Canucks Add Depth in First Day of Free Agency, Still Facing Uncertainty with Luongo

Thomas Drance
July 05 2013 05:18PM

On the first day of free-agency a year ago the Canucks signed Jason Garrison in the early evening. So it's still possible that more moves are forthcoming from Griffiths Way (and we don't mean moves of the Jeremie Blain variety). But regardless, the opening "frenzy" period of free-agency is drawing to a close and I feel comfortable recapping the action from a Canucks perspective.

The Canucks mostly stood pat, as everyone and their grandmother's milkman expected, laying down a couple of bunts and adding Yannick Weber and Brad Richardson in free-agency. Mike Gillis said he was looking for "specific things" in terms of depth players in free-agency, and we'd imagine Weber's right-handed cannon for the power-play and Richardson's status as a live body that plays centre fit the bill. In total Mike Gillis and the Canucks added two players for a grand total of three million over two years, adding only 1.8M in committed salary cap-space for next season. Yey austerity! 

Meanwhile there were no extensions for Dale Weise, or Chris Tanev, or Jordan Schroeder were announced, though on the bright side at least Chris Tanev wasn't inked to a predatory offer sheet. The biggest news, however, was out of Las Vegas where Roberto Luongo still hasn't commented publicly on his "still in purgatory Vancouver" status, and has yet to confirm that he'll even report to training camp. At this point Luongo's silence speaks volumes, and is by far the bigger story than the signing of depth players like Richardson and Weber. 

Read past the jump.

On Depth

There's a lot of negativity surrounding the Canucks at the moment, and I suppose that's to be expected when you combine the ugly optics underpinning the Cory Schneider deal, the teams 1-8 postseason record over the past two seasons, and the clubs continued lack of forward depth. But realistically the Canucks remain in good shape and will handily compete for the postseason in the as yet to be officially named "Division A."

Going into next season, the Canucks have one of the best (if not the best) blue-line groups in the division (Los Angeles' blue-line is weaker with the addition of Jeff Schultz, the loss of Scuderi and the probable continued absence of Willie Mitchell). Though Vancouver's continued lack of bottom-six forward depth is galling, the Canucks survived the regular season as a one line team a year ago and so long as Kesler is in shape (and plays more than 35% of the clubs games) should at least have a second line this upcoming season. 

Yes the team absolutely needs better Ryan Kesler insurance than Jordan Schroeder is likely to provide if they want to be considered a serious "contender" next season. But unlike most observers I see no reason to believe the bottom has fallen out on this club as of yet.

Unless...

Along with solid top-end talent at forward and a quality blue-line, the Canucks still have an all-world netminder under contract in Roberto Luongo. High-end skilled forwards, a solid blue-line and a world class goaltender: that's a nice package as a whole. 

Of course, that rosy equation becomes undone if Roberto Luongo decides to retire, hold out, refuses to report to training camp or whatever. Luongo has yet to comment on the record about remaining in Vancouver, he's cancelled publicity interviews related to his playing in the World Series of Poker while representing the BCLC, and he generally seems pretty unsatisfied with his situation.

Which is totally understandable. Luongo is said to have checked out of Vancouver a while ago mentally, and his treatment this past season - where he was most often a backup, was yanked off the ice moments before the trade deadline, and was benched in favour of a stil injured Cory Schneider in games three and four of the postseason - probably didn't help matters.

Mike Gillis was asked on the Team 1040 whether or not he had any indication that Luongo would refuse to report and what options Luongo might be considering at the moment. Gillis answered with the following:

"I don't have any indication that he's going to (refuse to report). I'm going to go down there and meet him as soon as we sort of get settled down here after this. His options are I guess to not play hockey or to come back to us. Y'know it's obviously been a difficult situation with a lot of things being reported that are completely inaccurate throughout the whole time here. I'm not in the business of looking back and throwing people under the bus, and talking about things that may have been or could have been different, but the decision was made..."

So Gillis isn't in the business of "looking back and throwing people under the bus" when it comes to the topic of the Luongo debacle. That certainly seems like a convenient opinion for the executive who'd be first in line to get thrown under that bus to hold, no?

Overall Gillis and the Canucks did okay at the margins on the first day of free-agency - especially considering that their hands were tied with regards to the upper limit of the salary cap. I quite like the Richardson addition in particular, and Weber seems like a solid depth gamble who can maybe help on the power-play. At a combined cost of 1.8 million against the cap, it's tough to complain, and it's not like there was a plethora of talent being signed to reasonable contracts today (Clarke MacArthur aside).

Still the negativity surrounding this club persists, and is evident everywhere you look on Twitter or anywhere else on-line. I'm reminded of last weekend's draft when the club did well - yes, even on the Cory Schneider return - but it was all overshadowed by the persistence of the Luongo debacle.

If Luongo reports to camp and provides the club with Luongo-like above average goaltending, which we ultimately expect him to do, the Canucks will very probably compete with the Sharks and the Kings for the Division A crown next season. The result is fine.

But the curdling scent of the botched goaltender trade process still lingers and overwhelms. It stinks and will continue to so long as Luongo remains in the wilderness. 

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#51 NM00
July 06 2013, 07:14PM
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@nanodummy

"we won the division, full of teams you think are better than the canucks"

Strawman. I have never said the Canucks are worse than Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado and Minnesota.

They should be better than each team.

" It certainly looks like (Kassian's) starting on the top line, so CoHo got us a top 6 winger... So what's your complaint?"

Being given every opportunity to succeed in the Anson Carter mold does not make Kassian a top 6 winger.

He's essentially still a prospect. And he may very well be a power forward nomad. Vancouver is stop number 2 if you are keeping score.

"And now we have Horvat in the pipeline too. Who could be Coture."

If you're going to make that kind of comparison, you should really go with Hodgson which is now Kassian.

And Horvat is a prospect. Many will fail and the majority fail to hit their ceiling. Not that Horvat has the ceiling of a Couture...

"As for resigning the roster, only two top 9 players, Roy and Raymond, aren't returning"

10/50/31

"Holy crap, Gillis is addressing our needs"

If you believe downgrading from competent, proven and more expensive NHLers to fliers and prospects from one of the worst farm systems in the NHL, then, yes, he is addressing needs.

Insofar as the Canucks are going to ice a lineup featuring a "third line centre" in name if nothing else.

"Skill, puck possesion, goaltending and shot suppression, is how teams win cups. In that order."

You might want to tell the GM who has downgraded the skill in favour of size which has left the organization depth chart rudderless.

"Gillis and Gilman have...locked the core in for their prime years all at discounts compared to market value"

The reason very few impact players reach free agency is because virtually all teams lock up their core players. Specifically big market cap teams. This is not a skill so stop falsely attributing this to Gillis/Gilman.

"You're acting like a jerk"

Thanks for playing.

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#52 NM00
July 06 2013, 07:33PM
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@Thomas Drance

"increased production which is a stupid standard for judging team quality anyway".

I'm surprised someone writing on an analytically-driven and statistically-inclined website would write something like this.

I have no idea if hockey has any semi-reliable projection systems.

But if this type of idea were suggested on Fangraphs, one would be laughed out of the forum.

Expecting more production out of an aging core of players with an average opening day age of 31 is a bad bet.

When projecting the ROI of MLB free agent contracts, a deduction of 0.5 WAR/season is a rough estimate often used for players on the decline phase of their career.

Considering the average age of the core 10 will be 31 when the season begins, it is perfectly appropriate to start deducting WAR or whatever the equivalent is in hockey.

That's likely part of the reason the Canucks' shot differential slipped last year.

As for guys like Kassian & Gaunce (who seemingly has a better shot at making the team than Schroeder based on comments by Gillis), projections absolutely should be tempered.

I can't imagine that any statistical projection would expect the Canucks to be BETTER next year considering the current makeup of the roster...

So let's be realistic here instead of resorting to the "if everything breaks right" JP Ricciardi assessment.

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#53 Todd
July 06 2013, 11:49PM
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I agree with NM00

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#54 Sarcasm Mode
July 07 2013, 01:09AM
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@non descript

Make Luongo the captain again? Are you sure you want that? I guess so, seeing as Luongo was such a captain in the Boston series. Let's just face it, we all know that Luongo couldn't even captain a pajama party. Plus, I thought Vancouver was done with all his meltdowns? Are we now rewarding failure? Oh, wait, forgot it's the Canucks, yes, yes we do reward failure. And if you play well for us, YOU GET TRADED.

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#55 JCDavies
July 07 2013, 01:30AM
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Sarcasm Mode wrote:

Make Luongo the captain again? Are you sure you want that? I guess so, seeing as Luongo was such a captain in the Boston series. Let's just face it, we all know that Luongo couldn't even captain a pajama party. Plus, I thought Vancouver was done with all his meltdowns? Are we now rewarding failure? Oh, wait, forgot it's the Canucks, yes, yes we do reward failure. And if you play well for us, YOU GET TRADED.

From someone with the name Sarcasm Mode, this is too funny.

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