Mike Gillis has only one job: to make a good team better. He doesn’t have to rebuild a bad team, because the Canucks are already good. He doesn’t have to worry about selling tickets for a struggling franchise by signing players with flashy skill-sets, because attendance is not an issue (even when a night in the cheap seats with a few oat sodas is going to run you a hundy). He doesn’t have to spend to an internal cap, worry about the coaching staff or talk to any petulant superstars about their attitude. For crying out loud, the Canucks only have one or two bad contracts on the whole roster, and neither of them are even a 5 on the Redden-scale. But this doesn’t mean that his job is easy—he works in one of the NHL’s most rabid media markets, his stars aren’t shining that brightly these days, and fan expectations could not be much higher. Gillis’ job is not easy, it’s just not quite as multi-faceted as it is for some other GMs.
Regardless of what happens between now and April 7th, when the Canucks play their final game of the regular season, the Canadian West Coast will be represented in the playoffs. It would be silly to predict anything else at this point for a team that seems to be able to squeeze some points out of even the poorest showings and likely only needs one or two more solid efforts in their final 14 games (during an easy stretch-drive by a contender’s standards) to make the playoffs and win the Northwest Division. Considering the state of the Pacific Division, it seems almost as silly to think that the Canucks could slip to 3rd behind whoever comes out of the Phoenix/San Jose/Dallas frackas currently underway. Things as they stand are more or less set—the Canucks will be one of the top-two seeds in the Western Conference and the roster isn’t likely to change much between now and then either. For Mike Gillis, there isn’t much to be done for the time being, and for better or for worse, the Canucks will go into the playoffs like this:
|Daniel Sedin||Henrik Sedin||Alexandre Burrows|
|David Booth||Ryan Kesler||Chris Higgins|
|Jannik Hansen||Sami Pahlsson||Zack Kassian|
|Manny Malhotra||Maxim Lapierre||Mason Raymond|
Injured: Aaron Volpatti, Andrew Ebbett, Steven Pinizzotto Scratched: Dale Weise
|Dan Hamhuis||Kevin Bieksa|
|Alexander Edler||Sami Salo|
|Chris Tanev||Marc-Andre Gragnani|
Injured: Keith Ballard Scratched: Andrew Alberts, Aaron Rome
(Thanks again to Hockey’s Future for the user-run line-up google doc)
Including the injuries and scratches in the list above, that is basically the Vancouver Canucks you’ll be seeing between now and whenever the playoff run meets its end, with maybe a light spattering of Steven Reinprecht if things get neeeyasssty. There’s not much Gillis can do right now other than plan for the summer. But what are his options after the playoffs? It may not have much to do with free agency or trades.
With Jordan Schroeder playing well for the AHL Wolves and Nicklas Jensen chugging along at over a point-per-game clip with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, there is some promise that the Vancouver Prospect Machine will keep pushing out high-grade goods, which usually attain an even higher grade when subject to the Vancouver Ministry of Accountability.
With Mason Raymond becoming an RFA and Sami Pahlsson (along with 4 other depth forwards) becoming UFAs, there should be some room on the roster for the Schroeders and Jensens of the world. Marc Mancari is having a good year too, but it seems at this point in Mancari’s career that he’s probably not going to develop into an NHL regular.
On the back-end, Chris Tanev is looking to become a regular, and Kevin Connauton is hoping to sidle up on his left. Keith Ballard’s 4.2 million-dollar, contract more than Keith Ballard’s actual play, will probably send him packing from 800 Griffiths Way, the Pacific Avenue of NHL addresses. And he’ll just as likely be sent to a team that needs to make the cap floor—probably in more of a Light Blue or Purple neighbourhood—or as a part of the goaltending trade Vancouver will likely make in the offseason. It’s not that Keith Ballard isn’t good so much as it’s a poor choice to spend $4.2 million on half of your third defensive pairing. It’s the same logic that dictates Vancouver won’t be paying Cory Schnieder the $3+ million he’s worth this summer—it’s too much for a back-up, especially when your starter makes $5.3 million/year. But it is the opinion of Smug Nation that Schnieder and Ballard are more likely to return picks and prospects than a stud roster player.
Brian and I were arguing about whether or not the next point is true and ended up having a fight to the death. As victor and now sole owner of smugnation.com, WE THINK the smart money is on Sami Salo coming back next year barring any significant injuries, keeping the seat next to Edler warm until the summer of 2013 when Vancouver sees an influx of testosterone the likes of which the city hath never seen.* Don’t tell him I said so (because he’s dead and it would be unseemly), but Brian’s take that Salo might not come back for another season has merit. It’s just the thought of losing the big Finn (not to be confused with this Fin, who delights us to no end with his all-cranium diet. Oh Fin, you hungry scamp) is so putrid, I cannot entertain it. Sami Salo has been, at least by his standards, pretty durable this year, and is terribly underrated outside of BC. Most of the time he missed was because Brad Marchand responds to bodies coming at him the same way George Michael Bluth responds to a game of catch.
*Okay, I jest—no one knows if we’ll have to wait that long for Shea Weber to come home. For all I know, he’ll just switch jerseys in the middle of our seemingly pre-destined 2nd round match-up in 6 weeks.
It’s probable that, Parise wishes and Web-iar dreams aside, the lineup next year will likely look a lot like it does now. Will Mike Gillis have many splashy moves to make this offseason? Maybe not—he might be better served letting the fruits of his and his predecessors’ drafting/signing move up to the big show. If the Stanley Cup doesn’t come to Stanley Park, it will be a long summer for the Canucks front office. His job is to make a good team better, whether that’s through trading, signing or the farm. But Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Dennis Wideman and Ray Whitney are sexy. Tanev, Connauton, Jensen and Schroeder are not. Standing pat might be the smart move, but it will certainly be a choice that leaves him in
our the crosshairs all year long.