Year End De-Brief – Pt 2: Forwards

Canucks celebrate goal against Blackhawks in Chicago

With the Canucks bowing out early from the playoffs yet again, it’s once again another opportunity for Canucks fans to question the constitution of their favourite team. We at Canucks Army are quite happy to mercilessly rip apart the team and pretend to play General Manager. If we were in control, the defense, the offense, the goaltending, and the coaching staff would all see changes, to varying degrees. But three second-round exists in four years is no longer acceptable to long-suffering Canucks fans, especially given the high-end talent and price tags associated with the team.

In part 2 of our Year End De-Brief, Canucks Army will examine the forwards.

It’s hard to complain too much, if at all, about the Canucks forwards and the offensive output for Vancouver this season. Frankly, it was fantastic. Despite missing their top left winger for 18 games, due to injury, the Canucks finished 2nd in overall offense, and were in the top 5 in almost every offensive category in the NHL.

Then you have 7 different forwards having career years, including the most important one – Henrik Sedin. The Canucks top centreman capturing the team’s first ever Art Ross trophy as the league’s top point-getter. He’s nominated for both the Ted Lindsay and the Hart trophies, and has already won the Sporting News award as Player of the Year. The Canucks had 6 players with 20 goals, 2 with 30, and both Daniel and Henrik Sedin finished with 29 goals.

Simply outstanding.

The problems occured in the playoffs. Much like the defense, the Canucks forwards were exposed in the playoffs for not having enough heftiness, enough jam, enough toughness, enough moxie. Whatever you want to call it, the Canucks lack a physical element to their game, especially through the bottom 6 forwards. Given the output of the top 6 and now knowing that several key players were nursing injuries in the second round, it’s pretty hard to nitpick on those players.

It’s my contension that little has to be done with the top 9 forwards, in fact. Simply a bit of a juggle to the lines. The big work has to happen on the 4th line, the line that typical needs to put out the most physical play. So what would I like to see?

1. Re-sign Mason Raymond… unless he gets an RFA ;offer sheet . He’s proved his worth to try to re-sign. But if he is tendered an offer sheet, he is more valuable as draft picks than it would be to try to match the offer. Why? Picks are worth something, and it’s worth it for the Canucks to restock the cupboards, especially with the current class of Canucks freshmen ready to break through. Bottom line – Raymond is real good, and he’s worth the effort to re-sign him, but he can be replaced.

2. Scrap the 4th line altogether. It proved no value. The only player who had impressive stats was Ryan Johnson, because of his faceoff and shotblocking prowess. But when the primary reason for acquiring was for the PK, and the PK was so poor this year, I don’t see the point in keeping him. And in this day and age, it is important to get good tough players, not fighters. Hordichuk and Rypien can play their remaining year in the minors. The Blackhawks alone have three free agents that they may see depart (Andrew Ladd, Adam Burish, John Madden) who would all prove welcome additions to the team.

3. Put the Swedes together and keep them together. Putting the Sedins with Mikael Samuelsson during the playoffs proved very fruitful. And frankly the Canucks could use Alex Burrows jam and moxie as a third-liner.

4. Keep Michael Grabner with the big club, and be prepared for Hodgson to make the jump.

5. Sign Wellwood for one more year, as insurance for Cody Hodgson. If Hodgson isn’t quite ready for the jump yet, or if his back is still a problem, the Canucks will still need a 3rd line centre. If he can continue to play next year like he did in this year’s playoffs, he’s worth re-signing.

6. Re-sign Pettinger as a 13th forward, or possible 4th liner. I like Pettinger. He scores 25 goals with the Capitals. He has the ability to pop goals. He kills penalties. He’s great insurance, good depth.

7. Trade/waive Steve Bernier. Despite a decent turn on the 4th line, his salary is too big to pay for a 4th liner.

8. Go after the following free agents for the 3rd/4th line (in order). Canucks would likely have to sign two of the following.

Manny Malhotra
Andrew Ladd
Jed Ortmeyer
Eric Nystrom
Aaron Asham
Jim Slater
Brad Winchester
Adam Burish

It looks like a long list, but those are specifics, and most of them are just tweaks and re-signings. Going into next season, here’s how I would address the lineup.

D. Sedin – H. Sedin – Samuelsson
Raymond – Kesler – Grabner
Burrows – Wellwood/Hodgson – Ladd/Hansen
Pettinger/Nystrom – Malhotra – Hansen/Ortmeyer


More Thoughts

The Canucks have to be prepared to part with Mason Raymond, Cody Hodgson, or even Jordan Schroder because their primary concern is the blue line. The Canucks are pretty wealthy up front, and you have to spend money to make money. And the Canucks need to desperately make money out of the defense.

The Canucks need to do exploit teams tight to the cap, just like they did to the Sharks last year in acquiring Ehrhoff and Lukowich. Right now, the top 3 teams to whom the Canucks need to start talking are the Blackhawks, the Flames, and the Bruins.  All three teams have very low dollars per roster opening right now. The Blackhawks are going to be desperate to unload players and to make room for dollars. To me, that wreaks of a deal. A deal to be made while exploiting a team that needs to dump players.

Of those teams, and their free agents, here is my list of valuable players that would fill needs for the Canucks on their bottom 6 forwards.

Andrew Ladd
John Madden
Eric Nystrom
Daniel Paille

That’s just from those three teams, just the free agents, and that’s just bottom 6 forwards.

The Canucks are in a great position up front going into next season. They have to address their grit factor on at least one line. Luckily, they have a lot of assets to trade and move so it should be easy for Mike Gillis to rope in the horses they need to finally make a deep playoff run next year. The offense simply was never the problem this year, or in the playoffs. But next year, the forwards need to own each and every game. They can do that with more grit, more x-factor, and more play in all 200 feet. A few key acquisitions will solve that in a hurry.

Part 3 goes Monday, as Canucks Army looks at the goaltending and coaching staff.