by Tyler Rowe
It would appear that I was too optimistic about the Vancouver Canucks playoff chances for the second year in a row. In case you haven’t heard, the Canucks were unable to win one game against the San Jose Sharks, not even for the Gipper. And over the next week, I’m going to try to figure out why that happened and what needs fixing. If Vancouver is talented but unable to win a single game against a good but beatable opponent, then either something is broken in the coaching staff, or in the team’s player personnel and the culture they engender as a whole. *Spoiler Alert*: It might be both.
In Part I: Get Better, we’ll take a look at how the Canucks can maintain and improve upon the current core, and talk about why its time for an overhaul of the coaching staff in Vancouver, despite what Don Cherry has to say about it. Part II: Get Younger will explore the possibility of essentially scrapping the group of talent currently assembled in order to facilitate a quick, 2-3 year rebuild. For Part III: Get Lindy, we’ll look at why (or why not) Vancouver doesn’t need to change much at all about the roster, and might(‘nt) look similar to the 2011 cup run team with the right message coming from behind the bench.
I’ve been excited about writing this article for a few days now, and am excited to hear your opinions on the matter. Contact me @tylerdanielrowe or @smug_nation on twitter or leave a comment below to be heard.
Part 1: Get better
Essentially, Vancouver is icing a similar group to the team that almost won the Stanley Cup in 2011. There is a good argument to be made that, by paring down the fat on the roster and making a few key additions through trade and free agency, the Blue and green will to continue to make an honest effort at the cup for another few years. Vancouver, as it is constructed currently constructed, is probably not a good enough on-paper team to take a crack at winning the new west-most division with L.A., Anaheim and San Jose as new neighbours. They aren’t so far off, but some changes are clearly neccessary, and the replacement of Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff is first and foremost.
In no way is this (and by “this” I mean one win in the last 9 playoff games) all Vigneault’s fault. Personnel changes have played a big part, and the always reliable injury-train has kept-a-chuggin’. For starters, losing Christian Ehrhoff to free agency was a bigger hit to the power play and Vancouver’s team speed than many anticipated. Ehrhoff made movement fluid in just the way Vancouver does when at it’s best. But even more damaging to the Canucks, Manny Malhotra’s absence has been grossly overlooked by the national media on large for his SmugNation Actual Selke* play and faceoff prowess. Deployment of the Sedin line has been split almost equally between the offensive and defensive zones, whereas with Malhotra, the Henrik used to be able to take as many offensive zone faceoffs as minutes allowed (well over 80%).*The Selke Trophy is supposed to be awarded to “the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game”, not the defensively excellent forward who can also score 65+ points (or 73+ in every case except Bergeron since the lockout. I liked it better when guys like Peca, Draper and Lehtinen won it). Kesler is a favourite here at SmugNation, but he wasn’t even the best defensive forward on the team, let alone the league when he won the Selke. Manny Malhotra, on the other hand, was. SmugNation would like to belatedly award the 2010-11 SmugNation Actual Selke Trophy to Manny Malhotra. Congratulations Mr. Malhotra for this prestigious honour.
Jason Garrison was added to replace Ehrhoff while Tanev has come up from the Wolves as the Salo replacement. Garrison has been better by the month since starting his time in Vancouver, but did take the full season to get acclimated. While Garrison doesn’t bring what was lost in Ehrhoff, he surpasses in gap control and physicality. Tanev is a beauty, and hopefully his late season injury isn’t a sign of things to come. David Booth is something of an unknown entity for Vancouver. He came into a pretty well defined group in the autumn of 2011 and never quite found his game. He certainly didn’t get the chance to find his game in 2013 That may have more to do with David Booth than it does with David Booth the Vancouver Canuck, but it’s still tough to say. We won’t get back into the Hodgson for Kassian trade, but that happened too. And for those clamoring for Vigneault’s head on a spike for skating Andrew Ebbett instead of Jordan Schroeder, it turns out he was injured too.
Still, even with the changes in personnel, Alain Vigneault’s message is obviously falling on deaf ears with the core group. We detailed some of Vigneault’s achievements in the History of the Northwest Division piece from last week, but here are the highlights:
- Six divisional championships in seven years
- Made it to at least the 2nd round of the playoffs in all but two years
- Missed the playoffs once
- Beaten by the eventual Stanley Cup champs four of the past six years
- Winner of the Jack Adams Trophy for best NHL head coach in 2007
- Playoff record of 33-35
- 313-170-57 regular season record
- Two President’s Trophies
- One Western Conference title
- Presided over two consecutive 1st round blowouts
Not a shabby resume for certain, especially if you leave out his years in Montreal. This body of work will serve Vigneault well in the job market, and I expect any team in need of a coach has to give Viggy a long look. Dallas and Colorado have to be two of the frontrunners (Vern Fiddler’s presence in Dallas gives the Stars the edge). But its the lack of push-back and urgency in the Canucks play that ultimately has cost Vigneault his job. Regardless of the -14 differential the Canucks suffered in power play opportunities in the series versus the Sharks, Vancouver has looked listless not only in the last two early playoff exits, but in almost every single game since the redemption that wasn’t on January 7, 2012 against the Bruins. I have said it on podcasts and barstools for some time now: the Canucks have, since the determination and professionalism of the 2010-11 season, been allowed by Vigneault and his staff to become slump-shouldered and defeatist when not rewarded for their efforts in the form of goals and drawn penalties.
Smylosphere vet Thomas Drance put the irony of the situation well, stating that Vancouver’s response to the lack of calls restricting skill in the 2012 finals caused the Canucks to get bigger and less skilled, which led to them taking a lot more penalties for restricting the opposition’s skill. That isn’t Vigneault’s fault, but the inability to adjust on the fly is. The west coast needs a new NHL coach, one that can motivate and inspire the players, deploy them effectively, and not get caught up in his own dogma when useful talents like Keith Ballard are left in the press box because they don’t fit the system. Vigneault used to do these things, and now he doesn’t. It’s as simple as that. Whether this is Lindy Ruff, Guy Boucher, or someone else who replaces AV is a question that we’ll tackle in Part III.
Now, with all nasty “pink-slip the second or third best coach in forty years” business out of the way, what can GM Mike Gillis do to retool the group and make another run at the Stanley Cup? First, lets look at the roster as it stands with the summer of free agency attached in parenthesis. Here we’re using only players who have skated on the NHL team plus Eddie Lack, who may get an NHL job next year whether he’s ready or not. 2013 UFA’s italicized:
Centre: Henrik Sedin (2014), Ryan Kesler (’16), Derek Roy (UFA), Jordan Schroeder (RFA), Max Lapierre (UFA), Andrew Ebbett(UFA), Manny Malhortra (UFA)
Right Wing: Jannik Hansen (’14), Zack Kassian (’14), Dale Weiss (RFA), Andrew Gordon (UFA)
Left Wing: Daniel Sedin (’14), Alex Burrows (’17), David Booth (’15), Chris Higgins (’17), Mason Raymond (UFA), Tom Sestito (RFA), Nicklas Jensen (’14)
Right Defense: Kevin Bieksa (’16), Chris Tanev (RFA), Frank Corrado (’16)
Left Defense: Alex Edler (’18), Dan Hamhuis (’16), Jason Garrison (’17), Keith Ballard (’14), Andrew Alberts (UFA), Cam Barker (UFA), Derek Joslin (RFA)
Goaltender: Cory Schneider (’15), Roberto Luongo (2291), Eddie Lack (’14), Joe Cannata (’14)
With 28 NHL-caliber players to choose from, the obvious positions of strength are left wing, left defense, and goaltender. With the salary cap going down from $70.4 to $64.3 million, the Canucks cannot remain cap compliant with all of their contracts next season, and some salary will need to be shed in one way or another. Even with LTIR (Long Term Injury Replacement) savings, Vancouver spent just north of $70 million this season. And although you can look forward to seeing them discussed in Part II, we can exempt Jensen and Joslin from this installment right away as they likely need more seasoning.
1 – 5. Manny Malhotra, Andrew Alberts, Tom Sestito, Cam Barker, Andrew Gordon
The first round of cuts from this group are the easiest ones to make. Manny Malhotra will not be cleared to play professional hockey by Vancouver Canuck doctors, so he’s sadly out. Even money says that Andrew Alberts gets more than Vancouver should want to pay him from a franchise like Philadelphia or Colorado. Tom Sestito could stay or go, but we’ll say he’s a Chicago Wolf/injury replacement for now and same goes for Cam Barker and Andrew Gordon but with even less interest. Like a ravenous horde of zombies, they all walk.
6. Derek Roy
The next major question is whether or not the Canucks should be interested in paying Derek Roy the $5 million plus he’ll be looking for in free agency this summer. He looked Charmin soft against the Sharks, and despite his obvious creativity and hockey IQ, I don’t think he fits with the Canucks. He’s an offensive luxury as a #3 centre, and as a #2 centre he pushes Kesler to the wing. Vancouver doesn’t need a play-making centre for Kesler, they need a play-making winger. Unlike Forrest Gump, Roy isn’t runnin’, he’s walkin’.
7. Mason Raymond
Raymond is very fast, is a good takeaway defender who kills penalties, can score goals and pass the puck. He is also easily moved off the puck and disappears in the post season, and can go weeks between goals. With Chris Higgins on the team, he is either redundant on the 3rd line or something has gone wrong on the 2nd. Depth means having guys like Mason Raymond, but not at the $3 million or more he’ll get as a free agent in the offseason. My guess for him is life gets even windier as a Carolina Hurricane this summer.
You can’t get something for nothing, and for this Canucks roster to get better as a whole, the defensive depth corps needs to give something up for the sake of the forwards. And the forward group as established might need a tweak as well. Plus I hear there’s something of a goaltending controversy in Vancouver?
1-2. David Booth and Keith Ballard
Which brings me to my first trading assets, David Booth and Keith Ballard. I think Vancouver could package Booth with another player in trade, but he is likely only worth a late 2nd or early 3rd round pick on his own. Either way, the nice guy from Detroit has got to go, and I don’t think it will be hard to move him as long as Mike Gillis isn’t expecting much in return. Keith Ballard is a clear fourth or even fifth option on that LD depth chart and hasn’t been able to play to anyone’s expectations for reasons we wont beleaguer here, so he’s out, be it for a late draft pick or an amnesty buyout. I think the Canucks can get a 2013 4th rounder for him.
3. Jordan Schroeder
In Part III, we’ll test a different fate for Jordan Schroeder, but for the purposes of retooling this team now, Schroeder is in a similar situation to where Cody Hodgson was at the 2012 trade deadline, without all the
bull pucky animosity and familial involvement. He has no place in the top six at this point if he can’t be used as a winger on the Kesler line. Although his point production at the AHL level has been good and his defense was solid for a player of his age this season with the senior club, his size and face off percentage (43.6% in 33 games) makes him a liability as a checking centre. Schroeder will be a good NHL player, and I expect him to end up as a something like a rich man’s Sean Bergenheim. His absolute ceiling is Saku Koivu. All that said, even a poor man’s Saku Koivu has quite a bit of value. Best when packaged for freshness with other, riper meat, consider Schroder-boat and his RFA status a trade piece.
4. Cory Schneider
As for what’s to be done in net, there are two schools of thought. The first is that Schneider is the future and should stay, coupled with the fact that there’s too much bad blood now with Luongo, who needs to go. The second is that Luongo wants to be a starter whether that’s in Vancouver or not, and that Schneider should be traded for a greater return than Luongo could be at his contract and age. Ironically, in Part II: Get Younger, we’ll be keeping Roberto Luongo. But here in Part 1, we’re going to get as much better as we can, so its the big ginger who gets shipped. Expect a pretty good haul for the man who has managed a .927 save percentage with a 2.20 goals against and 9 shutouts in his first 98 NHL games. I don’t know exactly what Gillis would accept for Schneider straight up, but if it’s in trade for, oh I don’t know, lets say… Sean Couturier, I would want something more coming back. If it was for a Jakob Voracek, I would expect to send something along with Schneids.
5. Alex Edler
But I said the defense needed to get cheaper so that the offense could spend money, which brings us to the next tender trade vittle, Alex Edler. Edler has been inconsistent since the departure of right-handed linemates Salo and Ehrhoff, but almost everything about him screams value on the trade market. He’s 6’3″, 215lb, only 26 years old, and when he’s on his game, he’s a beast. Edler hits like a train, scores points, plays big minutes in every situation, makes a great first pass, skates well, and is fundamentally sound. Edler is, in terms of value, a top-15 NHL defenseman who is signed for six years at $5 million per through the prime of his career. While Vancouver would suffer to lose Edler, the emergence of Tanev (and maybe Corrado too) plus the presence of Garrison, Bieksa and Hamhuis means that trading the most valuable piece on the defense (if not the team) is an opportunity not to be missed. If Justin Shultz had chosen Vancouver instead of Edmonton, I think Edler would have moved at the 2013 trade deadline.
6. Alex Burrows
And then there’s the heartbreak. In order to make this new ship float, I think it’s time to demote the Sedins to second line status, and find an upgrade at first line RW. Alex Burrows has been one of my favourite Canucks for six years, and while it would pain me to see him go, its for the greater good. Expect a player who can score 30 goals, improves any team’s defense and is one of the better penalty killers in the West to fetch a top-six forward/top prospect/mid-high 1st round pick by himself. For what its worth, his overtime winner in game seven of the 2011 Chicago series and his wrap around winner in game two of the finals versus Boston are both top-ten all-time Canuck tallies.
We’ve now reached the point in the article where I get settled in my armchair and start acting like Mike Gillis on steroids. It’s fantasy-land stuff, but I’ll stand by my valuations. There are hundreds of possibilities for every GM at all times, and I am not a GM. But what you’re about to look at is a summer of fantastical proportions being dreamed up. Buckle up.
Lets see what the 2013-14 21-player roster looks like with our moves made before returns and free agency:
_____ – Kesler – _____
Sedin – Sedin – Kassian
Higgins – _____ – Hansen
_____ – Lapierre – Weiss
Hamhuis – Bieksa
_____ – Corrado
That is quite a bit of blank to look at. For argument’s sake, say RFA Weiss signs for $800,000 per year, and RFA Tanev signs a bridge deal for two years at $1.75 million per. And Lapierre is hapierre with another season in Vancouver at the $1 million he currently earns. With seven spots unfilled, Vancouver only has $18.5 million dollars to spend. But before we get to free agency and how to spend those paltry dollars there are trade returns to consider; Schroeder, Booth and Ballard all have to bring at least something back. Edler, Burrows and Schneider, on the other hand, need to be dealt for quite a bit more. Since Vancouver needs to do things on the cheap, the best trade pieces are younger ones who might be available. But first things first, there is a gaping hole in the top six, and that hole can be well filled by the following player.
Vancouver trades Alex Edler to the Anaheim Ducks for Bobby Ryan ($5.1 million cap hit, UFA in 2015)
Ryan would bring a balanced offensive attack along with grit and size to Vancouver’s new top line, and it should benefit Kesler to have an olympic teammate he can trust on the wing. On Anaheim’s end, Sheldon Souray isn’t getting any younger and the Ducks look to be coming into form as a force in the west with the development of Smith-Pelly, Bonino, Palmeiri, Winnik and Cogliano in the forward group. Expect them to go to the free agent market for replacements for the ageless Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, should the day ever comes they finally have to.
Vancouver trades Alex Burrows, Jordan Schroeder, David Booth and Vancouver’s 2014 2nd round draft pick to the Winnipeg Jets for Blake Wheeler (2013 RFA). Vancouver signs Wheeler for 3 years, $14 million, or $4.666 million against the cap annually.
Winnipeg does this because its a four-for-one that allows them to get better and younger at Kyle Wellwood’s slot in the top-nine. They do it because their penalty kill sucked and the Jets need more veterans with grit and skill like Burrows.They do it because I’m already 3300 words deep, and they do it because it’s pretty straight value. They would slot both Burrows and Schroeder on the right side. Vancouver does it because Blake Wheeler still has upside at 26, and could really distribute the puck to Kesler and Ryan. Plus he’s 6’5″.
Vancouver trades Cory Schneider, Keith Ballard and Vancouver’s 1st overall pick (23rd overall) to the Philadelphia Flyers for Sean Couturier ($1.375 million, 2015 RFA) and Philadelphia’s 1st overall pick (11th).
Philly is desperate for defensemen to fill the gap left by Matt Carle and Chris Pronger, and Ballard would be a fine depth piece to help bridge the gap between the draft picks while the Flyers wait to see how injured Meszaros, Coburn and Walker turn out to be. If that weren’t enough, Kimmo Timmonen is coming on 38. The most important thing here, next to netting Couturier, is to shed Ballard rather than to capitalize on him in a tangible return, which would be next to impossible. I have Schneider as the more valuable piece between he and Couturier. For Philly, its going to be tough to keep all of the youth in the forward corps. At least one of Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakob Voracek, Sean Couturier and Eric Wellwood is going to have to go. Most importantly, they need a goalie very badly. Ilya Bryzgalov, he of the “why you heff to be mad” speech, is not that guy. Luckily Ed Sneider has deep pockets with Comcast behind him.
So we’ve managed to round out the roster a bit with some top talent, but have spent a $11.437 million on Ryan, Wheeler and Couturier in the process. That leaves about $7 million for a 4th line LW, 3rd pairing LD, a 13th forward and a 7th defenseman.
The first and most expensive item on the final half of the shopping list is that bottom-pairing defenseman, but luckily there are many inexpensive veterans who can still play solid hockey to choose from. Adrian Aucoin is still useful, Adam Petry could be worse, and although I would love to have him, Andrew Ferrence probably can’t be pried away from the Bruins for less than a severe overpayment. Meanwhile, there’s Scott Hannan sitting over there on the shelf.
Vancouver signs Scott Hannan for one year, $1.3 million
Vancouver resigns RFA Yann Sauve for two years, $1.4 million
Hannan is used to travel (five teams in the past four seasons) and has only been in San Jose for one shortened season, so loyalty shouldn’t be too much of an issue compared to someone like Ferrence. Hannan is an offensive black hole, but Vancouver doesn’t need a puck-mover on the third pairing. Defensively, he’s very solid, and at age 34, he shouldn’t decline much. And while we’re on the subject of depth defensemen, I actually now think that we can slot Yann Sauve into the #7 hole on defense. Its probably time to see if the big, mobile d-man is ready for NHL hockey. If not, someone can be added mid-season.
Which leads us finally into the final two positions, 4th-line left winger and 13th forward.
Vancouver signs Matt Hendricks to two years, $1.9 million (two way)
Vancouver resigns RFA Bill Sweatt to two years, $1.6 million (two way)
Hendricks has looked pretty good for the Capitals in their (very entertaining) series against the Rangers, and shouldn’t be too costly to add. He’s 31, good in the corners, defensively solid. He wont score points for any club, but he will bang and is a well liked locker room guy. Billy Sweatt looked less like a career AHLer this year and has enough offensive acumen to slot in almost anywhere on the roster. Plus there’s always the hope that Jensen is ready to go.
And at long last, if I’m not mistaken, that’s a 22 man NHL roster with a legitimate chance at winning the Stanley cup. Sure, the defense isn’t quite as good in losing Edler and adding Hannan, but the top-nine on offense is much, much better. Luongo is the sole number one, and the Kesler line is so much better it’s silly. Best part? This team is well below the salary cap, with more than enough money stashed to make significant deadline additions. Thanks to capgeek.com for the following:
Bobby Ryan ($5.100m) / Ryan Kesler ($5.000m) / Blake Wheeler ($4.666m)
Daniel Sedin ($6.100m) / Henrik Sedin ($6.100m) / Zack Kassian ($0.870m)
Chris Higgins ($2.500m) / Sean Couturier ($1.375m) / Jannik Hansen ($1.350m)
Matt Hendricks ($0.950m) / Maxim Lapierre ($1.000m) / Dale Weise ($0.800m)
Bill Sweatt ($0.800m) /
Dan Hamhuis ($4.500m) / Kevin Bieksa ($4.600m)
Jason Garrison ($4.600m) / Chris Tanev ($1.750m)
Scott Hannan ($1.300m) / Frank Corrado ($0.599m)
Yann Sauve ($0.709m) /
Roberto Luongo ($5.333m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled with the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $60,002,528; BONUSES: $450,000
CAP SPACE (21-man roster): $4,747,472
Sure, the already very suspect prospect pool is depleted due to the loss of Schroeder and a 2nd. And sure, none of this is likely to happen. But look at that team and tell me it doesn’t make you feel Smug. Really, the point of all this is that bold choices need to be made, one way or the other. Vancouver cannot simply stay the course and hope to remain competitive, a reality we’ll delve into in Part III of this three-piece scenario fun-pack. We’ll explore other options in Part II as well, coming to your computer screen this coming week. Is Gillis safe? Is anyone? Only one way to find out, Smugglies.