Unlike Richard, I don’t believe that Gillis is spending too much money on too few key pieces. (Hey, just because we write on the same site doesn’t mean we can’t have different opinions.) While I agree that the Sedins and Luongo (current contract and any future contract extension) take up more than one-third of the Canucks’ cap room, I don’t think this necessarily means that he has handcuffed himself financially, and a quick trip down the salary cap era memory lane proves this.
In the 2006/2007 season when the salary cap was at $44 million, the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup with 39% of their cap space dedicated to three players: Scott Niedermayer ($6.75 million), Chris Pronger ($6.25 million) and Jean-Sebastian Giguere ($3.99 million). Add Teemu Selanne ($3.75 million) and Andy Macdonald ($3.3 million) and that’s 55% of their cap space dedicated to five players. The other Stanley Cup finalist that year, the Ottawa Senators, had 36% of their cap space to three playes: Wade Redden ($6.5 million), Daniel Alfredsson ($4.677 million) and Dany Heatley ($4.5 million). Include Jason Spezza ($4.5 million) and Martin Gerber ($3.7 million) and that’s 54% of their cap space dedicated to five players.
In the 2007/2008 season when the salary cap was at $50.3 million, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup with 40% of their cap space dedicated to three players: Nicklas Lidstrom ($7.6 million), Pavel Datsyuk ($6.7 million) and Brian Rafalski ($6 million). Add Dominik Hasek ($4.05 million) and Nicklas Kronwall ($3 million) and that’s 48% of their cap space dedicated to five players.
Likewise, when the salary cap was at $56.6 million last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup with 33% of their cap space dedicated to three players: Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million), Sergei Gonchar ($5 million) and Marc-Andre Fleury ($5 million). Add Evgeni Malkin ($3.834 million) and Brooks Orpik ($3.75 million) and that’s 46% of their cap space dedicated to five players. The finalists, the Detroit Red Wings, had 38% dedicated to three players: Lidstrom ($7.45 million), Marian Hossa ($7.45 million) and Datsyuk ($6.7 million). Add Rafalski ($6 million) and that’s 49% dedicated to four players.
If you haven’t noticed yet, the three previous Stanley Cup winners and finalists all committed big money to a select few players.
This isn’t to say that Gillis’ game plan will guarantee a Stanley Cup to Vancouver, but it at least says it’s possible. However, what will ultimately determine the Canucks’ success are two things: 1) whether or not Gillis committed the money to the right players, and 2) whether or not he can surround those players with the proper surrounding cast.
With regards to the first point, I believe the Sedins and Luongo is as good a group of three players to start building a team around. The Sedins are generally acknowledged as top-20 players in the NHL and both are signed to reasonable cap hits of $6.1 million each. If Gillis hadn’t re-signed them, his alternatives would have been to either start a full-blown youth movement and promote the likes of Kesler, Burrows, Hodgson, Grabner and Schroeder to more prominent roles, or take his chances that he could’ve signed two marquee unrestricted free agents to replace the Sedins. The former would kill the Canucks’ chances of signing Luongo to a contract extension; in hindsight, the latter wouldn’t have been likely considering what the marquee free agents signed for. (Well, I suppose he could have signed any two of Gaborik, Havlat, Hossa, Cammalleri and Gionta during the free agency frenzy, but then the Canucks would still be in the same position cap-wise.)
IMHO, the second point is where Gillis made his biggest strides. Fans can criticize the Mats Sundin and Pavol Demitra signings all they want, but both helped provide the Canucks with a legitimate second scoring line. Other Gillis signings, Ryan Johnson, Kyle Wellwood, Steve Bernier, Shane O’Brien and Darcy Hordichuk all had noticeable contributions, unlike Byron Ritchie, Brad Isbister, Tommi Santala, etc. from previous years. (BTW, this isn’t necessarily a criticism of Dave Nonis, but I do want to point out the difference in supporting casts.) Gillis may have committed a large chunk of cap space to the Sedins and Luongo, but he’s also done a very good job of assembling a strong supporting cast with the space he had left.