Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Kesler for 2nd Round Pick and $1m of cap room... do you make the deal?

That's the decision Dave Nonis is now faced with after Bobby Clarke signed Ryan Kesler to a $1.9m offer sheet.

First, I have to say that this is a pretty good move by Clarke. He's getting a former 1st round pick, who can contribute in the NHL right now, in exchange for a (late) 2nd round draft pick and whatever "cost" you want to attach to Kesler's overpayment. I'd make that deal every time.

On the Canucks end of things... this sucks. Ryan Kesler was not a two million dollar player last season and he most likely won't be this season. The Canucks are already uncomfortably close to the salary cap, add on an extra million dollars to Kesler's contract and Nonis will be sticking himself in the same position he was in last season... no cap room and no depth on the blueline.

But is the alternative any better?

Should the Canucks walk away from Kesler they would be losing their top forward prospect and a player who was expected to play a significant role on this year's squad.

In the short term Vancouver could deal with losing Kesler for this season. Marc Chouinard is set to take over the 3rd line centre role and their are several candidates to fill the 4th line (including Rick Rypien, who is having a strong rookie camp). With Kesler's previously expected $800-900k off the books they would also have more cap room to either use later in the season or to go after one of the remaining free agents. Considering the remaining crop of FA's, they would likely wait and save cap room.

A 2nd round draft pick and the added cap flexibility is certainly worth considering, but how would this affect the organization in the long term?

Looking at the organizational prospect depth... well I wouldn't really use the word "depth". At the forward position there is not much there after Kesler. Giving up Kesler for another Mason Raymond(2nd rd. 2005) type forward prospect would not be a very shrewd move. Kesler has the potential to be a top 6 forward and at worst will be a very good 3rd line centre. Can you really walk away from a prospect like that?

Some of you will remember the last time a another team tried to poach a former first round pick away from the Canucks. Once upon a time the Toronto Maple Leafs made a similar move to snag a young Mattias Ohlund. At the time their offer was considered a significant overpayment, just as the Kesler offer is today. Obviously the Canucks matched the offer and things turned out pretty well.

There is more to consider in the new salary cap era, but for Dave Nonis this isn't a salary cap issue. There is room for Kesler's salary and as such Nonis cannot give up this asset. Over the next 5+ years, Kesler will be far more valuable than the million dollars of 2006/2007 cap space while the draft pick may never materialize into anything of value.

Kesler has been pegged by this organization to be a critical member of any future success. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but just as Pat Quinn did with Ohlund, Nonis will do with Kesler.

With that out of the way I'd like to announce that I'm trying to get things back up and running for the new season. It has been a tremendously busy offseason, arguably the most interesting in Vancouver history. Since I did not have the proper amount of time to devote to this place, I decided to refrain from commenting on the off-season moves until I could do so properly. As the season approaches I hope to get caught up on the off-season stuff as I update the rest of the site and keep up with the news out of camp and pre-season... looking forward to the new season and a new era in Canuckland.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Crawford Firing

When this disastrous season ended I wasn't sure how I felt about the coaching situation. I could have gone either way. On one hand I hated the idea of letting the players off the hook by firing the coach. On the other hand missing the playoffs was unacceptable and heads should roll.

After the initial disappointment of missing the playoffs had subsided I came to the conclusion that it was probably best to fire Crawford and go in a new direction. Contrary to the popular reasoning of players tuning out Crow, there is another reason why Crawford should take the fall. Over the years this team has had many issues ranging from goaltending problems to powerplay problems, but Crawford's biggest failure as coach was his inability to improve the defensive coverage in the defensive zone. This team has always had difficulty in their own end and the abysmal defensive play down the stretch was the last straw for Crawford.

Sure it doesn't help when your two best players are absolutely atrocious defensively, but it wasn't just Bertuzzi and Naslund who contributed to the poor defensive play. This team continually missed assignments downlow, failed to win battles on the half boards, and took far too many penalties because they were flailing around in their own end. This has been a problem for as long as Crawford has been here and it has now cost him his job.

There are of course other reasons for Crawford's firing. The aforementioned "tuning out" and "shelf life" at the top of the list. But when you get right down to it this move was necessary in order for Nonis to put his stamp on the team. This team had peaked and the impact of the Bertuzzi incident was the final blow to what was once the most promising team Canuck fans have ever had.

Nonis did not want to fire Crawford, but he knew it was necessary in order for this team to move on. Firing Crawford was the first step, now he needs a coach in place before the free agent season begins...

Some Candidates:

The first coach to enter my mind was the recently fired Andy Murray. Before the Kings job, Murray was actually a candidate to join the Canucks as an assistant. Murray is probably on Nonis' list, but he's too similar to Crawford. This team probably needs more of a player's coach and not a demanding technical coach like Murray.

Predictably Pat Quinn's name has come up, but I don't believe he will be a candidate. While a lot of the Orca Bay brass has changed it's still the same ownership group that was involved in Quinn's less than amicable departure. Does Quinn want to return to Vancouver? Will he return under the same ownership? Does he even want to coach?

Current Moose head coach Alain Vigneault is likely a top candidate. Vigneault has experience, credibility and also fits the mold of a more player friendly coach. I would be surprised if Vigneault isn't in Nonis top 3 candidates.

Former Hurricane coach Paul Maurice is also a very interesting candidate. Maurice took the Canes to the finals and is known for solid defense. If Maurice isn't slated to take over the job in Toronto, Nonis will take a long look at him.

Brent Sutter... ain't gonna happen.

Dave Lewis... I don't really have a good read on Lewis. He coached a very good team in Detroit and was bounced early in the playoffs. By all accounts he's a good coach and will be strongly considered.

Mark Habscheid current coach of the Canadian National team will probably find himself with an NHL job soon. It could be in Vancouver.

Associate coach Mike Johnston is also a candidate, but I believe Nonis is looking for new blood and promoting assistant coaches rarely pays off. If he goes with Johnston he may as well have saved a million bucks and kept Crawford.

Ted Nolan... loads of baggage, hasn't coached in the NHL in for a decade... don't count on it. He might find his way back to the NHL, but it will likely be with a young team and a veteran, secure GM.

Ken Hitchcock... may be on the way out should Philly be bounced (although that would seem odd after Clarke's rant about the Quinn firing). Hitchcock is a great coach and would do wonders for the Canucks defensive play.

Some other names include Kevin Constantine, Don Hay, Stan Smyl, Mike Kitchen, Kevin Dineen, Barry Smith, Jack Bauer and I'm sure a half dozen others who will be fired.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Non-Canuck Deadline Trades

With the trade deadline approaching, and the first significant deal announced, I'll be using this space for my thoughts on deals that don't involve the Canucks...

Roloson to Edmonton for 1st Rd. Pick & Cond. 3rd

The Edmonton Oilers have finally found a goaltender and the price was high. A first round pick and a conditional 3rd(should he re-sign with Edm) is a lot for a pending free agent. Roloson has not had a good season, but Canuck fans should be well aware of how good he can be. He was at the top of my wishlist, but the price was too high for Vancouver, especially without the need to acquire a #1. While the Oilers paid a significant price, I think it's a good trade for them. They absolutely needed a goaltender and they managed to get one without giving up anything off their roster. Roloson gives them a chance to compete in the playoffs.

While there is one less team in the market, the bar has been set at a 1st round pick. Don't expect Nonis to deal his first round pick on a rental, that means no Curtis Joseph.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Trade Rumours

As the deadline approaches more and more trade rumours emerge on a daily basis. The Canucks (with their obvious needs on defense and in goal) are involved in many rumours, some far fetched, some reasonable...

Sheldon Souray

During the Canucks / Flames game on Tuesday night it was mentioned that Vancouver has been scouting the Montreal Canadiens. With Vancouver's troubles on defense the obvious name to come up was Sheldon Souray.

My first thought was "no thanks, Souray has struggled, costs a lot and the asking price will be high." But then I took a closer look...

  • He really isn't that expensive, only $2.1m this year and reportedly $2.24m next year. If Nonis anticipates losing Jovanovski as a free agent, Souray (and his contract) would be a nice fit as a top 4 defenseman. That would leave roughly another $2m to add another defenseman. Nonis would essentially be replacing Jovo and his $4m+ with two top 4 defensmen.
  • While he has struggled this could be do to a) his off ice troubles and b) losing his defense partner (Brisebois). Getting him out of Montreal and with a right handed defenseman like Salo or Baumgartner, could help him get his game back. Souray has the tools, maybe he just needs a better situation.

Of course, now we come to the asking price. Montreal is likely going to want a substantial asset in return, especially while they are hanging on to the final playoff slot. That means any trade will have to make them a better team right now. On the Canucks end you're left with few options that would interest Montreal, and no available defensemen to throw in as a replacement for Souray. Basically it would come down to Bertuzzi for Souray and something else. I don't really see how Montreal can get better by making this deal without a defenseman coming their way.

Overall, Souray is an intriguing player, but I don't think there is much of a match, unless things change as a result of another trade.

Ryan Kesler and Kiril Koltsov for Mike Ricci, Denis Gauthier and Sean O'Donnell
First thought: "hmmm a centre and two defensemen, that would be a big help." Second thought: "Ryan Kesler... don't really want to move him, but you gotta give to get." Third thought: "this is not THE Mike Ricci, this is the 34 year old veteran contract Mike Ricci, still a good player though. Denis Gauthier, would help but can he stay healthy? Sean O'Donnell, 34 with one of those veteran contracts, healthy scratch earlier this year... still he looks to have played better and would certainly help." Conclusion: I'd love to have all three of those guys, but not at the expense of Ryan Kesler.
Eric Weinrich
Weinrich's name has been out there for a while and a deal was almost assumed to be a sure thing once the Olympic roster freeze was over. It didn't happen despite Vancouver's desperate need and St Louis' lack of need for Weinrich. That tells me the asking price is higher than the 4th round pick Nonis would like to trade. Do you really want to trade a third round pick for a free agent to be who is really no more than a #5 defenseman? I don't, if you're going to start dealing picks out of the top 3 rounds I'd much rather trade good picks (like the extra second rounder) for a better player than Weinrich... like the next guy on the list...
Willie Mitchell and Dwayne Roloson
Let's start with Mitchell. Out of all the potentially available players he is the one I want the most. Quite frankly he's exactly what Vancouver needs on the blueline. I don't know what the price is, but considering he would be relatively easy to re-sign I'd be willing to part with quite a bit, I'd even start with Matt Cooke. As for Roloson, I brought his name up earlier in the year and I think he'd be a near perfect fit with Alex Auld. However there are likely many teams interested in Roloson and the price is likely fairly high, and with Alex Auld's strong play a starting goaltender is not a priority.
Roberto Luongo
This one has been around forever, but with Jovanovski out I don't see it happening. Florida is going to want more than Todd Bertuzzi.
Brendan Witt
On the wishlist of many Canuck fans for the past few years, Witt would be nice, but as with past years I don't think it's going to happen. Too many teams interested in a stay at home physical defenseman. I'd love for Nonis to prove me wrong, but my guess is the price will be too steep for Vancouver.
J.S. Giguere
The connection with Burke and his new acquisition of Jani Hurme makes Giguere an obvious target. However, with Auld's strong play and Giguere's big contract and questionable play, I'm not sure the Canucks would want to meet Burke's price.

This is the first trade deadline under the new CBA, and as such no one really knows what the market is going to be like. Nearly every playoff team needs help on the blueline and most need help in goal. Most of the potential sellers are still within sight of that final playoff spot. Combine those two factors and what you have is a market that is likely to favour the seller. We'll know more once that first free agent to be gets traded. Until then we're left with rumours and no way of knowing what's really going on.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Back in the Saddle

It's been almost two months since my last post, but it's looking like I can resume posting on a regular basis. So now that the Olympic break is over it's time for the stretch drive.

The Olympics were terribly disappointing to not only Canadian hockey fans, but especially fans in Vancouver and Ottawa. The Sens have lost their number one goalie while things couldn't have gone much worse for the Canucks. The loss of Sami Salo and Mattias Ohlund leaves Vancouver with a laughably thin blueline. Expect several Moose players on the roster tomorrow and don't be surprised to see a trade.

That's all I've got for now, I have several things to update and I hope to have a post of more substance either later today or sometime tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Holiday Blues

Well it hasn't been a very happy holiday for the Vancouver Canucks. Since playing three of their best games of the season against Ottawa, New York and Philadelphia, the Canucks are 1-5-3. The stretch includes a six game homestand which netted a grand total of 5 points. They have since followed up the poor holiday homestand with two consecutive losses in Minnesota and St Louis. The Canucks currently sit 7th in the conference and have fallen five points behind the division leading Calgary Flames.

So WTF is going on?

There are several areas of major concern...

The first is the goaltending situation. Since the end of Dan Cloutier's season was officially announced on December 13th, Vancouver is 2-4-3 and 7-7-4 since Cloutier went down in Anaheim. While goaltending is certainly not the only problem, it is a serious issue that needs to be addressed ASAP. Management was hoping to go with Alex Auld as long as possible, but that is no longer an option. Auld and Ouellete isn't getting it done. It's time for Nonis to either get a respectable backup, a "1A type" or a legit number one. This duo cannot continue with this team currently playing in front of them.

Speaking of the team in front of them, the defensive coverage has been absolutely terrible. While the spotlight has always been on the goaltending, or lack thereof, defensive coverage has been the true achilles heal of this team over the last few years. The Canucks give up way too many quality scoring chances and during this slump scoring chances against have become an epidemic. The lack of depth on the blueline has taken it's toll on the top 4 guys. Sami Salo, Mattias Ohlund and Bryan Allen are all struggling in their own end, while Steve McCarthy has shown that he is not a reliable NHL defenseman. Going into the season there were a lot of red-flags where the blueline was concerned and you're now seeing why. The defense needs to be addressed.

While the defense core is not playing well, a lot of the blame needs to be placed on the forwards. There are 5 guys on the ice who need to be responsible in their own zone. On too many shifts there are only 3 or 4 guys getting it done. The forwards need to put a lot more effort into backchecking, but more importantly they have to work harder along the boards and they need to support the defense when breaking out of the zone. Until the forwards start playing better defense, the lack of depth on the blueline and in net, will continue to be exposed.

Goaltending and defensive play are two of the obvious areas of concern, but there is one more area that is probably the most concerning of all - intangibles.

This team is lacking in heart, work-ethic, grit, chemistry and leadership. They simply don't have "IT" and it's painfully evident when they play teams like the Calgary Flames. It starts with the top guy, Markus Naslund. While Naslund had his best month as a Canuck in November (working hard, hitting, backchecking and putting up huge numbers) he has gone back to being the pouty, depressing captain of old. Leadership starts with the captain and Markus Naslund is not a very good captain and has never been one. Scoring goals is not leading by example. Leading by example entails working hard on every shift, not lamenting in post game comments that the team isn't working hard enough. Leading by example means backchecking all the time, not once a week. Leading by example means taking the body when it's there and not turning away. Markus Naslund does not lead by example often enough and since he is not a "rah-rah" guy, he does not make a great captain. Markus Naslund is a great hockey player, probably the best this franchise has seen, but he is not a leader. This leaves a huge leadership void that is not being filled by anyone else. Todd Bertuzzi, sure he can carry a team on his back when he want's too, but when he doesn't his lack of effort spreads through the team like a plague, as it did last night in St Louis. Trevor Linden? Great player 10 years ago, but those days are gone, and since he can no longer lead on the ice he doesn't have the respect required to take charge in the dressing room. Who's next? Ed Jovanovski, Mattias Ohlund, Brendan Morrison? Then after that you have nothing, Matt Cooke? Sure he's a sparkplug, but he doesn't have the respect of his teammates, they've long tired of having to clean up his messes and that was in full evidence last night when no one came to his aid during a couple scrums. This lack of leadership results in a heartless team with no work-ethic.

Okay enough with the leadership, let's look at the grit and heart of this team. Well it's hard to look at something that isn't there. There is no grit on the top scoring lines, which you can get by with because of the offense they provide, but you cannot get by without grit on your 3rd and 4th lines. These two lines consist of Matt Cooke, Ryan Kesler, Richard Park, Jarkko Ruutu, Trevor Linden and the callup of the week. There are a couple guys in there, most noticeably Cooke and Ruutu, who provide nice grit and a consistent physical presence, but overall the 3rd and 4th lines are missing "something". Down the middle you have Kesler and Linden. While Kesler certainly hasn't been a liability, he simply has not been good enough on a night to night basis. And while Linden is an asset, he is somewhat wasted playing center as he no longer has the wheels to be responsible defensively while also throwing hits on the boards. It's one or the other and for Linden to be a consistent physical presence he needs to be on the wing IMO. So with no grit and physical play down the middle you are left with Jarkko Ruutu and Matt Cooke providing all of your grit. That's not good enough for the playoffs, especially against a team like Calgary.

Finally I come to team chemistry. This group of players has grown stale. Remember the West Coast Express? Arguably the best line in hockey over the past several seasons, the chemistry is gone. Brendan Morrison is a better player when he isn't playing with Bertuzzi and Naslund and not being the only forward on the ice playing defense. Naslund and Bertuzzi are usually busy playing catch and trying one too many fancy passes. The third and fourth lines have shown no chemistry all year long. Currently the team is playing like they are waiting for something to happen, rarely do they show up and work hard for sixty minutes, they don't stick up for one another on the ice and few players are willing to pay the price on the ice.

So now that my post-holiday rant is over lets get to addressing these issues.

First let's put things in perspective. There are low points in every season and the Canucks are currently at a low point. It's not time to push the panic button, just for the sake of doing "something." What Dave Nonis does now will affect this franchise for the next several seasons. So with that out of the way let's get to it...


There are a couple options for Nonis, none of which are very appetizing. The easiest thing to do is find an experienced backup who can play 40% of the games. There are plenty of goalies out there who can fill this role and shouldn't cost much. The second option is to go with a "1A" type to essentially compete for the #1 job. This would however, cost you more, but should still be within reason. Another option is to callup Wade Flaherty. There are two downsides to this, there is a high probability that Flaherty will get picked up on waivers, so the Canucks would be on the hook for half his salary and more importantly, the Manitoba Moose would be without their number one goalie.

Whichever route Nonis chooses, he must choose soon. The team has no confidence in their goaltending and the situation must be rectified.

Defensive Coverage

It's very difficult to address an area which covers the entire team, but there are a few critical improvements which are required. The first is one(preferably two) more defenseman to take the place of Steve McCarthy. The second is to improve the 3rd/4th lines, ideally by adding another centerman. Outside of those two areas, there isn't much you can do with the current core of players.


The first way to address this is by adding someone who has been "there". Whether the addition is on the blueline or centre ice, the Canucks need at least one veteran who has experience in the playoffs and knows how to approach the game on a nightly basis. The second way to address this is to make a move with one of your core players. Whether it's Morrison for Doug Weight, or Jovanovski off to Florida, or Bertuzzi off somewhere, a change in the core may be necessary. Something needs to be done, because the current group doesn't have "it".

So to summarize...

  • A Goaltender - Any legit NHL goaltender will do at this point.
  • A Defenseman - A veteran who can play strong in his own end and add some much needed leadership.
  • A Centre - Preferably a veteran who can take the load off of Kesler and Linden, and someone who can bring something that gets the 3rd and 4th lines going.

Now those are 3 things that need to be done, the question is how far do you go with each one. Do you go all the way on the goaltender front at the expense of one of your blue chip prospects, or do you look for a bandaid to get you through to the trade deadline? Do you deal Jovanovski to free up salary room for a couple other defenseman, or do you try and catch lightning in a bottle with someone else's spare part? Do you bring in free agent to be Doug Weight at the expense of moving a younger Morrison, or do you try and find a cheaper Mike Sillinger type? None of these are easy choices and they all have varying degrees of impact, but one thing is for sure, something needs to be done because this current group is coasting on a trip down the Western Conference standings.

It's time for Dave Nonis to make his mark.