Friday, June 17, 2011

Next Move Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks 2011 season was a success. Winning the Presidents trophy as the top team in the regular season and going to game seven in the Stanley Cup finals only to loose on home ice to the Boston Bruins. So why does such a successful season feel like such a failure? How will GM Mike Gillis react? What is the next move for the Canucks?

Looking ahead to the off season and players with expiring contracts, Gillis has several key players to deal with. Three left wingers will be UFA's. Chris Higgins, Raffi Torres, and Jeff Tambellini. Key defensemen that will also be UFA's are Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Christian Ehnhoff, and Andrew Alberts. The hot topic since loosing game seven has been goaltending. Have the Canucks lost faith in franchise goalie Roberto Luongo? If they have, can they move his eleven year contract? If Luongo stays what happens to Cory Schneider? Schneider has proven himself to be worthy of a NHL starting role.

There are three holes to fill in the forward ranks. Center is the position they are deepest in with Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Manny Malhotra, Max Lapierre and top prospect Cody Hodgson.  Right wing consists of Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson, and Jannik Hansen. Only Daniel Sedin is under contract at left wing. Higgins and Torres both contributed to the teams success and it stands to reason they will be welcome back and would feel like they have unfinished business. However money and cap issues may force them to move on. The free agent list has some options to fill holes on left wing. Options may include Simon Gagne, Michael Ryder, Chris Clark, or Joel Ward. Prospects who will challenge for a regular spot include centers Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder, Anton Rodin and Sergei Shirokov. None of these players are left wingers but may need to shift position to make the team. Gillis may move Schneider to find a left winger to play with Kesler and Raymond.

At the start of the season, blue line depth was regarded as the backbone of the team. Kevin Bieksa seemed to be the odd man out and was subject of internet trade rumors. Bieksa was not moved and in the playoffs was a critical component of the Canucks making it to the final. Bieksa, Ehrhoff and Salo are all UFA's. Salo has injury history and if he returns it will be for much less than his $3.75 million expiring contract. Ehrhoff likely moves on for more money as he will be looking for a raise from his previous $3.15 million. If Ehrhoff moves on and Salo returns for a discount Gillis should be able to resign Bieksa even with a raise on his previous $3.5 million. Keith Ballard and his $4.2 million deal with four more years will be shopped hard this summer to help provide cap relief as he seems to have lost his place on this team. Buying out Ballard may be an option or demotion to the AHL. Rookie Chris Tanev debuted in the Stanley Cup finals and was very impressive. Tanev may take over for Ehrhoff if he moves on. If Gillis looks to the free agent list to fill holes there are several familiar names to Canuck fans he may go after such as Ed Jovanovski, Bryan McCabe, and Brent Sopel.

A Luongo trade seems nearly impossible. To find a team that would be willing to absorb that contract seems highly unlikely. Furthermore Gillis would want players or picks in exchange as well making any deal even more challenging. No, Luongo is a Canuck for better or worse. Cory Schneider is a very affordable and capable backup at $900,000. However he would provide a considerable return in trade and with prospect Eddie Lack improving he may be ready to back up Luongo. Plenty of teams would be interested if Schneider became available. Tampa Bay Lightning, Edmonton Oilers, Colorado Avalanche, Phoenix Coyotes all potentially need starting goalies. Schneider is very young, talented and affordable, so Gillis is not under the gun to deal him at the moment and taking time to reflect on the season would be prudent. However, it is important to determine when his value is highest as eventually he should be moved. Schneiders current contract expires after next season making him a RFA. The time may be now!

Bottom line, the Vancouver Canucks are a contending team. They were one win short of winning the Stanley Cup. The core of the team is formidable, in their prime and under contract lead by the Sedins, Luongo, Kesler, Hamhuis, and Edler. The future is bright with prospects Hodgson, Schroeder, Tanev, Shirokov, Rodin, and Lack. There is enough cap space left to round out the roster with quality role players. Any holes Gillis identifies with his team may be quickly filled with a Schneider trade. Either second line scoring support for the Sedin's, Prospects and picks for the future or quality support players. Schneider is a trade chip that Gillis should be able to cash in for whatever he wants. In addition Gillis may determine that there is not enough room down the middle for both prospects Hodgson and Schroeder and flip one of those assets as well.
While losing the cup final at home in game seven and then having the shame of rioting following the loss has left a very bitter taste in the mouth. This team is still, and will continue to be a contender. This season will no doubt be a valuable lesson and the key players will have learned some valuable and painful lessons.

Rookies challenging for a spot. Jordan Schroeder, Cody Hodgson, Chris Tanev
Making an impact in the AHL. Anton Rodin, Eddie Lack, Sergei Shirokov
Best fantasy values. Sedins, Luongo, Kesler, Edler, Bieksa.

Next move for Vancouver Canucks is  identify which potential key UFA's they will resign. Fill any remaining holes by either shopping for free agents or trading a top prospect like Cory Schneider or Cody Hodgson who are surplus to their needs. Very little is required of the team that made it to the finals. A few key moves may be enough to get them right back and the lessons they learned may help them reach the summit and hold the Stanley cup high.

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