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canucks-golf-buzzbishopLet’s face facts, sports fans… the Canucks were not, this year or any other year, a team slated to go deep in the playoffs by anyone.  While fans railed against what they saw as biased coverage of the last remaining Canadian team’s play by a bunch of CBC haters, they were simultaneously in denial of the fact that, when contrasted with the contest presently underway between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, this team was not a Stanley Cup contender even if they had beaten the boys from CHI-town.  Many of the team’s biggest paycheques were going to guys who were constantly hurt and/or underperforming, but that’s just an excuse — the Canucks still do not, and are not soon likely to, have the depth to go far in the playoffs.  As armchair GM I feel it is my responsibility to try to reconcile this for next season … but it’ll be a tall order just keeping the core of the team together this summer.

Below is a chart on several key players, some relevant data, and what I think I might try to do:

luongo-300 Roberto Luongo
Age: 30
Salary:  $6.75mm
Expires:  2010

GAA: 2.34

It becomes quite difficult to solidify a reputation as the best goalie in the league when you continually play for dog teams that can’t perform in the playoffs.  This team (and every team you’ve played for) leans far too heavily on your unique talent but east of Cambie street you get very little respect in this league.Giving you the captaincy (even without the C sewn on) was a bullshit PR move and could only have served to cause you to lose focus and get off the bead of what it is that you do so well.  Get back to being “just” the greatest goalie ever, stick with us through some changes, and for emotional balance leverage the two guys you have in your own back yard that have lots of mental toughness and carried weak teams through the playoffs:  Richard Brodeur and Kirk McLean.  The armchair GM would be happy to hire them as consultants to focus on the mental aspects of your play.
ohlund-grin Mattias Ohlund
Age: 32
Salary:  $3.5mm
Expires:  2009

25 points

I think we’re going to lose you to an East Coast team in bidding this summer. Vancouver fans don’t respect your contribution enough.  I think you’ve had a tough couple of years trying to fit into the Vigneault system, which has required you to take too many penalties and lose focus from your offensive play.I don’t want to lose your grit, but the budget’s tight.  I’d like to sign you to a multi-year contract at your present salary, but I doubt you’d go for that considering who’s been calling.  So I would hope to keep you here with a two-year at $2.5mm — and it’ll be hard to find room under the cap for that.  You’re a franchise player.  Stay here 3-4 more years and we’ll retire your jersey, give you a shot at a cup with some rebuilding, and you can play in front of the home crowd for Sweden in 2010.
Predators Canucks Hockey Sami Salo
Age: 35
Salary:  $3.5mm
Expires:  2011

25 points

What, are you made of porcelain?  We need you to play a whole season.  Please ensconse yourself in bubble wrap and suspend yourself with bungee rope in a lcoked room between games.  We’d like the keys to your Porsche — we’ll be sending a driver in an armoured, padded vehicle with a 7-point safety harness to pick you up for games from now on.If you can put together a full season you’re awesome — but we can’t keep backfilling you.  Fans love you.  I like saying your name with a Squire Barnes lisp.  What the hell: you can’t go anywhere, we’re not trading you… get out of my office and back to the gym (though please pick up some tensor braces and make sure you stretch thoroughly in order to prevent injury or strain).  Please do not buy a Segway or any two-wheeled vehicle.
71798337JV0032Ducks_Canucks Taylor Pyatt
Age: 27
Salary:  $1.575mm
Expires:  2009

19 points

You are six-feet four, and you weigh 235 lbs.  In today’s NHL that is neither lean enough to be fast, nor thick enough to be tough.  You’re a UFA this summer.  I don’t understand why Vigneault continues to throw you on the ice in critical situations — end of the game, power plays, penalty kills, etc.  You are almost always behind the play.You were a healthy scratch several times in the past two years.  You are being given chances to showcase your skills (probably because we were hoping to trade your ass) but you’ve really let us down.  19 points in 69 games, especially given the guys you’ve played with, means you haven’t been a factor at all.You have NO grit, speed, nor puck-handling dexterity.Happy to let you go — but if you want to stay here 1) figure out what kind of player you are, 2) hire a personal trainer and develop this summer, and 3) we’ll pay you $1M on a one-year contract.  Sorry about your tragic loss, but this is a business.
D059206006.jpg Mason Raymond
Age: 23
Salary:  $833.33K
Expires:  2010 (RFA)

23 points

In your case, I don’t think the stats have told the story.  You’re a hungry, fiery player with grit and I feel that AV has completely underutilized you.  For a 6’0 guy to be the team’s fastest skater is impressive.  You’ve gotten your feet wet in the league, you played your way onto this roster, and you’ve tasted the playoffs.  Now you need to play your way up to the second line.  I think you could be huge as a forechecker and your hands are awesome.This is your sophomore NHL summer.  You’re only 165 lbs. soaking wet.  Would like to see you bulk up without losing speed, just to prevent you from getting knocked around too much.  Work on the upper body, not just the legs, and eat a sandwich once in a while.  You’re great kid, now get out of my office so I can deal with the next guy.
willie mitchell Willie Mitchell
Age: 32
Salary:  $3.2mm
Expires:  2010

23 points

Hockey loves the hometown boys.  Port McNeill is pretty close to Vancouver.  Check.OK somebody liked you last summer and gave you a pretty rockin’ deal despite a weak season.  This year you did a lot better, so she time is right to keep that momentum and own the zone.  At times this year I watched you and you seemed to have your head in the clouds, crossing over inexplicably and floating the puck when a slap-pass was required.  Your turnover stats look pretty bad.  You are, though, a big part of the breakout.  If Ohlund goes this summer, you’re a huge part of the defensive corps and the younger kids will be looking to you for leadership.  At times you seem disinterested in defensive play.  Get angry in September and find your grit.Step up, and we’ll renew next summer — no probs.  Want you to finish your career here.
alex-burrows Alex Burrows
Age: 28
Salary:  $2mm
Expires:  2010

51 points

You have played your way onto every team throughout your career.  With 52 points in 82 games you have really delivered in 2008-2009, particularly since AV has not always played you on top lines.  You’re probably the fittest player on the team, and a role model for guys making twice your salary.Your unique attribute is your work  ethic.  You need some bulk up top, because when you eventually settle into second line left-winger status you’re going to get tossed around like a bean bag.  I think you’re going to look like the bargain of the century in two years.  We’ll get you a speedy centre to get things going.
kyle-wellwood Kyle Wellwood
Age: 25
Salary:  $998K
Expires:  2009

27 points

I’ve known and played with a lot of guys like you who never got the chance to play in The Show.  You’re immensely, naturally gifted as a player but as a teenager it always came so easily to you that you never really developed a work ethic.  After a few years with the Leafs you became a guy constantly on the bubble, and nowadays that is what is driving you.Wake-up call:  We signed you and put you on waivers (for no really good reason) last year after you failed the fitness test, and nobody even called.This is it.  I’ll sign you right now for $800K for a year because I know I’m the only guy who’ll take a chance.  You’re still on the bubble.  We saw flashes of brilliance this year, but you’re still falling behind.  That’s OK if you use this summer as your time to train like crazy, make me a liar, and come back to camp in lean and mean shape with some speed that can match those hands.  Keep skating all summer.
sundin-canucks Mats Sundin
Age: 38
Salary:  $7mm
Expires:  2009

28 points

You’re no Neidermeyer.  You’ve proven that you can’t sit out half the season and expect to compete in the NHL.  You came back from semi-retirement old and slow and not nearly pissed-off enough.  You hoped the Sedins and Luongo would carry you to your ring but we did not get the leadership on the ice I’d expect to see from a guy who’s been a consistent 70-80 point-getter for 10 years — and one that we paid $4 million bucks for.So yes, this is goodbye.  There’s no role on this team for you, but I think you knew that.  I always knew you were a summer rental.  See you at the retirement press conference, and enjoy the flight back to Sweden.  And when the Rangers call?  Don’t do it.  You’ll smear your glorious Leafs legacy (choke).
ryan-kesler Ryan Kesler
Age: 24
Salary:  $1.75mm
Expires:  2010

59 points

When we originally signed you, we thought you were the next Trevor Linden.  It hasn’t exactly been an easy path, and so you were often on the bubble.  This past year you really shined.  What I’d like to see you deliver is a 75-80 point season in 2009/2010 as a center.  If so, you could be our future and we’ll hit you with a contract at least as sweet as your wild-eyed three-year, $2.475-million entry level contract a few years ago.Time to step up and deliver on the promise that we saw when we passed up Mike Richards and Corey Perry for your ass.  I’d like to think you could be the captain of the team but not yet.  One more season like this year’s and we’ll talk about it when you’re up next sumer.  You play better when you’re hungry.  You ought to be a second-line centre by now.
vancouvercanucksvchicagoblackhawksglxv-zv5d6ol Kevin Bieksa
Age: 27
Salary:  $3.75mm
Expires:  2012

43 points

This was the best year of your career, despite a couple of injuries that had us leery.  You’ve showed real toughness at times and delivered 43 points offensively which made you the top-scoring D-man on the team.We have however noticed your defensive play suffering.  You’ve made some brutal bets on the pinch and lost, creating momentum-killing 2-on-1s and leading to some highlight reel goals for other teams.  Luongo can only do so much to cover for a defenseman who’s not even in the play.  Additionally, while we like your grit, we hate your timing.  Pitchforking that guy in Game 5 vs. Chicago with 6 minutes to go almost definitely cost us a Game 7.Clean it up and work on your D game and you’ll be worth every penny.
D053307013.jpg The Sedins (H D)
Age: 28
Salary:  $3.58mm
Expires:  2009

82 points each

You each got 82 points this year — one each per game — with no injuries.  Once again, you were absent for much of the playoffs.  You need to understand that people will key in on you and work with the Right Winger we give you.  Because you are a package deal, any team that signs you to a big contract is going to mortgage their whole future to do so.  I know the Rangers will call. Anyone who can sign you both won’t be able to field a very good team beyond your line.We have invested a lot in you and consider you to be franchise players.  I would match any offer up to $4mm each and for 3-4 years, but above that I’m pretty hamstrung by trying to surround you with the league’s best goalie and a strong D.  But ANYONE who signs you at your presumed asking price, given that there are two of you, will be challenged to surround you with a talented team.
Alain Vigneault Alain Vigneault2007 Jack Adams award winner

2007/08: 39-33-10
2008/09: 45-27-10

Some coaches are able to work their magic in the locker room, some do it by running perfect practices, and others do it behind the bench.  In the regular season great practices, and solid locker room and off-ice leadership keep teams healthy, prepared, and in-the-game.  In the playoffs, though, coaches do their work behind the bench.As this was your first career NHL playoff run as a coach, I guess we can’t be too harsh with you for losing.  I have to be honest — watching what happened in Chicago, where the Hawks clearly changed the entire complexion of the play without any adjustment or response from the Canucks — I wanted to fire you.  But then, reflecting on the stats of the regular season, I think we just need to develop you and get you some help.Speaking of which…
linden188 Trevor Linden

Requires no introduction.

Hey Trev, ‘sup?  Feeling refreshed after a year off, freed from the shackles of watching Naslund flail as a Captain and watching the NHLPA eat itself alive trying to maneouvre with that weasel Gary Bettman?We miss you.  Fans still show up to games wearing #16 jerseys.  You cast a long shadow, my friend, and rumour from some former Canucks players has it that even thought you didn’t wear the “C” these last few years in Vancouver, you were.  Suffice to say:  You cast a long shadow.Within the next 16 months, Ryan Walter or Rick Bowness will be moving on.  I’d say you’re a shoo-in for Assistant Coach.  The salary sucks, but face it — you bleed blue and green.
cody hodgson Cody Hodgson
Age: 19
Salary:  $875K
Expires:  2011
I think we made the smart decision growing you slowly this year, sending you to the Battallion, letting you play on Team Canada in the Canada-Russia series, and now pulling you up to the Moose.  Your play has been exceptional — now you know what it’s like to spread your wings and rock the ice and be a dominant force.Next season please arrive at camp prepared to play in the NHL.  Speed and dexterity are your biggest assets, and you’re big enough not to get tossed around.  Toughness and grit will have to come over time.  You’d make a great roommate for Burrows — only you’re a little more talented than Burrows — because he’ll keep you focused on your fitness and work ethic.  Don’t let this go to your head, we’ll give you a lot of PP ice time next year, probably playing on the Right Wing.

Age: 34
Salary:  $3.2mm
Expires:  2009

Wanted:  RIGHT WINGER who can hold his own with the Sedins, stand in front of the net when he has to, and wire shots top-corner while hapless defensemen chase the Swedes around in the corners.  Hey Marian, know anybody?Oh that’s right… your pal Pavol is on the Canucks, hit 53 points, and will be here til summer 2010.  Unless of course we can’t attract you as a free agent this summer, in which case we’re going to trade his ass (he nets a $4 million salary).  Since your injury makes you a bit of a risk, I’ll throw $3.5mm on a one-year contract to you but would discuss anything up to $4.0mm on a two-year deal.  If the latter, then you’ll be riding to games in the bubble van with Sami Salo.We’ll try you with the Sisters, and if that doesn’t work out I’m sure you’ll enjoy spinning around the ice with Demitra.  And hey, Willie’s here too… you remember him?
van-vaananen Ossi Vaananen
Age: 28
Salary:  $1mm
Expires:  2009
I checked my magic 8-Ball: “future hazy”.  Will re-sign for 2 years at $875K.  Otherwise, seeya.  Thanks.  See you in September.  PS – there are too many vowels in your name.
radulov Alexander Radulov
Age: 22
Salary: $919K
Expires: 2009
Ok now, if ever there is a Russian player destined for first-line greatness in the NHL, it is 22-year-old Alexander Radulov.  He is, though, the centre of a huge controversy between the NHL and the Russian Kontinental Hockey League.  Last year, though he was signed to a pithy $1mm contract with the Predators, he ended up inking a three year deal worth $13mm with the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa.  This contract was signed days before a treaty agreement was reached between the NHL and KHL regarding transfer of players.
The Russians view this as payback for the yanking of Ovechkin and Malkin, among a host of others, into the NHL from domestic clubs. What’s happened to the Preds now is essentially what might have happened to the Canucks had they not been able to lure Bure overseas after picking him so many years ago.  This summer, the stage is set for a Battle Royale between the NHL and the KHL’s Alexander Medvedev — the outcome of which might mean Radulov’s return to the National Hockey League as an unrestricted free agent.  This will be THE story of the summer.

fantasy_g_afinogenov_300 Maxim Afinogenov
Age: 29
Salary: $3.5mm
Expires: 2009
Building on the Russian Right-Winger theme:  Hey Max!  How would you like to play with the twins?  I know things have been sucking in Buffalo lately.  You need a change of pace!  Your scoring is off, but I think you’ve got potential.I’d throw you a three-year, $3.0mm bone to head over to Vancouver where the ladies will love ya, the Sedins will pass to you, and you can head back up the roster to the first line and net around 75+ points.  Sound good?  Sign here.

Going back over this post, I have committed the Canucks to around $50mm, give or take $2mm.  For instance I’d obviously be happy to say goodbye to Pyatt were Afinogenov to be lured to the team.  But with a cap of $56.7mm next season for team salaries, that leaves very little room and I have filled 15 of 23 roster spots.

According to HockeyBuzz O’Brien, Bernier, Rypien, and Hansen are also key free agents this year.  They will be demanding salary bumps and presently the four of them account for about $4.5mm all in.  Add to that Edler’s $3.25mm salary, Demitra’s $4mm, and various odds & ends, and that’s another $9mm unaccounted for in my planning.

The reality is that the Canucks are not going to be able to strengthen the roster substantially from within the Free Agency market.  The youth movement, as Chicago has evidenced, where underpaid young players overperform, is where teams get a solid strategic advantage these days. This places heavy emphasis on Hodgson to crack the lineup and be a dominant player in 2009-2010, as the Canucks don’t have much else under development.

That said, a couple of things happened this past year:  1)  Salaries inflated across the board, but teams are seeing revenue decline, and 2) The economy collapsed, and the NHL started talking about lowering the cap in the next few years.  This will see teams being far more conservative in their offers to Free Agents, which will be enhanced by the frankly startling diversity of talent that is set to hit the market in June.

So:  Will Ohlund take a pay cut to stay with the only NHL team he has ever known?  Will Bernier (and other teams) recognize that he’s not worth $2.5mm yet?  Will Hank and Daniel bankrupt the team that has developed them into Top 20 players by making a big cash grab, or would they like a shot at the cup?  If they reach for a $6mm salary each, as some suspect, the twins and Luongo alone could account for more than one third of the team’s salary cap at nearly $20mm.

Mike Gillis has a real problem.  If few or none of these situations plays in his favour, then I suspect it’ll be 5 or more years before they have a team in contention… and they’ll have to do something the Canucks are rarely successful at doing:  developing a group of players from the draft into top-line players right away.  It could be a very long winter indeed, even by Vancouver fans’ standards.

… all of which underpins the fact that, strong or not, this was probably Vancouver’s best chance at a Stanley Cup for the past 15 years, and at least the next 5.