The Vancouver Canucks will play tonight’s game in Nashville without Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Andrew Alberts and, as we found out this morning, Kevin Bieksa. That’s 5 of their top 7 defencemen out of the lineup. To make matters worse, minor leaguer Lee Sweatt broke his foot in practice. Even the Manitoba Moose have injury troubles on the blueline, with Nolan Baumgartner suffering an injury last week. He might have been one of the recent call-ups.
After weeks of rumours, Willie Mitchell finally ended the suspense on Wednesday, signing a two-year deal worth $3.5 million per season. According to most, including yours truly, he hit a home run. While still a very effective defenseman, I thought that he would have to give up a little bit more money and/or term given his age and concussion history. Quite simply, he was out of the Canucks price range. The Canucks are very deep on defense and already have an injury riddled d-man they’re holding their breathe on with Sami Salo.
All signs are pointing to the Willie Mitchell making a decision on where to play this week. Mitchell has worked out for the Canucks, Sharks, Kings and Capitals this week. One would assume that he is undergoing physicals to prove his health to these teams before they tender him an offer. He has reportedly already been offered a two-year deal by the Los Angeles Kings, but the price is not yet known. Cap-wise, the Kings are by far in the best position. The Sharks could also fit-in Mitchell with relative ease, that is if they stick with Niittymaki and Greiss in net. The Capitals and Canucks are both in tight against the cap as it is, and would probably need to get creative.
The rumour mill is heating up with regards to Willie Mitchell and shockingly it appears the Canucks may still be in the race. It looks like the free agent d-man is now symptom free and will be ready to start the season. He has also reportedly narrowed his search to four teams: Washington, Detroit, San Jose and Vancouver. Mike Gillis didn’t do anything to curtail rumours, admitting to talking to Mitchell.
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:
Well, we’ve all had a chance to take a deep breath, sit back and really think about the year that was for our beloved Vancouver Canucks. Gone is the emotion/heartbreak/disappointment/anger from their second straight second round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. What’s left is a better chance for impartial analysis as to what they did, what they have and what they should do.
Both have been keeping me up at night. Thankfully, Sami Salo is taking tonight off against the San Jose Sharks. The underrated Nolan Baumgartner will fill-in in his place. Did you know that ‘Baumer’ is a career +22 in 97 career games in a Canucks uniform? He’s played in ten games this season and has been a minus player only once. So this is a good move for the oft-injured Salo. Every time he goes into the corner to retrieve a puck I’m worried that he’s going to get injured. The “new Mitchell” has stepped up his game this year, and in my estimation has been the team’s best d-man this season. He’s also been remarkably healthy, which can only mean one thing: he’s due. A Sami Salo injury, combined with Willie Mitchell’s injury, could cause the Canucks to get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
After calling the Canucks “Cup pretenders” last Friday, I must admit that I was starting to believe they were contenders with one of the most impressive outings of the season against the Senators on Saturday followed up by a 1st period knockout of the Calgary Flames the next day. But then came the Islanders game on Tuesday night. Now I’m not suggesting that Canucks fans should begin panicking about this team because of it, but it certainly didn’t help. Another thing that didn’t help was losing first star of the week, Mikael Samuelsson. He’ll be gone 2-3 weeks with a shoulder injury or so we’re told (and we’ve been lied to before, see Dan Cloutier). With that said, here are a few random thoughts going through my head as the playoffs loom:
With 15 games left in the regular season and the nightmare record road trip behind them, one thing is still not clear. Are the Canucks contenders or pretenders? It’s a question that doesn’t elicit a unanimous response. I think that we as Canucks fans underrate this edition of the Canucks (just as we overrated the Naslund-Bertuzzi era Canucks).
Willie Mitchell and Ryan Kesler are fighting mad. Jim Jamieson is reporting that Ryan Kesler and Willie Mitchell almost fought this morning at practice. What is up with that? Usually this happens when a team is in the midst of a losing streak, not just right after a win. It also doesn’t usually happen with two assistant captains. Even weirder is that this is the second time that Willie Mitchell has been involved in something like this in the last calendar year. During an eight game losing streak last year, Mitchell was involved in an altercation with Mason Raymond. Is this a case of Willie Mitchell being a little chippy in practice? Or maybe there’s a rift in the dressing room. Either way, don’t believe the spin that’s sure to come, this is not a good sign.