You have to feel a little bit for Mike Gillis: while the players were clearing out their lockers and conducting final interviews with the press, Gillis was already back at work. The NHL Entry Draft is this Friday and free agency opens up on July 1st. Before then, Gillis will need to figure out what he wants to do with the players entering free agency from the Vancouver Canucks. We at PITB are here to help. Let’s first tackle the UFA Defensemen, as they will undoubtedly be the first priority. With the salary cap expected to rise to $64 million, the Canucks are in an excellent position to re-sign all of their UFAs, if they so desire.
Who should stay and who should go?
2010-11 Performance: No player on the Vancouver Canucks did more for his career in 2010-11 than Kevin Bieksa. Way back in November, I was already praising Bieksa for his defensive play. While many attribute Bieksa’s improved play on the presence of Dan Hamhuis, that article was written at a time when Hammy was out of the lineup with an injury. When Hamhuis returned, Bieksa got even better. He led the Canucks in +/- while playing against the toughest opposition of any defenseman not named Sami Salo. Despite the renewed focus on defense, he still scored 22 points in 66 games in the regular season and 10 points in the playoffs, where he was consistently one of the best players on the ice.
Do we really want him? Yes. My goodness, yes. And a deal is very likely to get done and soon. Bieksa has suggested that he would be willing to take less to stay in Vancouver, though he will certainly get a raise from his current $3.75 million. With an upper limit likely set by Hamhuis’s $4.5 million contract, Bieksa will likely re-sign in the range of $4.2 million.
2010-11 Performance: Ehrhoff led all Canucks’ defensemen in scoring as he posted a career high 50 points. This scoring output vaults him into discussions as one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL, as he tied for seventh in scoring from a defenseman. He also logged big minutes, finishing just behind Alex Edler in TOI/game. Put into context, however, those numbers are slightly less impressive. Ehrhoff started more in the offensive zone than any other Canucks defenseman against weaker competition. That said, he’s a key component of the Canucks’ top-ranked powerplay; his few absences during the regular season and his shoulder injury in the playoffs exposed the unit’s dependency on his capabilities.
Do we really want him? Absolutely. The question is not whether the Canucks want him, it’s whether they can afford him. 50-point defensemen are not easy to find and there will be a high demand for his services in free agency. It’s not difficult to imagine a team offering him upwards of $5 million to lure him away from the Canucks, who will likely only want to go up to $4.5 million. The difficulty is that he is not replaceable: the closest thing to Ehrhoff in free agency is Tomas Kaberle. We don’t want Tomas Kaberle. If the Canucks don’t re-sign Ehrhoff, who takes his place?
2010-11 Performance: Salo has slowly been changing his legacy from that of an injury-prone, made-of-glass liability to that of a battling warrior who refuses to let injuries keep him from playing the game he loves. While a lesser man might have taken his freak floorball injury in the off-season as a sign that it might be time to retire, Salo battled his way back and played the final 27 games of the regular season and 21 games in the playoffs. Salo skated against tough competition and added some firepower to the second unit and occasionally the first unit on the powerplay. Though he’s getting older, he was one of the few Canucks who didn’t seem completely exhausted and worn down in the Stanley Cup Final, even managing to post a plus-1 rating in the 8-1 Game 3 debacle.
Do we really want him? Yes, but only if he will take a substantial pay cut. He has indicated that he wants to return and take another run at the Cup, so it’s not a matter of if, but when a deal gets done. After making $3.5 million against the cap this season, the Canucks will likely try to re-sign him for around $1.5 million, which will make it easier to re-sign Ehrhoff and Bieksa.
2010-11 Performance: Alberts was the quintessential steady seventh defenseman, who the Canucks were lucky enough to have as their eighth defenseman. Anytime the team needed a bit more size in the lineup, Alberts was ready to step in and he performed admirably when called upon. Despite playing only 42 games, he led all defensemen in hits with 113, one of them on the notoriously un-hittable Pavel Datsyuk. Beyond his general steadiness and overwhelming hittiness, however, he wasn’t anything special. He faced the weakest competition of any Canuck this season and still had the worst relative CORSI of any Canuck defenseman. On a team that prides itself on a smooth transition game, Alberts is about as smooth as the girl in the Keystone Light commercials. Yes, the girl. Loudly talking on a bluetooth headset in a liquor store? Not smooth.
Do we really want him? Maybe. He’s big, cheap, and provides a physical presence when necessary, which is nice. If, however, he wants more than $1 million, let him walk. Personally, I’d hope for the same $750,000 that Aaron Rome is making right now, but I suspect Alberts would go to free agency if that’s all he was offered. Alberts is far more replaceable than any of the above three defensemen.
2010-11 Performance: Baumgartner had a solid season for the Manitoba Moose, scoring 29 points in 66 games while serving as their captain. He never took the ice for the Canucks, though he came close in the playoffs, receiving a call while sitting by a pool in Laguna Beach. If both Edler and Alberts were too injured to play in Game 7, Baumgartner could have suited up with Keith Ballard.
Do we really want him? No. As much as it’s nice having a veteran option on the farm to call up in an emergency, there’s no need for the aging Baumgartner to take up one of the Canucks 50 contracts. Better to use that contract to sign a promising undrafted prospect out of college or Europe.
2010-11 Performance: Acquired in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Paetsch spent the season in the AHL. With no room on the Moose, Paetsch was assigned to the Rochester Americans until he broke curfew and was kicked off the team. He was then loaned to the Syracuse Crunch, where he played out the balance of the year.
Do we really want him? No.
Tags: Alberts, Baumgartner, Bieksa, Canucks, Ehrhoff, featured, Free Agency, Free Agents, Mike Gillis should listen to me because I am smart, Paetsch, Salo