The Canucks went into the off season on a bitter note, and after an off season that had it’s ups and downs, including long stretches of nothing, and flurries of action, the regular season is fast approaching and the pre-season is right around the corner. In what was the busiest off season the Canucks have had in years, the pieces are slowly falling into place and it’s time to ramp up for another run.
At the start of free agency all eyes were on the status of Daniel and Henrik Sedin who have been an increasing part of the Canucks core group of players over recent years. After both sides fought a battle of attrition for the better part leading up to the Free Agent deadline, it took an eleventh hour deal and some last minute traveling by Mike Gillis to lock up the twins for 5 years and 30.5 million dollars each.
The other key re-signing by the Canucks this off season was Roberto Luongo who wasn’t scheduled to be a Free Agent until next season. After rumours swirling, fake twitter accounts, and lots of speculation, Luongo inked a 12 year extension for a total of 64 million dollars.
Amongst the RFAs the Canucks qualified and resigned role player Jannik Hansen, and Kyle Wellwood after heading to arbitration found he’ll be with the Canucks for one more season. Shane O’Brien the Goalless Wonder signed a deal that saw him get a raise from last season to 1.7 million dollars for the 09-10 campaign. While 1.7 million seemed a little over priced for a number five defenseman of his calibre, keep in mind, if he scores in the first game of the season he’ll be on a two game goal scoring streak!
Of the RFAs the Canucks extended Steve Bernier and Rick Rypien both for 2 years. The Canucks re-signed defenseman Nolan Baumgartner who was amongst the Moose’s top defenseman last year, and after losing Lawrence Nycholat earlier in the season the Canucks picked him up as a free agent from Colorado.
Amongst those leaving the Canucks, the exodus this season included everything from minor league players, to cornerstone blue liners. The biggest of those the Canucks lost this summer was blue liner Mattias Ohlund. Ohlund who was a career Canuck to that point was a quick departure as soon as the pool struck free agency.
Taylor Pyatt was a free agent this season, and after not receiving an offer form the Canucks signed at the end of the off season with the Coyotes. Joining Pyatt in Phoenix will be Vancouver-native and former backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera who signed a two year deal with the Coyotes. Curtis Sanford signed a deal with the Canadiens, and defenseman Ossi Vaananen, a playoff rental player, and Rob Davison both left via free agency.
Notable minor league player Jason Jaffray was lost to the Flames via free agency. He was a solid player that would likely have not made the team this season with the introduction of Hodgson and Grabner as serious candidates for roster spots.
Gillis had two jobs for this off season. Find a top 6 defenseman and sign a top 4 forward. After being relatively quiet through the start of free agency, passing on most of the big name players, Gillis made a smart pick up from a Detroit team that was feeling the stinging restriction of a salary cap and losing players to free agency left right and center. The Canucks signed Mikael Samuelsson to a 3 year deal bringing to the team a player that had Olympic experience with the Sedins, and had that Swedish connection with several other Canucks. Samuelsson is an upgrade from Pyatt, but doesn’t fulfill the requirement for a top 6 forward.
Gillis addressed the Canucks need for a cheap backup goaltender with the signing of former Calder winning goaltender Andrew Raycroft. While Raycroft struggled after his rookie campaign, in a limited back up position behind Roberto Luongo he could thrive, and at a league minimum salary, you can’t go wrong.
After going quiet the rest of the off season Mike Gillis made his move poaching from a salary dumping Sharks team and literally stealing two of their better defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich in exchange for struggling prospect Patrick White and Daniel Rahimi.
Within moments of announcing the trade with the Sharks, Gillis continued along the lines of his “Defense Wins Championships” Model and signed veteran puck-moving blue liner Mathieu Schneider to bolster a Canucks defense that saw the likes of Mitchell, Salo, Edler and Bieksa.
While Gillis seems to have addressed the void Ohlund left in a more than adequate fashion, there still remains to be a solution for the required top six forward. The Canucks right now are over the cap were the season to start today, and with the abundance of defenseman, coupled with the amount over the cap being approximately what one blue liner costs, it’s clear that before the season comes around Gillis has at least one more move up his sleeve.
With the extension of Luongo the likelihood of Cory Schneider remaining a Canuck diminishes, and as a result we’re likely yet to see the exodus of a defenseman, and our prospect goalie, before the pre-season rolls around in a few weeks. Gillis has remained to stand by his original statement that if Sundin wants to return he will make room under the cap for him to return to the team. Sundin is yet to make a decision about his future, but with the Canucks backs to the cap wall, and Sundin commanding the large salary he did, it would take a package deal for prospects or picks, and a big Sundin pay cut to see the veteran Swede in the lineup come September. Of note, a potential addition to the Canucks roster this year could be former Canuck Dave Scatchard who has been invited to Canucks training camp and is attempting a comeback to the NHL after having taken some time off to rehabilitate several injuries.