Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Top 5 Issues Facing Dave Nonis

The Vancouver Canucks have a rookie GM who will be eager to finally get his feet wet. A new collective bargaining agreement and the surrounding issues will make his first few months on the job very interesting...

1. Re-signing Markus Naslund
The future of Markus Naslund is very much up in the air. In recent days his agent has made some statements which aren't exactly encouraging for Vancouver Canuck fans. Now I wouldn't read too much into his comments, but there is certainly some doubt as to whether Naslund will return.
Naslund is an unrestricted free agent and can choose to sign anywhere. Does he want to return and if so, how much does he want to be payed? In the past Naslund has shown that he is not a greedy player by taking less than market value to help the Canucks pay players like Ed Jovonovski. His willingness to do so did not result in playoff success. Will he be willing to take a little less once again, or will he want to get fair market value (likely in the 6 to 7 million dollar range)? Money isn't the only issue. Does he like playing for Marc Crawford? Does he have confidence in a rookie GM? Does he see a better opportunity elsewhere, maybe even with his pal Peter Forsberg? How much will Bertuzzi factor into his decision? Only Markus Naslund can answer these questions and it will be up to Dave Nonis to convince him Vancouver is the place for him to be.
On the other hand, how much does Dave Nonis want Markus Naslund back? Obviously every GM in the league would want Naslund, but at what price? Perhaps Nonis will want to move the team in another direction. The 6+ million that Naslund might command could be very useful in an abundant free agent market (more on that later).
With all that said, it is very probably that Naslund will be a Canuck this fall. He likes the city of Vancouver and it is widely believed that his family likes the city (really who wouldn't especially if you are rich like the Naslunds :) ). He has a lot of friends on this team and has grown with this group of players into a top contender in the NHL. There is unfinished business for him in Vancouver and he does not seem like the type of person who would bail on his teammates. On the Canucks side, they will make a strong effort to re-sign Naslund, just don't expect them to do "everything possible" to get it done.
2. Todd Bertuzzi
Dave Nonis will want an answer on Todd Bertuzzi's re-instatement very soon after the ratification is complete (and quite frankly this should be a top priority for the NHL).
There have been a lot of rumblings about Todd Bertuzzi's desire to move on. The first thing to emphasise is that Todd Bertuzzi is under contract for the 2005 season. Unless he holds out (I wonder if this issue will be addressed in the CBA?) and demands a trade, he will be a Canuck this season (barring a trade of course).
Since Bertuzzi himself has not spoken, debating his future in Vancouver is pure speculation. My personal thoughts are that Bertuzzi owes the city of Vancouver (and the province) for the way they have treated him. Bertuzzi embarrassed the city, the franchise, the country, the game and the NHL. With the way the fans have forgiven and welcomed him back I believe he has an obligation to honour his contract, it's the least he could do.
He may have reasons for wanting to leave Vancouver, such as his reported shaky relationship with Marc Crawford and of course the way he was treated by some members of the media. He could simply wan't a fresh start somewhere else. However, there is the unknown factor of how he would be received in another market. Vancouver fans have been supportive, would he get the same suport somewhere else? Who knows. Again, Bertuzzi's plans are unknown and all this talk is just speculation.
On the management side of things there is the question of whether the Canucks want him back. Would it be best to move on and put this whole issue behind them? Like Naslund, the money owed to Bertuzzi could be very useful and unlike Naslund, Bertuzzi can be traded for another asset. Nonis has a pretty good asset in Bertuzzi and this will be one of his most important decisions.
3. The Restricted Free Agents
Vancouver has large list of players who are restricted free agents:
  • Brendan Morrison
  • Mattias Ohlund
  • Dan Cloutier
  • Daniel and Henrik Sedin
  • Sami Salo
  • Matt Cooke
  • Brent Sopel
  • Marek Malik
  • Bryan Allen
  • Artem Chubarov
  • Jason King
  • Tyler Bouck
  • Jarkko Ruutu
  • Wade Brookbank
Obviously some of these players are more important than others. The two most important will be Brendan Morrison and Mattias Ohlund. Both players will cost some coin, but there should not be any issues with those two. Next on the list is Cloutier (dealt with in #4), the Sedins, Sami Salo and Matt Cooke. With the exception of Cloutier all should be important pieces of this years team. The Canucks have been patient with the Sedins and it would be foolish to squander that patience by letting them go just as they enter their prime years. They should be relatively cheap for second line players so I wouldn't anticipate any changes there. Sami Salo was a rock on defence last season and he would be very difficult to improve upon without spending more money on someone else. Matt Cooke stepped up in a big way late last season and he demonstrated that he could potentially be a second line player, he will be retained.
Here is where the list gets interesting for Dave Nonis. Much maligned defenseman Brent Sopel, while being young with potential, is fairly expensive considering what he brings to the table. Nonis could save a few bucks by letting him go, but I think it's more likely that he will be re-signed and then traded if Nonis feels he can find an improvement. Marek Malik is also expensive and was one of Burke's guys from his days in Hartford. I think it's unlikely that Nonis will keep Malik around. Bryan Allen and Jason King are no-brainers but Artem Chubarov is an interesting case. First I love Chubarov, but the Canucks have this kid named Kesler, maybe you've heard of him ;), who is ready for the NHL and plays the same position. Now there is certainly room for both on the team but Chubarov could be a nice trade chip. Rounding out the restricted list are Tyler Bouck, Jarkko Ruutu and Wade Brookbank. I suspect all will be qualified and given a shot to make the team.
Nonis will have to make some important decisions with this list as it will take up a significant portion of the $39 million dollar cap. If Nonis expects to make a splash in the free agent market, some of these contracts will have to be cut from the budget.
4. Dan Cloutier
Ahh, everyone's favourite goaltender :). You might be wondering why Dan Cloutier is all the way down at number four on this list, afterall the vast majority of Canuck fans would like to jettison Cloutier and his playoff failures.
But before doing so, it's important to consider two things. First, Dan Cloutier has been a very good goaltender, playoff issues aside. Second, there really aren't that many guaranteed improvements on Cloutier. There are a handful of goalies who are significant (Khabibulin) to probable (Curtis Joseph) to possible (Mike Dunham) upgrades on Cloutier. If you look around the league most available goaltenders have question marks, and most do not have the regular season track record of Cloutier.
That's not to say Nonis should stick with Cloutier, far from it. Once the Naslund and Bertuzzi isssues are sorted out, Nonis should do everything in he can to try and ink Khabibulin. He should also consider guys like Joseph (although I'm not quite sold on him). He also has to consider if it's time to change goaltenders just for the sake of change. Obviously Cloutier is liked by his teammates, it's hard not to like the guy, but do they have confidence in him to get the job done when it counts? Would a change be the best thing for the team? It will be a tough decision for Nonis, especially if he cannot land one of the top goaltenders. It could be a case of "better the devil you know." Nonis will look at some way to improve the goaltending but don't be surprised if they go with Cloutier for one more year, it might be the best option available.
5. The Free Agent Market
And finally we come to the free agent market. What a market it is. Check out this short list of available players: Pavol Demitra, Glen Murray, Peter Forsberg, Zigmund Palffy, Scott Niedermayer, Nikolai Khabibulin, Sergei Gonchar, Adam Foote, Paul Kariya, Mike Modano, Curtis Joseph, Brian Rafalski, Adrian Aucoin, Mike Dunham, Eric Lindros, Sean Burke, Joe Nieuwendyk... it goes on.
How much Nonis has available under the cap will depend on how he deals with issues 1-4. There have been many rumours concerning the Canucks. Paul Kariya is a legitamate possibility and to a lesser extent so is Scott Niedermayer. There is even rumblings of Forsberg and Naslund wanting to play together, Vancouver would likely be at the top of their list should they choose to do so. There are also many others on the list that will be of interest to Nonis. Glen Murray would be the winger the Sedin's have desperately needed, Pavol Demitra and Zigmund Palffy would look good anywhere, who wouldn't want Adam Foote, Brian Rafalski or Adrian Aucoin on their blueline? There are options in net such as Khabibulin, Joseph, Dunham and Burke.
Basically there is a lot out there for Nonis to consider and that's before you even look at the 3rd/4th line and 4-6th defenseman types. Nonis has an opportunity to completely re-shape this team if he chooses to.

So there you have it, my ramblings are over. It's time to sit back and watch what the Canuck's newest GM does in the most interesting off-season in NHL history.


MightyDuck said...

As a Mighty Ducks fan, I can tell you that Bertuzzi would be welcomed in Anaheim with his old boss and #1 defender, Brian Burke.

The Canuck Fan said...

I'm sure he would be and Anaheim is probably one of the more likely destinations should Bertuzzi be moved.

Thanks for the comments.

Wes said...

If the Avs get first pick, I'm through with hockey....


Anonymous said...

naslund please stay with canucks we need you please

Anonymous said...

dont listen to the people who want you gone if there is any because i love you naslund

Wheeler said...

naslund needs to go
and in my honest oponion if they sign him bakkk it shouldnt be worth like 6 mill again no waay
i said he needs a fresh start
and with 6 mill off the salary cap
we could bring someone else in who could change the face of this team