After a marathon bargaining session that stretched from Saturday night well into Sunday morning, Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr emerged on January 6 to announce that the NHL and the Players' Association have reached a tentative agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The revamped schedule for the 2013 season hasn't been released yet, but we're expecting a start date around January 19.
As Vancouver Canucks players, coaches and staff reconvene at Rogers Arena to get back to work, let's take a look at what sort of lineup the Canucks might ice this season.
Ryan Kesler continues to rehab his two summer surgeries
According to capgeek.com, the Canucks currently have 14 forwards signed, at a cost of $35.1 million.
The second-line center slot is a question mark, as Ryan Kesler is still on the shelf rehabbing his shoulder and wrist surgeries from last summer. Ben Kuzma of The Province spoke to Kesler on Sunday, who said he doesn't know when he'll be back:
There’s no timeline. I’m not going to come back until I’m 100 per cent before I even think of coming back. I still need a lot of practices with actual NHL players. That’s going to come in time. This (recovery) is not short term for me. I’ve got to take care of my body first and foremost, but I’m like anybody else. I want to play.
Kesler will be missed on the ice, but his absence will provide some early salary cap relief for the team.
The Canucks will rely on Max Lapierre and Manny Malhotra to take care of some duties down the middle. Jason Arnott remains a free agent and could be a viable option if the Canucks decide to bring in a veteran with Stanley Cup lineage.
If a center is not acquired by trade or free agency, Ben Kuzma of The Province thinks left winger Chris Higgins could move to the pivot position. Andrew Ebbett also has some NHL experience and served as a decent utility player for the Canucks last year.
Ebbett and fellow center Jordan Schroeder have been recalled from the Chicago Wolves, along with winger Zack Kassian, according to Paul LaTour of the Chicago Tribune.
Also on the wings, the Canucks will be bringing back David Booth, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Dale Weise and Aaron Volpatti. Configuring the bottom three lines will likely depend on how the situation at center is resolved.
The Canucks look pretty well set on the blue line at this point. Capgeek.com reports that the team has $23.275 million committed to seven defensemen.
The big question will be how free-agent acquisition Jason Garrison fits into the team. The 28-year-old White Rock native has successfully rehabbed his groin injury and is ready to get down to business, realizing his childhood dream of playing for the Canucks.
Alex Edler is also off the injured list after several months' treatment on his wonky back. His play will be under the microscope, as he's in the last year of his contract. He could be a big-money free-agent signing next summer—if such things will still exist under the new CBA.
Paul LaTour reports that both Tanev and Kevin Connauton have been called up from the Wolves for the Canucks' mini-training camp.
Veteran Jim Vandermeer has been living in Vancouver during the lockout and has expressed interest in bringing his physical presence to the Canucks' blue line as a free agent.
Here's where things get interesting.
How will the details of the new CBA affect Luongo's value? If he is a candidate for the 'amnesty buyout' clause, does that mean a team might be able to sign him to a brand new free-agent contract if they wait until next summer? Or, is his value as a top-level goaltender high enough that a team will still be willing to take on his existing contract?
A 2013-14 salary cap ceiling of $64.3 million (per The Score) is the same as it was in 2011-12 (via nhl.com). If Luongo's deal was manageable then, it should be palatable going forward for a team with needs.
Over the summer, Mike Gillis made it clear that he wouldn't make a deal until it was the right deal. The Canucks may well ice their familiar pair of Luongo and Schneider when the season gets underway.
If (or when) Luongo is dealt, Vancouver will have to make a choice between bringing up Eddie Lack from Chicago or acquiring a free-agent veteran backup. Dan Ellis made it known this summer that he's keen to take on the job.
Jordan Schroeder hopes to show he's ready for prime time.
As usual over these past few years, the Canucks are not exactly deep with young prospects ready to step in and play a major role in the big leagues.
Nicklas Jensen is doing all right as a 19-year-old in the Swedish Elite League, although his team AIK is not very good at all. He'll likely stay in Sweden for the rest of the year.
19-year-old defenseman Frank Corrado is having a good year. The fifth-round draft choice in 2011 had a strong Subway Super Series and was invited to Team Canada's World Junior Selection Camp, where he was a late cut among much more highly touted players. The 6'1", 190-pound blueliner has 27 points in 41 games for the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL's tough Central Division. Corrado will likely finish out the season in junior and get a good long look at the 2013-14 training camp.
Among the Chicago Wolves, the Canucks know what they're getting with dependable Chris Tanev, who's been working to add a bit of offensive spark to his game. Big Kevin Connauton is enjoying a decent season and will also get a look before the season starts—more likely as a potential injury replacement if one the Canucks' core blueliners goes down. At forward, Zack Kassian will almost certainly make the lineup, while Ebbett and Schroeder fight it out for the open spot at center.
The Wolves have had an up-and-down year so it's hard to know how any of the farmhands would fit into a role with Vancouver. Compared to the veterans, they may benefit from the fact that they've been seeing regular game action and will be in midseason form.
Goaltender Eddie Lack will likely stay in Chicago unless Mike Gillis pulls the trigger abruptly on a Roberto Luongo trade and doesn't get a backup goaltender back in return.
After the months of uncertainty, it's exciting to think that we'll finally start to get some answers about just what lies ahead with Vancouver's prospects. Let the games begin!
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