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New President Trevor Linden will need to determine if there's any more juice left in the Canucks' core?

New President Trevor Linden will need to determine if there’s any more juice left in the Canucks’ core?

Is it a  retool, a reset a refresh or a rebuild?  It’s a known fact that the Canucks are breathstrip thin in the offensive ranks and are in need of serious help all over the roster.  Even a quick glance at this year’s playoffs will tell any Canucks fans who watched the game closely that the team is neither strong enough or quick enough to compete with any of the remaining eight teams in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Trevor Linden gives the Canucks a face that's difficult to hate.

Trevor Linden gives the Canucks a face that’s difficult to hate.

Newly appointed President of Hockey Operations, Trevor Linden, knows a few things about playing the north/south game, and will be looking to understand what the franchise holds in current talent vs. what the franchise needs vs. what it can afford. But without a GM and a coach his job is significantly more difficult.  Linden will have to prove that he’s not just a figurehead, and soon.

It is assumed that the team returns with Sedin as their primary scoring center and Kesler as the team’s premier two-way pivot and not as the  slow defensive pass-first center and a swashbuckling right winger as under the Tortorella regime.  Even so, with Mike Santorelli’s health in question (and a UFA himself) the team will be looking to add a quality player as insurance in the middle at the three spot, while bolstering the lines with quality scoring wingers.

The other assumption is that the Canucks new direction is a departure from the old direction.  Former President/GM Mike Gillis’ s main strength was to scour other teams’ rosters in order to mastermind a roster.

GM Gillis’s acquisitions were mostly misses anyway.

In the case of Dan Hamhuis, Mikael Samuelsson and Manny Malhotra, the strategy seemed to pay immediate dividends. In other cases such as in Jason Garrison’s or Mike Santorelli’s, the results are still in the balance.

Mike Gillis's acquisitions often made the Canucks the target of league-wide scorn and mockery.

Mike Gillis’s acquisitions often made the Canucks the target of league-wide scorn and mockery.

The list of failures, however, is lengthy: Kyle Wellwood, Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Johnson, Curtis Sandford, Pavol Demitra, Rob Davison, Mats Sundin, Andrew Raycroft, Tanner Glass, Marco Sturm, Dale Weise, Andrew Ebbett, Byron Bitz, Steve Pinizzotto, Mark Mancari and Alexander Sulzer all arrived to the Canucks via free agency and were never better than just roster filling support players for a core that he neither drafted nor traded for.

Rest assured, Trevor Linden’s philosophy will be to search from within to succeed from without.

Linden will not be as involved with the free agent chase, unless to sign his own, for nothing says “F-U” to other GM’s in the league more than signing their players for more money than they’re worth, a talent for which Mike Gillis appeared to have a penchant.  If Linden is the second coming of Pat Quinn, the talents of other teams’ player development and scouts will will take a back seat to his own.

The Linden regime’s first move will determine what the team is doing going forward.  A Ryan Kesler trade for youth and draft picks, for example, would indicate a movement towards rebuilding.  A signing of a big name UFA like Paul Stastny, Andrei Markov or Dan Boyle, for example would indicate a reloading.

And then, of course, everything depends on what the team’s new GM’s philosophy is and, ultimately, who the new coach is too.

If the Canucks acquire the right combination of management and coach, a veteran UFA like Dan Boyle might find Vancouver an appealing choice.

If the Canucks acquire the right combination of management and coach, a veteran UFA like Dan Boyle might find Vancouver an appealing choice.

Linden’s most pressing concern is to fill the gaping management hole with a seasoned professional who has numerous connections league-wide.  The next step is to find a coach whom the players will enjoy playing for.  In the end though, Linden’s most critical stamp on the team will be to repair the bridges Mike Gillis burned in his five-year tenure with the team.

Perhaps it isn’t a retool, reset, refresh or rebuild inasmuch as it is a re-engineering of the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks and their fans are hoping  these bridges hold this time, because the franchise is one collapse away from a protracted period of futility.

 

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How much will teams be willing to pay Shane Doan, pictured above receiving the Mark Messier award for leadership?

This is prior to the stupid contract some team is going to draw up for Shane Doan who, last I heard, was in the $7 million stratosphere.  This represents the final season players can abuse the wormholes in the current CBA which allow for front loaded contracts, variable terms, and indefinite lengths essentially making the NHLPA and its player agents the sporting version of mortgage brokering.

The Rick Dipietro award for worst goaltender contract of 2012:

If the NHL season ever gets underway in 2012, Johan and Marty will combine to the most experienced tandem in the game, ever.

This was not a strong year for candidates in this category, at least, not as strong as last years crop of fools.  Perhaps it was the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov at 9 years for over $50 million dollars which made a few GM’s check their head before signing the next goalie of the future.  Vancouver’s signing of RFA Corey at $4 million per over the next 3 seasons and Minnesota’s signing of young Josh Harding at $5.7 over three years represents a sensible management of player assets.

The signing of Martin Brodeur for $9 million over two seasons is one thing, but the signing of his backup of last year, Johan Hedberg for the same term means the Devils are depending on two guys who have a combined age of 80 years old when the season opens in 2012.  I just don’t see how New Jersey hasn’t found a young backup goalie who could learn from Marty as he declines in age.  The next two seasons would have represented a perfect opportunity to find someone to carry the torch when he retires, now the team will be looking for two goalies in 2014 after Marty and Johan both call it quits.

It’s not the cost of the contract, it’s the price the team is paying in development.  Hedberg at any amount over say, a Jonas Gustavsson or anyone on their farm doesn’t bode well for the future of goaltending in Jersey.

Winner of the Rick Dipietro Award:   Johan Hedberg– 2 years / $2.8 million

The Brian Campbell award for worst contract for a defenseman:

Ryan Suter will need to prove that he has an A-game without Shea Weber.

Got a kid in hockey?  Make sure he becomes a defenseman.  It’s silly what these guys are getting paid nowadays but I suppose it makes sense.  If you have a lot of guys who can play 30 minutes and neutralize sublime skill for that length of time, teams win more 2-1 games, GM’s and Coaches stay employed, everybody is happy.  Well, not quite everybody.  The fans go home and get to ponder what has happened to the game that Bettman wanted to turn into a speed and skill game and how it became, once again, over-coached, over-defended, and over-ground to its generic, robotic self that it seems to be these days.

A quick look at this year’s Stanley Cup semi-finals will tell you what you need to know about how the game is trending.  If you have a team which doesn’t have any marquee talent up front, where do you load up?  In goal and on defense, even if the price kills you to look at it.  Is any D-man worth a cap hit of $7.5 million over 13 seasons?  You could count them on one hand and still have some digits leftover.  Is Ryan Suter on that hand?

I didn’t think so.

Winner of the Brian Campbell award:  Ryan Suter– $98 million/13 years.

The Dany Heatley Award for worst contract for a forward:

With the extinction of “the goon” through the institution of the instigator penalty, stars like Giroux and Crosby can’t focus solely on scoring, and risk injury moreso than stars of the past.

Heatley’s contract is a $7.5 million dollar hit for the Wild, but at least it’s off the books in a mere two seasons from now at which point we’ll have to consider renaming the award.  I’m hoping what I say next doesn’t come true, I really am, but this needs to be mentioned.  We can’t go back to goonery hockey, I know this, but consider this.  Without the goons protecting the stars, and on every team there was one close at hand since the Gretzky/Kurri/Semenko model (it’s like one of those matching games where you try to figure out which one doesn’t match… could it be any more obvious why semenko was on that line?  Dave Semenko fought Muhammed Ali for chrissakes!) it is open season on the best players on the game.  All of the concussion and post concussion syndrome issues we’ve seen in top end talent since Eric Lindros was illegally checked by Scott Stevens (yup, I just did), is as a direct result of the extinction of the hockey goon.  Listen, it’s biological.  If you remove the natural predator in any ecosystem, what ends up happening is that the prey suddenly grows exponentially in its population.  That’s why there are so many pigeons and rats in urban centres, because they are keenly aware that eagles, condors, hawks and snakes tend to avoid people.

In hockey equivalence you have your rats on every team.  In fact, most teams are entirely composed of rats.  Think the Dustin Brown’s, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler’s and Todd Marchand’s of the NHL world and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s not safe for the talent to ooze when the rats are out looking to infect the game with their plague.  What these rats need is a good beating from a legitimate face breaker, and I mean a real one, one which we haven’t seen since the likes of Gino Odjick, or Bob Probert.  A true psycho who plays the game not to hurt anyone at random, but punish people with broken orbital bones, noses and jaws when they get out of line without being called an instigator.

That’s the only way you can then justify paying Sidney Crosby $104.4 million dollars over the next 13 seasons playing 8 games a year against Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and the recently buffed Ottawa — big physical teams who like to aim for stars.  It’s a matter of time before Crosby is concussed again, likely by a rat, and that will spell the end of hockey in Pittsburgh where Sid the Kid has them on the hook for nearly 1/6th of their cap space over the next decade.

Prior to any stupid Shane Doan deal, Sidney Crosby’s contract is a ticking time bomb.

Winner of the Dany Heatley award:  Sidney Crosby $104.4 million/13 years

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David Booth, now of the Vancouver Canucks, will be looking for a fresh start.

It’s quite clear now that this happened that the much maligned Marco Sturm signing was a calculated affair from the get-go.  With several teams struggling to keep their payrolls in balance, the one-year contract Sturm signed with the Canucks will represent a sea change for managers in a new NHL where trading in the old sense of the word seems an impossibility.  In the NBA, where players are no longer seen as human, but rather, as the ridiculous contracts they signed based on a potential that quickly evaporated before the ink of the signature even dried,  GM’s had this one figured out a while ago in fact.  Canucks GM, Mike Gillis, who has a global perspective on how to run his team, even once citing Manchester United as the mold for the Canucks, has surely been paying attention.

When the Los Angeles Lakers needed some front court help back in 2008, they traded Kwame Brown (and his expiring contract) to the Memphis Grizzlies, along with the rights to Pau Gasol’s brother Marc for the elder Gasol, Pau.  At the time, fans were screaming about how the Grizzlies made a mockery of the process, handed the Lakers a championship, and lost badly in the trade.  When Kwame Brown’s contract expired at the end of the season, however, the franchise had some breathing room to sign younger players and move the franchise forward into what is now considered one of the best young teams in the NBA.  These trades, in varying forms, have now become so common-place that teams are no longer said to be trading players but rather, as in the Eddy Curry trade to Minnesota last season, “contracts”, and specifically those of the “expiring” variety.

Now, the NBA’s salary structure is flawed, which is why there is a work stoppage, and the NHL is certainly headed in that direction to some extent, but it does explain how, for now at least, Mike Gillis has restructured how the NHL’s GM’s will be seeing trade scenarios and indeed free agent frenzy week in the NHL.  When the Canucks signed Sturm for one year at $2 million, nothing seemed to make any sense anymore.  It was a hearkening back to the days of Pat Quinn who refused to give up on a core, preferring instead to sign players past their prime to support what he believed to be a contending team.  The Sturm signing was everything but.  It was brilliant, in fact.

Gillis pretended to want Sturm’s services, but what he really wanted was to have a chip to play in the open trade market after everyone signed players he had a passing interest in for money he wasn’t willing to offer.  And, since there seems to be some unwritten embargo on signing restricted free agents as Gillis learned in the David Backes fiasco three seasons ago, the only other option was to do what he did.  He signed Sturm in order to, at some point, relieve a team of a David Booth-type player by combining his and Michael Samuelsson’s expiring contracts to the $4.5 million or so that represents the average money a Booth-type player makes in the NHL.

Higgins, like Luongo and Ballard before him, has taken some time but found a home with the Canucks. Project Booth is next.

And what exactly is a “Booth-type player”?  He is a player that at some point was considered to be a breakout star but over the years since his signing, through injury or a loss of hunger, has become a reminder of a poor decision.  The Canucks already relieved Florida of three such players in Keith Ballard, Chris Higgins and Roberto Luongo.  Are they expecting the same thing out of David Booth, who is signed through to 2015?  One would have to think so in light of the Canucks’ current salary structure.  He makes roughly the same as Ballard, and has 4 years remaining on the contract meaning the Canucks are making something of a commitment to developing this player as well.  He has already scored 30 goals in the NHL.  He has played with the American youth team with none other than fellow Michigan star, Ryan Kesler. He will be 27 in November.

Thus, in the climate of the stoic, old guard of of NHL GM’s, Gillis has produced another innovative redefinition of how we can view personnel .  His trading of Sturm to Florida is transparent both ways.  On the one hand, Florida unloads a player whose contract and production no longer fit in with the team’s current direction (two if you count Reinprecht’s $2 million at the AHL level), and the Canucks unload two “expiring contracts” while receiving a player who needs a change, and was willing to wave his no-trade clause to go to the Canucks.  Samuelsson didn’t play a game in the Stanley Cup finals and Sturm was never going to play more than the 4 token games he played with Vancouver in the beginning of the season.  Reinprecht was toiling away in San Antonio for the Panther’s minor league affiliate, and Booth is a player who was losing his way in Florida, but one who had the team on the hook for some $20 million dollars.  Win-win, but perhaps more importantly, the NHL just learned another way to spend money during free agent frenzy week.

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