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Off-Season Game Plan: Canucks

Scott Cullen
6/17/2009 4:47:27 PM
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Since getting drafted second and third overall nearly ten years ago, the Sedin twins have evolved into a pair of high-end scoring forwards and have been at the forefront of the Canucks' scoring ledger since the lockout.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at what promises to be an interesting summer for Canucks GM Mike Gillis, who must decide on how much the Canucks are willing to commit to free agents like the Sedins and what the future will be for star goaltender Roberto Luongo.

"We intend to keep them," Gillis told the Globe and Mail about his intentions for the Sedins. "I thought they were excellent players when I got here, and I have an even greater opinion of them today. I think that, as people, they are exactly what we want to have in this organization."

Of course, that kind of statement only matters if the Canucks are going to meet the Sedins' asking price, otherwise intending to keep them can be written off when they are deemed to be too expensive.

By no means should Gillis be offering blank cheques to the Sedins, or Luongo, on new contracts, but the general managers's job will be increasingly difficult if he is going to go into next season without his top two scorers and/or number one goalie from last season.

Considering how Gillis hit the ground running in his first summer as a general manager, issuing offer sheets for restricted free agents and eventually "winning" the Mats Sundin sweepstakes, it will surprise no one if he is in the thick of major transactions again this summer.

The challenge will be coming out ahead when the smoke clears at the end of the summer.

GM/COACH
Mike Gillis/Alain Vigneault

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Salary
Alex Burrows 77.70 $2.0M
Ryan Kesler 77.18 $1.75M
Pavol Demitra 73.76 $4.0M
Steve Bernier 69.95 $2.0M
Mason Raymond 66.13 $760K
Ryan Johnson 59.62 $1.2M
Rick Rypien 59.46 $550K
Darcy Hordichuk 57.95 $750K

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '08-'09 Salary
Daniel Sedin 87.90 UFA $3.575M
Henrik Sedin 82.15 UFA $3.575M
Mats Sundin 74.26 UFA $5.627M
Taylor Pyatt 64.10 UFA $1.575M
Kyle Wellwood 66.57 RFA $998K
Jannik Hansen 65.08 RFA $500K

Top Prospects: Cody Hodgson (43-49-92, plus-41 in 53 GP; Brampton-OHL), Michael Grabner (30-18-48, plus-22 in 66 GP; Manitoba-AHL), Sergei Shirokov (17-24-41, plus-8 in 56 GP; CSKA Moscow-KHL)

A late-season move onto the wing with the Sedins elevated Alex Burrows from checking winger to prime sniper for a couple of months and, as a result, he ended up as the only NHLer with more than 20 goals, 50 points, a plus-20 rating and 150 penalty minutes.

With the Sedins' future in doubt, Burrows' future is a little murky. He'll certainly be ableplay a tenacious checking role under any circumstances, but how much offence he provides will depend a lot on the calibre of linemates with whom he ends up skating.

Ryan Kesler continued his steady improvement and, not unlike Burrows, discovered an unexpected scoring touch in the second half of the season (scoring 34 points in 34 games after the All-Star break), while often playing with Mats Sundin and Pavol Demitra. Kesler is one of the better checking centres in the game, but now that he's added an offensive dimension, he can be an impact player at both ends of the rink.

As he hits his mid-30s, Pavol Demitra's game is starting to slide, and he missed more than 10 games for the fifth straight season, yet he still ranked fourth on the Canucks with 53 points. With the right linemates, Demitra can be an effective player because he still possesses strong offensive instincts and he may end up in a prominent power play role next season if the Sedins skip town.

After signing an offer sheet with the Canucks, Steve Bernier was given a chance with the Sedins at the start of the season and he dropped down the depth chart thereafter. With a big body and soft hands, Bernier keeps teasing and needs to do better than 32 points (his career-high total, registered in each of the last two seasons).

Speedster Mason Raymond faded after a nice start to the season, scoring two goals in his last 36 regular season games, before contributing a couple of goals against the Blackhawks in the second round of the playoffs. Raymond's speed creates enough offensive opportunities that he should at least be a 20-goal scorer if left on the second line for the balance of the season.

Veteran checking centre Ryan Johnson led all NHL forwards in blocked shots per game (1.35), while managing a total of nine points, so his contributions are largely at one end of the rink. He's well compensated for a fourth-line centre, but there's probably an element of "bonus" for being a character veteran whose sacrifices can rub off on the rest of the team.

Injuries have taken their toll on Rick Rypien, who hasn't played 60 games in a season (AHL and NHL combined) in four professional campaigns and it's no surprise seeing his relentless style of play. If he's healthy enough to play consisently on the fourth line, he'll be an effective shift disturber.

Veteran tough guy Darcy Hordichuk doesn't see a lot of action, but his 73 games played last season was just one off his career high. He handles the policeman role well, regitering double-digit fight totals in seven consecutive seasons.

Just when it looked as though Kyle Wellwood's career was about to start circling the drain, after getting waived, injuries forced the Canucks to recall him and Wellwood turned into a power play sniper. His game dropped off in the second half of the season, when he fell outside the top six forwards, but Wellwood put forth a strong playoff effort that could help earn him a better chance next season.

Though he ended up on the outside looking in most nights in the latter stages of the season, Jannik Hansen had a respectable rookie season, playing a responsible two-way game. With more openings up front, Hansen will have a chance to increase his role next season.

Unless the Canucks get the Sedins and Mats Sundin re-signed, there will be an overhaul up front. Fortunately, the Canucks will have some money to spend to try and replenish the forward ranks, which means they can afford to take a run at Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Alex Kovalev, Alex Tanguay, Mike Cammalleri -- basically, name a skilled forward and the Canucks can be in the discussion.

While the potential of signing marquee free agents is enticing, it won't be easy to land a pair of point-per-game scorers and that's what the Sedins provided last season. Of course, if the Canucks can get three or four scoring forwards at the same price as it would cost for Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, then that improved depth might make it worthwhile and that's the determination that the Canucks brass will have to make this summer.

On the homegrown front, the Canucks will likely count on Cody Hodgson, last year's 10th overall pick, to not only make the jump to the NHL, but to play a prominent role.

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Salary
Alexander Edler 77.74 $3.25M
Sami Salo 76.58 $3.75M
Willie Mitchell 73.96 $3.5M
Kevin Bieksa 69.58 $3.5M

Free Agent Defencemen

Player Rating Class '08-'09 Salary
Mattias Ohlund 73.31 UFA $3.5M
Ossi Vaananen 67.23 UFA $1.0M
Shane O'Brien 63.02 RFA $1.025M
Rob Davison 60.72 UFA $560K

Top Prospects: Yann Sauve (5-25-30, minus-4 in 61 GP; Saint John-AHL), Taylor Ellington (6-26-32, minus-20 in 69 GP; Everett-WHL), Shaun Heshka (3-23-26, plus-17 in 77 GP; Manitoba-AHL)

Alexander Edler has developed beautifully in his first three pro seasons, now quarterbacking the power play in addition to providing crisp first passes and sound defensive play. He can use his size even more as he matures, but Edler is already a terrific building block for this unit.

Oft-injured Sami Salo has played more than 70 games only twice in his ten NHL seasons, which helps to keep his contributions under the radar, but he's a solid top-four defenceman with one of the league's hardest shots from the point.

32-year-old shutdown defenceman Willie Mitchell is coming off the best season of his career, tallying a career-high 23 points along with a career-best plus-29 rating. Mitchell handles the toughest defensive assignments and while his lack of speed can be exposed on occasion, his strength and competitiveness make him a handful for the league's top forwards.

Kevin Bieksa enjoyed a bounceback season, notching a career-high 43 points and leading Canucks defenceman with more than 23 minutes of ice time per game while regularly playing with a proverbial burr under his saddle. For Bieksa to take the next step in his development, he needs to do a better job picking his spots because his defensive play can suffer as a result of his over-aggressive nature and, as a result, he tied for worst among Canucks blueliners at minus-4.

After coming over in an early-season trade from Tampa Bay, Shane O'Brien dealt with cricism that he wasn't scrapping enough (despite winning eight of his nine fights, according to www.hockeyfights.com) and played a limited role. O'Brien does play with some bite to his game, though he takes more than his share of careless penalties, and he's scored enough in previous seasons to think that he can produce more than he did last year (zero goals, ten points) in Vancouver.

The Canucks will have to deal with the prospect of losing Mattias Ohlund to free agency, but the core of returnees is strong enough that it won't be a desperate situation.

Adding a defenceman or two will be necessary, and Scott Niedermayer and Jay Bouwmeester are out there, but the Canucks could also take a shot at more reasonably-priced mobile defensive options like Johnny Oduya and Ville Koistinen or grittier types like Rob Scuderi or Steve Montador, who don't have similar games, but can fit on the third pairing.


Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating Salary
Roberto Luongo 87.57 $7.5M

Free Agent Goaltenders

Player Rating Class '08-'09 Salary
Jason LaBarbera 64.03 UFA $850K

Top Prospect: Cory Schneider (28-10-1, 2.04 GAA, .928 SVPCT, 5 SO in 40 GP; Manitoba-AHL)

Though his season came to an inglorious halt in the second round of the playoffs, surrendering seven goals in the deciding game against Chicago, Roberto Luongo had another strong season between the pipes for the Canucks, ranking second in the league in shutouts while finishing fifth in both goals against average and save percentage.

A free agent at the end of next season, Luongo's future will be up for much debate if the Canucks don't get him signed to an extension. If looking to make a massive roster overhaul this summer, the Canucks could move Luongo, presumably for a healthy package in return.

After two impressive seasons in the American Hockey League, Cory Schneider could be ready to make the jump to the NHL, perhaps gaining one year of seasoning before eventually replacing Luongo as the Canucks' starter, if he doesn't get a shot at the starting job right away.

DRAFT
22nd - Louis LeBlanc, Chris Kreider, Nick Leddy

FREE AGENCY
The Canucks have approximately $34.2-million committed to salaries for next season.

Needs: Three top six forwards, one top nine forward, two defencemen, backup goaltender

What I said the Canucks needed last year: Two top nine forwards, one defenceman

Who did they add? Pavol Demitra, Steve Bernier, Kyle Wellwood, Jannik Hansen, Rob Davison.

TRADE MARKET
Mason Raymond, Roberto Luongo.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca 



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