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.

Jun 122012
 

1. The Los Angeles Kings have begun their royal coronation, and they got on that championship road by defeating the Canucks in the first round in five games. That means that for three straight years Vancouver has been defeated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions (Chicago, Boston, and now Los Angeles). I’m not one for superstition but how many teams would like to line up against the Canucks in the first round next spring?

2. When watching the rest of the NHL playoffs, I always find it a little unnerving when Canucks fans cheer for the team that ousted them, in this case the Kings. Canucks fans feel better about the fact they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Sure, it means the Canucks lost to the best team, but it doesn’t mean the Canucks were the second-best team in the postseason. To me, a loss is a loss; there is no second place when there’s 16 teams and just one champion.

3. Love him or hate him, Drew Doughty was fantastic and a huge reason why the Kings got to the promised land. He was delivering production close to a point per game and was +11 in the process. Most memorably, his Bobby Orr-like goal in Game 2 of the Finals turned out to be a real turning point in that series. Canucks fans have to ask themselves if they have anyone like Doughty in their system. Is Alex Edler the answer? I don’t think even Canucks management knows for certain.

4. The pace of games in the playoffs were at a snail’s pace on occasion, depending on the team you watched. Vancouver has built its team around an up-tempo style, but considering the success of guys like Dustin Penner this spring, you have to wonder if that philosophy needs to change. The Canucks picked up David Booth in November for the purpose of making their team faster, but I’m not sure anymore if that’s a winning recipe.

5. Craig MacTavish resigned as head coach of the Canucks’ AHL affiliate yesterday in order to become the senior VP of hockey ops with Edmonton. You get the sense that once he learned Alain Vigneault would be back behind the Canucks bench next season, MacT had little reason to stay. It’s obvious he wants to be a head coach at the NHL level again and he knew that wouldn’t happen with Vancouver any time soon.

6. That leaves a head coaching hole with the Chicago Wolves that the Canucks need to fill. There are a few good candidates to take the spot; a week after hiring Bob Hartley as their next head coach, the Flames decided to let Craig Hartsburg go. Hartsburg has coached Canada to world juniors gold in 2008 and prior to taking the associate coach position with Calgary was the Everett Silvertips bench boss.

7. Another option to take over is Scott Arniel, who was canned from the Columbus Blue Jackets this past season. Sure, Arniel had a rough go in his time in Ohio, but any coach would with Steve Mason between the pipes. Arniel was treasured during his time with the Manitoba Moose and while he currently works for the Canucks as a scout, you know he’ll be eager to get behind a bench once again. Both Hartsburg and Arniel would be excellent choices.

8. Sticking with coaching talk, no one knows what was said in the meetings leading up to Alain Vigneault’s renewal, but it’s clear there needs to be a change in how Vigneault approaches his players. Vigneault is a coach known to loosen the reins on his players a bit, but that will have to be different this upcoming season. Fans weren’t happy with the dives and yapping coming from players, and the leadership to remedy those problems starts with the head coach. Vigneault would be best served by implementing a tighter ship; dive and yap and you can find yourself stapled to the bench.

9. Call it a hunch, but I suspect trade activity will pick up considerably as the NHL Draft gets closer. There’s a ton of uncertainty with regards to a possible work stoppage and the temporary increase in the salary cap, but that shouldn’t deter general managers from bolstering their teams. The increase in cap space should give teams incentive to make moves they wouldn’t normally make, and perhaps the Luongo trade saga fits that equation.

10. Only Mike Gillis holds the cards, but the Luongo saga continues to unfurl. Some fans want assets coming back that can help the Canucks win now, but isn’t freeing up $5.3-million in cap space the biggest asset? This summer isn’t exactly a ground breaker in terms of free agents available, but freeing up that much space and adding an extra million in a cap increase could give Vancouver the chance to land a really, really big fish.

11. Continuing on with the Luongo rumours, a lot of people have thrown out Jake Gardiner and Luke Schenn’s name when mentioning the Toronto Maple Leafs, but how about Cody Franson? The Memorial Cup winner with the Vancouver Giants is a product of the Nashville system where defencemen are bred like prized racehorses, and at 24 is still a blueliner with potential.

12. Some have asked about what the real chance the Canucks have at signing soon-to-be free agent Justin Schultz. Schultz is a product of the U of Wisconsin and while there teamed up with current Leaf Jake Gardiner. Now both players were once draft picks of the Anaheim Ducks, but Gardiner was traded to Toronto in a package for Francois Beauchemin. Hard to say for certain, but perhaps Schultz’ feelings towards Anaheim soured when they traded his partner. This isn’t to say Schultz will follow Gardiner to Toronto, but if the Canucks could land Gardiner in a deal for Luongo…

13. If the Canucks are hoping to sign Cory Schneider to a new contract, they better get it done soon. Not just because Schneider could be eligible to receive offer sheets, but because of the Tim Thomas effect. Now that Thomas is taking a year off from hockey, Tuukka Rask’s bargaining power as a restricted free agent just got bigger. Rask and Schneider are goalies with similar career trajectories, and if the Canucks want to avoid paying Schneider upwards of $4-million a year, they’d best get a contract hammered out before Rask does.

14. For those in the trade Schneider camp, word is that Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is being lured by a KHL team. A restricted free agent in July, the potential offer from the KHL team is said to be substantial. If Pavelec pulls a Radulov and bolts, a certain redheaded Canucks goalie is known to be a fan favourite in the ‘Peg. Hmm…

15. The NHL Draft is on June 22 and fans are wondering who the Canucks will target at 26th overall. I’ll have more in my draft preview, but given Jordan Schroeder and Anton Rodin’s strong strides in development this past season, the team should be looking at a defenseman with this year’s pick. And considering the abundance of blueliners in this year’s crop, that’s a pretty safe deduction to make.

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