Vancouvers Canucks: Which Players Should Stay and Which Should Go?
When a hockey team underachieves, fingers will be pointed and blame will ensue. Using a process of elimination, which at this point is pretty much a guessing game, let's try to put back together the pieces of the Canucks' broken season, with an eye toward producing a better result in 2013.
Goaltender: Roberto Luongo
G Roberto Luongo—33 years old, six seasons with the Canucks.
He began the regular season as the clear-cut No. 1 goaltender. He got off to a typically slow start in October. Near the end of December and into January, eyebrows were raised when youngster Cory Schneider rose to the occasion when called upon for spot duty as Luongo's backup.
In the biggest game of the season, a rematch against the Boston Bruins in Beantown, coach Alain Vigneault decided to bench Luongo and start Schneider, a move that surprised a lot of people, but only signalled the beginning of the end for Luongo in Vancouver.
Conclusion: Luongo will be traded to one of the teams on his short list close to the NHL Entry Draft. That team will pay a hefty price to acquire him.
Goaltender: Cory Schneider
G Cory Schneider—26 years old, drafted 26th in 2004 by Vancouver.
Schneider entered the season playing out the second year of a two-year contract that paid him $900,000 a year.
Many in the hockey media have said Schneider is ready to be a starting goalie in the NHL. Patrik Elias
of the New Jersey Devils agrees, saying this about Schneider after a game against the Canucks earlier this season. "This kid is a No. 1 goalie in this league.''
With the outstanding performance by Schneider in Games 3 and 4 against the Los Angeles Kings, coach Alain Vigneault and the Canucks fans have reached a similar conclusion. It is time for Schneider to assume a starting role.
Conclusion: Stay. Schneider is expected to remain a Canuck and play 55-65 games next season.
Fourth-Line Agitator: Byron Bitz
Bitz had an up-and-down season. He battled a chronic sports hernia injury that hampered his career with the Boston Bruins. The Canucks signed him as a free agent last summer, hoping he would bring an element of physicality and toughness that they lacked against the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Bitz came back and surprised a few people. He hits hard, and he skates rather well for a big man. For some moments, Alain Vigneault liked him enough to give him a few regular shifts on the Henrik Sedin line.
However, injuries hit him again near the end of the year, and the Canucks were forced to look at replacements on the fourth line.
In the playoffs, Bitz nailed tough guy Kyle Clifford to the glass inside the Los Angeles zone in Game 1. He later was suspended for two games for that hit by Brendan Shanahan of the NHL Department of Player Safety.
Conclusion: The Canucks may want to bring back Bitz for one more season. If they can't find a better replacement, Bitz is not a bad option as a fourth-liner who can play some tough minutes.
Fourth-Line Agitator: Aaron Volpatti
F Aaron Volpatti—age 26, free-agent signing in 2010.
Volpatti had a disappointing season. He saw regular shifts on the Canucks' fourth line after he made the team out of training camp. However, he then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
When Volpatti is healthy, he brings a hard-hitting game. He has decent skating ability and is tough along the boards. If the occasion is right, he is not afraid to drop the gloves to make a statement to the opposing team.
Conclusion: Volpatti will likely return to the Canucks, either as a depth forward or AHL reserve.
Fourth-Line Agitator: Andrew Ebbett
F Andrew Ebbett—age 29, free-agent signing in 2011.
Ebbett is described by many as the next coming of Ryan Shannon, a former Canuck forward who is also smallish in stature.
He brings a little bit of skill to the bottom six of the Canucks. However, due to his size, he is not the prototypical fourth-line grinder that NHL teams seek. In a way, Ebbett replaced Jeff Tambellini, who also saw most of the ice as a fourth-line depth forward.
If Ebbett returns next season, the coach must believe that the team can never have too many skilled players. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine Ebbett continuing on as a grinder when bigger options are available.
Conclusion: The Canucks may offer him a two-way contract to reserve the right to send him down as a depth forward. However, it is more likely that Ebbett searches for a new home this July.
Bottom 6 Center: Manny Malhotra
C Manny Malhotra—age 31, free-agent signing in 2010.
Manny Malhotra is a quiet leader and wears the "A" in the Canucks dressing room.
Last year, Malhotra and the Canucks faced a scare when a puck deflected off his stick and struck his eye socket. The skilled faceoff man was immediately sent to the hospital, where a series of operations were performed to save his eye, never mind his hockey career.
His story had a happy ending. After the surgeries, Malhotra returned for a couple games in the Stanley Cup Finals, a clear sign that he is healthy enough to resume his hockey career. Having signed a threeyear deal with the Canucks, Malhotra is entering his final season with the team.
Although he brings an ability to win faceoffs in the left faceoff circle, he does not play a very physical game.
Conclusion: Other teams may be interested in Malhotra closer to the NHL trade deadline. If the Canucks decide to add grit and sandpaper to the lineup, Malhotra may be traded.
Bottom 6 Center: Maxim Lapierre
C Maxim Lapierre—age 27, acquired on trade deadline day in 2011.
Lapierre is a player that Alain Vigneault coveted and requested close to the NHL trade deadline last year.
Lapierre is a super pest who gets under the skin of his opponents. He has speed and brings his lunch bucket with him on the ice almost every night. His hit total was 11th overall in the NHL this past season, and he does a good job defensively.
If Lapierre is able to play whistle to whistle, he is a very effective member of the bottom six.
Conclusion: Lapierre still has one year remaining on his contract. It seems like he will be with the Canucks for quite a bit longer as long as Vigneault remains the coach.
Third-Line Checker: Jannik Hansen
RW Jannik Hansen—age 26, drafted 287th in 2004 by Vancouver.
Hansen is a young player from Denmark who played exceptional hockey this season. Each year, Hansen has improved his strength, skill and physical presence This year, Hansen might have had his best season, finishing with 16 goals and 39 points.
Although Hansen should not be confused with a scoring-line forward, he does have breakaway speed and the ability to fight through checks. His best days are still ahead.
Conclusion: The Canucks have a keeper in Hansen, having signed him for another two seasons at affordable money.
Third-Line Winger: Christopher Higgins
LW Christopher Higgins—age 28, acquired via trade at 2011 trade deadline day.
Higgins brings a mix of speed, hockey sense and scoring touch to the Canucks. They brought him in to add to the depth at forward.
If the Canucks can get a good return for Higgins at the deadline next year, perhaps they will listen to offers.
Conclusion: I expect Higgins to start the season on the Canucks' third line, but there is no guarantee that he will finish the season as a Canuck.
Bottom 6 Grinder: Zack Kassian
RW Zack Kassian—age 21, acquired through trade on trade deadline deadline day 2012.
Kassian is a unique asset if he is able to develop to his full potential.
Physically, he is as tough as they come. He has experience fighting in the OHL with heavyweights like Kyle Clifford of the Los Angeles Kings. That fight is shown on the YouTube video posted here.
In his rookie season, Kassian struggled to play consistently. However, it is fair to say his game will translate better given a full summer to work on his game. He should be able to contribute at both ends of the rink next year.
Conclusion: Alain Vigneault will employ him more regularly if he is better able to compete defensively. Everything starts with sound defense with Coach V.
Speedy Top 6 Winger: Mason Raymond
LW Mason Raymond—age 26, drafted 51st in 2005 by Vancouver.
Raymond suffered a severe back injury in the Boston Bruins playoff series. Johnny Boychuk ran him into the boards in an awkward position and broke his back.
It seems that Raymond has not been the same player since that injury. He struggled heavily this past season, and he had zero confidence with the puck.
Raymond has always been somewhat of a perimeter player, but this year did not even put the puck on net very often. That often spells disaster offensively.
Conclusion: Raymond no longer fits in the top-six forward group. If Mike Gillis is able to acquire some assets in return for Raymond, he will do so at the NHL draft or around July 1.
Top 6 Forward: David Booth
F David Booth—age 27, acquired on Oct.23, 2011.
Booth is a north-south and offensively-minded winger. He plays a simple game and drives the puck hard to the net whenever he can. In fact, he did that against the Colorado Avalanche this season and got hit knee-on-knee by forward Kevin Porter.
Although Booth joined the Canucks with no prior playoff history, he performed well in the games against the L.A. Kings. In fact, he convinced Coach Vigneault to put him with the Sedins in Game 3 and 4.
Conclusion: I expect Booth to be better accustomed to the Canucks system next season and be a regular 30-goal scorer the next few seasons.
Second-Line Center: Ryan Kesler
C Ryan Kesler—age 27, drafted 23rd in 2003 by Vancouver.
This season was not kind to the reigning Frank J. Selke Award winner. Coming off a career season with 41 goals and 70 points, Kesler expected to continue his progression this year. However, he was slowed by hip surgery in August, followed by a serious mid-season shoulder injury. Although Kesler remained in the Canucks lineup for most of the year, he never looked the same.
If there must be a decision on whether Kesler remains the second-line center, the answer is simple. He is the guy.
Conclusion: Unless an NHL team knocks on the Canucks' door armed with diamonds and gold, Kesler is the Canucks' second-line center for another few years.
Top 6 Forward: Alexandre Burrows
LW Alexandre Burrows—age 31, signed as a free agent in 2005.
Burrows has fulfilled his childhood dream to play in the NHL. In fact, he has exceeded that dream by becoming the longest-serving linemate of the Sedin twins. The Pincourt, Quebec, native plays with grit, speed and hockey sense.
Burrows has 17 career playoff goals, including nine in the 2011 run to the Stanley Cup. His biggest is probably the Game 7 overtime winner last year against Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.
Conclusion: Because Burrows has an extremely advantageous contract ($8 million over four years), the Canucks will certainly keep him. He could finish his career in Vancouver.
Top-Line Left Wing: Daniel Sedin
LW Daniel Sedin—age 31, drafted second in 1999 by Vancouver.
Sedin is a franchise player and one of the Canucks' most important offensive catalysts. Without him, the Canucks' power play struggled against the Kings.
The Canucks need Sedin healthy, but the team can't protect him against cheap hits like the one Duncan Keith delivered late in the regular season.
If the Canucks had Sedin for the entire playoffs, it is hard to imagine them losing the series to the Kings in fewer than six games.
Conclusion: It is expected that Sedin will finish his career as one of the all-time great Canucks, joining the likes of Markus Naslund, Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden.
Top-Line Center and Captain: Henrik Sedin
C Henrik Sedin—age 31, drafted first in 1999 by Vancouver.
Sedin is a true leader. Missing brother Daniel, Henrik continued to play well down the stretch, scoring key goals in the five playoff games against the Kings.
The Canucks are lucky to have Henrik. Heis very consistent offensively and produces in the postseason as well.
Just when you thought the Canucks were out of it against the Kings, Henrik would get them back within striking distance.
Conclusion: Like brother Daniel, fans expect Henrik to play out his career as a Canuck. One day, jersey No. 33 should be hanging in the rafters of Rogers Arena.
Chris Tanev, Andrew Alberts, Aaron Rome
The Canucks are blessed with a loaded blue line, which gives them the ability to roll three pairings every night and not worry too much about matchups.
Tanev signed as a college free agent in 2010, while Alberts was acquired to add depth at the trade deadline in 2011. Aaron Rome was a find by the Canucks. He has given the team serviceable minutes as a depth defenseman.
Of the three players, Tanev has the brightest future with the Canucks. However, it is not known if Alberts and Rome would entertain returning to the Canucks.
Conclusion: It might be best for the Canucks to add a few more depth defensemen who can play a two-way game much like Kevin Bieksa or Sami Salo. Tanev is a lock to stay. But between Rome and Alberts, perhaps it is better to pick one player to stay.
5th Defenseman: Keith Ballard
D Keith Ballard—age 29, acquired through trade in 2010.
Ballard is a physical defenseman who plays a two-way game. Although he has not seen as many minutes as a Canuck as he has playing for Phoenix and Florida, Ballard has settled in as a third-pairing defenseman.
To acquire Ballard and Victor Oreskovich, the Canucks paid a hefty price, sending Michael Grabner, Quinton Howden and Steve Bernier to the Florida Panthers. He was acquired to provide depth to the Canucks' defensive corps, and so far that is exactly what he has done.
Conclusion: Unless the Canucks would like to unload his $4.25 million cap hit on another team, I expect Ballard to return next year.
Top-4 Defenseman: Sami Salo
D Sami Salo—age 37, acquired through trade in 2002.
Salo has been a dependable, all-round defenseman for many years on the Canucks' blue line. The reason the Canucks chose to keep the injury-plagued Salo around for so many years is because he is the most well-rounded defenseman on the team.
Salo has had an impressive career in the NHL, making his home country of Finland proud.
The veteran defenseman might be close to retirement, but he did say that he is going to play next season. The question is where.
Conclusion: Salo would be almost impossible to replace. The team should do anything possible to re-sign him for at least one more year. He is a pending unrestricted free agent this summer.
Top-4 Defenseman: Alexander Edler
D Alexander Edler—age 26, drafted 91st in 2004 by Vancouver.
Respect your Edler is a term often used on TSN Sports Centre these days. Late-night show hosts Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole often use the term while crediting Edler with a bombing cannon of a shot from the point that beats many goalies.
Edler has become one of the top defensemen in the NHL. It is clear that he struggled at times during the playoff series against the Kings, but his Swedish D is valuable and effective when he is on his game.
Salo was often paired with Edler in the 2011-12 season, a combination that has contributed to Edler's growth.
Conclusion: Edler may be due for a big raise after the 2012-13 season, so the Canucks better save some money for him, or else some lucky team will be waiting to pounce all over the big Swede.
Shutdown Top-Pairing D: Kevin Bieksa
D Kevin Bieksa—age 30, drafted 151st in 2001 by Vancouver.
Bieksa is an intriguing package. He plays defense with a mix of toughness, defense, puck-moving ability and creativity.
Bieksa was the denominator on the Canucks' No.1 shutdown pairing, first with Willie Mitchell and currently with Dan Hamhuis. Alain Vigneault likes Bieksa to use his physicality and two-way ability.
Sometimes, Bieksa can make uestionable decisions with the puck, but his defensive partner and goaltender are often there to bail him out.
Conclusion: With the decision to release Christian Ehrhoff, it looks like Bieksa will be staying with the Canucks. But he could become a trade target if the defense struggles early next season.
No. 1 Defenseman: Dan Hamhuis
D Dan Hamhuis—age 29, signed as free agent in 2010.
Hamhuis has proven that he is the team's most reliable and dependable defenseman. The Smithers, B.C', native is able to log big minutes and make the game simple and fluid for his team.
Hamhuis solves a lot of problems inside his own zone before his goalie has to face the issue. With Hamhuis on the ice, there's a sense that the team will play sound defense.
Conclusion: If the Canucks are thinking of making a change on defense, Hamhuis would be the last guy they should consider moving. The Canucks know they are fortunate to have him . Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both traded for his rights and failed to sign him in June 2010.