After the manhandling the Canucks took at the hands of the Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals, it appears the Canucks have one area to truly address: toughness.
While I understand the series did go seven games, it appeared to me that after Game 5 the Canucks were finished. The enduring visual from the finals for me was in Game 6 when Brad Marchand pummeled Henrik Sedin in the face four times after the whistle with no penalty and, more importantly, no retribution from any Canuck.
The Bruins series showed the league is prepared to tolerate 1970s style hockey in the finals and the Canucks didn't have an "enforcer" to make thugs like Marchand pay for the abuse they heaped on Vancouver's elite players after the whistle. As a hardcore fan, and I make no apologies for being one, I am going appoint myself the GM of the Canucks for a while and allow Mike Gillis to bake bread at the supermarket I work at. It's a good deal from my vantage point!
Vancouver has $13.7 million of cap room this off season to play with and eight UFAs, plus three RFAs to decide upon. The first thing I would do is address the lack of toughness on the team. I would take $700,000 of that and offer it to Islander UFA Zenon Kopoka to center the fourth line. With Kopoka centering Glass and Orsekovich, your toughness needs are addressed without sacrificing too much in the way of speed and scoring potential, leaving $13,016,667 to play with.
Of the restricted free agents, none made over $900,000 last season, so among Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen and Lee Sweatt, the priorities are to resign Hansen for sure and Lapierre if possible.
The UFAs include Kevin Bieksa ($3.75 million last year), Christian Erhoff ($3.1 million), Sammy Salo ($3.5 million), Chris Higgins ($1.6 million), Andrew Alberts ($1.05 million), Raffi Torres ($1 million), Tanner Glass ($625,000) and Jeff Tambellini ($500,000). Of these UFAs, I'd say Bieksa, Alberts, Torres and Glass are must re-signs.
I'd rather resign Erhoff over Salo for durability and age reasons, but if Erhoff is set on going where the money is, then Salo may be an option for one more year.
So let's play GM for a while longer here. Hansen is definitely going to cost more and he's worth it. I foresee him playing on the second line eventually with Raymond and Kesler. His speed and good scoring touch are exactly what that line needs, and his value is at least double on the market, so Hansen goes from $825,000 to $2.2 million, leaving $10,816,667 to play with.
Lapierre's value in the regular season wasn't enhanced, but his postseason value was. However, contracts are written for the regular season and bonus for postseason play can be written in, so I'd offer him a flat $1 million. I would think he'd take it happily, leaving $9,816,667.
Kevin Bieksa has become the heart and soul of the team, and would have earlier if not for the back-to-back freak injuries to his leg, so I as a GM would be inclined to show my confidence in him by offering him $5 million.
He might be able to get more from other teams, but he's on record as saying he'll take less to stay in Vancouver. I wouldn't want to exploit that, but maybe a back-loaded contract would be attractive; however, it's not something I'd want to do much considering the cap hit Luongo and the Sedin twins represent down the road. That leaves $4,816,667.
Erhoff is likely gone, so Salo becomes a focal point. Salo's value did not increase over the season, and his playoffs were lukewarm at best. I'd offer him $2.5 million, which is a drop from the $3.5 million he was making, but at his stage in his career, it's a pretty decent offer, and to remain with a contending team with the possibilities of bonus incentives, I think he'd take it, which leaves $2,316,667 to play with.
Alberts missed a lot of the season with injuries, and was a healthy scratch from time to time as well. With Chris Tanev stepping into the rotation, Alberts would be fortunate to get a $1 million offer and he'd be wise to take it. That fills the blue line and leaves $1,316,667 in cap room.
Glass made $625,000 last season, and I'd offer him $800,000 on a one-year deal. Players like Glass are all over the league, but he's flourished in Vancouver as a fourth liner, and it's a nice paycheck on an elite team. That leaves $516,667 in cap room.
I would let Higgins and Tambellini explore the market and find a way to move Mikael Samuelsson and Keith Ballard, freeing up $6.7 million to give Vancouver $7,216,667 to take a run at Nashville's Shea Weber, who made $4.5 million last year. A $5.5 million offer might bring him to Vancouver, giving them a blue line of Bieksa, Alberts, Salo, Edler, Tanev, Weber and Rome, leaving $1,716,667 to add bits and pieces.
Now you have a blue line that's bigger, a little younger but stronger defensively and still powerful offensively, a top line intact that produced the last two Art Ross Trophy winners, a second line with speed, defensive ability and excellent scoring, a third line that can check, win face offs and score the occasional goal and a fourth line with serious toughness and some speed.
Your healthy scratches would be Hodgson and either Alberts or Rome, and they could be used as trade bait during the season in case of dire need.
Now I realize this is a "pie in the sky" scenario, and negotiating contracts is far more involved than just saying "here's $5 million for the year"; there are bonus clauses, long-term pay scales and future cap fluctuations to consider, but as a layman fan, I think these moves are a great starting point for some intense hot stove league chatter during the offseason. I'm happy to get the ball rolling.
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