Vancouver Canucks: Biggest Free Agency Questions of the Summer

Riley Kufta@@RileyKuftaContributor IIIMay 9, 2012

Vancouver Canucks: Biggest Free Agency Questions of the Summer

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    Every general manager has some big free agent decisions to be made during the summer. But for Mike Gillis, GM of a Canuck team that has fallen short for the fourth straight year despite being one of the league's best, there's a little extra work to do.  

    The following identifies the seven biggest free agency decisions Gillis will face come July 1.  

How Much Can Be Spent on Free Agency?

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    Who the Canucks target this summer will be very much decided by how much money they have to spend. This question could also be posed as: Will the Canucks manage to rid themselves of Roberto Luongo and/or Keith Ballard's contracts?

    As it stands right now, the Canucks have $55 million already spent for next season on a $64.3 million salary cap. That's not much space for how many positions they'll need to fill.  

    If they do manage to trade Roberto Luongo or Keith Ballard, the Canucks will have more options to pursue over the summer.  

Will the Canucks Find a Backup in Free Agency or Give the Reigns to Eddie Lack?

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    Whether the Canucks will be starting Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider in net next season remains to be seen (although all signs are pointing to Schneider). But one thing is for sure: they won't have both of them.  

    Who will be backing up the Canucks' starter is another unanswered question. Will the Canucks give the green light to Eddie Lack or give him more time in the minors and acquire a No. 2 through free agency?

    With veterans like Tomas Vokoun, Johan Hedberg and Scott Clemmensen set to hit the market, it could be in the Nucks' best interest to sign some experience short term and give Lack another year to develop as a starting AHL goaltender.  

    On the other hand, Lack's play the past two seasons in the AHL suggests that he may already be ready for the next step.  

Does Marc-Andre Gragnani Fit in with the Team's Style?

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    Mike Gillis has faced enough criticism for trading away Cody Hodgson and proceeding to take shots at him through the press as a way of convincing the public.  

    What would make it worse is if one of the pieces coming the other way left after just 14 games with the team. But that's what the Canucks are looking at, as Marc-Andre Gragnani is set to become a restricted free agent.  

    Gragnani, as he displayed in the 2010/11 playoffs, has the ability to be a great offensive defenseman. But is that what the Canucks are looking for?

    The Canucks blue line is already notorious for pinching to keep the puck in more than any other team, and with Gragnani in the lineup, it could become too costly.  

    Instead, the Canucks priority will likely be to find a responsible young defenseman that they have confidence in for the long-run.  

    On the other hand, Mike Gillis might re-sign Gragnani simply to display confidence in the trade that saw Hodgson leave Vancouver.  

    Personally, I am a big Gragnani fan and hope he returns. The Canucks will still need to make some defensive changes, as Gragnani has some defensive development to do before he can get the go-ahead for 82 games.  

Is There Room for Byron Bitz and Zack Kassian on the Team?

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    When the Canucks acquired Zack Kassian at the trade deadline, Byron Bitz's role on the team decreased significantly. 

    It seams as though Zack Kassian was a replacement for Bitz, not an addition to the team.  

    In his short stint thus far with the Canucks, however, Bitz has earned quite a reputation for himself, as he showcased his fighting skills and even picked up some points with the Sedins in the process.  

    Personally, I'd love to see the Canucks re-sign Bitz, but the Canucks management seems to have a different view on things.  

Zach Parise, Shea Weber or Ryan Suter?

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    If (and this is a big if) the Canucks wind up with the resources to pursue a big-name player and all three hit the market, who should they go for?

    The general consensus is that the Canucks would rather go for a star defender, but there's no denying how potent a Parise/Kesler/Booth line would be.  

    If the Canucks were to opt for a D-man, would they rather have Ryan Suter or Shea Weber?

    On the one hand, Weber is clearly the more talented of the two, but he also comes at a higher price. Not only will he earn a higher contract next season, but as a restricted free agent, the Canucks would have to give either four first-round draft picks or two first-round draft picks, a second and a third (dependent on the amount of the contract), as per the restricted free agent compensation guidelines.  

    Suter, as an unrestricted free agent, would be the more likely option. The Canucks would not have to give anything up to sign him, and the lesser contract in comparison to Shea Weber is a much more practical option.

If Sami Salo Wishes to Return, Is There Room for Him?

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    Don't get me wrong, Sami Salo is a valuable player, and his time as a Canuck has been great. But at 37 years old, he's beaten and bruised. If he has it in him for another season, is that a risk the Canucks are willing to take?

    This past season, Salo missed 13 games due to injury, and that's the healthiest season he's been since before the lockout.  

    In the interest of both Salo and the Canucks, it could be best for him to retire and pave the way for young defenders like Marc-Andre Gragnani and Christopher Tanev to enter the mix.  

With Kesler Out, Does Re-Signing Samuel Pahlsson Become Top Priority?

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    When Sammy Pahlsson was acquired on the Feb. 27, it was widely assumed that he was here to fill the void left by the departure of Cody Hodgson and that he'd be gone come free agency.  

    But with the recent news that Ryan Kesler underwent shoulder surgery and will miss the beginning of the season, the Canucks suddenly have some gaps down the middle.  

    If the Canucks could re-sign Pahlsson to a one-year contract worth what he's making now ($2.65 million), or less, it could pay off. 

    First, it would fill the void while Kesler is still injured and make the Canucks stacked down the center once he returns. In addition, with Manny Malhotra's contract set to expire following next season, the Canucks would be able to observe the two similar players and make an educated decision on who they'd like to return.