Matt Lee

Matt Lee has been a Canucks follower and a prototypical Canadian for years; it started on the streets by playing road hockey before and after Vancouver Canucks games and it's brought him here. After graduating from SFU with a BA in Communications and a minor in History while serving as the student newspaper's sports editor for two years, Matt is now a student at BCIT's Broadcast Journalism program in hopes of becoming a sports broadcaster.

Apr 092014
 

In typical Trevor Linden fashion, Vancouver’s favourite son has arrived – and not a moment too soon.

Brought back from obscurity – and a successful venture establishing gyms around the Lower Mainland – Trevor Linden’s appointment to the position of president of hockey operations comes with many responsibilities. Linden will oversee all decisions regarding the coaching, scouting, drafting, trading, and player development, essentially wielding the big and powerful rubber stamp.

That’s a lot of power, even for the man who 26 years ago began his ascent to becoming the most iconic Canucks player in franchise history.

You can call the move whatever you want to call it. Call it a move by ownership to appease unhappy season ticket holders, or a decision to boost the franchise’s tainted image in the public eye. But as the great Yoda would probably say: Sense, this makes none.

Linden, as great as he once was, has been gone from the game for six years. That’s a long time. He always kept close ties with the Canucks during that span sure, but always kept his distance. For the Canucks to pull their white knight back into the fold is a move which has as much risk as it has reward.

First, the best-case scenario: Trevor Linden picks up the ball and runs with it right away; his decisions are all golden maneuvers which helps the franchise climb out of mediocrity for the first time in three years and catapults them back into elite territory in quick and timely fashion, effectively saving the franchise from falling into the NHL’s basement like many projected would’ve been the case under the charge of Mike Gillis.

Now, the worst-case scenario: Linden’s lack of hands-on experience in an NHL front office leaves him slow to adapt, and his execution on decisions hampers the Canucks ability to rise from the ashes and Vancouver’s white knight and his image in the public eye leaves some questioning whether or not he’s fit to be the leader of this team.

Linden is not cut from the same cloth as players-turned-executives like Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, and Cam Neely, all of whom spent considerable time in smaller front office roles before they took on the positions of president of hockey operations and general manager. Linden is being asked to go from a backstage role to the star of the show, and those great expectations that stem from a demanding Vancouver market are stacking the odds heavily against him as a result.

That’s a ton of pressure, again for a guy who has spent zero hours in the front office department. I’m not saying it can’t be done; if Linden makes the right hire for general manager and surrounds himself with people who can help him lead the charge, perhaps Linden can get the job done.

Linden’s reputation is on the line now. The prodigal son has a lot of work ahead.

Oct 172013
 
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Zack Kassian may be a creep, but would it hurt him to be a physical, goal-scoring creep too? (Vancouver Sun)

As bad as the Philadelphia Flyers are in the standings, the Buffalo Sabres are just as inept. The two are toiling away in the bottom of the Eastern Conference and if their early performances have been any indication, they’ll be there for quite some time.

On the second leg of a seven-game roadie, the Canucks have a chance to pick up consecutive road wins with what should be an easy opponent in Buffalo. After coming from behind to defeat the Flyers late on Tuesday, Vancouver can build some momentum with another two points.

What to watch

Too often lately have the Canucks entered the third period trailing. Vancouver’s been behind going into the final 20 minutes the last three occasions (San Jose, Montreal, Philadelphia) and would be best served with a strong start. I mean, they say it isn’t about how you start and it’s about how you finish, but would it kill anyone to come out of the gate with a little fire and perhaps a one- or two-goal lead?

Who to watch

After being largely invisible for the early part of the season, the Canucks finally got some goal support from Ryan Kesler, who chipped in with a pair of goals. He’s minus-four on the year which is worst on the team and also very uncharacteristic of him, but perhaps RK17 has turned the corner at just the right time.

Ditto goes for Chris Higgins, who finally bumped a goal-scoring slump dating all the way back to a regular season game against Edmonton — a span of 16 regular games — to pot the eventual game-winning marker in Philadelphia. Now, if only John Tortorella can find a way to get the likes of David Booth and Zack Kassian going, a lot of those questions about scoring support will be answered.

Speaking of Kassian, he returns to Buffalo for the first time since being traded at the 2012 trade deadline for Cody Hodgson. Kassian’s been largely subpar since the trade, and so far since returning from suspension has yet to show any of the fire and spark that management expected from him when the deal was consummated. It’ll still be a long time before anyone can judge who won the trade, but the fact that Hodgson is leading the Sabres in scoring early (despite his defensive deficiencies) surely isn’t currying Kassian any favour among the Canuck faithful.

Sticking with the Sabres, they’re getting a nice bounceback campaign from Ryan Miller, who despite just one win in five outings has a .939 save percentage. Miller was Team USA’s goaltender in the 2010 Olympics and while most pundits have pegged the likes of Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson, and Jimmy Howard for the 2014 roster, Miller is showing early he’s ready to put up a fight.

Who’s out

This game marks the last we’ll see of Alex Edler on the sidelines as he sits out the final contest of a three-game suspension, meaning we’ll likely see Yannick Weber as a healthy scratch from here on, barring injuries.

Alex Burrows is still out with a foot injury.

For the Sabres, one-time free agent superstar Ville Leino is on injured reserve, so we won’t be able to watch him do nothing on the ice for $4-million a season. Patrick Kaleta is serving his umpteenth suspension for a dangerous hit — this one a ten-gamer — and centre Zemgus Girgensons is questionable after suffering a cut to the face last game.

Oct 032013
 

canucks/sharks

The last time we see the Canucks and Sharks on the same ice, San Jose’s Patrick Marleau ended Vancouver’s season with an overtime goal. [Photo Credit: AP]

After what seemed like an eternity of useless preseason hockey, the Vancouver Canucks enter the regular season with a new bench boss, (some) new faces, and staring down a whole new era of uncertainty.

Unlike previous years, no one is penciling Vancouver in as early Stanley Cup favourites, and there are plenty of critics who think the club is bound to finish outside of the playoff bubble. There’s plenty cause for concern; the Sedins are a year older, Brad Richardson, Mike Santorelli, Zac Dalpe, and Ryan Stanton are the only additions from last year’s team, and the club success likely hinges around the health of Ryan Kesler and David Booth. Oh, and we haven’t even delved into the gong show that is the Roberto Luongo saga.

Nevertheless, it ultimately still is a brand new season. As quickly as things can go wrong, a team’s misfortune can turn into opportunity. The Canucks embark on a new season tonight against the Sharks, where the newly-named SAP Center (formerly the HP Pavilion) will be the site of the renewed rivalry between Vancouver and San Jose.

Last Year’s Meetings

Fans will remember last year’s humiliating four-game sweep at the hands of the Sharks; the Canucks were outscored 15-8, but two of those losses came in overtime and in actuality the series was closer then the combined score indicates. Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler led the way with a pair of goals each, but the trio of Zack Kassian, Chris Higgins, and Jannik Hansen were held pointless. (Dearly) departed trade deadline acquisition Derek Roy had one assist, so yeah, he won’t be missed.

Who to watch

Booth will play in the regular season opener for the first time as a Canuck after missing last year’s debut with injury, and like stated above, he’s a wildcard for any potential team success. Simply put, John Tortorella is banking on him to returning to his 20-goal form.

It’s also the first time fans will get a look at waiver wire pickup Ryan Stanton on the blueline; he’ll start the game on the third pairing with Chris Tanev. Ditto for recent acquisition Zac Dalpe, who will play between Dale Weise and Tom Sestito on the fourth line.

Roberto Luongo will get the start… Wait, we’re not playing that game anymore?

For the Sharks, keep a close eye on Tomas “Teenage Mutant Ninja” Hertl, San Jose’s 2012 first rounder who will start the year on the top line with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. Former Penguin-turned-Shark Tyler Kennedy will flank Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau for the second line.

Tonight’s Line Combos

For Vancouver

Sedin – Sedin – Burrows

Higgins – Kesler – Hansen

Booth – Santorelli – Richardson

Weise – Dalpe – Sestito

Edler – Garrison

Hamhuis – Bieksa

Stanton – Tanev

Luongo

Lack

For San Jose

Hertl – Thornton – Burns

Marleau – Couture – Kennedy

Nieto – Pavelski – Wingels

Sheppard – Desjardins – Hamilton

Irwin – Boyle

Vlasic – Braun

Stuart – Demers

Niemi

Stalock

Jul 042013
 

Michael Ryder

Photo credit: Vancouver Province

Still yet to re-sign Chris Tanev and already short on salary cap space, don’t expect the Vancouver Canucks to make any splashes tomorrow morning.

This won’t be like free agent frenzies of the past, meaning anyone expecting to sign players of the Dan Hamhuis or Jason Garrison ilk can keep dreaming. That means you can write off Jarome Iginla, Nathan Horton, and Mike Ribeiro.

Instead, Mike Gillis and the management team would be best served finding diamonds in the rough; players who come at a low salary and term and be excellent stop gaps while the Canucks rejuvenated prospect cupboard continues to grow.

Below are ten names Vancouver could (and maybe should) be targeting.

Michael Ryder, 33 – RW – 2013 Salary: $3.5M – Ryder has played for three teams (Boston, Dallas, Montreal) in the last three years, but that hasn’t prevented him from still being an effective player. He scored a career-high 35 goals for the Stars two years ago and 16 in this shortened season, showing that even at 33 years old he can still pot a few. The Canucks, if interested, won’t be offering more than the $3.5M he earned last season.

Damien Brunner, 27, RW – 2013 Salary: $1.35M – Brunner may yet still re-up with the Detroit Red Wings, but he’s likely looking for a little more money and a little more term than the one-year deal he signed with Detroit. The Swiss rookie (at age 27, mind you) posted 12 goals this past season and added another five during the Red Wings’ run to the second round in the playoffs. At just 5’11″, he would certainly go against the whole “get bigger” philosophy though.

Boyd Gordon, 29, C – 2013 Salary: $1.325M – After being drafted in the first round of 2002, Gordon has settled nicely into a fourth-line centre role, being a faceoff specialist and a penalty killing pro. The Canucks can use a player to replace the outgoing Manny Malhotra and Max Lapierre and therefore allow Ryan Kesler to settle back into a scoring role.

Matt Hendricks, 32, LW/RW – 2013 Salary: $.825M – Hendricks showed a couple years ago he was capable of being more than just a fourth line enforcer, posting a career-high 25 points. But maybe those days are long gone. Either way, he would add some much needed grit for the Canucks and would likely be a better option than having a Steve Pinnizotto on your fourth line.

Peter Mueller, 25, RW – 2013 Salary: $1.725M – Two years ago his future in the NHL was in question after being sidelined with concussion issues, but Mueller had a decent bounce back season with the Panthers last year, with 17 points in the shortened season. Can Mueller build on the first relatively healthy season in a while? Half the key to getting back to your old level of play is the confidence to play, and maybe Mueller has his groove back and is looking for a chance.

Viktor Stalberg, 27, LW/RW – 2013 Salary: $.875M – Was Stalberg an inconsistent player in Chicago, or was he buried behind a wealth of talent up front? You can make a case for either, but Stalberg still has the tools to be an impact player considering it was only a year ago he put up 22 goals and 43 points. If the Canucks are saying goodbye to Mason Raymond, Stalberg could be a replacement that may reap rewards or be even more maddeningly hard to watch.

Ty Wishart, 25, D – 2013 Salary: $.843M - Like Gordon, Wishart never really got off the ground since his 2006 draft at 16th overall from San Jose. But as a fringe NHL defenceman, he would be a cheap replacement for Andrew Alberts (and would use his 6’4″ frame more effectively, too). Plus, he’s not Cam Barker.

Jonathan Blum, 24, D – 2013 Salary: $.650M – If any potential signing seems like a lock, it would be Blum. He was (shockingly) not qualified by Nashville and became a free agent, and despite that, still has plenty of time to develop into an NHL defenceman. The former Vancouver Giant favourite has already expressed interest in coming back to Vancouver… plus, did I mention he’s not Cam Barker?

Yannick Weber, 24, D – 2013 Salary: $.850M - He’s not Cam Barker. Okay, that’s the last one. But in all seriousness, Weber is still at the stage of his career where he’s young enough that it would be unwise for a team to suddenly label him as an NHL bust. The former 3rd round pick demonstrated an ability to quarterback a powerplay a year ago with the Habs and his cannon of a point shot would be welcome on a Canucks powerplay unit that needs another right handed shooter.

Jason LaBarbera, 33, G – 2013 Salary: $1.25M – If the Canucks don’t think Eddie Lack is ready for primetime, they need another solid veteran backup to play second fiddle to whoever is manning their net on a regular basis. Reuniting the old Luongo – LaBarbera tandem would be just like old times. He won’t rock the boat, that’s for sure.

Jun 262013
 

Will Kerby Rychel be available when the Canucks pick at no. 24 in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft?

Photo credit: National Post

Can anyone say the Vancouver Canucks have a prospect who can be legitimately considered a blue-chipper? Jordan Schroeder, Nicklas Jensen, and Brendan Gaunce are all nice to look at, but none can be considered the crowned jewel of their system. You’d have to go all the way back to Cody Hodgson’s shining performance at the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championships for that.

The 2013 NHL Entry Draft has been touted as one of the deeper drafts in recent memory, so the Canucks would be wise to target a prospect who’s both a safe bet to play in the NHL and can make an impact. With that said, here’s a handful of players the Canucks could call upon when they select at 24th overall.

The Longshots (Players who have an outside chance at falling)

Curtis Lazar, C/RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL): At about this time last year, Lazar was a candidate to go as high as top ten. He struggled to duplicate last year’s numbers and his ranking fell, but he finished the season strong. Lazar has been labeled as a player who can play several roles, whether as a scoring winger or checking centre. But he’s also from B.C., and he plays in the WHL, so it seems unlikely the Canucks would even gamble on him.

Max Domi, C, London Knights (OHL): Max, son of Tie, is much more skilled than his dad ever was. His craftiness with the puck was on full display at this year’s Memorial Cup and despite his small frame plays a big man’s game. It would be easy to draw comparisons to Brendan Gallagher, and those type of players are in high demand these days.

Hunter Shinkaruk, C, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL): Another WHL player, which should make him ineligible to be drafted by Vancouver. Perhaps fairly or unfairly, Shinkaruk’s game has drawn comparisons to Jeff Skinner, because despite his height, plays with enough skill that he can make an impact in the NHL as soon as next season. His silky hands would be a huge boost to Vancouver’s roster immediately, but it seems unlikely his size will keep him off the board until the 24th selection.

The Wildcards (High risk, high reward players)

Anthony Mantha, LW, Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL): Mantha was the only player in the CHL to crack 50 goals this season, which should automatically have people wondering how he’s not a top ten pick. But his work ethic has come into question a couple times; the jury is still out on his defensive game. The thing is, you can teach the defensive side of hockey… can you coach the offensive skill that Mantha has?

Nikita Zadorov, D, London Knights (OHL): Tyler Myers started the trend in his 2008 draft, and since then towering blueline giants like Dylan McIlrath and Jarred Tinordi have been scooped up, because every NHL team covets behemoths who could be the “next Chara”. This Russian mammoth is 6’5 and has been characterized as being a good skater despite his frame. If teams are looking for someone who at the least can be a good defensive defenseman, Zadorov is it.

Nicholas Petan, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL): He’s 5’8, which should automatically set off some alarm bells. But after posting 120 points, can you take the risk? Teams may be scared off about his height, but if Petan can develop physically, he could be a draft day steal. And besides, if players like Tyler Ennis are finding ways to survive in the NHL, Petan may be no different.

The Fits (Players who are ideal picks)

Kerby Rychel, LW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL): The son of former NHLer and Spitfires owner Warren plays a hard-nosed game which isn’t dissimilar of Ryan Kesler when he was drafted a decade ago. Rychel is a win-at-all-costs character who has ideal NHL size to go along with a 40-goal touch he had this year in the OHL. The Canucks have also never been shy to draft out of the OHL (see Gaunce, Jensen, and Hodgson).

Adam Erne, LW, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): Erne does a lot of the little things right, which makes him a safe pick. He’s a Connecticut-born winger who plied his trade with Patrick Roy in the Q and is a great skater and smart player who at the least has been projected to be a checker at the NHL level.

Ryan Hartman, RW, Plymouth Whalers (OHL): The Canucks may have hoped that Hartman’s Whalers teammate Tom Wilson was around at their pick last season, but he was scooped up by the Capitals. Hartman is cut from the same cloth as Wilson: A gritty, in-your-face player who will bring a high compete level and an edge to his game.

Jan 312013
 
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Zack Kassian could be the Canucks’ raging bull tomorrow and look to destroy anything in red (or in tomorrow’s case, white AND red).

Hey, remember last season? It seems like forever ago, but it was just 10 months ago when this happened:

Looking at it ten months after the fact, nothing changes how I view this hit. It was cheap and dirty. The puck is nowhere near the same stratosphere as Daniel Sedin when Duncan Keith launches a high elbow right in his jaw.

If you recall correctly, Keith received just a two-minute elbowing penalty but also got supplemental discipline handed down: A five-game Shanaban.

But the damage had been done to the Canucks. Daniel Sedin was sidelined with a concussion, and missed the rest of the regular season including the first three games of the first round against the Los Angeles Kings. By the time he returned for Game 4, the Canucks were in a 3-0 hole in the series and their hopes to return to the Stanley Cup Final virtually dashed.

Now there’s no telling what could’ve been if the Canucks had a healthy Daniel Sedin in their lineup during that series. Maybe they don’t let the Kings win and go on to claim the Stanley Cup, or maybe not. But there’s no doubting that had he been in the series he would’ve at least made it interesting.

Flash forward to tomorrow. It’s the first time the Canucks meet the Blackhawks since that fateful night. Some sort of revenge has to be on Vancouver’s minds; even fans are hoping Duncan Keith gets his due.

Sound familiar, doesn’t it?

March 8th, 2004. The Canucks meet the Colorado Avalanche for the first time since Steve Moore laid out captain Markus Naslund with a borderline hit to the head. Vancouver called for redemption for weeks, and they got it in the worst fashion possible. Todd Bertuzzi goes overboard and, well, we all know how that story played out… It wasn’t pretty for either side.

Needless to say, tomorrow’s game between the Canucks and Blackhawks has all the potential to be an all-out war. It could get ugly in a hurry and perhaps Vancouver may even be looking to make a statement physically as opposed to on the scoreboard.

And unlike in meetings past, Vancouver has a number of players willing to dish the big hits and launch fists: Aaron Volpatti, Dale Weise, Max Lapierre… And then there’s Zack Kassian, who lately has been the hottest Canuck. Perhaps even more ironically at this time, he’s fulfilling a lot of those comparisons people have made between him and Todd Bertuzzi circa 2004.

Kassian even has a beef with Keith. Check out the video evidence:

Hoo boy. Here we go.

Keith can’t say those things to Kassian now. Kassian has five goals in seven games (good for a second-place tie in the NHL), and has dropped the mitts on two occasions already; by now, he knows his role. Kassian has been the lightning rod of attention on the Canucks, for better and for worse (mostly better these days).

Duncan Keith may yet get what’s coming tomorrow from Zack Kassian. Let’s just hope neither side goes overboard with the retribution this time.

Jan 182013
 

The collective Canucks fan base can breathe a sigh of relief, Alex Edler doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere.

Alex Edler Meets Taylor Hall

Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images


Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis abruptly announced (over Twitter!) that the Canucks have locked up the defenseman to a six-year contract extension, worth $30-million. That means the silky blueliner will be making $5-million per season.

It also means that he becomes Vancouver’s highest-paid defenceman, but perhaps that was to be expected. With all due respect to his teammates Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, and Jason Garrison (we’ve omitted Keith Ballard’s name for obvious purposes), Edler still has immense upside compared to them.

Even though the Swede put up a career-high 11 goals and 49 points last season — the healthiest season of his career, we should mention — some believe he could’ve put up even more. There’s one, two, or three 50+ point seasons in Edler yet, and the Canucks are banking on him rising to that level within the next six seasons.

You’d be nuts to not believe the Canucks regard Edler highly. Here’s a quote from assistant coach Rick Bowness back in 2010, before Edler had even cracked the 40-point barrier:

Nick Lidstrom was 31 [when he won his first Norris Trophy]. That’s seven years from now for Alex. You figure where Alex is and where he’s going to be seven years from now. That’s why you have to look at the big picture.

Pretty lofty expectations to set for Edler, sure; hard to compare one player to his arguably the second greatest defenseman of all-time. But that’s just how much the Canucks value their now highest-paid defenceman.

But as much as you’d like to praise Edler’s newest contract and his high potential, the contract doesn’t come out with at least some trepidation. He missed 31 games in 2011 after back surgery and last summer had back surgery again to fix a bulging disc. Edler says now that he feels as healthy as he’s felt in a very long time, but also that he might never feel 100 percent ever again.

That has to raise at least some concern.

Assuming though, that the Canucks medical and training staff can keep Edler happy and healthy, and the coaching staff don’t over-exert him over the course of long regular seasons, the back issue should be a non-concern.

And while six years — as with any long-term contract — can create some cap-related concerns, the Canucks can at least take solace that there are several defencemen across the league that make even more money than he will. Take for example, the following list of less-than-Edler blueliners:

  • Jay Bouwmeester, 29 years old, five years @ $6.68-million per season
  • Tyler Myers, 22 years old, seven years @ $5.5-million per season
  • Matt Carle, 28 years old, six years @ $5.5-million per season
  • Dennis Wideman, 29 years old, 5 years @ $5.25-million per season

There could be far worse options than Alex Edler at $5-million for the next six years.

And taking a look at the potential free agent defencemen crop for next summer:

  • Kimmo Timonen
  • Lubomir Visnovsky
  • Sergei Gonchar
  • Ron Hainsey
  • Mark Streit

It’s easy to suggest Edler would’ve been the best defencemen available of the bunch. There very likely would’ve been a team that wouldn’t flinch at throwing him a contract with a longer term and for even more money.

The Canucks did well to lock up Edler. And for the next six seasons, you can look forward to some more of this:

Jan 072013
 
Donald Fehr, Gary Bettman and Bill Daly

Photo credit: Toronto Star

The NHL lockout lasted 113 days. It took a 16-hour marathon negotiation session for the league and its players to make labour peace. But the numbers in this bitter dispute only speak one part of the battle.

No, the next battle ahead for the two sides is how they will win back the hearts and minds of the fans who committed their time and money to a game which in their eyes has betrayed them and left them jaded.

As happy as Canucks fans should be that the lights of Rogers Arena will soon glow blue and green and the bowl will be packed with fans once again, let’s not lose sight of what has exactly transpired here.

Back in September it was both sides saying that the other wasn’t keen on making a deal. They threw verbal barbs at one another, arguing over who should get a bigger piece of our money. And that’s what made this lockout so angry to fans; it wasn’t a philosophical dispute like putting a salary cap in place like in 2004-05, it was about sheer money, dollars and cents.

Fans have every right to be angry and upset, the two sides have acknowledged that. They’ve both pledged to win us back, and I’m sure whatever tactics they have up their sleeve will help them retain a lot of that fan loyalty. But this isn’t a cry to all fans to boycott the league and it’s players on opening night. It’s a reminder that this lockout shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place and a reminder for fans to be mindful about just how much money they decide to put back into the NHL for the foreseeable future.

What will the NHL do? Splash the bluelines of all 30 arenas with “Thank You Fans…Again!”? Offer the NHL Gamecenter package for free (which they, technically, make little to no profit off anyway)?

To use a phrase which was bandied about far too often during the lockout negotiations: “It’s a start, but there’s a lot of work to do”. The two will have to do something outrageous to repair the damage which has fractured NHL fans.

I’m not saying we can’t embrace the game when the puck finally drops. I’m just saying you have every right to still be mad when it does.

Jun 282012
 

For the first time in perhaps months, the Roberto Luongo trade speculation took a back seat in Vancouver, giving way to the Justin Schultz sweepstakes.

Those who don’t know Schultz already need simply to take a look at some of his college highlights to get a glimpse of what the silky blueliner can offer an NHL club.

Schultz, drafted by Anaheim in 2008 as a second round pick, refused to sign a pro contract with the Ducks within three years of his draft, allowing him to become a free agent. For the Canucks, Schultz could become the most highly anticipated defense prospect they’ve had since Alex Edler, perhaps even beyond that.

Sure, you can question the way that Schultz became a free agent, but to be fair, this isn’t the first time in recent memory a promising young prospect has turned down a contract with the team that drafted him. Blake Wheeler was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2004 (fifth overall!) and didn’t sign a contract, allowing the highly touted winger to sign with the Boston Bruins. Now, Wheeler plies his trade with the Winnipeg Jets, is a fan favourite, and no one questions his heart or commitment to the game.

Then there are those who condemn Schultz for making this saga “about him”, saying that he’s stealing the spotlight from trade discussions around the league or CBA negotiations. But can you blame the 21-year-old for wanting to take his time? The first few years for a budding NHL player can be so crucial for his development; careers have been ruined because the situation and the fit with an NHL club wasn’t right for the player (see Kyle Okposo). Few should bestow blame on Schultz for wanting to make sure he makes the right decision. It’s an important one; take your time, kid. And it’s not like Schultz is going to hold one of these when he signs a contract… I think.

But I digress. Early reports seem to suggest that the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Toronto Maple Leafs will be on the Schultz short list in the next few days, with the possibility another surprise club finds its way onto the list as well.

The Edmonton Oilers are offering Schultz a nice package, one which is promised with lots of ice time, powerplay minutes, and the chance to grow and mature with young players. While the Oilers are no powerhouse yet, the potential on their roster shows plenty of promise within the next few years.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have an ace in the hole in Jake Gardiner, Schultz’s teammate at the University of Wisconsin and one of his closest friends. How great would it be to play with your best friend on the same pairing for the next decade?

But ultimately, if the Vancouver Canucks are smart when they offer their package to Schultz’s camp, they’ll make no promises.

Zero.

You see, while Schultz is entitled to take his time in making a decision, by no means has he earned the privilege to make demands from potential suitors. He’s played a grand total of 0 games in the NHL.

If Schultz wants ice time and powerplay minutes, the Canucks should tell him it’s there if he earns it. If he wants to take the steps necessary to learn under some veterans and play on a contending team, the Canucks are his choice.

Contrary to what two straight Presidents’ Trophies will tell you, the Vancouver Canucks haven’t won a whole lot, at least not what matters. And ultimately, the Canucks and their fans are in the business for one thing, and one thing only: winning the Stanley Cup. If a player’s number one focus isn’t to win a Stanley Cup, he doesn’t have the type of character that Mike Gillis covets. If Justin Schultz has his sights set on his own personal gains, he has no place on this roster. Vancouver dealt with one prospect who was in it for himself, and would be wise to avoid that situation again.

The Canucks can’t and shouldn’t make promises to Justin Schultz. He has to earn every second of ice time he gets, and if he applies that kind of work ethic on the ice, the results and the victories won’t be far behind.

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