June 28 2011 11:45AM
The evil empire is re-loading - are you ready to Embrace the Hate?
(Thanks to @notafullcolon for the photoshop work.)
The week before July 1st tends to be a lot less interesting than the week before the draft – and this year has been no different. In comparison with Holmgren's drinking binge, the comedy of errors that was the Albertan team bidding war for Ryan Smyth, and the draft itself – a week of qualifying offers and over-priced extensions seems dreary – but there is still much to discuss.
Gillis – the former player agent – has been especially busy the last couple of days, inking two players yesterday in Bieksa and Lapierre, qualifying two RFAs (Hansen and Oreskovich), and choosing not to qualify diminutive defenseman Lee “Rudy” Sweatt, and skilled Russian winger Sergei Shirokov. Lets take a quick look at the moves he made, and their implications going forward:
Bieksa avoided going on the open market by signing a deal worth 23 million dollars yesterday, the contract will keep him in Vancouver for five more seasons. Bieksa's deal comes with a no-trade clause, which, must come as a relief to the Grimsby born blue-liner, who this time last year was sweating through a muggy Ontario summer, hearing nothing but rumours heralding his imminent deportation to Columbus.
This season was one of redemption for Bieksa, who went from the fan's favourite whipping boy to fan-favourite in the blink of an eye. Though he only put up 21 points this regular season, he was a much more effective offensive option in the playoffs, and has scored over 10 goals twice in his career. His +/- was second only to Zdeno Chara's, however, Bieksa's PDO was sky-high last season – and one wonders if that will continue (it won't). Even if Bieksa could've cleared 5.5 (or more – gulp) on the open-market, I don't really see this deal as an example of a huge “hometown discount”. Based on the Canucks salary structure – Bieksa just became the teams highest paid D-man, so I see his contract as a fair deal for a solid player.
Bieksa is a funny dude, a good quote (shots, shots, shots, shots shots shots) and developed real chemistry with Dan Hamhuis last season. If the pair can continue to be an effective tough-minutes “shut-down” pairing for the next half decade – Bieksa will easily live up to his contract. I'm of the belief that Bieksa turned the corner last season – his decision making, especially, improved enormously – so I'm glad to see him commit to the team long-term.
Oh Maxim Lapierre. Two teams gave up on him during the regular season, but he emerged as a difference maker in the playoffs and is now signed for two years at one million dollars per annum. He ably filled Malhotra's role on the third line, scored some “big goals” and won match-ups all postseason. His playoff zone-start numbers were really impressive, he finished 16.1% more shifts in the offensive zone than he started there (very Malhotra-like numbers) and out-chanced the opposition at even-strength in every series except for the one against the Predators.
The downside – his two year commitment to the Canucks means fans of the team should expect to hear irrelevant moralizing from those national columnists, and Oilers bloggers, who fancy themselves arbiters of decency and integrity in hockey. Maxim Lapierre will project as the Canucks fourth-line centre, he plays effectively in tough minutes (and is capable of filling in, in the top-9 if injuries require), and carries a reasonable contract. Sure, he possesses the most punchable face this side of Ville Nieminen – but he's a guy I want on my side in the postseason, if only to tempt Scott Burnside into embarrassing himself. Low bar, sure, but worth the price of admission.
Hansen, Oreskovich and “the unqualified.”
Gillis sent out qualifying offers to Lapierre (who promptly signed a contract) as well as to bottom six-wingers Hansen and Oreskovich. Hansen had a great year for the Canucks, his forechecking was consistently disruptive, and he contributed much more offensively than he had in the past. Oreskovich impressed in limited minutes, he seemed to be driving play a fair bit, and used his size effectively along the boards (the chance data doesn't back up this positive impression, however). I wouldn't be surprised to see Oreskovich accept the Canucks qualifying offer. In Hansen's case – the man is due for a raise, and he could well be an offer-sheet target of a Western Conference rival, seeking to either steal a useful winger, or mess with the Canucks cap situation.
What interests me more were the player who went “unqualified” - Lee Sweatt and Sergei Shirokov. I liked what I saw from Sweatt in his short stint with the big-club, and considering his qualifying offer would've been a two way deal at 550,000 (according to capgeek) – I really don't see why he wasn't qualified. It's still possible that he is re-signed, and I'll hope that's the case. It would be fun to see the Sweatt brothers play together in their home-state of Illinois next season.
Shirokov is another story altogether. He was dynamite in the pre-season two years ago, made the team and was quickly demoted. He came to the Canucks as a dangling sensation but has developed into a better all around player, and a solid fore-checker. In two appearances this season he scored a goal and did not look out of place. He's not the fastest guy, and he's rather small, but he's aware, smart and committed to making the NHL. Because his base salary last season was between 660,000 and 1 million, he would have cost a shade over 800 K to qualify. I was rather surprised that Gillis didn't qualify Shirko, and I think he could be a solid option for a team in need of top-6 scoring.
According to News1130sports Alberts, Glass and Rypien have had zero contact with the Canucks. Alberts played pretty well all season, I thought, but with Tanev expected to shoulder a greater load going forward – his presence had become superfluous. I'll be curious to see if Rypien finds an NHL job, he's been at the centre of some really nasty rumours, and I'd be somewhat surprised if he managed to find a spot on an NHL roster. Tanner Glass is awesome (as a person), but very limited (as a hockey player). I wouldn't object to bringing him back as a 14th forward type on a minimum deal, but his performance in the playoffs left a lot to be desired.
Some of the most connected Canucks guys, like Jeff Angus (who you should follow on twitter) seem to be pretty confident that Sami Salo will be re-signed, which, is great news. Simply put: Salo's still got it, and if Ehrhoff moves on, Salo could see his power-play time, and his production, increase significantly next season.
As for Ehrhoff, Pierre Lebrun reported that “there has been an offer and counteroffer between the Canucks and [Ehrhoff's Agent] Rick Curan” and that we shouldn't “look for Ehrhoff to take less than [Bieksa or Hamhuis]. If I was to read those tea-leaves, my guess would be that Ehrhoff's time in Vancouver is done.