The countdown to the free agent frenzy is on. July 1st marks the first day of free agency 2010 and the Canucks are sure to be busy. The Canucks currently have five regulars scheduled to become unrestricted free agents and four regulars set to become restricted free agents. Clearly not all of them will be back and some new players will be added via free agency. There is also the potential for young players to step into the lineup and more trades to happen. So what will Mike Gillis do? Well, lets try to figure that out right now:
Unrestricted Free Agents:
Willie Mitchell: Perhaps the most valuable Canucks defenceman over the last number of years, most in the know are assuming that the Port Alberni native’s days are numbered in Vancouver. Mitchell, 33, made $3.5 million last season and should still have a couple more very productive years left. If not for his concussion history, I think the Canucks would be wise to re-sign him at the same money for a couple more years. The question is what will he command on the open market? He’ll probably land somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4 million on a short term deal or $3.5 on a 3-4 year deal. I don’t think he’ll be back, but I think they should try to keep him.
Pavol Demitra: Needless to say Demitra will not be back. He had a disappointing two seasons in Vancouver and isn’t a top six forward anymore with the players they have.
Andrew Raycroft: The one-way deal for Cory Schneider means that Raycroft won’t be back, though he was probably destined to go somewhere else anyway where he can get more money and playing time.
Ryan Johnson: Johnson is now 34 years old and has a lot of mileage on his body. His heart is unquestionable but he provides little offense and has lost a step. He had a very poor year on the penalty kill last year and I don’t think he’ll be back. He’ll find another spot in the league most likely, but at less than the $1.15 million he earned last season.
Kyle Wellwood: Sorry to say it, but I think Canuckz.com blogger Sean Ovariez’s favourite player will be playing somewhere else next season. Wellwood is just so inconsistent and doesn’t provide that grit element the Canucks were missing in the playoffs. Add the fact that the Canucks are probably hoping that Cody Hodgson takes over the third line centre role next season and I think the writing is on the wall, but he’ll be missed.
Restricted Free Agents:
Mason Raymond: Raymond will be back, but the question is at what price? A good comparable is Wojtek Wolski, who at a similar age and production just signed a two year deal worth $3.8 million per season. Wolski probably has the better resume thus far, so expect Raymond to make less than that, but not much less. Bet on about $3.2 million per season.
Shane O’Brien: O’Brien got a qualifying offer from the Canucks worth $1.6 million. The question is, is that too much for the role he plays? With the acquisition of Keith Ballard, O’Brien is now sixth on the depth chart. I like O’Brien, but I don’t think you can afford to pay your sixth d-man that kind of coin. He might be trade bait.
Tanner Glass: Glass brought some nice elements to the team last season, but I don’t think he’ll be back. He was good, but the team will probably be looking for more potential in his spot.
Jannik Hansen: Jannik Hansen is an interesting case. He’s still young at age 24, and was actually quite productive. Something tells me he won’t be back though. Perhaps it’s because he’s not Alain Vigneault’s favourite guy or perhaps they just want more grit and toughness on the third/fourth line.
Young Players Ready to Step In:
Cory Schneider: The young netminder signed a two year one-way deal worth $900,000 per season and will be handed the backup job behind Roberto Luongo. Mike Gillis has hinted that Schneider will get more playing time than Luongo’s backups have in the past.
Cody Hodgson: The Canucks most important prospect is now two years removed from his draft year and the team will do anything it can to give him the third line centre job. Assuming that he’s recovered from his injury troubles from last season he should be up for the challenge. Cross your fingers.
Jordan Schroeder: Schroeder didn’t have a great year last season with the University of Minnesota, notching 28 points in 37 games. At the end of the college season, he joined the Manitoba Moose and looked impressive. He put up 9 points in 11 regular season games and 6 points in 6 playoff games. That’s an impressive pro hockey debut, but I’m thinking he’ll probably need some more seasoning in the AHL.
Evan Oberg: In his first season of pro hockey Oberg lead all Moose d-men in scoring at age 21. He’s still young and could challenge for a job with the big club next season He’s probably destined to be a call-up from the Moose though.
In my mind the Canucks have a few pieces that could be offered up in a trade. Most notably, Kevin Bieksa could become expendable with the acquisition of Keith Ballard and perhaps the signing of free agent d-man. Shane O’Brien is in much the same situation as Bieksa (overpaid for his spot on the depth chart) and could be on the block. Look for at least one of them to go.
Up front, the trading of Michael Grabner probably solidifies Mason Raymond’s spot with the team. I say probably, because if he demands too much money as a restricted free agent he might be gone. That’s a long shot though. Darcy Hordichuk didn’t play a playoff game last season, but something tells me that he’ll be back.
So Who Will Gillis Bring Into the Fold?
Check back tomorrow when Canuckz.com will take a look at the most likely free agents the Canucks will target on July 1st. We’ll also take a stab at a few juicy trade rumours making the rounds. Remember to follow yours truly on Twitter for all the updates.