By David Hollinshead, Staff Writer
After losing in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings, Vancouverites were clamoring for change. Is it really all that necessary?
The team is a year removed from game seven of the Cup finals, and undoubtedly suffered a bit of the wretched hangover, which seems to afflict the second place team in all professional sports. The Vancouver Canucks once again enjoyed great regular season success, coming in first in their conference, with their fourth 45-plus win season in a row, and winning their second Presidents’ Trophy in the same number of years.
The team made a controversial move at the trade deadline, sending budding young star Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for Zack Kassian—choosing Kassian’s size over Hodgson’s finesse skill, a style of which the Canucks success was built around. The team also acquired Sammy Pahlsson as a shut down centre to take Hodgson’s place on the third line. The trade seemed to have backfired, the post trade symptoms included a lack of secondary scoring, which seems to be the trend in Vancouver, always alternating between not enough grit, and not enough secondary scoring.
In a move that would speak volumes about the future of the Canucks, they started backup goalie Cory Schneider when the team faced elimination, and eventually made it known that starter Roberto Luongo was on the trading block. Last Thursday, Schneider signed a three-year $12-million contract, which means that Luongo is officially getting the boot. Entering the off-season, the Canucks enter with few actual holes, but the need to upgrade at several positions.
The NHL draft held in June saw the Canucks select Brendan Gaunce, a 215-pound two-way centre, who fits into exactly what the Canucks need. Gaunce probably won’t be NHL-ready for another year or two, leaving that third-line centre spot still open. It could go to current Canuck Maxim Lapierre who spent most of his time on the fourth line, but could be moved up. The Canucks still have Manny Malhotra in the fold as well, who was once their face off ace. If they wanted to go younger at the position, they could try to bring up first-round pick from a couple years ago, Jordan Schroeder.
Schroeder is undersized though to be playing the checking line role, standing a mere 5-foot-9 and weighing 180 pounds. The kid does have great offensive upside, speed, and understands the game well; he could also be good trade bait for someone who can step in right away. With Ryan Kesler being injured to start the season coming off surgery, it is entirely possible you see Schroeder fill in that second-line centre role to start the season.
It looks as though Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals may be on his way out after his inconsistent play in the playoffs, and could use a fresh start possibly in Vancouver.
The Canucks might also want to get younger on the back end, and are in hot pursuit of defenseman Justin Schultz of the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Schultz chose not to sign with the Anaheim Ducks who selected him in the second round in the 2008 draft, and is heavily sought over. Schultz plays a more offensively-minded game, and is very mobile. He could be a great addition to the Canucks power play that struggled down the stretch, and perhaps replace an aged Sami Salo should the team choose not to resign him.
The Canucks also have defenseman Kevin Connaughton, who had a breakout season with the Canucks minor league affiliate the Chicago Wolves, having 13 goals and 33 assists.
If they wanted to bring a veteran to the team who could also improve their power play, Pavel Kubina from the Maple Leafs is set to hit the market, and possesses a booming shot.
Veterans Filip Kuba and Mike Rozsival are two shut down defensemen who are also set to hit the free agent market, and could be a crafty signing to the Canucks.
The secondary scoring need is one that needs to be filled if the Canucks hope to have any kind of success, regular or post season. Their first line is obviously set with the Sedin brothers and Burrows, but they have no one below that. Winger Chris Higgins has been inconsistent and can be taken out of games, while David Booth has been a disappointment after trading for him early in the season. Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen are two young wingers that are on opposite career paths. Hansen sometimes shows the ability of a second liner in flashes, while Raymond seems to be spending more time than a second-round pick should. Zack Kassian barely saw the ice in his time with Vancouver, and will have to see an improvement to make Canucks fans believe he was worth trading Hodgson for.
The Canucks also have two wingers they drafted that could attempt to step up. Last year’s first-round pick Nicklas Jensen is a big player who spent last year in the Juniors, but could make a play to start for the Canucks; Anton Rodin is a speedy winger from Sweden who has the potential to play in the top six and might be an excellent complement to Kesler.
If the Canucks decide to deal Luongo, it will take off a huge amount of cap space to target pricey free agents such as Zach Parise, Semin, Shane Doan, Dustin Penner (who just won a Cup with the Kings and could bring toughness and size as well as a scoring touch to the team), Andrei Kostitsyn, and Ryan Smyth.
A long shot is also acquiring Rick Nash, who has been on the trade block for months, and would instantly improve the team’s scoring.
The Canucks have the options ahead of them, but the question is: “Do you mess with chemistry in the name of success?”