Hockey teams have a Christmas, and it’s in July.
Like good girls and boys, the fans and team management make wish lists, and pursue what they can. They weigh what they can afford, what they have room for and which desires are more whimsical. Ultimately, Canucks fans hope that they unwrap more Dan Hamhuises than Brad Isbisters, the UFA equivalent of getting socks for Christmas.
For some teams, July 1st will be more like Black Friday. Long lines and high demand for certain must-have commodities play a part in the pricing and split-second decisions. With so few impact players in this crop of free agents, bidding wars and silly second-choice contracts will play a part today. Fortunately, the Canucks under Gillis don’t tend to be one of those teams.
With the Canucks poised to walk into the store now, let’s take one final glance at the wish list. Obviously, we can’t get everything we want, but Vancouver fans can hardly be upset if they see these gifts under the tree.
1. Wingers for Kesler. It’s hard to say what Kesler needs because his game is so solid in all aspects. He doesn’t need a playmaker to score, and he doesn’t need a sniper to finish his plays. Ideally, the best player to play with Kesler is Ryan Kesler — someone who can excel as a player by being competent in every area of the game. Lacking that, Kesler needs someone with enough finish that they can finish his plays, enough speed and/or strength that they can be reliably in position, and enough desire that they’ll match his will to win. Easy, right?
Qris wishes for: Ville Leino Qris does not wish for: Scottie Upshall, who doesn’t want to play with Kesler, anyway
2. Defense partner for Edler. Ehrhoff was an okay complement to Edler, but the Canucks can do better. Ehrhoff occasionally made some poor defensive decisions that forced Edler to bail him out. His point shot and ability to join the rush made him a strong team member, but both he and Edler shoot left, and Edler had to carry the pairing physically. A more physical defender who shoots right and can still fire from the point and play off the rush would easily be an upgrade. Problem: that’s asking a lot.
Qris wishes for: James Wisniewski Qris does not wish for: Ian White, as we already have a constant injury risk on the blueline
3. More bottom-six depth. Remember when everyone was talking about how deep and how stacked the Canucks are? It was during that period before the Canucks’ weaknesses in the bottom six were exposed. An unreliable 4th line and occasional lapses on the part of one Raffi Torres hurt the team, but also their inability to step up and fill in for injured Samuelsson and Raymond. If top six players get injured or just aren’t clicking, the Canucks need options to change it up, preferably including a big Byfuglien-esque body. Lapierre and Malhotra are returning for sure, and Jannik Hansen’s likely also going to be back. That leaves three spaces to be filled, and fortunately, it looks like a lot of high-quality depth talent is going to make it to free agency.
Qris wishes for: Joel Ward, Sean Bergenheim, Rob Niedermayer Qris does not wish for: Ben Eager, who’ll screw up like Torres does
1. Another center for the bottom six. Once Manny Malhotra was out, the whole landscape of the Canucks’ forward roles changed. It’d be nice to have a backup. Having another center on the bottom six means the penalty kill has another faceoff guy, and the whole group is more versatile and more responsible defensively.
Qris wishes for: Vernon Fiddler, Maxime Talbot or John Madden Qris does not wish for: Zenon Konopka, who can get hemmed in his own zone if he loses a faceoff
2. A more versatile power play. Having Kesler play with the Sedins on the top unit leaves the second unit with Burrows and Kesler’s wingers, something that had intermittent success, but never had much in the way of identity. Further, the Canucks are without a big body to place in front of the net. Burrows and Kesler do fine jobs as long as no one can move them, but some teams can. The Canucks’ inability to change things up on the power play could well have cost them the Cup.
Qris wishes for: Joel Ward and Ville Leino again Qris does not wish for: Nikolai Zherdev
3. Cup experience. Without Samuelsson, the Canucks didn’t have veteran leadership that had been there before and knew what to do. While that’s not a necessity, it couldn’t hurt to have the calming presence of a few guys who remember exactly how heavy the Stanley Cup feels. Unless he’s traded, Samuelsson will be returning, but there are a few interesting names out there to add to the list.
Qris wishes for: Maxime Talbot, John Madden or Rob Niedermayer again Qris does not wish for: Erik Cole, who showed in Edmonton that his performance might not transfer out of Raleigh
Attraction to Vancouver
Chris Higgins has to feel pretty good about re-signing. He nearly got the lucky break of a lifetime — dealt at the deadline to the Cup-winner. Instead, Tomas Kaberle got that deal, as did Chris Kelly and a few other guys. Higgins almost wasn’t re-signed to the team that he accompanied to Game 7 of the Cup final, and it’s got to be hard to start a new season with another group of guys, knowing you missed your shot with the Canucks.
That said, his yearning to sign could easily be shared by other NHLers out there. While there are talks of wingers for Kesler and a partner for Edler, this UFA crop is much more rich with borderline 2nd-3rd line talent. Many of these players will take inflated contracts just because they can, but with the Canucks having so many vacancies in the bottom six, it’s likely that many talented players will look at Vancouver as a great destination. Maybe they can win the lottery that Higgins almost did, and hitch a ride as a piece on a Cup-winning team.
Mike Gillis, in the time he’s been in Vancouver, has done a lot to change the landscape in terms of attracting free agents. It has to help that he was a player agent himself, and knew what factors could chase a player away from a team otherwise offering them a nice contract. The Canucks, with their famously understanding handling of Rick Rypien, their state-of-the-art facilities and their still being on the cusp of a Cup victory, become a very attractive team to join. Gillis won’t have to look very hard to find talented players looking to go to Vancouver, even at a discount, for a chance to win a Cup with a great organization.
Now, if only the fans wouldn’t riot…
Ehrhoff Moves to Buffalo
Christian Ehrhoff signed a ten-year deal with Buffalo, and that makes it very unlikely that he’ll re-sign with Vancouver. This has some fans lamenting the Canucks’ step backward. How do you replace a 50-point defenseman?
The thing is, the Canucks don’t have to. Christian Ehrhoff had three 40+ point seasons. Two of them were on the Presidents’ Trophy winning teams. Here’s a fun fact: after his rookie season, he never played on a team without an Art Ross winner. Ehrhoff is a talented offensive defenseman, but he’s also had a very cushy career on two very good teams. When you’re playing with Joe Thornton or the Sedin twins, it’s easy to rack up points, but his point totals were a combination of his skill set and his situation. To get another 50-point defenseman, fine a player with the same skill set and put him in the same situation.
Ehrhoff seemed to know that he wasn’t a lock to continue his high production, so he managed to cash in significantly after a career year. Really, followers of the Canucks should know that while Ehrhoff was a component of the potent Vancouver power play, he wasn’t the true driving force behind it. He’ll leave the Canucks’ power play the way Sheldon Souray left the Canadiens’ — taking lots of credit with him and not much of the capability. At least he converted that credit to cash.
Samuelsson on the 3rd Line?
Conventional wisdom seems to be that Samuelsson may be traded off Ryan Kesler’s wing. This could very well happen, but if the Canucks manage the salary cap right, it’s not a necessity. Samuelsson played a strong role as a 3rd line checking scorer in Detroit, and always seemed to respond well when demoted to 3rd line duties in Vancouver. It’s been argued that he responds so well because he gets angry, but whatever the cause, he seems to straddle the border between being a 2nd or 3rd line player. He’s a streaky scorer, so on the 2nd line he can seem out of place half the time, but on the bottom six, scoring streaks are a pleasant surprise.
Samuelsson’s Cup experience is valuable to have on the team. So is the extra option on the point on the power play. If he could click with the likes of Malhotra and Hansen, the Canucks would benefit from his presence. Most importantly, should Kesler’s wingers get injured in the playoffs again, Alain Vigneault would have a replacement option that knows Ryan Kesler and can jump on a line with him without a long learning curve.Blogs Are For Wish Lists, Canucks, Isbister is Socks, Last Post With an Ehrhoff Tag, Off-Season Blues, Samuelsson, Third Man In