Monday, February 28, 2011

Canucks Acquire F Chris Higgins and F Maxim Lapierre

It ran right down to the wire, but the Canucks managed to pull off a couple trades to add to their forward depth. A couple of ex-Canadiens are on their way to Vancouver:

To Vancouver:
F Chris Higgins
To Florida:
D Evan Oberg, 3rd Round Pick (2011)
To Vancouver:
F Maxim Lapierre, F MacGregor Sharp
To Anaheim
F Joel Perrault, 3rd Round Pick (2013)

Chris Higgins

Chris Higgins is an interesting and unexpected acquisition. Higgins had 23 points in 48 games this season with the Panthers. He's a solid two way player who can provide some offense and contribute to the penalty kill. He has decent size, but isn't a physical player. The flip side to that is he doesn't take many penalties (only 5 this year). He's a guy that can play in the top 9, help out on the pk and possibly the struggling second power play unit.

The knock on Higgins is that he can be inconsistent. A former 3 time 20 goal scorer, Higgins has bounced around since leaving Montreal in '09. The Canucks are hoping that Higgins will respond to the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.

Maxim Lapierre

Maxim Lapierre is the type of agitating 4th line centre the Canucks needed to add. At 6'2 207, Lapierre brings size, speed and a willingness to throw his weight around (has 163 hits this year). He's a right handed shot who's solid in the faceoff circle (51.4% over the last 4 years).

Lapierre was a big part of the Canadiens drive to the Eastern Conference finals last season, so he knows what the playoffs are all about in a big Canadian market. The concern with Lapierre is in the discipline department, to which Gillis responded by saying he "will learn to comply with what we need." Lapierre has a history with Alain Vigneault going back to their days in the QMJHL, obviously that was a significant factor in the trade.

The additions of Higgins and Lapierre mean that Cody Hogdson and Victor Oreskovich are heading back down to Manitoba. Jeff Tambellini must be breathing a sigh of relief. With the addition of Higgins, Tambellini's skillset has become redundant - especially considering how he has played in the last few months. If Tambellini was exempt from waivers he would likely be heading to Manitoba and Oreskovich - who has played well - would be sticking around.

So what does this mean for the Canucks lineup? Lapierre obviously fits in as the 4th line centre and should be there tomorrow vs Columbus. The big question is where does Higgins (who is out for 7-10+ days with a thumb injury) fit?

There are a few possibilities. The first is that he starts out on the new 4th line with Glass and Lapierre and also gets some special teams time. While he may debut there the Canucks would not have traded Oberg and a 3rd for someone to play 4th line right wing. That means he is likely to get an opportunity to play in the top 9 and also on the second pp unit.

So where in the top 9 would Higgins fit? The most likely scenario is that he gets an opportunity to replace the struggling Mason Raymond on the second line. That creates a trickle down effect on the wing. Who gets bumped to the 4th line? It could be any one of Raymond, Torres or Hansen.

The likely scenario is that we will see a little line juggling based on who's going on a particular night. We are likely to see a variety of line combinations with several interchangeable wingers. Higgins, Raymond, Torres and Hansen could all bounce around from the 2nd unit to the 4th.

Overall Canuck fans have to be pretty satisfied with the deadline moves. They added their gritty, agitating forward while filling the 4th line centre hole. They also added a player who is capable of contributing offensively and on the penalty kill. Gillis did all this without surrendering any 2nd round picks or top prospects. Evan Oberg had been passed on the depth chart by the likes of Tanev and Sauve, while the Canucks feel they can replace their third round picks in the college free agent market.

Not only do they now have tremendous depth on the NHL roster, they also have a good pool of players to callup from Manitoba should the they suffer any injuries in the playoffs.

Can the playoffs please start tomorrow?

Trade Deadline Day

The NHL trade deadline is at noon pacific today and the Vancouver Canucks are hoping to add the final piece(s) for their Stanley Cup drive.

GM Mike Gillis is going to try and add a 4th line centre, but could very well walk away from today with nothing should the asking prices be too high.

Check back later for analysis of any Canucks moves. You can also follow the Vancouver Canucks Hockey Blog on Twitter

Friday, February 25, 2011

One Game Until Trade Deadline

The Vancouver Canucks have one more game, Saturday vs the Bruins, to evaluate their roster before Monday's NHL trade deadline. Usually at this time of year there is a wide range of opinions on what the Canucks need and what they're going to do. This year things are a little different. The Canucks have the best record in the NHL with few holes in their lineup - this has led to a general consensus on what the Canucks should do at the deadline.

The Bottom Six

Nearly everyone agrees that the Canucks should make an addition to their bottom six. The fourth line right wing has been a revolving door all season with no one stepping up to take the job. The fourth line centre position hasn't been much better.

The big question this week was if Cody Hogdson and Victor Oreskovich were the answer to those problems. On Hogdson the answer we received was that whether or not he is capable of doing the job, the coach does not have any confidence in him during a close game. It's clear that if the Canucks want a 4th line that they can have confidence in at anytime, Hogdson is not the answer at centre ice. As for the right wing, it's safe to say that Oreskovich opened some eyes with his performance against the Blues. Oreskovich has often looked unsure, but this was the game where he finally demonstrated that he was "getting it". In limited action he showed that he can get the puck out of his zone, he has the ability to carry the puck and make a play with it, and he can get in and hit people without getting caught out of position.

So where does that leave GM Mike Gillis? It's clear that he needs to explore every option at the centre ice position. If one of the top 3 centres goes down there's not much depth. They need someone who can step up and be dependable on one of the top 3 lines. Could Hogdson be that guy? Maybe, but this is Vancouver's best ever chance at a Stanley Cup, now is not the time to depend on maybes. As for the wing, if an upgrade comes along Gillis would take it for the right price, but as of right now they could live with Oreskovich on the 4th line.

The Salary Cap, Toughness and Mason Raymond

The other big question surrounding the Canucks is how much cap space do they actually have? With all due respect to, a great resource, no one outside of Canucks management and the NHL cap offices really knows how much cap space the Canucks have. (Teams wouldn't hire capologists if they could just logon to Capgeek). With that said, it's a safe guess that the Canucks cap room is well south of $2m and probably around $1m give or take $500k.

If the Canucks want to do more than add depth on the bottom 6 they are going to have to move some salary out. Samuelsson, Malhotra and Torres were specifically acquired to help the team win in the playoffs, they're not going anywhere. There's only one non-core player on the roster who has a salary that would make a significant difference. With a cap hit of $2.55m that guy is Mason Raymond. If the Canucks want to make any kind of significant move Mason Raymond would have to be involved.

Are the Canucks actively looking to move Raymond? Probably not. But as mentioned before, the Canucks chances of winning a Stanley Cup are better then they have ever been. If the opportunity is there to make a significant move, Gillis would absolutely be willing to move Raymond.

So what could that move be? Well, if there's one weakness in the Canucks game it's the lack of sandpaper and grit in their top 6. If the Canucks could find a big gritty left winger - who makes less than $3m - they would likely jump at the opportunity to upgrade on Raymond. Mason Raymond is also very marketable. His cap hit is manageable, he has a good skill set and is only 25.

The Dream Trade

I'll close with my dream trade. It's highly unlikely, but the pieces fit:

To Atlanta: Mason Raymond + pick(s)/prospect(s) : To Vancouver Andrew Ladd

It would be interesting to see Ladd on Kesler's wing given their past, but Ladd is the exact type of forward the Canucks could use in their top 6. Would Atlanta do it? Who knows. Ladd is a restricted free agent set to double his salary. With their ownership situation they may not want to pay Ladd that much. Raymond is someone who can play in their top 6 now and he is under contract at a reasonable level for next year, before hitting restricted free agency. The question then becomes what would be needed in addition to Raymond. That would likely be at least a 1st round pick or Hogdson and maybe something else. Would Gillis pay that price? I guess we'll find out by Monday...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Canucks Third Quarter Report Card

With 21 games remaining in the regular season the Vancouver Canucks have finished the third quarter of their season, so it's time for the next round of letter grades. In case you missed them, here are the first quarter and second quarter report cards.

Last quarter's grades are represented in brackets (second quarter,first quarter). Remember grades are based on player expectations, so Raffi Torres' grade is not equivalent to Raymond's as there are different expectations for both players.

Team Grades

Overall Team Grade: B (A+,C+)
The Canucks were 11-6-3 during the third quarter of their season and considering the injuries on defense their record was pretty good.
Power Play: A (A,A)
The Canucks have had the best powerplay in the league for nearly the entire season and have shown no sign of cooling off.
Penalty Kill: A (A,A)
Like the powerplay the penalty kill has been remarkably consistent. They finished the second quarter at 85.5% (4th overall) and finished the third quarter at 85.7% (still 4th).

Player Grades

Alex Edler: A (A, A)
Edler's great season was cut short in January, but up until that point he had 7 points in 8 third quarter games and had a whopping 27 shots on goal. The only blemish was -3 night in Minnesota.
Daniel Sedin: A- (A,A-)
While he endured an 8 game goalless drought, Daniel was only a minus 3 times during the third quarter and managed to reach the top of the NHL scoring race by recording a point in 15 of 20 games.
Kevin Bieksa: A- (A-,B-)
Up until his injury Bieksa was arguably the Canucks most reliable defenseman. While the offense hasn't been there his play in his own end has been outstanding.
Chris Tanev: A- (NG,NG)
Tanev has received rave reviews for someone at his age and experience level. He's made his share of mistakes, but his overall poise and decision making have been outstanding.
Christian Ehrhoff: B+ (B+,C-)
With the injuries on defense Ehrhoff was asked to do a lot and he responded well. While he has his moments that make you shake your head, he continues to produce points and play big minutes.
Dan Hamhuis: B+ (B,C-)
Hamhuis is the type of player where you may not notice his contribution until he isn't in the lineup. Hamhuis is great in his own end and gets the puck up to the forwards efficiently.
Alex Burrows: B+ (B+,B-)
Burrows went on a 10 game scoring streak which included 8 goals, unfortunately the five games on each side of that streak were pretty quiet preventing him from receiving his first A of the season.
Henrik Sedin: B (A,B+)
Henrik's production was under a point a game during the third quarter. For the first time this season Henrik was merely good, not great.
Ryan Kesler: B (A+,B)
Like Henrik, Kesler wasn't quite as good in the third quarter. Kesler continues to be the key element of the powerplay, but his five on five play can be better. A few too many minus nights and he recently endured a 5 game stretch where he was under 50% in the faceoff circle.
Mikael Samuelsson: B (C+,C-)
The real Mikeal Samuelsson showed up in February with 15 points in 11 games. Unfortunately he began the quarter with only 3 points in 9 January games including a 6 game pointless streak.
Jannik Hansen: B (B+,C+)
Despite being saddled with linemates who had some awful stretches of hockey, Hansen has been one of the Canucks most consistent players and even added a little offense in February.
Tanner Glass: B (B,C+)
The offense has been non-existent, but Glass has been reliable in his role. He's done a good job avoiding penalties and has done a serviceable job when asked to play at centre.
Keith Ballard: B (B-,D)
Ballard finally appeared to settle into his new team and has slowly gained the confidence of AV. The offense hasn't been there yet, but he has started to play like the way he did in Phoenix.
Cody Hogdson: B (NG,NG)
Hogdson has 2 points in 6 games and has been decent in his limited action. If the Canucks can't add anyone at the deadline he has a good chance to stick around for the remainder of the year.
Andrew Alberts: B- (A-,B)
Due to injuries Alberts played only 5 full games during the third quarter.
Aaron Rome: C (C,C+)
With all the injuries Rome finally got a chance to play more during the third quarter. He didn't make the most of the opportunity. He's a serviceable depth defenseman, but doesn't move the puck very well. He was simply dreadful last night vs Montreal.
Aaron Volpatti: C (Inc,NG)
Volpatti had his opportunity but failed to do much with it. Didn't fight, too slow to get in on the forecheck and wasn't great in his own end. Zero shots on goal in 7 games speaks for itself.
Manny Malhotra: C- (B,B)
While he continues to win faceoffs, 19 game scoreless streaks aren't acceptable for a player at his salary level. The good news is that Malhotra has stepped up his game since being embarrassed by Jonathan Toews in early February.
Raffi Torres: C- (B, C+)
It's expected that Torres will be inconsistent, but for most of 2011 he's been invisible. He finally ended a 23 game goalless streak the other night, so we'll see if he can maintain that momentum in the final quarter of the season.
Mason Raymond: D (B-,C-)
In 2011 Raymond has 3 goals. That's 3 goals in 25 games. That's simply not acceptable at his salary level and role on the team.
Jeff Tambellini: D (B, Inc)
Two assists in 2011, that's all you really need to know about Tambellini. The Canucks want to keep him around for depth, but if they find an upgrade they won't be afraid of losing him on the waiver wire.
Sami Salo: Incomplete (NG,NG)
Salo returned sooner than expected and has looked to be at about 80% of his normal self. Should get a more prominent role as the season progresses.
Alex Bolduc: Incomplete (C+, Inc)
The Canucks were hoping he was the answer to the 4th line centre problem, but his second shoulder separation kept him out of action. May get another opportunity should the Canucks fail to add anyone at the deadline
Lee Sweatt: Incomplete (NG, NG)
In three games before being injured Sweatt scored a big goal and played fairly well. Good depth on the farm.

Inc = Incomplete, NG = No Grade

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Add Bieksa to the List - Oberg Recalled

This is just getting ridiculous. After taking a shot off the foot Kevin Bieksa is now the latest Canuck defenseman to hit the injured list. Bieksa is out with a foot fracture of some kind, no details have been released and he will be re-evaluated when the team returns to Vancouver. Evan Oberg has been recalled from Manitoba and will suit up tonight in Nashville. Yes the Canucks will be playing with 3 rookie defensemen who have 15 career NHL games between them.

The good news is that Keith Ballard is ahead of schedule and could play next week, while Dan Hamhuis has begun light work outs and everyone else is targeted to return for the playoffs. The Canucks have not placed Hamhuis or Ballard on LTIR, so they have no cap space to add a player via trade. That means no Ian White and his $3m salary (who broke that ridiculous rumour?).

The Canucks have a 9 point cushion on 2nd place Detroit and a 15 point lead in the division. There's no reason to panic, the team can weather the storm. The experience being gained by the rookie blueliners could actually be a blessing in disguise should they be called upon during the playoffs. And hey, watching rookies makes these games a lot more interesting than they otherwise would be...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another Day Another Defenseman Down

Andrew Alberts is the latest victim of the annual springtime injury train. Alberts is out with a broken wrist, no word yet on how long he will be out - the general diagnosis for a broken wrist is at least 6-8 weeks. Alberts joins Hamhuis, Ballard, Edler and Sweatt on the injured list. That leaves the Canucks with Ehrhoff, Bieksa, Salo and Rome as the only veteran defensemen. Yann Sauve has received the call, joining fellow rookie Chris Tanev.

The Canucks have weathered the storm so far, but the loss of so many defensemen is starting to take its toll. With Sami Salo no where near the top of his game the Canucks struggled to move the puck in St. Louis. So far Kevin Bieksa has handled the extra duties well, but Christian Ehrhoff is struggling a bit since losing his defense partner. The trickle down effect also has Aaron Rome playing way too much and Chris Tanev playing with less talented partners.

This adversity is a good test for a team that has a comfortable lead atop the Western Conference standings. This team is damn good and even on their off nights they're still tough to beat. Take away Luongo's gaffe and St. Louis could easily have lost a game in which the Canucks were not very good.

Catching Up on a Few Things...

  • There has been much talk of late about the Canucks team toughness, or lack thereof. Last week the Canucks were pushed around by Chris Neal and the Senators while the Ducks also took it to them physically. The Canucks won't admit their concern, but after the Anahaim game they immediately dispatched Volpatti to the farm after he failed to bring any kind of physical presence to the 4th line. Obviously they recognized a change needed to be made. Oreskovich brings some much needed size to the 4th line, but more importantly he has the speed to actually get in on the forecheck and hit people.
  • You have to wonder if Jeff Tambellini is going to stick around for the rest of the season. He hasn't scored in 2011 and has seen his ice-time plummet when he does find his way into the lineup. The Canucks have started to use him on the PK a little, but even then if he isn't scoring or generating chances he isn't contributing much. With the need for more grit in the bottom six Tambellini's days could be numbered.
  • The Canucks philosophy on grit and toughness seems to be the attitude of "we'll make them pay on the power play". Well that works in December, but when the games and officials tighten up in the last third of the season and into the playoffs, it doesn't work quite as well.
  • Cody Hogdson was dispatched to Manitoba for "more playing time", but it's pretty obvious he was sent down for cap reasons. The Canucks are better with a natural centre on the 4th line and Hodgson had played reasonably well. Unfortunately for him, his $1.6m cap hit became a problem once the injuries on defense hit.
  • Former Canuck Michael Grabner was named the NHL first star after an 8 goal week. One of the reasons I write this blog is that it's fun to look back on what I thought about a particular move.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Rookies Impressing

The Vancouver Canucks continue to roll along, they now lead the Western Conference by 7 points, and lately they've been rolling with several rookies in the lineup. In the past few weeks Sergei Shirokov, Lee Sweatt and Cody Hogdson have all scored their first career goals (earlier in the year Bolduc, Volpatti & Bliznak had theirs) and Chris Tanev has caught everyone's attention with his great play.

In the salary cap era you need young cheap players to fill holes in your lineup. Canuck rookies have been delivering. Thanks to Lee Sweatt and Chris Tanev the team hasn't missed a beat with Edler, Rome and Alberts missing from the lineup. This week Cody Hogdson has given the 4th line a boost, showing he may be closer to an every day NHL job than most people would have thought. And let's not forget Cory Schneider who has played superbly and has allowed Luongo to stay fresh.

Chris Tanev
Chris Tanev has been impressive, really impressive. He has shown great poise, intelligence and vision. His first pass is excellent and he routinely makes the right decision with the puck. Their is no panic in his game and he is always thinking. The Canucks haven't seen a rookie defenseman this poised since Alex Edler's rookie year. Tanev is making a strong case to stick with the team the rest of the way, but will most likely return to Manitoba if/when Salo joins the team.
Lee Sweatt
While Tanev's received most of the attention Lee Sweatt has quietly gone about his business. In only three games he has amassed some impressive statistics (1g 1a +4 4 shots), but more importantly he hasn't been "noticeable" in the defensive end and for a young defenseman not being noticed can be a good thing. Sweatt is looking like a pretty serviceable depth option. When injuries hit in the playoffs it's nice to have guys like this.
Cody Hogdson
Cody Hogdson picked up his first career NHL goal and it was a fairly impressive one. The biggest thing that stands out with Hogdson is that he is finally physically ready to play against men. In past pre-season action Hodgson could not skate well enough and didn't have the size or strength to battle with NHL players. It's only two games, but his skating is noticeably improved and he hasn't been physically pushed around or controlled by the opposition. Now that he is physically ready his talent can emerge, as it did on his goal.

The strong play of the rookies has opened up some options for Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault. While it's unlikely he will move one of his fringe veteran defensemen, the option is now open should a deal present itself. Up front Hogdson at centre gives the Canucks the ability to legitimately roll four lines. On any given night the 3rd and 4th lines can swap roles. Need a checking line for the night? You've got the Torres Malhotra Hansen line. Want a little more offense from the third line? Maybe you go with a Tambellini/Torres Hogdson Hansen line, with Malhotra dropping down to play with Glass on a 4th line checking unit. It remains to be seen whether Hogdson can stick for the rest of the season, the NHL schedule is a lot more rigorous than the AHL, but he has shown that he can contribute should he be needed.

Whether the rookies are all still here in two weeks or not, one thing is certain. The Canucks have a lot of young depth to call upon during an extended playoff drive.