pay retail price for the right player who is the right fit at the right stage of their career, the DeBrusk contract is a massive one.

In contrast with most of the massive deals handed out on July 1, however, at least the DeBrusk deal comes attached to a compelling upside case for a relatively young unrestricted free agent. For example, DeBrusk has been a top-line five-on-five rate scorer in Boston over the past three years, and he’s sure to get more power-play opportunity in Vancouver while playing with higher-level playmaking centremen.

Obviously there’s risk anytime a team agrees to a max-term contract with a player in their late 20s, but there’s a straightforward case for DeBrusk to be more productive in Vancouver than he was in Boston.

Which is something we don’t often see on Day 1 of free agency. In free agency, typically, teams are looking for players who aren’t obvious overpays and who will at least still be good enough to help them win games. It’s rare that you have a realistic shot to net actual surplus value in free agency.

That’s what the Canucks were able to pivot and find a way to do in signing DeBrusk to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract on Monday, making it one of the most reasonable contracts of the day.

On the second track, in line with the conservatism Vancouver showed when the market opened last summer, the club made low-cost, low-risk bets on a variety of glue guy free agents to fill out their lineup. Your mileage may vary on Vincent Desharnais, Derek Forbort, Kiefer Sherwood and Heinen as individual players, but locking them up to deals that came in at one- or two-years of term max and between $1.5 million and $2.25 million in annual average value is sharp work.

For a second consecutive year, Patrik Allvin avoided the obvious pitfalls of the free-agent frenzy, operating with commendable shrewdness on the open market.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Oliver Ekman-Larsson will take up nearly $2.5 million of Vancouver’s cap space next season, as a result of the club’s decision to buy out his deal last summer.

Since that buyout, Ekman-Larsson has reinvigorated his NHL career. He played a big-time role for the Florida Panthers this past season, and won the Stanley Cup. On Monday, he signed a four-year, $14 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s been one heck of a bounce-back season for the veteran defender, who struggled mightily during his brief Canucks tenure.


Arturs Silovs 

Vancouver’s two-year, two-way signing of Jiri Patera means that Arturs Silovs officially has competition for the backup position.

Patera’s AHL numbers last season (a .903 save percentage in 25 AHL games) don’t jump off the page but context is key. The 6-foot-3 Czech goaltender was playing behind an awful Henderson Silver Knights team that had the sixth-worst record in the AHL. He has upside as a 25-year-old and has posted a .902 save percentage in eight career NHL games.

It’s going to be a legitimate battle for the No.2 job behind Thatcher Demko, especially because of Silovs’ waiver-exempt status.

Noah Juulsen

Vancouver invested two years of term and $2 million total to bring in a big, tough penalty-killing specialist right-handed defender in Desharnais.

Given the scale of that investment, it’s evident that Desharnais isn’t being brought in to compete with big, tough penalty-killing specialist right-handed defender Noah Juulsen for an everyday spot in Vancouver’s lineup. No, he’ll enter training camp as the club’s defacto third-pair defenseman.

Juulsen appeared in over 50 games for Vancouver during the regular season and played solid hockey. He struggled a bit against tough competition in his two postseason appearances, but overall, performed at the level of an everyday NHL blue liner for the Canucks throughout last season.

The Desharnais signing, however, indicates that the club wasn’t satisfied with just bringing in another depth option to compete with Juulsen for an everyday third-pair spot in the lineup. They clearly wanted an upgrade.

Vasili Podkolzin

Podkolzin’s path to an everyday lineup spot is far from a guarantee after the club’s flurry of winger signings.

Right off the bat, the DeBrusk and Heinen signings severely hinder Podkolzin’s chances of earning a complementary top-nine role out of training camp. Sherwood will have an advantage in battling for a fourth-line wing role too. Podkolzin could theoretically shift on the opposite wing, but beating out Phil Di Giuseppe isn’t going to be easy either because the latter is a favourite of Tocchet.

Podkolzin needs a big summer and training camp, otherwise, he’ll be on the outside looking in for a spot in the opening-night lineup.

Ilya Mikheyev

This probably wasn’t how Ilya Mikheyev drew it up.

Nobody plans on being traded two seasons into a four-year contract and yet Mikheyev was dumped to Chicago in a salary-cap-clearing maneuver less than a week ago.

The Blackhawks aren’t going to be nearly as good as the Canucks, but often one of the silver linings of playing on a bad team can be greater opportunity. But after signing Tyler Bertuzzi and Teuvo Teravainen, Mikheyev may not even be in Chicago’s top-nine plans anymore. It’s a rough spot for the speedy veteran winger to be in.

Patrik Allvin’s ambition

The Canucks entered the offseason with about $27.5 million in cap space, and an opportunity to dramatically revamp a team that seemed to be on the brink of emerging as a credible Stanley Cup contender.

Now, it was never going to be easy to improve the roster. There were too many star performers — Pettersson and Filip Hronek in particular — that were due substantive raises. Too many key depth contributors on expiring contracts.

Still, with real purchasing power, the club entered the offseason with designs on adding a bona fide star-level contributor. Or a significant upgrade to their top four.

With the bulk of their major offseason moves now in the books, Allvin and Canucks management very probably did enough to maintain their level as a playoff team and a dark horse contender in the Western Conference. They managed to keep Teddy Blueger, Dakota Joshua and Tyler Myers in the fold on relatively reasonable deals, shed Mikheyev’s salary with minimal pain and brought in DeBrusk and some interesting free-agent glue guys to offset the departure of Elias Lindholm and Nikita Zadorov.

What they didn’t manage, however, is to enhance the ceiling for what this team could be. To find the Canucks’ answer to the star-level wingers — Zach Hyman, Mikko Rantanen, Jason Robertson — that their top Western Conference rivals will be icing next season.

There’s still time for Vancouver to identify that game-changing piece. The season won’t begin until mid-October and the puck won’t drop on the 2025 playoffs for another nine months. This management group has proven to be dexterous when it comes to upgrading their roster in season.

They may need to be again. On paper this Canucks team will leave the free-agent frenzy looking good enough to maintain the level they surprisingly found last season, but they’re still short some key weaponry at critical spots. More moves will be needed from Allvin and Co. if they want to ensure that they don’t once again bring a knife to a gunfight when they next encounter Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Co. in the playoffs.

(Top photo of Jake DeBrusk: Fred Kfoury III / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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