Mar 012011

So the NHL Trade Deadline this year wasn’t exactly scintillating television.

In fact, at one point you had roughly 20-odd TSN “experts” (term used loosely since they employ Craig Button) debating the composition of Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Games.

Not exactly a pressing topic, well, anywhere these days.

Yet with 16 NHL trades completed on Monday, and another 21 between Valentine’s Day and Sunday, it’s fair to say this has been a fairly active NHL deadline season.

So who are the early winners and losers?

Winner: Jeff Penner, Mikko Lehtonen, Anton Khudobin, Drew MacIntyre, Brett Festerling, Tom Sestito, Michael Chaput, Greg Moore, MacGregor Sharp, and Kevin Montgomery’s moms.

Why: Toiling in obscurity for the most part, these guys got a bit of limelight on a very slow deadline day. No doubt their moms are thrilled to see their names on television.

Loser: Curtis McElhinney (Ottawa)

Why: Because all that warm weather clothing he owned from Anaheim and was about to use again in Tampa Bay is useless now that the Senators have claimed him off waivers.

Speaking of which…

Loser: Daniel Alfredsson

Why: Would you want to play out the year with this collection of stiffs? It’s fair to say the Senators’ long-time captain has played his last home playoff game in Ottawa.

Winner: Washington Capitals

Why: Washington looks a lot deeper than they did a few weeks ago. The Caps have improved their second-line, although to what extent remains to be seen. Acquiring Jason Arnott should allow Alex Ovechkin to move from his point position on the powerplay, making “The Great 8” more dangerous on the half-boards and down low. Dennis Wideman’s puck-moving skills also means Washington can take their time with Mike Green’s recovery without losing a beat on the back-end. Marco Sturm is still finding his sea-legs returning from injury, but historically he’s been one of the league’s better two-way players.

Loser: Poolies who own Sidney Crosby in one-year hockey pools

Why: There’s no reason to rush Sid the Kid back into the Penguin lineup. Ray Shero has done an excellent job parlaying the salary cap space afforded by long-term injuries to Gino Malkin and Crosby into greater offensive depth. While the Penguins currently struggle to score, a playoff spot is not really in jeopardy.

Winner: Poolies who own Sidney Crosby in playoff pools

Why: Crosby will be well-rested and, whether it’s James Neal or Alex Kovalev, he’ll return playing with the most talented winger he’s had since Marian Hossa left town. With Dan Blysma getting strong defensive results out of this roster, adding some offensive support to Crosby’s wing should make this team a serious post-season threat in the East.

Loser: Montreal Canadiens

Why: They made the Conference Finals last year on the back of a historic run by goalie Jaroslav Halak. Adding Brent Sopel and Paul Mara provides some much needed depth to the defense, but up-front they remain too small to win a seven-game series against either Boston or Philadelphia. Dustin Penner would have looked great on this roster.

Winner: Florida Panthers

Why: Niclas Bergfors might not have the best attitude, but he does have top-six, or even top-line, talent. Getting him for Radek Dvorak – one of the great all wheels/no hands players of the last decade – was a bit of a steal. The useful Tim Kennedy has upside (Sabres fans still miss him in Buffalo) and they’ve added some draft picks in the Bryan McCabe and Wideman deals. Not a bad start to the rebuild in Florida.

Loser: Nashville Predators

Why: Mike Fisher isn’t good enough to push the Predators past the first-round. In fact, by not picking up another impact forward, Nashville’s playoff future could be in jeopardy.

Loser: San Jose Sharks

Why: Okay, so maybe this one isn’t fair. The Sharks are playing their best hockey of the year. But it’s hard to believe this is a playoff juggernaut when their biggest additions have been Ian White and Kyle Wellwood – two well-travelled players with well-known issues.

Winner: Anaheim Ducks

Why: Francois Beauchemin is the perfect tonic for this team on defense, and one of the toughest teams in the NHL has added Brad Winchester and Jarkko Ruutu, who aren’t exactly easy to play against. They could really give a top-seed nightmares if they make the playoffs.

Loser: Atlanta Thrashers

Why: Neither Ben Maxwell nor Blake Wheeler has the offensive upside of Niclas Bergfors. And Zach Bogosian still hates his coach. Still looking for proof Rick Dudley knows what he’s doing.

Winner: Buffalo Sabres

Why: Brad Boyes could go without scoring the rest of the year, but it’s not the point – the “have-not” Sabres have become “haves” under new owner Terry Pegula. That’s a big win for Buffalo fans.

Loser: Dallas Stars

Why: They gave up a premium for Alex Goligoski a week ago and failed to get anything for pending UFA Brad Richards. Only superhuman play from Richards and Kari Lehtonen had this team in the playoff running, and neither have had a February to remember. It wouldn’t surprise if they’re on the outside looking in this Spring.

Winner: New York Rangers

Why: They added some defensive depth in Bryan McCabe but, more importantly, didn’t give up any assets to acquire Brad Richards from Dallas. This team is good enough to make the playoffs this year. Next year, if Richards is in the lineup, they could be Eastern Conference favourites.

Mixed Results

Vancouver Canucks: Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre provide some nice depth on the team’s bottom-six, but will this team get enough secondary scoring to go deep in the post-season? There will be a lot of pressure on Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson to deliver in crunch time this Spring.

Los Angeles Kings: They had the young depth to make a move for a big-time player. Instead they used that depth to acquire Dustin Penner, a classic has-all-the-tools-but-the-toolbox-goes-missing type of player. This isn’t the home run Los Angeles was hoping for, and a first-round exit in the playoffs (if they make it) wouldn’t surprise.

Edmonton Oilers: At some point the franchise will have to turn assets into players who can help now, or even now-ish. The smallest team in the league just got smaller, and there’s no top-six size on the horizon. Colton Teubert is a physical, Theo Peckham-type, on a team that already employs the actual Theo Peckham. The draft picks may be nice, except the draft is reportedly Lara Flynn Boyle-thin this year.

Calgary Flames: Call it a hunch, but says here this playoff run causes more damage than good for the franchise in the long-term. How again is anything Jay Feaster doing different from what Darryl Sutter had planned?

Chicago Blackhawks: Chris Campoli can move the puck and gives them some added defensive depth, but they’re still waiting for Michael Frolik to arrive from Florida (0 points in 8 games). The home run move would have been to create a package for Tomas Vokun, especially when you consider a) Dale Tallon’s familiarity with the Blackhawks system and b) Stan Bowman’s accumulation of prospects and draft picks over the past eight months. Instead, you have to think they’ll roll-the-dice with Corey Crawford in goal down the stretch. Good luck with that.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Let’s be clear – Rusty Klesla isn’t a bust, but his skating isn’t exactly NHL-calibre. That being said, Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto aren’t exactly world-beaters either. This was a shuffling-the-deck-chairs move by GM Scott Howson, who’s probably losing his job if the Jackets don’t make the playoffs.

Feb 282011

When it comes to thoughts on the Canucks’ acquisitions of Maxim Lapierre and Christopher Higgins, it’s hard to say something that hasn’t already been said. With that in mind though, there are a few reasons I think these new players will fit well.

The big take away from the addition of Lapierre is that Burrows can finally worry about doing his job. With Rypien out of the lineup, it looked like Burrows was unsuccessfully trying to play under-your-skin-hockey while simultaneously struggling to play Sedin triggerman. Lapierre allows Burrows to focus on offense as a top liner, a role he played earlier in the season when he was the firestarter in an already fiery Kings-Ducks relationship.

The addition of Higgins alongside Lapierre gives the Canucks a more complete 4th line. After rolling through a carousel of 4th line centers who didn’t seem to make the grade, the Canucks managed to deal away some depth (i.e AHL talent) in return for some final pieces of the puzzle – a great decision by management.

Perhaps what’s best of all this is Higgins has the ability to jump up into a top six role if called upon (as is seen in the video below). At least initially though, he rounds out a 4th line that will have 19 games to build some chemistry and get ready for the postseason.

Higgins is the quintessential Mike Gillis pick up. He has speed and skill. He’s young, and more importantly, multi-dimensional.

Both Lapierre and Higgins also bring PK experience that will not only add to an already excellent Canucks special teams, but the big takeaway will be the impact both have in their role as a shutdown line when the game is on the line.

Gone are the days when the likes of Darcy Hordichuk would roam the Canucks’ 4th line. The Canucks have tried all season to find a trio of bottom-six talent to round out this team, and with the first three lines set, that last piece of the puzzle really was one or two players away.

They’re set for the playoffs now; it’s time to bring back Stanley.

Feb 282011

No, the Canucks didn’t need to do much by today’s trade deadline day. After all, as of this morning, they were leading the entire NHL with 87 points. They also ranked 1st in offense (3.27 G/game), 1st in defense (2.30 GA/game), 2nd on the PP (24.8%), 3rd on the PK (85.6%) and 1st in faceoffs (55.4%).

It’s true they’ve been on a bit of a slump recently. But that’s only if you consider a 5-5 record in their last 10 games a slump.

That said, it’s no secret the Canucks needed to acquire a fourth-line center. This season, they’ve tried about 8 different players in that role, including top prospect Cody Hodgson. In two separate deals, GM Mike Gillis addressed this need and then some.

First, the Canucks acquired C/RW Maxim Lapierre and minor-leaguer MacGregor Sharp from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Manitoba Moose C Joel Perrault and a 3rd round draft pick in 2012.

Lapierre gives the Canucks a couple of things: a fourth-line center and some added sandpaper to the roster. He’s big (6’2″, 207 lbs.), speedy as hell, is a pain in the ass to play against, and in limited ice-time with the Habs and Ducks, has won 54.6% of his faceoffs. He’s also averaging just a shade under 12 minutes per game.

There’s a perception – a fair one, IMHO – that Lapierre takes some bad penalties, but a quick look at his stats show he’s only taken 16 minor penalties in 59 games this season. What might help is Alain Vigneault has coached him in the past so I’m sure the Canucks have some comfort level with him.

Oh, and did I mention that he’s a pain in the ass to play against?

Second, the Canucks acquired C/LW Christopher Higgins from the Florida Panthers for depth defenseman Evan Oberg and a 3rd round pick in 2013.

Higgins gives the Canucks some flexibility in the lineup. When he returns from a broken finger, he’s expected to play in the bottom-six and on the PK. He averages just over 13 minutes in ice-time per game, 2 minutes of which are on the PK. Between Lapierre, Higgins and Glass, the Canucks could potentially now have a fourth line capable of playing in double-digit minutes of ice-time every game.

Not too long ago, Higgins was a 20-goal scorer. In fact, he recorded 23, 22 and 27 goals in three consecutive seasons from 2005 to 2008 with the Montreal Canadiens. The Canucks probably don’t expect him to rediscover his scoring touch – at least I don’t think they expect him to be a 20-goal scorer – but his presence gives them some options if anyone from the second and third lines need a kick in the ass. (Watch your back, Mason Raymond.)

Higgins actually had a decent start for the Panthers this season. In 48 games, he has 11 goals and 12 assists – one point while shorthanded and none on the PP. His 22 ES points is only a couple back from David Booth, Stephen Weiss, Michael Frolik and Marty Reasoner. As a point of comparison, he has more ES points than any Canucks bottom-six forward.

No, the Canucks didn’t make a splash on trade deadline day, but they did acquire smaller pieces without giving up anyone from their league-leading roster.

Did they do enough? We’ll find out in a little more than two months.

Feb 212011

In what could be the most important audition of his young career, Cody Hodgson is getting another look as the Vancouver Canucks’ fourth-line center.

It’s no secret that the Canucks have been looking for a fourth-line center since breaking ties with Brendan Morrison after training camp.

It’s also no secret that, on a team experiencing perhaps its most successful regular season to date, the fourth-line center position has been seen by many as its Achilles heel.

They’ve tried, with no extended success, Alex Bolduc, Rick Rypien, Mario Bliznak, Jeff Tambellini, Peter Schaefer, Joel Perrault, Tanner Glass and Hodgson in that role.

Not surprisingly, many of us feel that the Canucks need to acquire some center depth as we approach the trade deadline. Very few teams can boast having the reigning Art Ross trophy winner and current assists leader as their no. 1 center, a Selke trophy favorite as their no. 2 center, and a faceoff and PK specialist as their no. 3 center. However, as good as the Canucks are down the middle right now, they’re an injury away from asking Manny Malhotra to be a top-six center or relying on a winger (Glass) or a rookie (Hodgson) to shut down one of the opposing teams’ scoring lines.

During Hodgson’s first call-up a few weeks ago, he added a different dimension to the fourth line. They didn’t log a lot of shifts, but in the few shifts they had, they were somehow able to take control of the play and even generated some offense. As the adage goes, the other team can’t score if they don’t have the puck.

In the next week or so, Hodgson will get a great opportunity to solidify his hold on the Canucks’ fourth-line center spot. If he continues to show success and progress, perhaps this changes GM Mike Gillis’ game plan come Monday and Hodgson is here to stay. If not, then they can send him back down and use his $4,391 daily cap hit (approximately $800,000 in annual salary) to acquire some depth. (Zenon Konopka, anyone?)

Feb 212011

With a week left before the NHL’s trade deadline, let’s take a quick snapshot of the Canucks’ salary cap situation.

First, the team sent Evan Oberg back to the Manitoba Moose this morning and recalled Cody Hodgson.

This pretty much says that Dan Hamhuis has been cleared and is good to go against the Habs tomorrow night. It also gives Hodgson an extended audition in the fourth line center spot (more on that later) and allows Tanner Glass to move back to his natural wing position.

If Keith Ballard returns on Thursday as expected, the Canucks will have 22 healthy players (13 forwards, 7 defensemen, 2 goaltenders), 2 injured players (Bieksa and Sweatt) and 2 players on LTIR (Alberts and Edler).

Right now, the Canucks are using $341,870 of their $341,989 maximum daily spending ($318,871 max daily cap plus $23,118 max daily LTIR).

When Ballard returns, the assumption is that Yann Sauve will be sent back to the Moose and the Canucks will have $3,412 in daily spending (or $634,632 in annual salary) available.

If the Canucks aren’t sold on Victor Oreskovich, they could also send him back before Monday. Minus Sauve and Oreskovich, they’ll have $6,503 in daily spending; in this case, they can add $1,209,558 in annual salary at the trade deadline. They can also place Lee Sweatt on LTIR, which would give them another $3,495 in daily spending (or take on another $650,070 in annual salary).

The Canucks can’t take on a lot in salary but it’s something. GM Mike Gillis has been adamant that he won’t tinker too much with his team. That in mind, the small amount of salary the Canucks can take on means they’re limited in the kind of players they can acquire anyway; that said, they do have enough in the kitty, barring any other roster moves, to acquire some depth players.

(All numbers via CapGeek.)

Feb 162011

With Canucks defenseman falling like flies from game to game there’s certainly a building pressure on the team to act come the deadline. While players like Ballard, Alberts, and Edler are all expected to return before the playoffs, how much worse is it going to get before it gets better? Hamhuis’ injury of a concussion is likely the most unpredictable, veterans like Nolan Baumgartner injured down on the Manitoba Moose, and players the Canucks don’t want to lose to the waiver wire in Nathan Paetsch and Ryan Parent, Mike Gillis has a tough decision to make.

If the Blackhawks and Flyers taught us anything last year, it was that great defense can be enough to go the distance (or fall just short). The Canucks have dressed 18 different defensemen in the last 18 months dating back to last year, and with the playoffs fast approaching it’s gut check time. There is no doubt that Mike Gillis has done an excellent job of adding key pieces to the blue line and that this has to be the most excruciatingly frustrating thing to see from game to game. There’s no doubt that the on and off NHL leaders will be buyers this deadline so let’s look at who the Canucks may pick up.

Tomas Kaberle: The always effervescent Tomas Kaberle rumours are undoubtedly back to a near all-time high. With the Leafs sitting well out of a playoff spot and Brian Burke sitting at the phones night and day it wouldn’t surprise me to see Kaberle moved. He comes with a hefty price tag, however if Gillis can keep the Canucks cap compliant until the playoffs it doesn’t matter who returns from the IR after that. In the absence of Edler, the need for a powerplay quarterback is there but to get Kaberle the Canucks would have to give up quite a lot to the hardballer Brian Burke.

Chris Phillips: Chris Phillips is probably the best fit of all blueliners on the free agent market right now. The 32 year old is a part of a last place Ottawa Senators and would fill a role the Canucks have now lost twice to concussion. Phillips, a shut down, stay at home defenseman is exactly what Willie Mitchell was and does exactly what Hamhuis was trying to do. He comes with a little more size and physical prowess which the Canucks blueline needs outside of Kevin Bieksa. Missing Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts really takes away from the blue line’s physical presence, an aspect of the Canucks game that Phillips could elevate.

Jan Hejda: Coming to the end of his first multi-year deal and the end of a 3-year, $6 million contact, Jan Hejda is an interesting option and my off the board pick for the Canucks. His $2 million cap hit is manageable and allows for the slotting back in of some of the Canucks injured blueliners. While he doesn’t come with a wealth of playoff experience – 3 games to be exact – he brings some veteran presence to a blueline that has currently dressed three rookie defensemen this season in Chris Tanev, Lee Sweatt, and Yann Sauve.

There are a few other names there that could also work. Depending on whether or not the Sabres are sellers at the deadline pending UFA Steve Montador could be a decent pick up. He has the playoff experience that saw him fall just short of a cup in his run with the Flames and he comes with a reasonable price tag too.

The biggest thing that Gillis is going to have to contend with is of course the cap. Kaberle and Phillips are nice wish list items but come with cap hits of $4.25 and $3.5 million respectively. If the cap was no issue for Gillis though and some of our blue liners prove to be out indefinitely (say for example Hamhuis’ injury is worse than expected – I sincerely hope it is not) then my last pick would St. Louis Blues defenseman Eric Brewer. He comes with a cap hit that’s quite hefty, but would provide a veteran presence on a blue line that is desperately lacking it right now. Gillis is under some pressure to make a move this deadline. Ultimately his challenge will be to keep as much of his current assets sinice he’s built the best team in Canucks history and lets be honest, no one wants to see this season derailed because of injuries.

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