Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Thoughts on the Cloutier Injury

Yesterdays news was a definite blow to the franchise and of course Dan Cloutier's career. The potentially season ending injury leaves Vancouver in a serious dilemma and may mark the end of Cloutier's tenure in Vancouver.

This season was supposed to be the one in which Vancouver was to make another run at the Stanley Cup with a core of players who have been together for many years. Dave Nonis had two options in the off-season: 1) Stick with the core that has been one of the best teams in the NHL. 2) Use the opportunity of an unprecedented free agent crop to move in another direction. Nonis could have gambled and took the team in a new direction, but when Markus Naslund re-signed, he made the decision to stick with the core group. With Naslund in the fold there was little salary cap room. New deals for Matt Cooke, Brendan Morrison and Dan Cloutier along with the signings of Anson Carter and Richard Park, put Vancouver near the $39m. By going in this direction Nonis knew that the team that took the ice in September would very likely be the same team going into March. That all changed yesterday.

With the remaining portion of Dan Cloutier's $2.45m off the books, Vancouver now has roughly $2.5 in cap space.

Where to go from here?

There are many options for Dave Nonis. Currently, Alex Auld is playing well enough for the team to win. The Canucks are saying all the right things, they don't have to make an immmediate move. However, don't buy into this too far. Vancouver will need to get another goaltender sooner rather than later. While Alex Auld has been solid, the more he plays the more his shortcomings will be exposed. Teams have already picked up on some of those weaknesses, most noticeably his poor rebound control. As Auld plays more, and teams develop scouting reports, things are going to be more difficult. Like a rookie baseball player going through the league for the second time, there his a huge difference between being successful playing 1-2 times a week and playing every game. That's what separates the good goaltenders from the average ones. I'm not saying Auld can't be the guy, but the odds of him taking the reigns and leading this team through the playoffs aren't great.

Of course, while he has been forced to play every game, Auld has for the most part gotten the job done. His teammates feel comfortable playing in front of him, Crawford has confidence in him(unlike Skudra and Hedberg) and Vancouver's December schedule does not contain any back to back games. These factors give Vancouver some leeway, but not much. The combination of Alex Auld and Maxime Ouellet is not going to cut it for long. So, Dave Nonis has a few options to consider...

  1. There is a guy by the name of Wade Flaherty playing in Manitoba. Now that the cap situation isn't as dire, Vancouver can afford the scenario of paying half of Flaherty's salary should he be claimed on waivers by another team. Still, Flaherty only has 120 career games in the NHL and fewer then 30 this decade. He has played very well for the Manitoba Moose, but the AHL is a lot different than the NHL. Wade Flaherty would be a band-aid solution at best.
  2. Flaherty or another similar veteran opens up option number 2, waiting until closer to the deadline before acquiring a legitimate NHL starter for the playoff run. The longer they wait, the more cap room they save.
  3. They make a move now for one of the current veterans who have recently fallen out of favor with their current clubs. This group includes the likes of Jocelyn Thibault and Patrick Lalime. Expensive guys who have not played well, but have had success in the past.
  4. Another option is to go for the big stopper. With the cap room guys like Olaf Kolzig are now a possibility. The cap room now gives Nonis the option of trading for guys like Luongo, Kolzig, Biron and others. This of course is going to cost some significant assets. Also, Cloutier is still under contract for next season, so that is an important fact to keep in mind. You can't have two veteran number 1's in a salary cap world.
  5. Lightning in a bottle. Every now and then a guy like Mikka Kiprusoff comes out of nowhere, is there a younger backup out there who could catch fire and become a dominating goaltender who can take you to the finals?
  6. Finally, there is another less obvious option. Spend the money elsewhere. There's no rule stating that Vancouver must spend the free cap space on a goaltender. The free cap space gives Nonis the option of upgrading the much maligned blueline. Upgrading on Steve McCarthy would be a big help to the team. Nonis can add some extra parts and another cheaper goalie rather than blowing it all on one goalie.

This team is built for a Stanley Cup run this season. The window of opportunity is small, can you gamble on Alex Auld?

Currently Nonis is doing the smart thing, he doesn't have to make a move right now, he can wait for the right deal. As long as Auld continues to play well Nonis can be patient and more importantly, not look desperate.

This is Nonis' first real test as General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks. What he does will likely define this season and potentially his tenure in Vancouver.

Personally if I was in charge there is one guy I would be going after, Dwayne Roloson. The Wild are slipping out of the playoff race and one of their goalies will not be returning next season. Acquiring Roloson would give Vancouver an excellent goalie who is cheap, meaning they would have money to shore up the blueline and add some depth up front. That's what I would like to see.


Winged_whacker said...

My friend, i didn't even think about Roloson... bloody brilliant is what I think

The Canuck Fan said...

If anything we wouldn't have to play against him :).

jobes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Canuck Fan said...

Sorry jobes, but I'm not going to allow unsubstantiated rumours of this type.