The Vancouver Canucks were swept from the first round, their second straight first-round exit, and enter the summer with significant changes coming.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at the job facing GM Mike Gillis, as he tries to extend the Canucks' window as contenders.
Gillis already promised roster changes in his season-ending press conference: "Clearly the landscape has changed and we need to address those changes going forward. We don't have a choice. We need to get younger." How much younger will the Canucks get?
Sure, getting rid of 34-year-old Roberto Luongo -- somehow, some way -- will make the team younger, but that's already assumed as a priority for this offseason.
They have a core of players -- Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Chris Higgins, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis -- that are on the north side of 30 (with Ryan Kesler and David Booth turning 29 this year) and while they have some decent prospects, the Canucks don't have a lot of young impact players.
Barring a blockbuster move featuring one of their core players, then, it would mean more tinkering around the edges. Give a couple prospects a chance, find some reasonably-price free agents and push forward with the core of a team that has made the playoffs for five straight seasons.
Beyond the roster, Gillis will need to come up with a new head coach after firing Alain Vigneault. There have been rumours of John Tortorella being the replacement for Vigneault, who has already taken Tortorella's old job with the New York Rangers, but no matter who it is, that coach is going to realize that this team most likely has to win in the next season or two before their window shuts.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
|Player||Rating||GP||G||A||PTS||+/-||Class||'12-'13 Cap Hit|
He starts a lopsided percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone and compiles superb possession numbers as a result.
While Henrik has the rare playmaking skills, Daniel Sedin is usually the finisher, but his 8.7% shooting percentage in 2013 was the second-lowest of his career and his goals per game (0.26) was his lowest since 2003-2004. The Sedins have been so consistently productive that they have to be expected to continue, though it's notable that they will turn 33 before next season begins and a decline, even if it's a slight one, may not be too far on the horizon.
Though Alex Burrows often joins the Sedins on the Canucks' top line, he spent 2013 bouncing around to different spots in the lineup, including spending some time at centre, while playing a career-high 18:54 per game. He's an agitator, but a skilled one who is one of six forwards with at least 200 points and 400 penalty minutes over the last five seasons.
When healthy, Ryan Kesler is one of the premier two-way players in the league, but injuries have started to catch up to him in the last couple seasons, so the first priority for the 28-year-old is to ensure that he's 100% for next season.
Given more responsibility last season, Jannik Hansen played a career-high 17:33 per game and scored goals (0.21 gpg) and points (0.57 ppg) at career-best rates. He also scored 24 of his 27 points at even strength, the same as the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Bobby Ryan and Logan Couture. Hansen isn't the same kind of prolific scorer as those players but, at even strength, he matched them last season, which is the kind of secondary scoring that the Canucks need.
Only Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows have scored more for the Canucks than Chris Higgins' 28 goals over the last two seasons. He's a speedy winger who fits in the top nine and can move up and down the depth chart based on needs. Even so, given Vancouver's financial bind, it was surprising to see Higgins get his contract extended, but that certainly reflects confidence from the organization.
Since he was acquired from Florida, David Booth has managed 17 goals and 32 points in 68 games, playing 14:30 per game, which is down from the 17-19 minutes he was playing when he was having 20-goal seasons for the Panthers. Perhaps a fresh start, with good health and a new coach will bring better results; the Canucks had better hope so, considering how much they are paying Booth.
Power forward Zack Kassian has his moments, but it's still a battle to get consistent production out of the 22-year-old who has 11 goals and 21 points in 83 career games. Kassian has shown soft hands for a big man, so his potential is intriguing, but it tends to take some time for power wingers to find their level in the NHL, which means the Canucks have to remain patient with Kassian, at least for now.
In 53 career games, Tom Sestito has five goals, eight points and 20 fights while playing under seven minutes per game. He's settled into his role as the Canucks' enforcer, for whatever value that provides, and was given a two-year contract extension after his 23-game audition last season. Sestito has shown a little bit of a scoring touch prior to reaching the NHL and, while it's not going to be his calling card, he may be able to contribute a little bit.
Pressed into NHL action when Kesler was hurt, 2009 first-rounder Jordan Schroeder showed some promise in a depth role. He also had 33 points in 42 AHL games, easily the best production of his three-year pro career, so it was a decided step forward in his development.
Dale Weise provides a physical presence on the fourth line, and has 14 points with 143 penalty minutes in 118 career games. He's a player who has to battle just to remain in the lineup on a regular basis.
Depending on how the Canucks handle their buyouts, there may not be huge money to throw at free agent additions up front. Veteran checkers like Chad LaRose or ex-Canucks Raffi Torres or Matt Cooke could fit in a third-line role if the price is right and prospect Brendan Gaunce might be able to challenge for a spot too.
|Player||Rating||GP||G||A||PTS||+/-||Class||'12-'13 Cap Hit|
Possessing good size and puck skills, Alexander Edler has logged 24 minutes per game over the last three seasons. Though he finished a career-worst minus-5 and was exposed at times by quicker forwards, Edler is still a strong possession player, a quality top four option on the blueline. At the same time, and even though he has a no-trade clause, Edler might be an option to move if the Canucks are intent on making a change to the core of their defence.
Dan Hamhuis has been a steady performer for Vancouver, and scored at a career-best rate (0.51 ppg) in 2013. He faces tough matchups and is plus-67 over the last three seasons, which ranks second among all defencemen, behind only Zdeno Chara.
While Kevin Bieksa's production was down last season, with only six assists and subpar possession numbers but, at his best, he provides a rare combination of offensive ability with tough, physical play. Since 2006-2007, there are half a dozen defencemen with at least 500 penalty minutes and the only ones with more points than Bieksa are Chara and Dion Phaneuf. Even so, Bieksa is another that might be a trade candidate because he's older and would bring a quality return.
Last summer's big free agent addition, Jason Garrison wasn't quite the power play bomber that he was in Florida the year before, but his goal and point scoring rate were the second-best of his career and he was a career-best plus-18.
After playing 22 minutes a game earlier in his career with Florida, Keith Ballard never found his footing in Vancouver. Despite his hefty salary, he's played under 16 minutes a game for three seasons. His struggles make him a likely candidate for a compliance buyout, but a fresh start is also something the 30-year-old sorely needs if he's going to resurrect his career.
Undrafted out of junior and college hockey, Chris Tanev has been working his way into regular duty with the Canucks, playing 92 games over the past three seasons. His possession numbers weren't as strong in more ice time last season, but he's a smart puck mover who should continue to get better.
If the Canucks return their top four plus Tanev intact, then there is only tweaking around the edges, adding a third pair defenceman and maybe a veteran depth guy, keepnig in mind that prospect Frank Corrado could be a consideration too. Some potentially reasonably-priced veterans could include Grant Clitsome, Bobby Sanguinetti, Steve Eminger, Michal Rozsival or Radek Martinek.
Over the last three seasons, no goaltender (with a minimum of 60 games played) has a save percentage as high as Cory Schneider's .931, so it's understandable that the Canucks are prepared to make him their number one goaltender. The trouble hasn't so much been Schneider's play as the difficulty in establishing him as a true No. 1 goaltender as long as Roberto Luongo remains in Vancouver.
Luongo appeared to be a good soldier in the backup role last season and played well at times, but his .907 save percentage was his lowest since his rookie year of 1999-2000. The 34-year-old should still have some quality years as a starter ahead of him, but his contract has complicated matters significantly and it's still the primary issue for GM Mike Gillis to deal with this summer.
|Nicklas Jensen||RW||AIK (SEL)||17-6-23, -12, 50 GP|
|Brendan Gaunce||C||Belleville (OHL)||33-27-60, +10, 60 GP|
|Eddie Lack||G||Chicago (AHL)||7-4-1, 3.00 GAA, .899 SV%|
|Joacim Eriksson||G||Skelleftea (SEL)||21-9-0, 1.67 GAA, .931 SV%|
|Frank Corrado||D||Kitchener (OHL)||7-38-45, +18, 69 GP|
|Peter Andersson||D||Chicago (AHL)||1-7-8, even, 42 GP|
|Darren Archibald||LW||Chicago (AHL)||12-10-22, +3, 55 GP|
|Joseph LaBate||C||Wisconsin (WCHA)||9-14-23, +11, 41 GP|
|Henrik Tommernes||D||Frolunda (SEL)||5-11-16, -9, 54 GP|
|Patrick McNally||D||Harvard (ECAC)||1-2-3, +2, 7 GP|
A big winger with offensive upside, Nicklas Jensen spent most of last season in the Swedish Elite League and hte 20-year-old is one forward in the Canucks' pipeline that might be able to come into the lineup and score. He still may need additional time in the minors, but he's the one to watch for Vancouver.
Drafted 26th overall last summer, Brendan Gaunce is a big two-way centre who plays a sound defensive game and provides some offence too. Because he's defensively responsible, he may be able to challenge for a spot on next year's team.
Eddie Lack posted a .926 save percentage in his first two AHL seasons, but missed most of last season following hip surgery. If the 6-foot-5 goalie is healthy this season, he'll challenge for the backup role, assuming that Luongo has moved on.
Originally drafted by Philadelphia in 2008, Joacim Ericsson has been dominating the Swedish Elite League over the last two seasons and will rival Lack in a bid for the backup job behind Schneider.
A steady defenceman who was a fifth-round pick in 2011, Frank Corrado saw late-season and playoff action with the Canucks, and showed enough to think that he could contend for a spot next season.
Lanky blueliner Peter Andersson was a fifth-round pick in 2009 and arrived in North America last season, offering a calm, cool game. He'll need to get stronger if he's going to handle a move up the ladder.
A big winger with some skill, if not ideal speed, Darren Archibald has worked his way up from the ECHL to the AHL over the last couple seasons. With continued improvement, he could be worth a shot.
6-foot-4 pivot Joseph LaBate hasn't scored a bunch in two seasons at the University of Wisconsin, but he's only 20-years-old, so a couple more years of college hockey could allow that side of the game to improve.
An offensive defenceman who will need to improve his defensive play to handle the NHL, Henrik Tommernes was a seventh-round pick in 2011. May be a longshot, but has some power play upside too.
A fourth-round pick in 2010, Patrick McNally had a strong freshman season at Harvard in 2011-2012, but was kicked off the team last season, leaving him in limbo. If he returns to play for the Crimson next season, that would help get what was a promising career back on track.
24th - Adam Erne, Frederik Gauthier, Curtis Lazar
According to www.capgeek.com, the Canucks have approximately $66.7M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 16 players.
Check out my possible Canucks lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two top nine forwards, depth forwards, two-three defencemen, financial flexibility.
What I said the Canucks needed last year: One top nine forward, one top four defenceman, depth defencemen.
They added: Jordan Schroeder, Jason Garrison, Chris Tanev.