The Next Steps

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 7: Mason Raymond of the Vancouver Canucks look to take a shot on net during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes on January 07, 2010 at General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

The first, next step? Deal with Mason Raymond.

The Vancouver Canucks were one of the biggest winners on the first day of 2010 Free Agency. Not because they landed the biggest free agents. They filled two very specific needs and did so overall for reasonable money.

With the signings of Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra, Jeff Tambellini, and Joel Perrault, as well as the trade acquisitions of Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich, the Canucks management have visibly improved their team and filled known gaps in their lineup.

But the question now is: "What are the next steps for the Vancouver Canucks?"

The first for the Vancouver Canucks is to re-sign Mason Raymond for an amount that won’t break the bank. The Canucks are assuming that Raymond is a legit 2nd liner, after they traded away Michael Grabner. Grabner was the next in line to play in the top 6, but Canucks dealt him to Florida in the Hamhuis/Oreskovich trade. That makes it clear the Canucks feel Raymond is their guy, and that they have every intention of inking him. Today, to no one’s surprise, Raymond filed for arbitration. He is due a big raise and his qualifying offer is a whole lot less than he can make on the open market.

However, the Canucks only have so much cap space to use on Raymond’s contract. Until they trade away one of their extraneous larger-ticket defensemen (Bieksa, Salo or possibly Ehrhoff), their remaining cap space to snag Raymond has its limits. And with a few young guns on the brink of making the jump to the big club (Hodgson, Schroeder and maybe even Sergei Shirokov), it’s imperative that the Canucks act prudently with this signing. If the Canucks can sign him for less than $3m cap hit, then they should do it. If not, the Canucks may have to seriously consider letting Raymond walk away and using that cap space on acquiring better quality bottom 6 forwards and letting the young kids vie for that remaining spot.

Next up is that bigger-ticket defenseman that the Canucks have to move. Recent acquisiting Ballard and Hamhuis both have no-trade clauses, as does Sami Salo so they are highly unlikely to be moved. Further, it would seem inexplicable to move Alexander Edler when he seems to have finally broken through and elevated his game. The likeliest target is Kevin Bieksa, with some suggesting that Christian Ehrhoff may also be in play. I find it hard to believe that Ehrhoff would be moved before Bieksa, seeing as Ehrhoff played an expanding role on the Canucks as the injuries mounted.

Bieksa looks to be the odd man odd. So who should be the Canucks dance partner on that trade? It depends entirely on the Canucks re-signing Mason Raymond. If they can’t or don’t re-sign him, the Canucks primary target needs to be a legit, speedy top 6 forward. Also as they move Bieksa out, and they wouldn’t have Raymond projected salary, the Canucks could take a player with an approximate cap hit of $5.5m and still have cap space with which to work.

If the Canucks do re-sign Raymond, they still need to target a big, gritty 3rd line winger to swap with Bieksa. I’ll reserve the hypothesis on a trade partner for the Canucks until the Mason Raymond situation is done.

So once Raymond Bieksa are done, the next and final step would be to firm up the fourth line and start dealing assets. Right now, the Canucks have approximately 15 players vying for 4 spots on the 3rd/4th line. Unfortunately, they can’t send the other 11 in Manitoba, because there just isn’t the roster space. The Canucks are going to have to trade away some of these players for some very late-round draft picks. The fight for those last four spots will be very interesting, and the decisions the Canucks make on who they are keeping to fill those spots could very well dictate the success of the Canucks in the season and in the playoffs.