The biggest deal on draft day in 2010 once again involves the Vancouver Canucks. The same team that brought you Alex Mogilny (1995 draft), the Sedin twins (1999 draft) and Roberto Luongo (2006 draft) did it again. While not as big as the aforementioned trades, the acquisition of Keith Ballard is significant. The Canucks acquired Keith Ballard and prospect Victor Oreskovich in exchange for their first round draft pick, Michael Grabner and Steve Bernier.
In the short term I like this trade but I think it is a bad deal long-term. Keith Ballard is exactly what the Canucks need. He’s a mobile, gritty defenceman who can play big minutes in their top four (he’s also no longer on Tomas Vokoun’s Christmas card list). He’s also only 27, so he shouldn’t be over the hill. That’s the upside. The downside is that he makes $4.2 million and has five years left on his deal. That makes him the Canucks highest paid d-man. Can Ballard play in a shutdown role? Can he play on their first unit power play? That remains to be seen. He’ll be a useful player for them, no doubt, but to justify making $4.2 million he needs to be one of their top two defencemen.
The other player acquired in the deal is a prospect by the name of Victor Oreskovich. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be an impact player but he sure is big. The Whitby, ON native was a 2nd round draft pick in the 2004 draft and is 6’3″ and 215 pounds. He split time between the NHL and AHL last season. He’s got a cap friendly salary at $438,000 next season. I’m guessing his potential is to be a third or fourth liner that can provide some size and grit.
So what did the Canucks give up? In Michael Grabner, they’re officially giving up on Dave Nonis’ first round draft pick from the 2006 draft. He was picked 14th overall, so it’s disappointing that he wasn’t able to fetch more in return. I believe Grabner is just about ready to make an impact at the NHL level, and probably has potential to become a 30 goal scorer. The problem with him is that there isn’t much room for him with the Canucks next season. Their top six will be filled with the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, Raymond and Samuelsson. To play Grabner on their fourth line certainly wouldn’t help getting grit into their lineup.
Steve Bernier’s time with the Canucks was filled with lots of effort, but no finish. The bottom line is that his lack of finish reduced his role to the third line and wasn’t particularly effective on the penalty kill or power play. He was set to make $2 million next season, so getting rid of his salary was a plus. He’s a nice player to have, but not at his salary.
The Canucks also parted with the 25th overall pick in this year’s draft. I’m a little bothered with the Canucks losing this pick, given that they already don’t have a pick in the second and third round. Mike Gillis must work at acquiring some draft picks or else the cupboard will be bare.
The Canucks gave up a lot to get Keith Ballard and for this trade to be viewed as a success, Ballard must deliver. While this trade doesn’t eliminate the chances of the Canucks landing another free agent like Dan Hamhuis, it doesn’t help it. This trade likely means Willie Mitchell won’t be back with the team, although that was already common knowledge. Ballard provides a lot of what Kevin Bieksa brings to the table, so this deal could be a precursor to the underachieving d-man being shipped out of town.
I also believe that this is an early sign from Gillis that he’s going to ‘go for it’. The window of opportunity is now for Gillis. Roberto Luongo had an off-year last season, but he should still be considered one of the top 5 netminders in the league. Their forwards are deep and have high end talent. Their defence needs improving and Gillis is attempting to do that in this trade and can improve it some more with some free agent signings. What I’d really like to see is a true #1 defenceman in blue and green, but those guys are hard to come by. Ballard is useful, but certainly not a true #1. In any case, I believe the window for this team is open for the next 1-2 maybe 3 years. The time is now.