Jun 302009

There are several smaller name players in the Canucks game who have equal importance to the team. This season the Canucks had depth they haven’t had before which proved beneficial in the long run and something that they should attempt to maintain, if the price is right.

In particular there are RFAs Wellwood, O’Brien, Hansen, and UFAs Davison, Baumgartner, Vaananen, and Jaffray. Wellwood knows which side his bread is buttered and I don’t think he’s the type of player to hold out and make a scene, and if he was Gillis would drive him to the airport. Hansen provides a 3rd/4th line depth which is badly needed, and will likely see a lot more time on the ice this and less time in the box since Pyatt is headed out the door.

O’Brien was a smart pickup by Gillis. I like the kid. He’s learned a lot, and has a lot more to learn, but his development as a player took leaps and bounds and that was clear just in the noticeable difference in his play from the first half to the end of the second half. He’s a solid #5 defenceman, and much better than Lukas Krajicek. He’s young, he’s developed a lot and can only get better, and heck he even got a goal (albeit in the post season leaving his regular season total at zero). I see him re-signing for the same money he made last year 1.025 million, no reason to let him walk.

Of the UFAs perhaps the most important to keep outside of the Sedins in the aforementioned is Jason Jaffray. He was a key player in the Moose’s post season run this past off season and I have a feeling he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL. He’s a good prospect and letting him walk would be a bigger loss than you’d think. Jaffray would be a cheap signing and provides that extra depth should the Canucks need a 3rd or 4th liner at any point in the season.

Davison, Baumgartner, and Vaananen are the depth our blue line needs. With Salo who’s always likely to go down, and Bieksa who’s had injuries flare up, the Canucks could use a little blue line insurance. I’d say if at all possible signing at least 2 of the 3 would be a priority just for some piece of mind when we lose Salo unexpectedly for 6 weeks at a time.

Other free agents of note are Labarbera and Sanford. Sanford will likely walk after being given the shaft in favour of Labarbera which begs the question of whether Labarbera is willing to play second fiddle to Luongo to the tune of approximately 12-15 games during the year. Labarbera was given a starters position in LA and if he’s not willing to sit quietly at the end of the bench the Canucks might have to look to bringing in another goalie, or using Schneider in the last year of his pro contract as the back up.

Either way, tomorrow is going to be the busiest day of the NHL season to date and is sure to boast big news and a few shocks.

Jun 302009

The Canucks’ Blue Line has in recent years been patrolled by one of the leagues’ best defenses which boasted grit, size, hard hitting, solid two way defensive play, offense, and which for 10 seasons was the stomping ground for Pitea native Mattias Ohlund.

As July 1st approaches, Ohlund finds himself in a position he hasn’t faced since becoming a Canuck and his future as a Canuck looks grim. Mike Gillis’ tactics are past the game of hardball and since mid season when there was rumour of contract negotiation talks took place it’s been blatantly obvious Mattias Ohlund isn’t a part of the future Mike Gillis sees for this club. In all likelihood there’s a good chance that Ohlund will be reunited with Burke in Toronto and don the white and blue of a different Canadian team.

So this begs the question who should replace him? The loss of Bourdon hurts even more at this stage because as Edler moves up to lead the top four defenseman with his nice shiny new contract, Bourdon could have filled the void that Ohlund is now going to leave. The top four has three solid corner stones that provide the perfect balance in Bieksa who provides an offensive spark, Edler who is the puck-mover, and Salo who’s calm stay at home mentality breaks out of it’s shell from time to time just long enough to blast a shot from the point.

When you look at the free agent market the Canucks have been in the hunt for Jay Bouwmeester for months however at the moment he’s property of the Flames and if they ink a deal tonight it’ll stay that way through tomorrow for at least the next season. If Gillis doesn’t land J-Bo as planned, there’s a handful of players out there that could satisfy as Ohlund’s replacement: Francois Beauchemin, Michael Komisarek, Christian Backman, Marc-Andre Bergeron.

Bergeron, Beauchemin and Komisarek all come with a bit more offense and the Canucks could use Beauchemin’s shot from the point to complement Salo. Bergeron and Komisarek can skate well which would help towards Gillis’ goal for a faster, more offensive team.

The aforementioned come with a price tag that’s reasonable and also come with a little more offensive attitude than Ohlund which is something the Canucks can always use more of. If the Canucks want a familiar face they could always sign Marek Malik who’s hitting the free agent market this year at a cool 34 years of age and if they’re looking to pinch pennies I hear Chris Chelios will play for free, or near free so long as he doesn’t get shafted to 7th D man they way he did this year in Detroit. Oh yeah, and he’s 47.

Ohlund who’s been a Canuck from the day he was drafted for 770 games in a Canucks uniform, faces a tough task of uprooting his family and two kids because he doesn’t fit into the game plan of Gillis. It was clear that the issue was on his mind all season as his numbers were par at best, and for the 4th year in a row his scoring production went down. There’s no doubt Ohlund will play in the NHL next year, it’s a matter of where – and Gillis has made it clear so far that it’s not in Vancouver.

May 132009

A lot of the questions looming over the Canucks as a team this year, revolve around how much of this team is going to be back next year. This is the best team the Canucks have ever had, and it wasn’t good enough.

I’ve been Mats’ hardest critic all season, but in that series against Chicago he was our best and most consistent player. In those last 6 games he had 7 points. He had 4 points in the last two games and was skating with a purpose. The way he played spoke volumes to me. It also maybe suggested he was playing that hard because he might not play another season. So there’s the question, is Mats Sundin going to hang them up, or does he return for one final kick at the can so to speak?

I for one was not a fan of the antics and games he was playing by waiting until after the All Star game to join the team. I understand his motives, but it’s those same motives of not being able to handle the brutal road schedule that make me question if I would want him next year. When you look at this series, it’s clear to see Sundin can be a difference maker. It only took him 41 regular season games and 8 playoff games to find his groove.

At the end of the day, Sundin was a point per game playoff performer which is why we brought him in, but up until the last two games we’d only seen flashes of what Sundin could do. It was only in those last two games that it looked like Sundin had finally come into his own and found the stride he was looking for since he stepped on the ice for his first game with the Vancouver Canucks. So what comes next?

I think if Sundin could play a full year next year we would see a team more dynamic than we’ve had since Bure skated. Sundin’s sheer presence opens up the ice for everyone he plays with which has seen numbers go up for Kesler and Demitra, it’s even forced people to play other lines with less tightness. There’s no doubt, even though his lack of performance at times, that he was making a difference on ice. Be it winning faceoffs, or just drawing away the double team on someone else, he has an intangible value that can’t be overlooked. Look at the playoffs, the goals he helped on, the goals he scored, they were clutch goals. The man’s slowly growing on me, but it’ll take a little more to make me a Sundin fan. Hopefully he sticks around another year. Maybe after another 82 games of watching him play I’ll finally be able to add him to my good list.

Would I give him 8-10 million dollars a year though? No way. I would certainly make him earn that. I think if he were to come back I’d want to take him for 3-4 million freeing up cap space for Gillis to attempt getting the Sedins back on board. Give him an incentive laden contract. There’s nothing wrong with that in my mind, but don’t go blowing the bank on a guy that’s likely going to struggle to make it to the end of the season. Keep in mind, Sundin is known to get injured and I can’t believe that groin is getting better with age. At least when he’s on the IR it doesnt count as a cap hit.

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