It's that time of year when fans compile hockey's equivalent of their Christmas lists, lobbying their GMs to make the deadline moves that they think will make their team better, while the unfolding playoff races force NHL GMs to watch each other intently, deciding whether to add, to hold, or to fold...
Where the Canucks are concerned, most fans approved of the results of Mike Gillis' acquisitions at the trade deadline last year, as Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre proved to be valuable last minute additions. It would have been hard to expect more - the loss of two defensemen in the Finals is not something a GM can anticipate, or necessarily hope to have a contingency plan for - at that level of competition, and after such a depleting run, the Cup simply wasn't in the cards for the Canucks.
But this year Canucks fans are primed once again for an exciting playoff run, and after last year's experience, the most popular items on fan's wish lists seems to be a defenseman. For some, a top 4 guy is necessary in the event of injury, for others a depth defenseman would be sufficient, while many feel the Canucks have as much depth on the blueline as any team in the NHL and don't need to make any additions. Other people would like to see the Canucks acquire a top six forward, while many feel that a gritty depth guy for the third or fourth line would do. Again, others feel that there are enough forwards in the system to provide the depth needed. When it comes to specific players, the guys at the top of the defenseman wish list are players like Shea Weber, for all the obvious reasons, but any move to acquire a player like Weber would involve moving multiple chips, and no matter how hard you try to arrange them, in Vancouver's case, it is difficult to see them falling into place. But you never know - and such is the allure of the trade deadline. Some people seem to have high expectations, but most people in Vancouver don't appear to expect major moves, and would like to see a less expensive acquisition where key roster players would not necessarily have to be involved. Hal Gill is the type of solid complimentary player that dominate most of those discussions.
When it comes to forwards, some have expressed that they would like to see a guy like Corey Perry or Brendan Morrow in a Canucks jersey - but again, the offers that the Ducks and Stars are likely to receive for those players make it difficult to imagine those trades being a reality or possibility in Vancouver, and the cap space required would mean that the Canucks would likely have to rearrange the core of their team. Not a lot of people truly want to see that happen. We will see whether this year's trade deadline represents a buyers or sellers market, but with so many teams in contention and fighting for a playoff spot it looks like the competition to acquire key pieces might drive the prices high... The Canucks have little cap space, so a high priced or rental acquisition is far more likely for a team like Detroit, who have $5 million cap space to work with. When it comes to gritty depth forwards, some Canucks fans have set their focus on a player like Travis Moen, at a $1.5 million cap hit; the price to acquire a depth forward is something most fans can live with, and the Canucks would have the depth to afford.
There is a contingent of people who feel that the Canucks are fine all around just as they are - they look at the fact that the Canucks have players like Alberts, Sulzer, and Tanev ready to step in on the blueline, and prospects like Sauve and Connauton developing behind them. At the forward position, they point to guys like Bitz, Reinprecht, Oreskovich, Mancari, Duco or Pinozotto as capable depth/fourth line candidates, with skilled forward prospects like Jensen and Schroeder developing in the Canucks system.
The most heated debate has obviously regarded the question of whether the Canucks should trade Cory Schneider to acquire a player that may help the team win now. The "problem" in this sense, is a wealth of depth, with the additional prospects Eddie Lack and David Honzik in the system, and Schneider's pending RFA status. There has been seemingly endless talk of moving Schneider to acquire an impact forward or defenseman, but Schneider's cap hit of only $900,000 would require that he is packaged with other players in order to create the extra cap space required to absorb an impact player's cap hit. Anyone listening knows that Ballard and Raymond are almost always parts of that discussion, but one has to question the value of much of what has been urged in the media - and the majority of our CDC whims, likewise, are probably worth tuning out.
There seems to be a relative balance between those who want to attempt to upgrade the blueline or forward lines and those who feel that the potential of those upgrades are debatable, and not as important as keeping the goaltending tandem in place, one that gives the Canucks so much stability on the redline. I disagree with the urgency to move Schneider, and the idea that the Canucks could be left empty handed if they wait too long... I am in agreement with those who want to keep Schneider, retaining the Canucks formidable tandem, one that takes considerable pressure off both Luongo and Schneider, and alleviates a whole lot of injury anxiety. I would also like to see the Canucks re-sign Schneider if that proves a possibility. I imagine Mike Gillis will have a fairly good idea of what Cory will want to do in the future - and no doubt will not be blindsided the day Schneider becomes an RFA. If the new CBA is generally consistent with the expiring one, the salary cap might raise in the range of what Schneider's new salary will be... If not, there is still no urgency to move him now - and knowing what the new CBA will look like will help inform that decision. If the cap does not continue to raise, teams may have to reconsider their long term plans. Regardless, teams that are looking to make a playoff run this season are probably not going to value Schneider as much as teams looking to build a team in the longer run, to win next year or in the years to come. I like what appears to be MG's position - that there is no hurry to move Schneider. Some people would like to see Luongo dealt, while keeping Schneider, but I see that as a decision that is best reconsidered once the Canucks have a better view to the future CBA, and with this playoff season in hindsight. There is time and a number of options, and for now, the depth and stability in goal takes considerable pressure off of either goaltender, and could well be the single most important factor in the Canucks' chances to win the Cup this year.
I generally find myself in the camp with those who like the existing balance and depth of the Canucks, and have positive expectations that this team has great character and potential to win this season; I also generally don't appreciate excessive rumouring about trading existing roster players. adding a guy like Gill would be nice, but I still like our chances with the defense we have. The development of Alex Edler and Cody Hodgson have made changes and additions to the Canucks roster less than urgent to say the least. The result is somewhat of a luxury - the ability for Mike Gillis to wait and see. With no glaring needs, he can hold his cards close to his chest, and wait to see if injuries change the needs of the Canucks. When Gillis acquired Booth - without having to give away any picks or prospects, or additional cap space - the move gave the second line more speed, youth, and arguably a player who better fit the Canucks top 6 forward needs than Samuelsson did. Having made that move, Gillis has reduced his dependency on trade deadline contingencies, and has selfishly left fans with slim pickings to debate and complain about - some people can always find problems, but generally, there is nothing resembling consensus, and nothing lasting has managed to persist in the complaints department. Complaints have for the most part consisted of pointing the finger at the last guy to give the puck away, the last guy to go six shifts without scoring, or the guy who is perceived to not be 'tough' enough... Most of the controversy surrounds contracts and RFA status. The health of Chris Higgins, although not referred to as frequently as other trade discussions, may, at this point, be the most relevant issue as the Canucks head into the trade deadline.
In the end, the result of all the debates about what the Canucks should do, seem to be somewhat of a stalemate. I can say that in the many years of following this team, and as good as the team was last year, I have never had more confidence in the existing roster, nor in the ability of management to assess and respond to the needs of the team. The Canucks had more needs going into the trade deadline last season - Mike Gillis' additions of Higgins and Lapierre were not blockbuster moves, but were not inconsequential to say the least. This year, the Canucks are more experienced, and deeper, including on the blueline despite Ehrhoff's departure, with Edler more than filling his role, and a number of young players developing into solid options. I don't necessarily agree with those who are alarmed and feel that the Canucks "Cup window" of opportunity is short. The Cup window can be short for teams who mortgage their future to make a run, or who come by their strengths largely by chance, but the Canucks have a good balance of depth and age representation. The Canucks will have some difficult decisions to face, but good teams always do. Teams like the Detroit Red Wings don't expect to win every year - but they plan to remain competitive and give themselves a fighting chance - they do so with an exceptional ability to assess talent and generally make the most of their picks and signings. Despite a core of veterans, and perenially picking near the end of the pack, they don't seem to suffer from the fear of the closing window sydrome, and somehow manage to continually retool their team. The Canucks retooled their management team a few years ago, seem well positioned to compete with Detroit in that sense, and appear to have a view to the future that is balanced well with their intent to win in the present.
Many of us on CDC tend to engage in what seems like compulsive trade talking - some of the proposals make sense, some are pipe-dreams, some seriously underestimate what we have, and some overestimate what is available - but we just can't help ourselves...anticipating the trade deadline and the playoffs simply makes us do it.
Who wouldn't love to see Shea Weber in a Canucks jersey - if the Canucks were to make a change to their core, a deal involving Weber might be hard to argue with, but at a $7.5 million cap hit, his contract is equal to those of Hamhuis and Edler combined - hard to jump at, particularly with CBA uncertainty, and not necessarily in keeping with the structure that the Canucks have built. Weber is one of those guys you would have to give up a whole lot to acquire, and would make it more difficult or impossible to re-sign Edler, Burrows, and Higgins whose contracts expire at the end of next season. Regardless, I don't see Nashville dealing him, particularly to Vancouver - and that is a debate that has been overdone on CDC, one I don't intend to add much to.
When it comes to acquiring a top six forward, I have always liked Brendan Morrow, but at 34 years of age, he would not factor that far into the Canucks future and at a cap hit of $4.1 million...where would the Canucks make the cap space? If the price was right, he would be a nice surprise ... and who really knows until the deadline arrives, but it is probably an understatement to say that a move like that is not expected, and an addition like Morrow also requires subtraction. Talks of Bobby Ryan being available are also a surprise (at a cap hit of $5.1), and even more surprising, Dustin Brown (at only $3.5) but again, the Canucks don't seem to be planning to be make those kinds of moves. There are rankings of the top 25 players available out there, but those rankings don't necessarily make a great deal of sense - for contenders near the salary cap (or buyers in general), what matters most is dollar for dollar value and fit; rankings on that basis would probably make more sense than a list with the big names available at the top.
Ok, this is the part where you all get to be grateful that I am not the Canucks GM, and only a blogger, while your team remains in the trusty hands of Mike Gillis.
I have already said that I am generally in favour of the Canucks staying put, but if there is one player that could reasonably be acquired, I would prefer the Canucks avoided the big names with large cap hits; instead, at the top of my wish list would be Jordan Eberle, for a number of reasons. In addition to being a young, productive, clutch player, Eberle also has another year left on his contract at only $1.2 million before becoming an RFA; for a contending team near the cap, it is hard to imagine a better combination of marquis qualities and dollar for dollar cap value, in the time period most consider Cup potential to be quite ripe. If offering a top notch defensive prospect like Connauton and a pick could make Eberle a Canuck, I would likely jump at a deal like that, but I think despite Edmonton's shortcomings on the blueline, it might take more to pry him loose, and it is always difficult as a fan to speculate what kind of player Connauton is, without much chance to see him play. Regardless, I think it would be worth finding out what it would take... A painful worst-case scenario package might involve Eberle and a pick from Edmonton, in exchange for Ryan Kesler - two guys who are about as certain in quality as they come, but if a different deal could be done that would obviously be preferable...
There are a number of reasons I think an Eberle/Kesler deal could be a good move for both clubs, however, and none of them have to do with under-rating the value of Ryan Kesler, or wanting to see him traded. Kesler is a cornerstone of the Canucks, and suggesting a move involving him is likely to result in most people feeling that a cognitive evaluation is in order. Kesler has four years left on his contract at a cap hit of $5 million - a very reasonable contract - but Kesler also has a no trade clause that comes into effect at the end of the season, and the existence and timing of that NTC might have implications where the future of Kesler and Cody Hodgson are concerned. If that were not the case, he certainly would not enter any part of a trade discussion, but Edler and Burrows are also due for raises following next season, and if it comes down to having to choose... As much as I like Kesler, Edler and Burrows are also two guys that are as important to the Canucks as a pair of identical Swedes...
As much as I strongly disagree with all the complaining/debating about Cody Hodgson's ice time at present, and see the Canucks depth at centre as a positive luxury, at some point in the near future the possibility of a bottleneck may actually become a legitimate issue. Obviously moving Kesler or Hodgson are both unattractive options, but if a move eventually must be made, one option that would make is easier to stomach would result in a line with Eberle on Hodgson's wing and a bunch of cap space to use in the meantime. Even as a worst case scenario, I think it is still worth seriously considering, and may be a good pre-emptive move, depending on who could be acquired to fill the extra cap space.
While the move to acquire Eberle would seem high risk if Kesler were required to make it happen, particularly when the Canucks are contenders, I'm not in agreement with the "small window of opportunity" theory, and I feel that Eberle is an exceptionally low risk for a young player. He has about as much composure, intelligence, and intangible upside as any young player I can remember. As impressive as Cody Hodgson was at the World Juniors, Eberle, likewise, was a standout, and both are, not surprisingly, proving themselves invaluable at the NHL level. There is simply something uncanny about Eberle that always seems to appear - he just has a mark of positive fate about him, and if there are young players you could probably depend upon to step up in the playoffs, I would wager on him and Hodgson. The fact that he has been so productive this season may have put him in the class of an untouchable, where he previously seemed to be blending into a crowd of emerging stars in Edmonton, but he might just be worth the one player or package of prospects it may take to make him a Canuck. As much as I like Kesler's line, I can't think of a better linemate for Cody Hodgson than Jordan Eberle - they would be an heir apparent line (or perhaps the Air Canada line), equally teeming with character, and the next best thing to an actual pair of twins....
Of course the timing is sensitive - in Nashville, Kesler looked ready to start dominating again, he has put up a five game scoring streak, and the Canucks have a great opportunity to make another cup run with Kesler being a key component. There are few guys with his size, speed, hunger and skill who play a two-way game. Perhaps with the depth and goaltending tandem the Canucks now enjoy, the question of what to do about the future should be put off until the off-season, and a slight amount of the future sacrificed to make a run now, while so many Canucks are in their prime. On the other hand, Hodgson appears as though he is not going to relent, and if the obsession that already exists over his ice-time is any indication... it could get positively ugly. Are we be looking at another Luongo/Schneider dilemma in the form of Kesler/Hodgson? Worse things have happened to hockey teams. Ok, fine, mortgage the future instead - but get that Eberle kid no matter how many prospects and picks it takes....Connauton and Schroeder, or Sauve, Schroeder and a first...whatever.
Acquiring Eberle, who has another year left at a cap hit of $1.2 million (before becoming an RFA), for Kesler (hypothetically of course), would create $3.8 million in cap space - space that Gillis could do a whole lot with in preparation for another playoff run. Brendan Morrow, for example, is a $4.1 million cap hit, while Tuomo Ruutu is $3.8 million, and if the Canucks added an expiring contract, they would still be well positioned to re-sign their key players at the end of next season. Part of the difficulty is that we have yet to see the Canucks firing on all cylinders this season - yet they remarkably sit near the top of the NHL. Like last season when they had so many injuries on the blueline, this season has seen continual challenges for the second line. Are they simply that great and deep this year, that they can "slump" their way through an incredible 10 game streak with a record that almost every team in the NHL would die for?
The game in Nashville was almost enough to snap me out of this whimsical thinking, particularly seeing the Kesler versus Nashville version of the Selke centre, and insist that not a single move should be made. In my mind, it is only the future that raises any questions of major moves, and Eberle is the type of young cap-affordable player you could convince me to make changes for. Eberle is a comparable talent to Kesler - Kesler is a two-way force and one of the premiere centres in the NHL, and having Cody in the third spot makes for great matchup advantages, but with the type of depth the Canucks have, combined with not having to face top defense pairings every shift, who knows what Eberle's potential could be?
If the additional cap space is factored in, a deal involving Kesler could be in the Canucks interest in the long run, and perhaps even a win in the short term. The implications for this season make that type of move risky enough that it might be practically impossible to take. Of course it would be preferable to move other contracts, but the likelihood of acquiring a yound (underpaid) player like Eberle from a developing team with no urgency to make moves might be fairly unlikely. A move for Eberle would give the Canucks an extra year to make room for a new contract - if in the meantime an expiring contract for a player like Morrow could be added (using a pick in the Eberle deal as a significant chip?), I'd have to think our chances at a Cup might be at least as good this year as they currently are. As difficult as it would be to see Kesler leave, imagining players like Eberle and an additional power forward in a Canucks jersey is quite easy on the imagination. What is not easy is imagining how much pressure a GM must feel when they make such moves... or the task that Alain Vigneault would face...
Gillis has the difficult luxury of some tough decisions ahead of him - I have faith he will handle those decisions better than the organizations that have risen and fallen in short order in the current salary cap environment... That is the irony of stockpiling too much talent - they grow out of your ability to pay them all and play them all... and moves eventually have to be made. This core, that has grown up together in Vancouver, might be best to keep together as long as possible. Teams like Anaheim and Chicago postponed those moves to after their Cup victories, but then experienced a considerable drop-off in the depth of their clubs. It might make sense to propose a salary cap break/partial exemption where teams with players they have drafted and developed in their system are concerned, when it comes time to resign them, but that is another issue entirely.
As vital as Eberle is to Edmonton, you'd have to think that the chance to add a young defenseman as part of a package, or Ryan Kesler, to their young mix of talent might prove irresistable. Adding a young star like Eberle may be a wise move for Vancouver - if they had to give up a roster player to do so, it would then allow them to add another quality player with the additional cap space. While most teams are going to be very reluctant to move a young player like Eberle, Edmonton might be convinced to be an exception, considering they have so much young talent up front, but are thin on the blueline, while the Canucks have a few excellent prospects. If Ryan Kesler was absolutely necessary to make a deal happen, he is also pretty much exactly what the Edmonton Oilers (and every team) need. Edmonton is facing some serious turnover in their veteran and leadership core. Smyth, Sutton and Hemsky (an assistant captain) are UFAs, their other assistant captain Whitney has a year left on his contract, and other than RFA centre Sam Gagner, Edmonton has a rookie centre in Nugent-Hopkins, and then a lack of depth at that position, with Belanger at age 34, and 21 year old Anton Lander.
Kesler has been compared to Mark Messier... while I felt his game more resembles Trevor Linden's, perhaps the Messier comparisons could be prophetic... At 27 years old, Kesler is coming into his leadership prime and seems to want to be a captain - something that I personally feel is not likely going to happen in Vancouver. Perhaps he would make a good successor to Shawn Horcoff? As good as the kid lines look in Edmonton, there is somewhat of a gap between them and their veteran leadership - a player like Kesler, with a great balance of experience, leadership, skill, grit, determination, work-ethic... at only 27 years of age, is exactly what the Oilers ordered. And there are worse destinations than the up and coming Oilers. But would Edmonton be willing to make it worth the Canucks' while? In my mind, if a team wants Ryan Kesler, they better have a player named Eberle and a future to offer... Is there a way of acquiring Eberle, while keeping Kesler and keeping eveyone happy with Hodgson's ice time in the future? I imagine Gillis, AV and the team have this one figured out... Perhaps trading Kesler is a non-starter, and his NTC and Cody Hodgson can coexist? Regardless, I'm not giving up on Eberle.. what is it going to take?
Well, there it is - another fan's wish list - and like Santa, I am sure Mike Gillis cares what each and every one of us wants at the trade deadline....right? Ok, work your magic... The difference of course being there is only one 'Christmas tree', so like it or lump it, Oil or coal for 'Christmas', "we are all Canucks" and we will all be getting the same thing. We have almost everything we currently need, so shopping for Vancouver fans might actually be an enviable task... But whatever...I am a Canucks fan and I'm getting used to getting what I want, so get out there and get us that Eberle kid to play with Hodgson... That's all I ask.