One of the most exciting days on the NHL calendar is just around the corner. That day is trade deadline day, and it’s less than two weeks away. We have already gotten a taste of deadline day in recent days, with the Leafs and Senators beginning to offload players.
This is probably going to be the most important trade deadline in the history of the Vancouver Canucks. Never before has this franchise been so well positioned to challenge for the NHL’s top prize and it’s time to load up. The time to load up is not when you’re struggling to make the playoffs. It’s when you’re close, and can fill a need with a role player or two that fit a need. Recent examples of this include the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 (Brad Stuart) and the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 (Brad May). Stuart and May were not the most talented players available at either deadline, but they helped their new teams win the Stanley Cup.
The Canucks currently sit in top spot in the Western Conference, so they don’t need major changes. But with that said, there are a couple of areas that Mike Gillis should try to improve before the clock strikes noon on February 28.
The Canucks fourth line has been a revolving door all year long. It has lacked an identity and perhaps more importantly, lacked a natural centre. The Canucks should be in the market for a gritty centre that can win faceoffs and be dependable in his own end. The fourth line could also use a little more size and physicality, which could come in the form of a gritty winger.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Canucks have suffered a few injuries on defense. Alex Edler, Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts are all injured but are expected back in time for the playoffs. As long as that’s the case, then the Canucks can make due for now. There seems to be less certainty with Dan Hamhuis, he of the concussion. If Mike Gillis feels like Hamhuis will be ready for the playoffs, then not to worry. If however he feels like Hamhuis could be gone for a long period of time, then a top four defenseman has to be the top priority. In any case, the Canucks would be well advised to add yet another defenseman, for the right price, for insurance.
The NHL’s salary cap might be the most difficult thing to figure out as a fan when your team has had a lot of injuries. The Canucks are a cap team, but will get some unexpected salary relief due to all of their recent injuries. How much? Good question. CapGeek.com is probably the best tool out there, but with the return of so many injured players uncertain, it’s very difficult to figure out. Mike Gillis will likely be able to add an inexpensive player at the deadline without problem, but adding a player that makes over $3 million may mean some roster juggling.
Who is Available?
I’m not going to pretend like I have insider knowledge, but it’s often possible to decipher who is going to be available. Teams that have fallen out of playoff contention usually attempt to move pending unrestricted free agents on their roster (as the Senators have already done with Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly). With that said, here is a list of players that will likely be available and would be a good fit for the Canucks:
Chris Phillips, Ottawa Senators
Contract: One year left with a $3.5 million cap hit.
What he brings to the table: He has been a shutdown defenseman for the Senators for a number of years now, but he’s having an off-year. He hast a no trade clause, but it’s uncertain whether or not he will want to waive it.
Eric Brewer, St Louis Blues
Contract: One year left with a $4.25 million cap hit
What he brings to the table: Steady, stay at home defenseman. Leadership (he’s the Blues captain) and experience (he won Olympic gold for Canada in 2002).
Ian White, Carolina Hurricanes
Contract: One year left at $3 million.
What he brings to the table: A poor man’s Kevin Bieksa, White had a career year last year notching 13 goals, 25 assists and was a +8 splitting time between Toronto and Calgary. This year hasn’t been as kind to White, but he would still be a nice insurance policy.
Andy Greene, New Jersey Devils
Contract: One year left with a $0.738 million cap hit
What he brings to the table: A solid puck moving defenseman, he would provide the Canucks depth and could play on the power play.
Radek Martinek, New York Islanders
Contract: One year left with a $1.5 million cap hit
What he brings to the table: He’s been a top 4 defenseman for a number of years on the island. That doesn’t say much, but he’d be a capable replacement and fill-in for injuries.
Jan Hejda, Columbus Blue Jackets
Contract: One year left with a $2 million cap hit.
What he brings to the table: See Radek Martinek but substitute-in Columbus for New York.
Adam Foote, Colorado Avalanche
Contract: One year left at $1.25 million
What he brings to the table: Experience, leadership and toughness. Nobody crosschecks guys and gets away with it, other than Chris Pronger. The question is his age and if he’s over the hill.
Fourth Line Centre
Zenon Konopka, New York Islanders
Contract: One year left at $0.6 million
What he brings to the table: Toughness. Not sure if he’s a good fit because he takes a lot of penalties. He’s a fourth line centre/enforcer which is not very common.
Marty Reasoner, Florida Panthers
Contract: One year left at $1.15 million
What he brings to the table: Good two-way forward. Already has 11 goals and is a +8 on a bad Florida team.
Fourth Line Winger
Rob Niedermayer, Buffalo Sabres
Contract: One year left at $1.25 million.
What he brings to the table: He’s having a bad year, with no goals yet this season. The good news is he won’t cost much but the bad news is he might be terrible. Perhaps a chance to play in his home province would be the spark he needs.
Mike Grier, Buffalo Sabres
Contract: One year left at $1.4 million.
What he brings to the table: He would be a perfect fit on the fourth line. He hits and can score goals and has a lot of experience.