With free agency looming on July 1st, Mike Gillis still has some work ahead of him before he can take a brief vacation. We have already taken a look at the unrestricted free agent defensemen and forwards from the Canucks roster, and they will certainly be his first priority, but there are a few restricted free agents that will need to receive qualifying offers or raises. While the danger of losing any of these RFAs to another team in free agency is minimal as the team can match any offer sheet, such offer sheets can drive up the price of these players, making it more difficult to work within the salary cap.
Two of the Canucks’ RFAs were important contributors to their playoff run and will certainly require some attention prior to July 1st: Maxim Lapierre and Jannik Hansen.
2010-11 Performance: Lapierre was actually slightly disappointing during the regular season, only scoring 1 point in his 19 games for the Canucks while only winning 46.5% of his faceoffs. He did manage to register 31 hits, however, and when Manny Malhotra was injured, he swiftly went from being a spare part to an essential part of the lineup. He really started to shine in the playoffs, where he formed a solid checking line with Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres, scoring 3 goals and 2 assists. He began winning more faceoffs, finishing at 51% on the draws, and was used in a similar role to Malhotra, starting the vast majority of his shifts in the defensive zone. He was second on the team in hits in the playoffs behind Kevin Bieksa, tallying 83 hits in 25 games. However, his tendency towards embellishment drew a lot of negative attention from fans, media, and referees.
Do we really want him? Yes please. With Malhotra hopefully at full health to start next season, Lapierre is the ideal candidate to centre the fourth line, adding both skill and defensive responsibility to the line. With a couple seasons of mediocre offensive numbers under his belt, he shouldn’t be too expensive to re-sign. He needs to knock off the embellishment, though. Either that or take some acting lessons so he’s more believable.
2010-11 Performance: It seems unbelievable now that Hansen needed to go through the arbitration process last off-season to receive a one-way contract from the Canucks. Hansen was one of the most consistent forwards all year and has developed into a fantastic two-way winger. The high-pitched one did a little bit of everything this season: he led the team in hits with 149, developed as a playmaker with 20 assists, finished 5th on the team in takeaways with one of the best giveaway-to-takeaway ratios on the team, was one of the best penalty killers on the team, and even stepped into the top-six when necessary. In the playoffs he picked up 9 points and led the Canucks with a +7 plus/minus rating while starting primarily in the defensive zone against difficult competition. For his efforts, he was voted the team’s “unsung hero” and given the Fred J. Hume award.
Do we really want him? Goodness gracious, yes. Hansen is an ideal checking line winger who has proven his ability to be consistent year-to-year. Now isn’t just the time to re-sign him, it’s the time to sign him to a long-term deal to lock him in at a low cap hit. Getting Hansen signed before July 1st has to be a priority for Gillis, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple offer sheets floated his way. Also, we need him to mentor Danish power forward Nicklas Jensen, the Canucks’ 2011 first-round draft pick.
2010-11 Performance: Mike Gillis signed Lee Sweatt out of Europe in the off-season, where he had been a member of the SM-liiga champions Turun Palloseura and won the Pekka Rautakallio trophy as the league’s best defenseman. The undersized Sweatt was immediately compared to another winner of that trophy, Brian Rafalski. He started the season in the AHL with his brother, Billy Sweatt, and scored 14 points in 41 games before being recalled to the Canucks to fill in for the injured Alex Edler. It seemed like it would be a storybook season for Sweatt as he scored the gamewinning goal on his first shot in his first NHL game, sniping a wristshot past Pekka Rinne off a picture-perfect pass from Daniel Sedin. Unfortunately, it was not to be: after three games, Sweatt was due to return to the Moose but was instead placed on long-term injured reserve after breaking his foot during practice. He has not played a single game since the injury.
Do we really want him? Definitely. Sweatt showed promise in his 3-game audition with the team, scoring 2 points, notching a +4 plus/minus rating, and showing his physicality with 4 hits. At any rate, he wasn’t a liability, and having a reliable offensive defenseman in reserve in case of injury is a necessity. If he can be re-signed to a similar contract to last season ($650,000 two-way contract), jump on that. If he wants a bit more, that’s fine too. As much as the Canucks thought they had enough defensemen this year, the playoffs showed that you can never have too many. It also helps that he’s a right-handed shot.
2010-11 Performance: Shirokov led the Moose in scoring this season, recording 22 goals and 36 assists in 76 games, and played in the AHL all-star game. He added 10 points in 14 playoff games for the Moose. He was called up to the NHL for 2 games, recording his first NHL goal, but wasn’t able to make enough of an impact to stick around. Kesler needs wingers; Shirokov is a winger. Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses in Shirokov’s game is his skating stride and he hasn’t always been able to keep up with Kesler. That said, he’s scored 22 goals in consecutive seasons with the Moose and certainly has the ability and potential to produce points at the NHL level.
Do we really want him? Yes. Here’s hoping that Shirokov wants the Canucks. The young Russian took a risk coming over to North America two years ago in hopes of playing in the NHL, but hasn’t yet had a real chance to prove he’s capable. One could argue that he hasn’t yet earned that chance, but leading the Moose in scoring should give him a leg up heading into training camp if he sticks around. And Kesler still needs wingers. However, he has the opportunity to make more money in a more familiar environment in Russia, and I won’t be surprised if he wants to go back to the KHL.
2010-11 Performance: Sharp started the previous season in ECHL before making immediate leap to NHL, playing 8 games for the Ducks. This season, Sharp was playing for the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL when he was acquired by the Canucks in the Maxim Lapierre deal. He ended up being part of a unique transaction between the Manitoba Moose and the Abbotsford Heat: Sharp was loaned to the Heat, who had a desperate need for another centre, in exchange for the loan of defenseman Keith Seabrook, Brent’s younger brother. Sharp tallied 15 points in 67 games in the AHL between the Crunch and the Heat. The centre is a former teammate of Mason Raymond with the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, which makes me wonder if Raymond had something to do with his acquisition.
Do we really want him? There’s certainly no harm in re-signing the late blooming Sharp for another year to see how he develops. He showed offensive ability in the NCAA and has the potential to be a solid contributor as a two-way forward at the AHL-level. It remains to be seen if he can crack an NHL lineup as a fourth-line forward, but I would like to see him re-signed as depth at centre is vital. It would be nice to get a real look at him in training camp and pre-season to evaluate him.
2010-11 Performance: Oreskovich appeared in 16 regular season games and 19 playoff games for the Canucks this year after coming over in the 2010 draft in the Keith Ballard trade. While originally considered a toss-in, Canucks management insisted that he was a key part of the deal and that they specifically sought him out. Hopes were high heading into training camp, but he ultimately disappointed, starting the season with the Manitoba Moose. Harrison theorized that the big right winger need to be “de-programmed” from his Floridian ways. He only scored 12 points in 40 games with the Moose, but showed enough improvement in his play to earn a call-up to the Canucks. His impact, however, was minimal. The fourth line was frequently over-matched in the playoffs and while he forechecked hard, threw hits, and showed some capability with the puck, he and his linemates were too often caught in the defensive zone.
Do we really want him? Yes. Oreskovich is still only 24 and is just two years removed from being completely out of hockey, so he still has plenty of room to grow. The combination of his size and soft hands is still a tempting package and he should be re-signed for a cap-friendly two-way contract to provide some depth for the bottom-six.
2010-11 Performance: Bliznak played the majority of the 2010-11 season in the AHL with the Moose, where he scored 27 points in 74 games. He received a brief 4-game call-up to the Canucks in November, as they tried to sort out their fourth-line centre position. Though he scored his first NHL goal on his only shot, finishing the season with a shooting percentage of 100%, he struggled to adapt to the NHL game. Generally known as a defensively sound checker, he had difficulty in the faceoff circle, winning only 33% of his draws, and had difficulty breaking out of the zone with clean passes. He just doesn’t seem to have the on-ice vision necessary to play in the NHL.
Do we really want him? No. He simply hasn’t shown enough potential to prove that he will ever be able to play regularly in the NHL. At this point he can comfortably be replaced by MacGregor Sharp on the depth chart. He has already signed a contract with HC Sparta Praha of the Czech Extraliga and we wish him the best with his professional career in Europe.
Tags: Bliznak, featured, Free Agency, Free Agents, Hansen, Hansen is amazing, Jannik Hansen, Lee Sweatt, MacGregor Sharp, Maxim Lapierre, Oreskovich, Restricted Free Agents, Shirokov