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Canucks expect veteran Travis Hamonic to help guide young defence corps

VANCOUVER — On the 10th day of Christmas, the Vancouver Canucks signed defenceman Travis Hamonic.

The lords-a-leaping were general manager Jim Benning and coach Travis Green, who saw the backwards step their team suffered in free agency last October narrow considerably with Sunday’s addition of Hamonic on a professional tryout agreement.

Don’t let the PTO aspect of the transaction fool you. When concussed winger Micheal Ferland and his $3.5-million cap hit are shifted to long-term injured reserve just before the season starts on Jan. 13, the 30-year-old Hamonic should join the Canucks’ roster on a bargain one-year contract.

The sides are believed to have established parameters for the deal.

It will complete an upgrade of the Vancouver blue line, which lost steady second- and third-pairing defencemen Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher in free agency, but have replaced them with first- and second-pairing players in Nate Schmidt and Hamonic.

This improvement should be enough to offset the free-agent loss of starting goalie Jacob Markstrom, although new Canuck Braden Holtby and incumbent prospect-backup Thatcher Demko still need to perform better in 2021 than they did last season.

Players underwent physical and medical testing Sunday ahead of Monday’s first training camp practice sessions at Rogers Arena. Meanwhile, the Canucks’ projected lineup looks strong enough to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs next spring in the extraordinary all-Canadian division that starts a 56-game schedule in 10 days.

“He’s an experienced player that we know can come in and help us,” Benning said Sunday of Hamonic during a videoconference with reporters. “I’m excited that he chose to come in and sign a PTO with us because I think he’s going to help with our back end.

“When we talked about bringing him to camp … one of the things that came up is we’re going to have some young players on defence this year and he can help with their development. He’s a veteran player, he plays with passion, he plays hard and we think he’s going to be a good fit with our group.”

Hamonic averaged 21:12 of ice time last season with the Calgary Flames, usually in matchup minutes, but was not re-signed after opting out of the Flames’ summer playoff bubble due to health concerns for his two young children.

Despite an impressive career and robust play in a defensive role, he became one of many NHL free agents squeezed by the coronavirus-caused recession within the league.

The Canucks’ six-man defence looks like this: Quinn Hughes-Schmidt; Alex Edler-Tyler Myers; Olli Juolevi-Hamonic.

Juolevi, the 22-year-old who made his NHL debut during the Canucks’ surprising playoff run, is one of the defencemen Benning hopes Hamonic will help mentor.

The Canucks get really young at the depth positions, where veteran Jordie Benn will be pushed by rookies Jalen Chatfield, Jack Rathbone and Brogan Rafferty.

“I think what (Hamonic) can provide is a lot of things that you need to win,” Green said. “Blocking shots, end of the game … penalty kill, hard defensive minutes that you need to win. It’s not always offence that wins; it’s two-way and defensive hockey as well, and I think he can bring that to our group.”

Hamonic, who is starting his seven-day NHL quarantine after flying to Vancouver from his Winnipeg-area home, isn’t the only Canuck awaiting a new contract.

As they sat a socially-distanced six feet apart for Sunday’s press conference, Benning and Green had yet to agree on a contract extension for the coach, who has overseen the development of the Canucks’ young stars and the steady improvement of the rebuilt team.

There is no doubt Green has earned a new contract and raise – from an entry-level NHL deal reportedly worth $1 million annually to something in the coaching mid-range of about $3 million – but like Hamonic, he is squeezed by the current financial situation.

Benning reiterated Sunday his intention to re-sign his head coach when there is more clarity about the NHL’s financial future, but having Green enter the season on an expiring contract – in a rabid Canadian market – is hardly ideal. Just wait until the Canucks lose consecutive games.

“It’s an exciting time to be a Canuck right now,” Green said. “I haven’t hidden that I want to be here long term. I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what we are as a team and where we’re going. With our conversations with Jim, I’m fine where we are right now and hopefully we can work things out and I can be here for awhile. It is no secret I love coaching here and I want to win here.”

Green is excited about the season, too, and the unprecedented North Division.

“I know there’s been a lot of uncertainty in everyone’s lives, but you know hockey brings back a little bit of normal for a lot of people,” Green said. “We’re kind of in uncharted waters here in an all-Canadian division. Everyone knows the passion for hockey in Canada. It’s going to be a very exciting season for players, us coaches, fans. But not just fans of the Canucks, but the fans of hockey throughout Canada. We probably won’t see this again and it’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be an amazing year, really.”

Notes: With Ferland still home in Manitoba, Benning said he was unaware of any medical issues involving players at camp… Besides Hamonic, Eastern European prospect Lukas Jasek and junior goalie Arturs Silovs still face quarantine restrictions… Benning said he doesn’t expect to reassign players to the taxi-squad or minor-league Utica Comets until the Canucks name their 23-man roster for the Jan. 13 season-opener in Edmonton.

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