Due to the Canucks long playoff run, the team is in for a very short offseason. The NHL entry draft is in four days and free agency begins in only eleven days. Mike Gillis has some work to do, as all GMs do. Luckily for the Canucks, most of their core is locked up long term, but there are a few key players that will become restricted free agents. Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo, Andrew Alberts, Raffi Torres, Chris Higgins, Tanner Glass and Jeff Tambellini are all unrestricted free agents on July 1st. Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen, Victor Oreskovich and Alex Bolduc are all restricted free agents.
While who Mike Gillis decides to sign and not sign will affect the look of the 2011-12 Vancouver Canucks, he may also be in the market to make a trade or two. He might need to make a move to free up cap space, or to find the missing piece of the puzzle.
Today we will look at the Canucks’ goaltenders and defencemen. Later in the week I will look in depth at their forwards and before July 1st I will look into who the Canucks can go out and sign from elsewhere.
Lets start with the most polarizing figure on the team, Roberto Luongo:
Despite his critics, he is still one of the premiere goaltenders in the NHL. There’s no doubting his skill, and he has done everything short of winning a Vezina and winning a Stanley Cup. But despite this, you can’t argue that he has had a strange propensity of getting into slumps at inopportune times. His play in game 4, 5, and 6 of the Chicago series left some room for concern. He gave up some bizzare goals against Nashville. And in the Stanley Cup finals he had four sub-par games. One could argue that he was outplayed in 3 of the 4 series. It seems strange to say, because when he was good, he was VERY good. But unfortunately the good does not erase the bad. Despite all of this, I believe Luongo is an excellent goalie that can win a Stanley Cup. And because he has a no trade clause, he won’t be going anywhere.
I believe in Roberto Luongo, but I also believe in Cory Schneider. Schneider is unproven of course, and it would remain to be seen if he could carry the mail as a number one netminder. In a perfect world, the Canucks would trade Luongo, clear cap space and go with the younger/cheaper Schneider. That would give them approximately $4 million more to play with. Because of Luongo’s no-trade clause, that would be a risky proposition, given that he could say no and then you have a rift in the relationship between your top goalie and management. They could also choose to trade Schneider and find a journeyman goalie to backup Luongo. While that could possibly fetch them a good second line winger to play with Ryan Kesler, but Mike Gillis will likely play it safe and keep both of his goalies for at least one more year. He stays.
No doubt here, he stays. He was their best offseason acquisition and is their best shutdown defenceman.
He is an unrestricted free agent and will surely get a raise on the $3.75 million he made last season. On the open market, he would command over $5 million for sure, but it seems like he might be willing to take less to stay in Vancouver. If the Canucks could convince him to sign for the same as Hamhuis ($4.5 million), it would be a steal. I think he stays.
Like Bieksa, Ehrhoff is an unrestricted free agent. Like Bieksa, he will command over $5 million on the open market. He says that he might take less to play in Vancouver, but I don’t think he will as much as Bieksa. Ehrhoff is their most talented offensive defenceman and he is one of the most important players on their potent power play. The Canucks would be wise to re-sign him, but it might not fit in their salary structure. If he doesn’t stay, then a likely destination for him would be Detroit. Without Brian Rafalski, Ehrhoff would be a fine replacement. It’s probably 50/50, but I think he goes.
He isn’t going anywhere, and if the Canucks are unable to re-sign Christian Ehrhoff, his role as an offensive force will likely expand.
It will be very interesting to see what happens with Sami Salo. One of the longest serving current Canucks, Salo made $3.5 million last season. As you might be aware of, he is quite injury prone. He has also lost a step and is also 36 years old. I can’t imagine the Canucks locking him up for more than one year, and if they do, what will be the price? He played well after returning from injury, but I don’t think the Canucks can afford to pay him big money given his lack of reliability due to injuries. If he accepts a one year, $2 million deal, I think it would work. Otherwise, he leaves. I think Salo stays.
Rome has one more year left on his contract at a very affordable $750,000 cap hit. He is a favourite of Alain Vigneault, and we found out why after he was suspended in the Stanley Cup final. The team missed his reliability and grit. He is a dependable depth defenceman, and will be back next season.
Alberts had a strong season and the Canucks would probably like to have him back, but I’m betting that he will want more playing time and will sign elsewhere.
The most intriguing decision that Mike Gillis will make this offseason will probably be with Keith Ballard. To say he had a disappointing season is putting it nicely. He has four more years left on a deal that pays him $4.2 million per season. That likely means that his contract is impossible to trade. Gillis can decide to keep him and hope he has a bounce-back season, or dump him in the minors in order to re-sign Christian Ehrhoff. The problem with dumping in the minors is that it likely won’t please Francesco Aquilini, who would be on the hook for paying Ballard $16.8 million dollars for a minor leaguer! My best guess is that he stays and has a bounce-back season, but it’s a toss-up.
Chris Tanev has all but locked up a spot on next year’s roster, given his strong play in the Stanley Cup Final. His calm, cool demeanor was great to see. Having a good, young, cheap defenceman is a nice thing to have in a salary cap system. He makes just $900,000 next year.