Ranking the Top 5 Offseason Priorities for Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks are a mess right now.
The core of the roster (Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and Roberto Luongo) have been together since the 2006-07 season.
That season also happened to be the first season Alain Vigneault was the head coach of the Canucks, after coaching several of those players for the Canucks' AHL affiliate in Manitoba.
That is a long time for the core of a team to be together, and there have been both highs and lows.
The Vigneault-coached Canucks were arguably the most successful regular-season team in the NHL during that span, going 313-170-57, making the playoffs six times and winning the Northwest Division six times as well.
This incarnation of the Canucks also set franchise firsts by winning the President’s Trophy as the top team in 2010-11, and then repeating in 2011-12. It also won major individual awards (Art Ross, Hart, Jennings and Selke), again franchise firsts.
But in the playoffs, the Canucks' performance was much more uneven, winning six playoff series, but also losing six as well.
More pertinently, they have now lost three playoff series in a row, starting with the 2011 ouster in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins, followed by first-round exits at the hands of the L.A. Kings and San Jose Sharks.
Now the team is at a crossroads, the fans are alternating between furious and apathetic, and changes are coming.
Here are some of the major decisions that need to be made before the draft on June 30, in the approximate order that they need to be made.
Is Mike Gillis Staying on as General Manager?
General manager Mike Gillis has a meeting scheduled with ownership to outline a new vision for the team.
Basically, it is an audition to save his job, as Gillis has to explain back-to-back first-round upsets, losing three consecutive playoff series, including six straight losses at Roger's Arena. He will have to sell his new plan to ownership, or they might jettison him as they did his predecessor, Dave Nonis, after a similar meeting.
The ownership is also listening to the tone of the city, which is alternating between furious and just apathetic. The Canucks home sellout streak was broken recently, as the fans didn't care enough, or believe enough, to pony up the cash for playoff tickets.
Gillis has had great success in Vancouver, but he has also made some serious mistakes, at least in hindsight. His greatest flaw is his inability to correct mistakes.
All managers make mistakes, but Gillis hasn't been able to move players out of Vancouver, thereby allowing situations like the multi-year goalie drama between Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider to fester.
Gillis made the decision to shut down Manny Malhotra for health and safety reasons relating to his eyesight just nine games into the season. The decision itself is fine, but if Gillis knew this was a possibility, why didn't he plan for it, especially with Ryan Kesler recovering from surgery. This left a huge void on the Canucks, who were playing without legitimate second- or third-line centers for most of the season.
Keith Ballard is another sore point, as he never worked out in Vancouver, but Gillis hasn't been able to move him. Another waste of resources, as $4,200,000 of salary cap was tied up for a healthy scratch three years in a row.
Prediction: Gillis stays, but is on a short leash, and therefore will be looking for more drastic short-term solutions.
Who Will Be the Coach?
Alain Vigneault has done a great job for the Canucks over the years, but just like his core players, the act is getting stale in Vancouver.
Coaches have a shelf life, and it appears that Vigneault has hit his. He doesn't deserve all of the blame, as he can only coach the players whom Gillis acquires, but two consecutive first-round losses would spell the end of any coach.
Whether Gillis exercises his general manager's prerogative to throw a head coach under the bus to save his own job, or if a new general manager comes in and installs his own coach, Vigneault will be gone.
Prediction: With his 313-170-57 record in Vancouver, Vigneault won't be unemployed for long. Whoever is the new head coach, and there are plenty of options, expect it be someone with a reputation for uptempo, offense-first hockey to appease the restless fanbase.
Addition by Subtraction
Clearly, the current roster couldn't get it done, after losing eight of its last nine playoff games. While the core of the team has no trade clauses, there are several free agents who will be moving on as management reshapes the roster.
Derek Roy, Manny Malhotra and Mason Raymond are all veteran forwards who will be almost assuredly gone. On defence, Cam Barker shouldn't be offered a new contract.
Veterans Maxim Lapierre and Andrew Alberts are useful players, and the Canucks should attempt to re-sign them, but they might want to leave Vancouver for teams that they can play more of a role on.
As part of the new CBA, teams also have two buyouts that can be made this summer without impacting the salary cap like a regular buyout.
Keith Ballard, with his $4,200,000, is almost assuredly guaranteed to receive one of those buyouts, as he has been a healthy scratch repeatedly in the playoffs, with rookies (Chris Tanev in 2011 and Frank Corrado in 2013) playing ahead of him.
Ballard has all the physical tools to be a good NHL defender, and he was productive in Phoenix and Florida, but he just hasn't been able to play Vigneault's system and therefore frequently didn't play at all.
David Booth might be a buyout candidate as well. Making $4,250,000 a year, he has been hobbled by injuries and only played 68 games over the last two seasons.
Rather than gamble that he can overcome being injury-prone, management instead might decide that cap space is better allocated to someone who can be counted on to play, rather than rehab, on a regular basis.
Prediction: Booth and Ballard are both bought out, and only Lapierre is re-signed from the unrestricted free agents.
Trade a Goalie Already!
This one goes without saying. Ever since Vigneault handed the reins over to Schneider as the starting goalie midway through the 2012 playoffs, Luongo's days have been numbered.
As has been well-documented, Gillis hasn't been able to pull the trigger on a deal that he likes for his veteran goalie.
This situation needs to end, even if only a trade for draft picks or prospects.
Of course, since this is Vancouver, it isn't out of the question that Schneider might be the one traded. He certainly has a more palatable contract, and more teams would be interested, thereby generating a better return for the Canucks. Of course, for this to happen, management would have to grovel to Luongo and issue a public mea culpa for the way he has been treated.
But then again, if it is a new manager and coach, Luongo might be more inclined to listen.
Prediction: Luongo is traded by the draft, and Schneider lives up to his potential with a regular schedule.
Make a Decision on Alex Edler
Alex Edler is the youngest of the core players at only 27, and the only one who doesn't have a no-trade clause.
However, his new contract extension that kicks in on July 1, 2013, does include a no-trade clause, so if the Canucks did want to trade a core piece to make a big impact, they would want to do it at the draft.
There are plenty of teams that would want an All-Star 6'3" defenceman just entering his prime who can play physical and also rack up points, despite his inconsistency.
Looking around the league at teams that need defence, the Philadelphia Flyers would seem to be a good fit. Edler would automatically become their best defenceman. They also have the sort of young forwards like Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier whom Vancouver would most likely covet.
Of course, all the reasons why other teams would want Edler are also reasons why the Canucks would want to keep him.
His biggest flaw is inconsistency, and maybe a different coach might be able to fix that. Edler has only ever had Vigneault as an NHL coach, and a new voice or approach might work wonders.
Prediction: Edler is traded. As much as I don't want to see him go, he is the only major piece that doesn't have a no-trade clause, and he should bring back an impact forward in an old fashioned hockey trade.
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