Saturday, February 28, 2009

Return of the Ripper?

An interesting bit of news emerged from the Canucks skate today... Rick Rypien is back skating

There is yet to be any indication that he will return this season, but he would be a welcome addition to the Canucks bottom 6.

It will be interesting to hear some of the details of Rypien's personal problems, there has been speculation that Rypien was unsure of continuing his hockey career due to his numerous injury problems. Hopefully he can find a way to stay healthy and he can continue his career.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Canucks Claim Ossi Vaananen off Waivers

The Vancouver Canucks have claimed defenseman Ossi Vaananen off waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers.

This is a very nice depth pickup for the Canucks. Vaananen was made available on waivers due to the salary cap problems of the Flyers, who needed to make room for Daniel Briere's return.

I don't know much about Vaananen, but he does bring very good size (6'4" 215lbs) and will fit in ahead of Davison on the depth chart and could even bump O'Brien from the number 6 spot. Vaananen averaged 18:27 a game for Philly, but has seen his ice time drop in half during the month of February.

If I'm remembering correctly from his days in Colorado, Vaananen is a fairly physical defenseman down low, similar to how a guy like Ohlund plays (ie: he's not going to fight or take a lot of roughing penalties). Looking at his numbers... the guy throws a lot of hits (85 - same total as Bieksa and Ohlund) and blocks a fair amount of shots (75 - would rank him 3rd beside Edler). He was also among Philly's top 4 PK defenseman, averaging 3:11 shorthanded. However, judging by his total of only 18 shots on goal and no power play time, his offensive skills appear limited.

Basically we're probably looking at a similar player to O'Brien, trading SOB's fighting and offensive upside for a more stay at home/less mistakes guy.

The best part about this move is that the Canucks are no longer one or two injuries away from having Rob Davison and Lawrence Nycholat playing regularly.

Overall a nice free pickup for Gillis. The move also opens the door for the possibility of moving O'Brien at the deadline. From the Flyers perspective this was very poor asset management. At this time of year a guy like Vaananen could easily fetch a 4th round pick, probably more.

Vaananen makes $1m and will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Trade Deadline a Week Away

The NHL's trade deadline is next Wednesday and the Vancouver Canucks have managed to pull themselves firmly back into buyer's status. So what do the Canucks need and what can they give up? Let's take a look...

Team Needs

The first thing the Canucks need to figure out is if Ryan Kesler is going to be a permanent fixture on the second line with Sundin. Kesler may have been the guy who single handedly turned this team around with his determination and play on the ice, however that was two weeks ago. In the past 3 games in eastern Canada, Kesler's play has been uninspired and the second line has been a complete non-factor. Maybe he's playing hurt or has caught that mysterious flu which Sundin was reported to have last week. But if he's not, you have to wonder if the Canucks wouldn't be better of dropping Kesler back to more of checking centre roll.

Once the Canucks figure out what they're going to do with Kesler they can take a look at adding to the top 6 and shoring up the bottom 6.

The Canucks would like to find a better fit for the Sedin line, as Burrows is most likely not a long term answer, however they will be more concerned with making sure that they have a productive second line. As long as they are getting production out of the second line, they can afford to get by with the revolving winger with the Sedins.

The Bottom 6

Now, with Burrows and Kesler up in the top 6, the bottom 6 has been exposed and is extremely weak right now. Kyle Wellwood cannot be the third line centre heading into the playoffs. Ryan Johnson has been a huge disappointment and is not a guy you want playing any more than 12 minutes a night (I'd prefer 0). His speed and shot blocking is nice, but he isn't big enough or strong enough to be a very effective checker (at least for this season he has yet to show that he has that ability). Darcy Hordichuk is another guy you don't want as a regular in the playoffs. Mason Raymond has been pretty much useless. That leaves Taylor Pyatt, Steve Bernier and Jannik Hansen (currently out 3-4 weeks) as the only truly effective bottom 6 players.

The Canucks need more options in the bottom 6, particularly down the middle. If Ryan Johnson ever needs to step into the third line, or if Hordichuk & Raymond are regulars with some Moose Meat on the 4th line, the Canucks will be in tough.

They need a couple sandpaper guys. Those guys that really step up their game come playoff time.

The Defense

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Mike Gillis is figuring out how he can improve the defense core. The Canucks would love to find a puck rushing power play quarterback, but that's going to come at a very high price. Other than that, the Canucks defense core is solid, not ideal, but solid nonetheless. They could use a depth improvement on Nycholat or Davison, but that wouldn't be a priority.

I wouldn't be entirely surprised if Shane O'Brien is swapped for another defenseman, but other than that I'm not expecting much to happen on defense. Part of the reason is that two of the pieces they may be interested in moving (Salo and Ohlund) have no trade clauses. Another two guys are young and under contract, and Willie Mitchell isn't going anywhere.

The Chips in Play

So what does Mike Gillis have and what is he willing to move?

The most likely guy to move is Mayson Raymond. I would honestly be shocked if he is still a Canuck on March 5th. Raymond simply hasn't found a role on the team despite getting an opportunity on nearly every line and the Canucks can't send him down without losing him on waivers. Raymond's speed will make him an intriguing option for teams looking for a young player who can play now. He's far from a blue chip asset, but he is still a solid asset nonetheless.

Gillis' two most valuable assets are probably the 1st round draft pick and Cory Schneider. Don't expect the 1st rounder to be moved unless it's for a player with term remaining on his contract or an impact player like Jay Bouwmeester. On the other hand Schneider is a guy that could be moved under the assumption that Gillis is confident that he can get Luongo under contract. Like the first rounder, Gillis won't trade Schneider unless it's for an impact player or a guy under contract next season.

After that there's not much left. If the Canucks are truly in the Bouwmeester sweepstakes, Bieksa or Edler could be in play. Cody Hodgeson is pretty much untouchable unless something falls into Gillis' lap. On the farm, Grabner is pretty much the only asset of value and could be moved, but that would really deplete the high end talent depth of the organization. Other than that you're looking at fringe prospects and draft picks.

As for current roster players, there isn't anyone who's going to fetch you much. Someone might be interested in Wellwood, but he won't get much of a return, if any. Pyatt's a useful player who is still young and has a decent contract, but he would probably only fetch a player with a different skillset who plays a similar role. Steve Bernier has value, but he's the type of player you want to keep around for the playoffs. Shane O'Brien could be swapped for another #6 defenseman.

And there you have it. The Canucks have a few assets, but not much. Considering the price tag on top end rental players usually starts at a 1st round pick, it will be tough for Gillis to do much without mortgaging the future.

Up next I'll take a look at who the Canucks could be after...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts after the Canucks shootout win in Calgary...

  • The Canucks still have a ways to go in the Getting the Puck Out of the Zone Department.
  • Darcy Hordichuk isn't getting it done. The guy just isn't a very smart hockey player. Whatever strengths he may have are outweighed by his lack of hockey sense. It's nice to have that tough guy in the lineup, but I think that's a luxury the Canucks don't need right now. They have enough toughness in the lineup. On the other hand they could really use an effective 4th line and with the way Hansen is playing that shouldn't be that hard to put together. Even a guy like Jaffray could really improve the effectiveness of the 4th line.
  • Willie Mitchell is really struggling right now. What happened to the guy from October who was arguably playing the best hockey of his career?
  • Fortunately Alex Edler really has his game together. While the rest of the defense has struggled with their consistency Edler has picked up his game at just the right time.
  • Ryan Kesler is the engine running this team right now.
  • Despite a really bad goal in Calgary, Luongo looked "on" for the first time since November.
  • The Canucks played their worst game of the month and yet still found a way to win against a red hot Kiprusoff. That is a very good sign.
  • With the toughest game of the road trip out of the way the Canucks now have an opportunity to get a little separation in the playoff race. If they continue to play well there is no reason why they can't pickup at least 4 out of a possible 6 points.
  • I guess the sky didn't fall did it?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Mike Brown Traded for McIver

According to the Team 1040, Mike Brown has been traded to Anaheim for Nathan McIver.

Finally, Gillis' biggest mistake is no longer wasting a roster spot and somehow Gillis managed to get a useful player in return.

McIver of course was lost on waivers to Anaheim before the season. Ironically the loss of that asset prompted Gillis to keep Mike Brown on the roster because of fears he would be claimed on waivers. Because Brown was kept, the Canucks eventually lost Matt Pettinger on waivers when they tried to call him up. Pettinger is a much more reliable and useful player then Brown, yet Brown was kept around. The move was even more puzzling because at the time Rick Rypien was healthy and providing that physical element on the 4th line, so Brown was redundant.

Mike Brown was awful for most of the year. This culminated in his last game when Brown was directly responsible for a critical goal against. Brown made more than one mistake on the play and found himself on the bench for the rest of his Canuck career.

The Canucks finally have some flexibility to call a forward up from Manitoba. It should be interesting to see if Nycholat (who has failed to contribute as an "offensive defenseman") continues to tie up a roster spot on defense. With McIver back in the system, fears of losing Nycholat on waivers may be lessened.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

At a Crossroads

I wasn't going to make another post until the Canucks broke this ridiculous streak, but I'm going to break from that to post this...

Beginning with tonight's game against Carolina the next week will have a major impact on the next few seasons.

If the Canucks continue to lose Mike Gillis will have no choice but to fire Alain Vigneault. It may even happen tonight if they lose outright. There are 3 days before the next game, enough to get a new guy in. Barring that it could happen before the Canucks hit the road a week from now.

We will find out a lot about the state of the team tonight. If the team mails it in then they have quit on AV. If they continue to play with the effort they have in the past week, then they have not quit on AV. As silly as it sounds, the players can decide whether they want AV as a coach or not.

I'm betting on the Canuck players to come out and play another strong game. I've seen no signs that they have quit on AV.

Mike Gillis does not want to fire Vigneault, but he will be forced to do so if the Canucks lose tonight and against Chicago. These two games are likely to decide the direction this franchise goes.

With that said, I think the Canucks are going to come out of this and play well down the stretch. They are still positioned to make the playoffs and if they play like they have the past two games they will.