While the loss to the Canadiens on Tuesday was not necessarily a bad or deflating one, it did prove one thing for me. The Canucks need to improve their third line… quickly.
There is little doubt that the Canucks top two lines are as good offensively as any team in the league. The Sedins and Burrows are combining for all-star stats and career highs around the board. The combination of Kesler, Samuelsson and Raymond have contributed nicely so far this year. The only criticism on them is that they tend to be streaky.
Then there’s the third line. Pavol Demitra has only recently come back from shoulder surgery. Much like Mats Sundin last year, starting mid-season, it is going to take Demitra some games to really get going. So he gets a pass. For now. But the expiry date on that pass is approaching rapidly.
Kyle Wellwood has been an absolute non-factor all season. In every way possible. Last year, when he struggled to produce offensively, he was lauded for turning his focus on his defensive play and was noticeable in his efforts in his own zone. This season he has been utterly invisible. Most nights I have to check the stats sheet to see if he even played. Sure enough, he’s there with his 10-15 minutes of ice time and then zeroes across the board. So he is neither hurting nor helping his team, either offensively or defensively. If Kyle Wellwood fell on the ice, would anybody hear? (And save the fat jokes!)
Steve Bernier, on the other hand, has been visibly bad this year. His gigantic hands of stone are quickly become the stuff of legend, or probably infamy, in this town. And it’s not as though Bernier is getting robbed by goalies around the league. He’s not connecting with his chances. At all. Ever. How many times have we heard from John Shorthouse or Rick Ball that Bernier "just missed that chance" or "just couldn’t connect with that shot". Further to that, he’s not doing anything to help his team away from the puck or on the other end of the ice. For a big guy, he hits surprisingly infrequently. If he’s not scoring points, he should pasting guys into the boards and back-checking like a sunuvabitch. But he’s not. His whole season has been much like his scoring chances – one big whiff.
So what’s the answer? Who should the Canucks target as a replacement?
The Canucks need a gritty penalty killer. A solid two-way player who can add the odd goal. I’m looking at a solid 35 point guy who can choke a team’s top line. I want a guy who plays like Kesler and Burrows from two years ago.
Based on money (cap hit) and probability of actually landing a deal, if I’m Mike Gillis, here are my top 5 targets:
1. Jay McClement – logs a ton of PK. Decent size and he uses it.
2. Todd Marchant – another PK specialist and hits a ton.
3. Marty Reasoner – seasoned vet. A bit on the older side but still a very serviceable 3rd liner.
4. Matt Cullen – expecting a cull from Carolina. Cullen likes to hit and does well on the PK.
5. Jeff Halpern – like Reasoner, he’s a bit older but he’s still a great two-way player.
Any of those players would be a massive upgrade to the Canucks third line, without incurring a huge hit to their cap number.
Ok Gillis – go to it!