7 Zadorov replacements Canucks could target in free agency

The Vancouver Canucks and Nikita Zadorov have reportedly halted contract talks after the defenceman rejected the team’s first offer.

The free agent defenceman has the chance to get paid this summer, and he might prove to be too costly for the Canucks.

The Russian player was one of the Canucks best players during the postseason. He proved his value many times over, and if he leaves, there will be a hole in the team’s defence group that needs to be filled.

The good news for the team is that this year’s free agent defence class has many intriguing names. There are no Zadorov clones, but there are players who can replicate one of the Russian defenceman’s most desirable attributes: his size.

In many cases, the players on this list aren’t going to be as good as Zadorov, but they can give you that same hulking, physical blueliner at a fraction of the price. If the Canucks want to save money, this might be the best they can do on their third pair.

While these players may struggle to fully replace everything Zadorov does and are unlikely to be as funny as the 6-foot-6 behemoth, they could hopefully provide a similar physical impact at a much lesser price point.

1. Brenden Dillon

  • 2023-24 stats: 77 GP, 8 G, 12 A, 20 PTS
  • Age: 33
  • Height: 6-foot-4
  • Weight: 225 lbs

Brenden Dillon is a BC-born defenceman who recently said he would be open to returning to Vancouver in an interview. He had the most points of anyone on this list last season and brings a similar physical edge to that Zadorov provides.

He’d likely be the most expensive player on this list, but he would still fall a few million dollars per year short of Zadorov.

2.  Jani Hakanpää

  • 2023-24 stats: 64 GP, 2 G, 10 A, 12 PTS
  • Age: 32
  • Height: 6-foot-7
  • Weight: 222 lbs

Jani Hakanpää is the tallest player on this list and one of the tallest across the entire league. While he hasn’t been helping the Dallas Stars on this playoff run due to injury, Hakanpää is a solid third-pairing player who can help on the penalty kill.

As a right-handed defenceman, Hakanpää suits a need for the Canucks. While he doesn’t offer the skating, puck-moving, or powerful shot that Zadorov has, Hakanpää can replace that size factor for a fraction of the cost.

3. Josh Brown

  • 2023-24 stats: 51 GP, 3 G, 7 A, 10 PTS
  • Age: 30
  • Height: 6-foot-5
  • Weight: 220 lbs

Josh Brown has established himself as a tough depth defenceman over the past two years with the Arizona Coyotes. Now that the team is moving to Utah, Brown could also be on the move somewhere else as he’s set to be an unrestricted free agent.

He had 10 points in 51 games this season, including a goal against the Canucks, as he showed a bit more offensive pop. Could playing in Rick Tocchet’s system alongside better players unlock another level for Brown?

4. Joel Edmundson

  • 2023-24 stats: 53 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 6 PTS
  • Age: 30
  • Height: 6-foot-5
  • Weight: 221 lbs

Veteran Joel Edmundson was a popular name at this year’s trade deadline, eventually moving to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s a third-pair guy, much like Zadorov, but Edmundson brings a ton of experience and a Stanley Cup pedigree to the table. He could be an important voice in the room for the Canucks, similar to the role Ian Cole played this season.

5. Derek Forbort

  • 2023-24 stats: 35 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 4 PTS
  • Age: 32
  • Height: 6-foot-4
  • Weight: 216 lbs

Derek Forbort only played 35 games this year as he struggled with injuries. Before that, he had three consecutive seasons with at least 10 points as he carved out a regular NHL role for a few different teams.

He’s big and can help on the penalty kill. Forbort is not going to be a key defenceman or a massive contributor but he provides size and the ability to play while down a man, valuable traits in a depth player.

6. Jack Johnson

  • 2023-24 stats: 80 GP, 3 G, 13 A, 16 PTS
  • Age: 37
  • Height: 6-foot-1
  • Weight: 227 lbs

The 37-year-old Jack Johnson had a bit of a resurgence this year, playing in 80 games and finishing with 16 points. He may not be finished, as he recently said that he feels like he has more good hockey left.

He’s well-regarded in hockey circles as a good player in the dressing room and could be that veteran leader for the Canucks on the blue line. He’s not going to replace Zadorov’s impact, but he can give you part of it, allowing the Canucks to fill the rest through a platoon.

7. Brett Pesce

  • 2023-24 stats: 70 GP, 3 G, 10 A, 13 PTS
  • Age: 29
  • Height: 6-foot-3
  • Weight: 206 lbs

While it’s not obvious yet whether Brett Pesce will re-sign with the Carolina Hurricanes or hit the open market, he’s an interesting target for the Canucks. He’s likely the best player on this list and will command more money as a result.

He will likely cost as much as Zadorov, if not more, and he’s a different style of player, but perhaps Pesce gives the best chance of replacing the total overall positive impact while still going for size.