The Vancouver Canucks forwards present an interesting conundrum. Despite leading the league in goals scored, employing two Art Ross trophy winners, a Selke winner, and should-win-the-Selke-but-won’t-because-the-criteria-are-ill-defined player, the Canucks were let down in the playoffs by a fourth line that couldn’t hold their own and a lack of scoring from their second line. Losing Mikael Samuelsson, their fourth-leading scorer in the regular season, and Manny Malhotra, who would have allowed Maxim Lapierre centre the fourth line instead of the third, to injury heading into the playoffs can, perhaps, be blamed for these two areas, but there is certainly a sense that some improvement is necessary.

So what should Mike Gillis do with his forwards that are heading into unrestricted free agency? PITB is here to tell him. And you.

Chris Higgins

2010-11 Performance: Higgins has now played for 5 teams in the last 3 years, which is generally considered to be a warning flag, but he played pretty well for the Canucks this year. He showed some versatility, filling in on the second line when Mikael Samuelsson was injured, and scored some big goals in the playoffs, leading the team with 3 gamewinning goals. Unfortunately, though no one can question his effort, the results just weren’t there often enough. He had 5 points in 14 regular season games and 8 points in 25 playoff games for the Canucks. That’s simply not good enough for a second line winger and he’s now several years removed from when he was a consistent 20+ goal scorer for the Montreal Canadiens. Still, he was 5th on the team in hits in the playoffs with 70 and he’s defensively responsible.

Do we really want him? It depends on the contract. He signed for $1.6 million last season with the Florida Panthers; a contract around that level (or a little lower) would be ideal. Higgins can be an effective third-line forward and he’s capable enough to step into a larger role when necessary. He might get some higher offers in free agency from teams looking for a fringe top-six forward, so it will partially depend on what Higgins want. Ultimately, he is replaceable, so there is no urgent need to re-sign him, particularly if the Canucks are on the hunt for second-line wingers to play with Kesler.

 

Raffi Torres

2010-11 Performance: Torres has long been known for his streaky play, and he showed everyone in Vancouver why that is the case. His best streak came early in the season as he scored 8 points in 6 games in late October and early November, hitting the peak with a hattrick against his former team, the Edmonton Oilers. He only scored 21 points in the remaining 74 games he played. On the plus side, his physical play was impressive: he was second behind Jannik Hansen in hits during the regular season with 134, with many of the hits of the genus devastatius. With the physical play also came the penalties, however, as he led the team in penalty minutes, with many of the penalties of the genus moronicus. In the playoffs, he played on what was often the best line on the ice for the Canucks with Jannik Hansen and Maxim Lapierre.

Do we really want him? I love the guy, but no. As much as I love his overall hittiness, his dumb and ill-timed penalties were frequently infuriating and his hockey sense is severely lacking. Also, with the change to Rule 48 now encompassing all hits to the head and Torres having drawn a significant amount of attention to himself with his hit to Brent Seabrook, I’d be concerned that he’ll earn himself a few more suspensions and then play too cautiously to be effective.

 

Tanner Glass

2010-11 Performance: Glass was a regular presence on the fourth line, playing 73 games with a rotating cast of linemates. He even slotted in at centre on occasion, though his faceoff percentage (40.3%) indicated that he might not be best suited to the role. Glass is a good skater and forechecker, and he was third on the team in hits with 130 during the regular season. He scored 10 points from the 4th line, led all Canucks in fights with 10, and was effective on the penalty kill. Unfortunately, his underlying numbers are not kind: he had the worst Relative CORSI rating on the team, though he did start the vast majority of his shifts in the defensive zone. He and the rest of the fourth line were exposed in the playoffs, as they were frequently trapped in the defensive zone against their equivalents from the opposition.

Do we really want him? Yes, but hopefully in a more limited role. As a 13th forward who can step in as necessary, Glass is effective. He can kill penalties, hit, forecheck, and fight. With more consistent linemates on the fourth line, he could be effective as a regular contributor, but I prefer him as a utility forward. At around $700k, there aren’t really any players that are more effective in that role than Glass. Also, he needs to be around for Round 2 of the Scrabble Challenge.

 

Jeff Tambellini

2010-11 Performance: The speedy forward couldn’t find a place on the Islanders and so signed for a league-minimum contract with the Canucks in the off-season. He displayed a lethal wristshot from his magic shooty spot, but was unable to establish any consistency in his offensive game, eventually getting demoted to the fourth line and then to the AHL. He was a point-per-game player for the Moose, scoring 7 points in 7 games, but only managed 17 points in 62 games for the Canucks. He did show a willingness to play a physical game, finishing fifth on the team with 113 hits, but many of his hits made minimal impact due to his small stature. He’s on the verge of becoming similar to Jason Krog: dominant at the AHL level, but unable to find a place in the NHL.

Do we really want him? No. Tambellini has done his best to adapt his game, but he’s still too one-dimensional. When he’s not scoring, he’s not effective, and he simply does not score enough. At 27, his upside is rapidly diminishing. He’s low-risk on a league-minimum two-way contract, but I would not be too eager to re-sign him. If he’s so inclined, he could seek more money in Europe, where he could potentially thrive on the larger ice surface with his speed, but I suspect he’ll seek out one more NHL contract.

 

Jonas Andersson

2010-11 Performance: Andersson came to the Canucks in an odd fashion: he had a taste of NHL action way back in 2001-02, then played for years in Sweden and Russia, before re-signing with the Predators in the 2010 off-season. Before he could suit up for the Predators, however, he found himself traded to the Canucks in the Shane O’Brien deal. He was recalled from the Moose to play 4 games for the Canucks, but got minimal playing time and was returned to the Moose. Since he came over from Europe hoping to play in the NHL, he requested to be placed on waivers and returned to the KHL in January.

Do we really want him? Honestly, yes. He seemed like he would be a good fit on the fourth line with his size, speed, and skill. He apparently had an unwritten deal with the Predators that he wouldn’t play in the minors; he should have had an unwritten deal that he wouldn’t get traded as well. As much as it would be nice to have him as a fourth line winger, he’s likely in the KHL for good at this point. In any case, he won’t be signing a contract with the Canucks any time soon.

 

Guillaume Desbiens

2010-11 Performance: Desbiens was a pleasant surprise in training camp, making the team as a fourth-liner. He showed a lot of grit and physicality, logging 22 hits in his 12 games with the Canucks, and he was more than willing to drop the gloves. Unfortunately, he apparently doesn’t know how to make a fist, and broke his hand in a fight in November. Once he recovered from the injury he was sent back down to the Moose, where he tallied 27 points in 53 regular season games. The 26-year-old has the potential to be a capable fourth-line option.

Do we really want him? I would definitely re-sign Desbiens to a two-way contract. He’s not an ideal option for the fourth-line, as evidenced by him not getting a call-up after his November injury, but he’s still a capable player with a useful skillset who can slot in as necessary in case of injuries. Also, I wouldn’t want to have learned how to spell his name for nothing.

 

Rick Rypien

2010-11 Performance: Rypien, to put it as favorably as possible, had an odd season. The crowd favorite made the team out of training camp and was looking to build upon 2009-10, where he played the entire season in Vancouver. He season went off the rails quickly, however, as he got into an altercation with a fan during a game in Minnesota in October. While the victim of Rypien’s “attack” swiftly lost all sympathy by opening his mouth, Rypien was deservedly suspended and struggled to get back into the lineup after the incident. In November, Rypien took an extended leave of absence for personal reasons, with the NHL allowing his salary to be taken off the cap. Upon his bearded return, the NHL graciously waived the two-week limit for a conditioning stint in the AHL and Rypien played out the rest of the season for the Moose.

Do we really want him? I want to say yes, because I have a massive soft spot for Rypien, but he’s had many opportunities with the Canucks and it might be time for him to move on. That said, the way that the Canucks management has handled Rypien has been exceptionally classy and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him re-sign for a league-minimum two-way contract and battle for a spot on the fourth line in training camp. While his hockey sense is lacking, he shows flashes of NHL-level skill and is, in my opinion, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the league.

 

Andrew Peters

2010-11 Performance: Peters came to the Canucks from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Darcy Hordichuk. He was loaned to the Rochester Americans in the AHL before he violated curfew (with Nathan Paetsch, natch) and was removed from the team. Unfortunately, this left him without a team, as the Moose had no room for him on the roster. Instead of seeking out another team, Peters chose to retire from professional hockey.

Do we really want him? Not that it matters, but no. We wish him all the best, though.

 

Alexandre Bolduc

2010-11 Performance: Bolduc appeared in 24 regular season games for the Canucks, averaging 7:26 in icetime, and scoring 4 points. He was one of the many options Alain Vigneault tried in the fourth line centre role and he won only 45.4% of his faceoffs. He stepped in for 3 playoff games as well, averaging 3:38 in icetime and having little to no impact. None of these are inspiring numbers. Bolduc is just a mediocre hockey player: his relative CORSI is second worst on the team, only better than Tanner Glass, who played 49 more games than he and has the excuse of a multitude of defensive zone starts. Bolduc was decent at the AHL level, where he scored 15 points in 26 games this season but he frequently looked like he had trouble adapting to the speed of the NHL.

Do we really want him? Probably not. The Canucks have given him several chances to prove himself and he hasn’t yet succeeded. While it’s certainly necessary to have depth at the centre position, there are better options than Bolduc. Stefan Schneider can fill the role on the farm team, while there are options in free agency if the Canucks need a checking centre on a two-way contract.

 

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6 comments

  1. BECanucks
    June 23, 2011

    A good read. I roughly agree. Higgins is a big question mark. How much, how long? 3 yrs for 4.5M would be a good deal, I think. Well, like a lot of Canucks things for the moment it’s wait and see.

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  2. Eric Blacha
    June 23, 2011

    Is Hansen a RFA? Is this why he’s not on the list?

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    • Eric Blacha
      June 23, 2011

      also with Lappy?

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      • Daniel Wagner
        June 23, 2011

        And yes.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      June 23, 2011

      Yes.

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  3. PetriSkriko
    June 24, 2011

    It’s remarkable how few of our forward free agents we *need* to sign. Even including the RFAs, I’d say Hansen is the only no-brainer, but I would like to see Torres, Lappy, and Higgings back at the right prices.

    Having our top 7 forwards signed is an amazing luxury. Well done, Gillis.

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