As Free Agency has gone on, Gillis hasn’t dipped any further into the pool of potential players and it’s looking more and more like he’s going to stick with the core group of players from last year, minus corner stone puck moving blue-liner and Canuck record holder Mattias Ohlund.
Gillis made clear his interest still lay in adding another blue-liner to the Canucks, but has watched the likes of available players in the right price range like Beauchemin, Bergeron, Mara and Komisarek, get picked off the market by other more pro-active general managers. (2 of the aforementioned going to Mr Pro Active himself, Brian Burke and the Leafs)
Our top four for next year are set to be Salo, Mitchell, Bieksa and Edler. Edler stepped up nicely last season and “Baby Ohlund” will be expected to take his game again to another level on a blue line that is going to expect consistency from him all year. The new contract Gillis gave O’Brien suggests to me that he’s expected to develop and lock down that number 5 spot on the blue line leaving the door open for the number 6 and 7 spots.
Gillis’ lack of action to bring in a blue liner with the players he has under contract for the Canucks says to me that he’s not going to make any moves. The Canucks have Baumgartner under contract and if Canucks fans can remember back a few years you’ll remember he used to patrol the blue line with the Orca on his chest in the days of the West Coast Express. Baumer doesn’t fit the young and fast model Gillis is going for, he’s 33 and spent all of last season in the AHL, but he comes at a small cap hit, and he knows how to play at the NHL level having done his tour of the NHL with the Flyers, Stars, Capitals, Blackhawks, Penguins, and now the Canucks for the second time.
The Canucks also have under contract Lawrence Nycholat. Nycholat was acquired by the Canucks in a trade, only be to lost on waivers to his hometown team the Calgary Flames. After being traded to the Avalanche at the deadline last season, he now ends up back in the Canucks system, and where he was a depth defenceman last year, with the loss of Ohlund and the lack of replacement, he’ll be fighting for one of those bottom two spots on the blue line. He’s 30 and fits the younger age requirement just a little more than Baumgartner, but will have to prove himself come training camp.
The Canucks latest blue line pick up was 25 year old Aaron Rome who at league minimum, is a great pick up to bolster the bottom end of the blue-line. He’s 6 foot 1, 222lbs so with his youth he brings a bit of size. Rome is younger, but has a lot of developing to do.
The problem with the aforementioned is a lack of NHL Experience. Nolan Baumgartner has a combined 131 NHL games played (more than half of those – 70 – in the 05-06 season as a Canuck), and Rome and Nycholat have a combined total less than that of Baumgartner – 58 games, 50 of this belonging to Nycholat. If anything Baumgartner looks like a lock for that number 6 spot based on the players available and if Gillis does in fact chose to go with what he has locked up already, it’s likely we’re going to see an inexperienced back end logging minutes this next season.
If Gillis is going to take a gamble on inexperienced blue-liners who need on-ice, in-game development time, it might be worth his while to take a chance on Sauve, or Ellington who will be doing their best to impress at camp. While Baumgartner is older than Nycholat, he knows how to play at the NHL level and will be less of a liability than the inexperienced blue liners. If one of the aforementioned were to make the team this year, my money would be on Baumgartner. Either way, it looks like what we’ve got is what we’re likely to see, or at least some variation of it.