When you’re the President’s Trophy winner and the Stanley Cup Final runner-up, there’s not a lot of changes that need to be made. But even though the Canucks fell one game short of the prize that they set out to win, GM Mike Gillis wasn’t going to make any knee-jerk reaction roster moves as a result. That is why for the patient Gillis, it was all about bringing back pieces to the puzzle rather than seeking new blood.
Gillis’ first task during the offseason was to re-sign playoff star Kevin Bieksa, which he was able to do so successfully. Once “Juice” was signed and once it was known that Christian Ehrhoff’s contract demands were out of reach, Gillis turned his attention to re-signing Chris Higgins, Maxim Lapierre, Sami Salo, and Andrew Alberts, all for $2 million or less. Underrated two-way RFA forward Jannik Hansen is next on the list and will be headed to arbitration if he and the Canucks cannot agree on a price within the next couple weeks. Hansen will be seeking around $2 million per season and deserves that amount, in this writer’s opinion. Gillis may have played it smart in not re-signing the physical Raffi Torres, the kind of player that could be negatively affected by the NHL’s heightened awareness of headshots.
The one free agent signing of note for the Canucks was that of recently oft-injured Marco Sturm to a moderately risky $2.25 million contract over one season. Sturm will probably start the season on the Canucks’ third line, although he could move up to the second line if he manages to stay injury-free. Sturm is not the kind of player that you should be drafting on your fantasy team at this time, but don’t forget that he consistently scored between 20 and 30 goals per season before he tore his ACL and MCL while with Boston. Gillis also made some minor free agent signings in forwards Andrew Ebbett and Mark Mancari, who will attempt to be a part of a reconstructed fourth line that will be without the likes of Jeff Tambellini, Tanner Glass, and Rick Rypien.
Gillis offered Ehrhoff similar money to what Bieksa re-signed for (five years, $23 million). However, Gillis soon found out that his offer wasn’t in the same stratosphere as what the Buffalo Sabres signed him for (ten years, $40 million). As I mentioned in my previous blog, I don’t believe that Ehrhoff will be a major loss to the Canucks. As well, smarter spending – not bigger spending – is what is going to help teams rise above in the new salary cap world. This school of thought will become even more apparent as teams like the Florida Panthers were actually forced to fill their rosters with decent players because of the cap floor increase.
Another reason that Ehrhoff was not signed long-term was that the Canucks have already committed long-term to several other players, some of which are more critical to the team’s long-term success. Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, and Roberto Luongo are the foundational pieces for the Canucks going forward, since all are signed for at least two more seasons. You could also argue that Keith Ballard is also one of those players because of his contract, although it remains to be seen if the frequent healthy scratch will be anything more than a fifth defenseman for the Canucks.
The Canucks’ team that starts the 2011-12 season won’t be much different from the team that lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Speaking of which, it will be interesting to see if the Canucks still have what it takes both physically and mentally after falling just short after a long and grueling Stanley Cup run. Unless numerous key players just mentioned fall victim to injury or substantial decreased production, the Canucks should easily capture the Northwest Division title again and as a result will be one of the teams to beat in the Western Conference once again.
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