The Vancouver Canucks enjoyed their best season in franchise history, capturing their first President’s Trophy as the team with the league’s best record, and making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 17 years, falling short in Game 7 yet again.
Last offseason general manager Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault sat down after the Canucks were eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the playoffs for a second consecutive year. They discussed what needed to change in order to help get the team over the hump. A more physical third line, defensive depth and penalty killing help were the three main priorities. They were all filled via free agency or trades, giving the Canucks their deepest team ever.
Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres were signed in the offseason as free agents to help bolster the third line. Keith Ballard was traded for during the NHL draft, while Dan Hamhuis was signed on July 1st to help bolster the Canucks' blue line.
Malhotra and his faceoff prowess helped shore up the penalty kill. During the trade deadline, Gillis traded for Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre to provide more depth up front. When Malhotra received a career-threatening eye injury these two trades made Gillis look even smarter, as Lapierre filled in perfectly on the third line while Higgins replaced the banged up and injured Mikael Samuelsson on the second line.
The Canucks do not need to do a lot this offseason. They made it to the third round, meeting my expectations, and as a bonus made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
This past year was a big shake-up, with nine new faces that were regulars at one point or another during the season and playoffs. The team now has a season playing together, and the chemistry will only grow better as their role players get accustomed to playing with one another. The core is set and has been for the last three to four years, but now the role players are in place and the will only get stronger with a full season together.
The Canucks offseason priorities are to re-sign current players, a top-six forward and a bottom-six forward as well as depth where need be.
Here are the targeted defencemen for the Canucks.
2010-2011 Cap Hit: $3.75 million
After last year’s offseason, many had Bieksa out the door, with the acquisitions of Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis. Reassured by Gillis that the rugged defenceman was not was not going to be moved, he had one of his best seasons (6 goals, 22 points, plus-32 rating), pairing with Hamhuis as the Canucks' top shutdown pair. Bieska's play was most noticeable in the playoffs (5 goals, 10 points, plus-6), where he rose to the occasion. Bieksa said he would like to stay and that money is not an issue. Expected to fetch between $4 to 5 million annually.
Re-signed by the Canucks for 5 years $23 million ($4.6 million cap hit) with a no-trade clause.
2010-2011 Cap Hit: $3.1 million
Ehrhoff has steadily improved each season (San Jose: 341 Games, 25 goals, 132 points, plus-19 rating, 0.39 ppg) and finally took off in his last two seasons (Vancouver: 159 Games, 28 goals, 94 points, plus-55, 0.59 ppg). He has improved in his own end but is a liability at times. He is the top unrestricted free agent defenceman on the market if he hits open market on July 1st. Ehrhoff has expressed interest in returning but seems to want to test free agency. Expected to fetch between $4 to 5 million annually.
Sabres sign Ehrhoff to a 10 year $40 million contract ($4 million cap hit) with a modified no-trade clause
2010-2011 Cap Hit: $3.5 million
When healthy Salo is a reliable defenceman who has offensive upside and a veteran presence. He has not played more than 70 games since the 2003-2004 season, averaging only 57 games a year since. With the Canucks, Salo has played 497 games, scoring 65 goals and 211 points and has a plus-71. Salo is looking for a Stanley Cup and is very comfortable playing in Vancouver, saying that he would like to return. At a one-year deal worth under $2 million, both parties will be happy.
Canucks re-sign Salo to a 1 year $2 million contract
2010-2011 Cap Hit: $1.05 million
After being acquired in 2010 during the trade deadline, Alberts looked like a fish out of water (24 games played, 1 goal, 2 assists, 0 +/-, 40 PIMs). After an offseason of conditioning, Alberts looked like a totally different player (51 games played, 1 goal, 7 assists,-8 +/-, 47 PIM) this season. Alberts will most likely hit the free agent market and sign somewhere else. He would be a 6-8 defenceman on the Canucks, rotating in every other night; whereas he can be a 4-6 defenceman regular on other teams. He is expected to fetch between $1 to 1.5 million somewhere else.
Re-signs with the Canucks for 2 years $2.45 million ($1.225 million cap hit)
This signing will most likely take the Canucks out of the running for any other top free agent defencemen
2010-2011 Cap Hit: $6.5 million
The former Canuck of seven years played for the Phoenix Coyotes the last five season (332 games played, 47 goals, 164 points). His goal production has stayed even, but his overall point totals have slowly started to drop. Also, he has missed 48 games over the last two seasons due to injury. He isn’t the same player he used to be while in Vancouver and Phoenix from 2007-2009, but he is still very serviceable.
If Ehrhoff leaves during free agency, Jovanovski would fill in for the short term, while players develop in the minors. A two- or three-year deal worth $3-to-4 million is much less than his previous salary but injuries and age have caught up to Jovanovski. A chance to win a Stanley Cup could also bring down his price.The only way the Canucks offer Jovanovski is if Ehrhoff leaves.
Panthers sign Jovanovski to a 4 year $16.5 million deal
2010-2011 Cap Hit: $3.25 million
After bouncing around between the AHL and NHL in the Blackhawks' system, Wisniewski found a home with the Islanders (32 games played, 3 goals, 18 assists) and later the Canadiens (43 games played, 7 goals, 23 assists). He has both an offensive upside and toughness that are highly coveted. Again, the only way the Canucks make an offer is if Ehrhoff leaves in free agency. Expected to fetch between $3.5-to-4.25 million and a long-term deal.
Blue Jackets sign Wisniewski to a 6 year deal worth $33 million ($5.5 million cap hit)
2010-2011 Cap Hit: $1 million
Bergeron is a power play specialist with great offensive ability from the blue line. However, he is very liable in his own end and would only play power play minutes and in games that are not close. If Ehrhoff is to leave, the Canucks powerplay will take a hit and will need a boost. Bergeron would be a last resort and be the 6-8 defenceman who strictly plays power play minutes. Expected to fetch between $700,000 to $1 million.
Re-signs with the Lightning for 2 years $2 million ($1 million cap hit)
The Canucks do not need to do a lot of work on the blueline. Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, Aaron Rome, Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev are all under contract and all saw ample time last year.
Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo and Andrew Alberts are the three that played significant time last year, and they are UFAs. Alberts is most likely out of the three to go, while Salo will likely think over the summer if he wants to play again and sign with the Canucks later. If Ehrhoff stays, the Canucks will not pursue anyone else other than depth players. If he is to leave, then the Canucks will be looking for another defenceman, but they have enough depth under contract as is, to be satisfied.