This is the bread and butter for the Vancouver Canucks for the last three to four seasons. It seems like the Canucks never had an issue providing offense from the back end. In the past, it was Ed Jovanovski, Nolan Baumgartner, Mattias Ohlund, etc. to provide timely scoring, then we see Sami Salo, Alex Edler, Lukas Krajicek come in for some spark from the point. Last year, the Canucks had one of the top point-producing blueline cores in the NHL, with Christian Ehrhoff finding himself enjoying a career year offensively.
However, the defense was too slow, and immobile in many occasions, partially due to the injury bug biting on their depth hard.
Willie Mitchell sat out ever since January, after being hit from behind by Evgeni Malkin, he is still being questioned about his condition. Sami Salo was in and out again for parts of the year, Kevin Bieksa suffered another calf muscle laceration, and O'Brien couldn't get out of coach Alain Vigneault's dog house.
Now, Mike Gillis looked upon this blueline as a key area to address when off-season Free Agency period opens on July 1, and he started early.
On June 25, 2010, before Taylor or Tyler was revealed to hockey fans, Gillis swings a deal with Dale Tallon of Florida Panthers to trade for D Keith Ballard and RW Victor Oreskovich. Canucks gave up failed project Steve Bernier, forward Michael Grabner and 25th overall pick (Howdon). Keith Ballard adds a physical dimension to the Canucks blueline, and he can spur the offense with his crisp outlet passes as well as a knack to slide in the soft areas in the back side of a powerplay attack. Ballard hits players to keep them honest, and he is a very good skating defenseman that can take care of both ends of the ice.
Mike Gillis was interviewed at the draft floor, TSN's James Duthie asked if "he was done?" and Mike Gillis was adamant that he is not done improving in all areas of this team. So what does he have up his sleeves?
One of the stories going in and out of the NHL Entry Draft was that highly touted defenseman, Dan Hamhuis, he was dealt from Nashville Predators to Philadelphia Flyers for Ryan Parent. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren couldn't find a way to persuade Hamhuis to sign prior to July 1st, and slides his rights yet again to Pittsburgh for a 3rd round pick in the 2011 draft. Dan Hamhuis and his agent talked all the way until July 1st, but it didn't happen, because Dan Hamhuis was offered a tasty contract of 6-year $27 million by the hometown Vancouver Canucks, where Dan has spent parts of his summers training and vacationing. It was too good to refuse, so Dan Hamhuis joins the likes of incumbents Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler, Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa, Aaron Rome, and newcomer Keith Ballard on the Canucks defense core.
Contract may seem like an issue to some critics from the outside looking in, saying all 6 of their defensemen on the top-6 are paid over $3 million a year ($22.3mil in total), but it is on par with teams such as Calgary ($21.5mil), and much lower than Toronto Maple Leafs ($26 mil) for example.
Look for the Canucks to be tougher, faster, and deadlier on the point and their own zone this season. You just wait and watch!