With Canucks defenseman falling like flies from game to game there’s certainly a building pressure on the team to act come the deadline. While players like Ballard, Alberts, and Edler are all expected to return before the playoffs, how much worse is it going to get before it gets better? Hamhuis’ injury of a concussion is likely the most unpredictable, veterans like Nolan Baumgartner injured down on the Manitoba Moose, and players the Canucks don’t want to lose to the waiver wire in Nathan Paetsch and Ryan Parent, Mike Gillis has a tough decision to make.
If the Blackhawks and Flyers taught us anything last year, it was that great defense can be enough to go the distance (or fall just short). The Canucks have dressed 18 different defensemen in the last 18 months dating back to last year, and with the playoffs fast approaching it’s gut check time. There is no doubt that Mike Gillis has done an excellent job of adding key pieces to the blue line and that this has to be the most excruciatingly frustrating thing to see from game to game. There’s no doubt that the on and off NHL leaders will be buyers this deadline so let’s look at who the Canucks may pick up.
Tomas Kaberle: The always effervescent Tomas Kaberle rumours are undoubtedly back to a near all-time high. With the Leafs sitting well out of a playoff spot and Brian Burke sitting at the phones night and day it wouldn’t surprise me to see Kaberle moved. He comes with a hefty price tag, however if Gillis can keep the Canucks cap compliant until the playoffs it doesn’t matter who returns from the IR after that. In the absence of Edler, the need for a powerplay quarterback is there but to get Kaberle the Canucks would have to give up quite a lot to the hardballer Brian Burke.
Chris Phillips: Chris Phillips is probably the best fit of all blueliners on the free agent market right now. The 32 year old is a part of a last place Ottawa Senators and would fill a role the Canucks have now lost twice to concussion. Phillips, a shut down, stay at home defenseman is exactly what Willie Mitchell was and does exactly what Hamhuis was trying to do. He comes with a little more size and physical prowess which the Canucks blueline needs outside of Kevin Bieksa. Missing Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts really takes away from the blue line’s physical presence, an aspect of the Canucks game that Phillips could elevate.
Jan Hejda: Coming to the end of his first multi-year deal and the end of a 3-year, $6 million contact, Jan Hejda is an interesting option and my off the board pick for the Canucks. His $2 million cap hit is manageable and allows for the slotting back in of some of the Canucks injured blueliners. While he doesn’t come with a wealth of playoff experience – 3 games to be exact – he brings some veteran presence to a blueline that has currently dressed three rookie defensemen this season in Chris Tanev, Lee Sweatt, and Yann Sauve.
There are a few other names there that could also work. Depending on whether or not the Sabres are sellers at the deadline pending UFA Steve Montador could be a decent pick up. He has the playoff experience that saw him fall just short of a cup in his run with the Flames and he comes with a reasonable price tag too.
The biggest thing that Gillis is going to have to contend with is of course the cap. Kaberle and Phillips are nice wish list items but come with cap hits of $4.25 and $3.5 million respectively. If the cap was no issue for Gillis though and some of our blue liners prove to be out indefinitely (say for example Hamhuis’ injury is worse than expected – I sincerely hope it is not) then my last pick would St. Louis Blues defenseman Eric Brewer. He comes with a cap hit that’s quite hefty, but would provide a veteran presence on a blue line that is desperately lacking it right now. Gillis is under some pressure to make a move this deadline. Ultimately his challenge will be to keep as much of his current assets sinice he’s built the best team in Canucks history and lets be honest, no one wants to see this season derailed because of injuries.