What moves will the Vancouver Canucks make before Monday’s trade deadline? The truth is even they can’t answer it right now.
Sure, the Canucks’ brain trust has a good idea. And make no mistake they have carefully plotted needs, compiled a list of players capable of filling them, and what they might cost during detailed meetings with the pro scouting staff over the last few weeks, said assistant General Manager and resident salary “capologist” Laurence Gilman.
“We took stock of our position, looked at what we had, looked at areas we felt we could supplement our lineup and devised a couple sets of players we believe might be available and might be able to help us,” Gillman told Canucks.com late Thursday.
As General Manager Mike Gillis told Canucks TV, however, it can all still come down to making a quick decision on an unexpectedly available player at the last minute.
“We go into the trade deadline not knowing exactly what the outcome is going to be, having ideas of where we’d like to improve, and as things come your way that are unexpected you have to be prepared to make a decision,” Gillis said while praising the work of the team’s scouting staff for allowing him to make those calls fast.
It’s all part of an evolving marketplace with a lot more buyers than sellers, a place where deals like Thursday’s Jeff Carter trade to Los Angeles creates new ripples, like the Kings’ apparently sudden willingness to deal their hard-hitting captain, Dustin Brown.
Exactly where the Canucks will fit in that landscape remains to be seen, but two things seem likely heading into Monday’s trade deadline:
1. Like the players they may yet acquire, Vancouver seems more likely to be a role player, and
2. Outside of the Canucks’ war room few will have any idea of those acquisitions before they are announced.
The latter is a source of pride for Canucks’ management.
The October acquisition of David Booth, which could be fairly argued is the team’s true big trade splash before the deadline (just way before), came out of right field as reporters typed out game stories following a matinee win over Minnesota, ensuring the veterans going the other way – Marco Sturm and popular winger Mikael Samuelsson – didn’t have to listen to their futures being dangled speculatively before the deal went down.
How many prognosticators had the Canucks adding Andrew Alberts, with term left on his contract, two years ago, or even Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins last year?
Lapierre may have been on some lists before the deadline, but Higgins was a surprise even to the Canucks, offered up at the last minute after pursuit of another Panther fell through, proof again that what you go into deadline day expecting may not be what you end you up with.
In the case of Higgins, who was solid in the playoffs despite playing the final two rounds with an injured foot, and re-signed before hitting the open market, the surprises can be pleasant. Who this spring’s Chris Higgins might be is anyone’s guess at this point, but the Canucks would probably take another tough, playoff-approved forward just like him.
Names like Dallas forward Steve Ott, whose $2.95 million salary cap hit this year and the next two may require roster players going the other way, and Brown (ditto, with two more years left on a contract worth $3.175 million per) have been linked to Vancouver in rumors.
But Gillis sounds more like a man preparing to compliment his existing lineup with smaller parts, a man wary of taking too much off it out of respect for the chemistry in place.
“It’s an opportunity to make enormous mistakes and it's an opportunity to do, in my mind, some small things to help a good team,” Gillis said. “Sometimes those small things are as monumental as any major trade that could occur.”
Gillis made it clear in that interview he is open to moves, but only if they “continue stay within the plan and add the kind of players we think are more than just temporary.”
As for needs, the Canucks are blessed to have few definitive holes. Which is why their pursuits may be limited to adding size and grit among the bottom-six forwards, and a depth defenseman – but only those comfortable on the right side need apply.
Vancouver management doesn’t seem as concerned as some others about the need to add the first element to their forward mix, and certainly aren't as eager as some outsiders to reshape their team-building philosophy just because the existing model, after significant injuries had piled up, lost the Stanley Cup in seven games to big, bad Boston.
“We scored eight goals [in the Finals] because our firepower and depth were depleted, it wasn’t because we got beaten up,” said Gilman. “You know what though? To us as an organization that stuff is white noise. We have a plan in place as to how the team should be built, what the composition should be, how it should play, and you have to have the belief in what you are doing. You have to maintain the integrity of the plan.”
LET'S TALK DEPTH
That said there was an element of both size and toughness in additions like Dale Weise, Mike Duco, Steve Pinizzotto and Byron Bitz. And the current health questions about Bitz, combined with season-ending injuries to Pinizzotto and similarly styled forward Aaron Volpatti has diminished the depth of player options with those characteristics.
And as coach Alain Vigneault said after a few games with Bitz and Duco in the lineup – but only after similarly and pointedly insisting “the grit need” was not brought up internally as much as it was by the media – “that little extra push is not a bad thing to have.”
As for other depth options up front, don’t discount the one Vancouver added with Booth in the Florida swap. Steven Reinprecht may not fill the big quota, but he’s more than NHL capable as a bottom-six centre, has 30 points in 36 AHL games, and won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001. He’s also still in the minors only because of a $2 million contract and the reality he’d be claimed off re-entry waivers by another NHL team (with the Canucks then paying half his salary and having it count against their salary cap). Re-entry waivers remain come playoff time, but he can only play for the Canucks after the trade deadline, so the only claim would be just to keep him away from Vancouver.
“He could fill a role,” said Gilman. “He could play without a doubt.”
BLUE LINE GROUP
On the back end, the Canucks know better than most how important depth can be after having it stretched so thin in the Cup Finals, but with nine NHL-capable defenders on the roster right now (including the currently injured Keith Ballard), and another in Ryan Parent playing in the AHL, there are already plenty of bodies in the mix.
If there’s a need it’s on the right side of that defense, where the offseason departure has left only three naturals – Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Chris Tanev – along with guys like Aaron Rome, and Ballard, who can all play their offside but are clearly better on the left. As question marks go, those are small concerns compared to most teams.
The answers, if any, may have to wait until Monday’s deadline.