The trade deadline is tomorrow and in all likelihood the Canucks will not be making any changes. It's understandable, given the status quo with the Canucks atop the league with a healthy 15-point lead over second-place Minnesota in the division. This team boasts some really high-end skill, but given the recent performances of Mason Raymond, the on-and-off play of Mikael Samuelsson, and the general ineffectiveness of the bottom six save Tanner Glass and Manny Malhotra on most nights, you have to wonder if this team is deep enough offensively to win the Cup. I'm not trying to be negative nor am I pushing the panic button, but it certainly a legitimate question to ask.
When I envisioned the Canucks winning the Cup, I had imagined that Cody Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder, or some young player on a rookie contract would play a significant role on the team. Given how there is now more emphasis on building through the draft with the CBA, no team can win the Cup without significant contributions from cheap players. When the Blackhawks won, Patrick Kane (3.725), Jonathan Toews (2.8), Andrew Ladd (1.55), Brent Seabrook (3.5), Dustin Byfuglien (3) and Duncan Keith (1.475) all had cap hits under $4 million. The same goes the 2009 Penguins with Evgeni Malkin (3.834) and Jordan Staal (2.2). Even the runner-ups share the same trend: the 2009 Red Wings had Henrik Zetterberg at a $2.65 million cap hit and Johan Franzen was earning a shade over $1 million while the 2010 Flyers featured a breakout from Claude Giroux. The point is, you need cheap players to significantly outperform the value of the contracts. The players I've listed can easily double or triple their original value on the open market. It's not enough for a $3 million player to produce $4 million-type numbers. You need a Zetterberg or a Toews, who both were under $3 million, to give you $6 million-type, MVP-type production to win. Since it's very unlikely that a veteran can outplay the value of his contract due to their relatively older age and lack of upside, the only way to get such "value contracts" is to deploy cheap yet effective young players.
Looking up and down the Canucks roster and salary structure, nobody on our current roster fits the bill except Alex Burrows, who is currently struggling. Everyone is at or close to market value and nobody's going to significantly outperform the value of their contracts. Particularly concerning are the forwards, where it often feels as though the Canucks don't have any weapons other than the Sedins and Ryan Kesler. Nobody else scores on a real consistent basis and the Canucks are so close to the cap that adding a significant forward without losing a roster player is out of the realm of possibility. Mike Gillis has already gone on record to say that he doesn't want to move anyone. That's also another way of saying that should anything go wrong, the Canucks will have to look for the answer internally.
<img src="http://cache4.asset-cache.net/xc/90321829.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF878921CC759DF4EBAC47D06676A481A1E3B5C1F1C3E993EFDEA9D9664B3929E18EEB79E30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">In steps Cody Hodgson. The highly touted prospect's cap hit is just $1.67 million and I think he does have the ability to make some significant contributions. It may not be this year, but he is signed until 2013. However, it's ridiculous to even think that he can make any sort of contribution, or even begin to, if he's stapled to the bench and playing five minutes a night. How is Hodgson, or any player, going to improve playing five minutes a night? That fourth-line centre spot has been a joke all season (anyone miss Ryan Johnson yet? I do), featuring a handful of call-ups in Alex Bolduc, Mario Bliznak, and Joel Perrault and players playing out of position with Jeff Tambellini, Raffi Torres, Glass, and even Raymond. I'd rather have Hodgson playing significant minutes in Manitoba and bring up a player who is a short-term solution. If not, Gillis better go out and grab someone... like Zenon Konopka. But, of course, Gillis will have to go through Vigneault first, because there's no use acquiring a player Vigneault ultimately is reluctant to use (Ballard).
Vigneault is notoriously stubborn, and more often than not he's right, but how long is he going to stick to his guns? The thing with Vigneault is, if he doesn't like you, he's not going to put you in a position to succeed, which makes the odds for the underdog even worse. Even though Max Pacioretty didn't approach the situation the right way in Montreal, he was certainly right when he spoke out against Jacques Martin using him in the bottom six. A talented offensive player, Pacioretty knew he couldn't succeed without playing in the top six. It's a logical argument - you put scorers in your top six and checkers in the bottom six. So what, exactly, does playing Hodgson exclusively on the fourth line accomplish? Sergei Shirokov showed some great hands with Kesler but by the end of the next game he was on the fourth line again. Keith Ballard, who has some nice offensive instincts a kin to Jovanovski's in his ability to jump up on the play (I swear I'll stop the comparison someday), gets less powerplay ice-time than the decidedly average Aaron Rome (0:31 to 0:15 per game - granted, Ballard doesn't have a slapper but still). Tambellini is better than Raymond in a checking role with his physicality, but despite Gillis and Vigneault singing his praises he refuses to move Tambellini from the fourth line.
By putting Kesler on the top powerplay unit (not even Vigneault's own idea) the Canucks have the league's powerplay, but the second unit is also suffering. Burrows and Raymond, two (fairly) regulars on the second unit, have just 5 PPG combined (they had 12 last year), one less than Henrik's season total. The Canucks feature three of the league's top 15 scorers this year (costing roughly $17 million combined) but the offensive depth of the team suffers for it.
So this brings me to my next point. There's no point in trying to keep Christian Ehrhoff beyond this season. This ridiculous rash of injuries to our blueline aside, with Ballard, Hamhuis, Edler, and Bieksa, who I would re-sign, is a pretty good four-man group growing forward. It's comparable to Pittsburgh's Letang-Orpik-Martin-Michalek group, which I would say may be one of the deepest four-man groups in the league. Seeing as how Seabrook and Byfuglien both signed deals worth more than $5 million per season, the market value for Ehrhoff is extremely high. If he isn't willing to take a salary around $4 million, there's no point in keeping him because this Canucks squad needs another legitimate top six forward. Samuelsson is not the answer and it's becoming increasingly clear that Raymond is not either, despite me having him pegged for 30 goals before the season. Kesler's frustration is written on the wall. It couldn't have been clearer last night. He's tired of carrying the second line. Of course, this doesn't mean Ehrhoff's going to be dealt at the deadline. Far from it, but depending on how well Ehrhoff and the team performs in the playoffs, he could be a huge trade chip at the draft on June 24.