Fantasy Take: Canucks Sign Gagner, Del Zotto, Nilsson

by Ian Gooding on July 1, 2017

The Vancouver Canucks have signed three players: forward Sam Gagner to a three-year contract worth $3.15 million per season, defenseman Michael Del Zotto to a two-year contract worth $3 million per season, and goalie Anders Nilsson to a two-year contract worth $2.5 million.

After breaking the bank for the underperforming Loui Eriksson last summer, the Canucks have decided to approach 2017 free agency with a number of smaller signings.

Yes, there is a hint of “trying to stay competitive” as opposed to full rebuild with these signings. The terms suggest that these players won’t be flipped at the deadline. And these players as a whole aren’t necessarily plug-and-play type players that can succeed in all situations.

On the other hand, the Canucks needed another NHL-level goalie with Ryan Miller likely heading to Anaheim and Thatcher Demko not yet ready for the NHL. They lost two regulars on the blueline in Nikita Tryamkin (KHL) and Luca Sbisa (Vegas). And they can always use more scoring and power-play help so that younger players aren’t placed in situations that they’re clearly not ready for.

Being a backup in Buffalo doesn’t carry much fantasy appeal. But Nilsson has been a sneaky-good goalie. His 2.67 goals-against average in 2016-17 was middle of the pack for goalies that played at least 25 games, but his .923 save percentage was 10th among goalies in the same grouping. Jacob Markstrom has been proclaimed the Canucks’ new starter, but he has never played more than 33 games in an NHL season. Not to mention that his NHL number have been average at best throughout his NHL career. So penciling in Nilsson for 30-35 starts isn’t out of the question. Don't forget that he very nearly stole Cam Talbot's starting role by December of Talbot's first year in Edmonton before Talbot righted the ship.

The Del Zotto signing is designed at improving blueline depth while providing the Canucks with another power-play option from the point. MDZ has recorded just one power-play point over each of his last two seasons, but that total should climb on a Canucks’ team that had the 29th-ranked power play in 2016-17 and clearly lacked bona fide blueline options for said power play. There’s also decent value with hits and blocked shots.

There is an opportunity for minor improvement to Del Zotto’s value with the signing. But that value spike could be mitigated if he misses more time due to injury (average of 56 games played over the last three seasons). Some of those missed games were healthy scratches, but that seems unlikely in Vancouver at this point. The Del Zotto signing also means that Jordan Subban (fantasy scouting profile here) could be back in the AHL next season, and that Olli Juolevi (fantasy scouting profile here) could be back in the OHL or even sign in Europe (he is ineligible for the AHL).

Gagner’s signing is a clear attempt to improve that power play. In fact, Steve compared Gagner to the NHL’s version of a designated hitter. Gagner scored a rather unexpected 50 points with Columbus last season, but over half (26 points) were on the power play. Gagner was eighth among Jackets’ forwards in even-strength icetime (13:42 per game) but up to fourth in power-play icetime (2:25 per game). He could easily maintain that power-play time while improving on that even-strength icetime.

Before July 1, the Canucks were looking at this top 9 (not necessarily meant as actual line pairings):




Gagner qualifies as both a center and a right wing on Yahoo. His faceoffs won total (202) suggests that he played both positions last season. Assuming one of Brock Boeser (fantasy scouting profile here) and Nikolay Goldobin (fantasy scouting profile here) isn’t ready quite yet (more likely Goldobin, but it wouldn’t be out of the question to assume both), Gagner could move up to a top-6 role. So although Gagner could be used at center, the Canucks are more likely to use him as a right wing. Don’t assume Gagner will reach 50 points again, but that probably wouldn’t have happened again regardless of the team. A total of 40 points with heavy power-play point concentration would be a more reasonable projection.


Fantasy Players this helps, in order:

1. Nilsson

2. Del Zotto


Fantasy Players this hurts, in order:

1. Gagner

2. Goldobin

3. Subban

4. Boeser


Fantasy owners are currently weighing in on the Forum – give your take here!