Heading into tomorrow’s free agency period, the Canucks have limited needs to cover, but, at the very least, need for improvement in a couple of areas. As best we can tell, the Canucks three needs are:
The absence of Mikael Samuelsson was noticed through the late rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it might be time to ditch the belief that Ryan Kesler can play effectively through 100 games a season without a winger on either side. Preferably, somebody who can shoot.
As best we can tell, the bottom six forwards this season will consist of Manny Malhotra, Jannik Hansen and Maxim Lapierre. Raffi Torres and Tanner Glass are unrestricted and nothing appears near to bringing them back.* This opens up a couple of holes in the lineup, although also an opportunity for Victor Oreskovich, or even Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder, to get a bit of ice-time.
The top three is ideally set with Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa and Alexander Edler. Keith Ballard and Aaron Rome are still under contract, and Andrew Alberts was re-signed. Ryan Parent, Chris Tanev and Yann Sauve also have deals with the Canucks and they could step in, but defense became a bit of an issue in the Stanley Cup Finals, with none of them playing really well in the Boston segment of the series.
*Knock on wood.
THE CASE FOR JOEL WARD
Former team: Nashville Predators
2010-11 stats: 80 GP, 10 G, 29 Pts, 42 PIMs, -1
Canucks fans got a good first-hand look at what Joel Ward is all about in the second round playoff series against the Predators, but he’s a more valuable player for his defensive play, despite all the big goals he scored in that series. He doesn’t allow many chances against on the ice and effectively kills penalties.
To clear his scoring ability, Ward shoots a career average shooting percentage of 9.2%, so there is no chance that he would be able to keep up his playoff performance of 25%, but he had a very strong campaign across the board getting a positive shot-attempt differential (Corsi) despite starting just 33.6 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone and playing against top competition. This isn’t exactly new, as he performed similarly last spring with a slightly lower Corsi number. Joel Ward may be the best two-way forward on the board July 1.
His playoff performance from a scoring perspective may drive up his value. With limited cap space, the Canucks probably can’t afford to spend more than $3M on a third-line winger, and Joel Ward may end up with more, as he’s due for a big raise up from $1.5M last season.
THE CASE FOR VILLE LEINO
Former team: Philadelphia Flyers
2010-11 stats: 81 GP, 19 G, 53 Pts, 22 PIMs, +14
I’ve been seeing some chatter for this player, but he has pretty unimpressive advanced statistics despite getting a whole bunch of offensive chances. There is really no legitimate case to sign Ville Leino. The Canucks are much better off going with Higgins or Samuelsson on the second line.
Leino hit the roulette table and won big with a 19.44 shooting percentage in last year’s playoffs, a 16.24 shooting percentage this season and 25 percent in this year’s playoffs, for one of the more outstandingly lucky segment of puckluck before your first appearance on the free agent market. He’s a dangerous signee, unless he proves he can shoot at 20 percent sustainably for a few more years, he’s a guy to keep off the team.
THE CASE FOR NIKOLAI ZHERDEV
Former team: Philadelphia Flyers
2010-11 stats: 56 GP, 16 G, 22 Pts, 22 PIM, +5
This is a total friggin’ pipe dream. Among players who have played 50 games this season, Zherdev was 12th among forwards in goals per 60 minutes. Unfortunately, perceptions that bad attitude affects the amount of goals your team scores have sort of messed with his career and he has yet to find a stable team.
Mike Gillis, in not re-signing Sergei Shirokov despite a pretty good look this year, showed that he doesn’t want to work with Russian players, or, to use the technical term, “enigmatic” players. This is all complete BS. Philly waived Zherdev this year and he still scored a handful of goals in limited minutes. He is, no question, a good offensive player, a potential second line right winger, who makes the most of his minutes played.
There’s little in this category. Zherdev had the highest relative Corsi among Philadelphia forwards and is proven to be strong against a team’s second line of defense. A player like Zherdev would never fit into Alain Vigneault’s system, or at least that’s probably what Vigneault thinks.
In a bad free agent crop, you might be better served getting your second line centre through trade.
THE CASE FOR RADEK DVORAK
Former team: Atlanta Zombies
2010-11 stats: 66 GP, 7 G, 22 Pts, 24 PIMs, +2
Radek Dvorak is an old winger who used to be a guy who was supposed to score goals, but never materialized that way. He scored 20 goals in just a single season (he got 31 with the New York Rangers in 2001) and sort of plummeted since then. Once promising, Dvorak is set to enter his 16th year in the NHL, and he can still be an effective defensive player, even though the offense hasn’t been there.
Dvorak moved the puck effectively north, finishing in the offensive zone on 50% of his shifts, despite starting a bunch in the defensive zone, along with having a Corsi number slightly above minus-4 per 60 minutes. This means that though he played in tougher-than-average situations against strong competition, he did a solid job at limiting opportunities against his team. He’s a player who is still good defensively and can kill penalties, and finding more of those is crucial to make sure that Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler continue to stay in scoring roles.
Again, his age, and, again, his shooting. As a player who has bounced around, he might be looking for a longer-term deal that the Canucks can’t afford to close his career.
THE CASE FOR NICLAS BERGFORS
Former team: Florida Panthers 2010-11 stats: 72 GP, 12 G, 36 Pts, 8 PIMs, -9 I’ve already covered Niclas Bergfors in some detail and the main takeaway is that Bergfors has gotten incredibly unlucky in some aspects of his game, particularly how his team shoots around him. Bergfors can potentially play right wing next to Kesler, but we can accept that he was never much of a goal scorer as a young player, so he might be a better as a third-line option. The case is that Bergfors controls possession and has improving passing numbers.
I wrote at Nucks Misconduct this week that Bergfors assist total per 60 minutes is higher than last season’s despite a slight dropoff (well, from 25 to 24). Next to Manny and in a secure “hard-minute” role, he’s a guy who can drive possession, and, maybe find his shooting form and pop in 15 goals in the process.
The only negative I can see is that Bergfors is not a particularly good shooter, so he can’t move up and down in the lineup the same way that, say, Mason Raymond can. Knowing how the Vancouver media consistently gets in the face of Raymond for not finishing chances, Bergfors may be better off getting his NHL career rebooted in a more anonymous wasteland, as he is an undervalued project-type player who may take some time to adjust to an actual reasonable role on a hockey team. Vancouver is a team in the midst of its championship window.
THE CASE FOR ZENON KONOPKA
Former team: New York Islanders
2010-11 stats: 82 GP, 2 G, 9 Pts, 307 PIMs, -14
On the surface, Zenon Konopka looks to be a big grinder who fights, but he contributed in several off scoresheet ways to the Islanders. For one, his faceoff percentage was the third best in the NHL among players who had taken more than 1,000 draws. He was also third best in Timo Seppa’s ultimate faceoff percentage rankings.
Another thing with Konopka is his ability to move the puck north: He started 69.8 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone, but finished just 56.2 per cent of them there, for one of the highest ratios in the entire NHL. Think of him as a 209-pound Manny Malhotra. The Canucks used only Henrik Sedin, Kesler, and Malhotra in faceoff situations last year prominently. Having some insurance in this regard is important, now that we know how important puck possession is for a hockey team.
It might take a bit to knock Konopka’s attitude as a goon out of him. I come from the school of thought that the best enforcer is a good powerplay. Every year there are one or two goons on the open market who change hands, but this one is a bit different in that he’s a very useable player outside of those situations, but does Mike Gillis want to get into a bidding war with another GM, convinced he needs a fighter, pays him more than a depth forward is worth.
THE CASE FOR ED JOVANOVSKI
Former team: Phoenix Coyotes
2010-11 stats: 50 GP, 5 G, 14 Pts, 39 PIMs, +4
This may be a bit more nostalgic than anything. Among Phoenix’s nine defensemen who saw 40-or-more games, Jovanovski was 5th in scoring, 7th in relative Corsi, 4th in quality of competition, however, he was actually first in defensive zone starts.
Let’s be honest. With Christian Ehrhoff going for 10 years and apparently being the most coveted free agent on the market, building your defense through free agency is sort of a useless endeavor. You may as well go for the home run. A healthy Jovanovski gives you a few goals from the back-end, (the team has just 22 goals from last season under contract), and, uh, intangible qualities that we can’t qualify.
Bringing back Jovocop for anything over $2M is a case of thinking more subjectively about this team’s past than its actual needs.
THE CASE FOR JAN HEJDA
Former team: Columbus Blue Jackets
2010-11 stats: 77 GP, 5 G, 20 Pts, 28 PIMs, -6
Hejda is more of the ideal Moneyball candidate than Jovanovski is. He made just $2M last season and is probably worth a little less than was just afforded to Steve Montador by Chicago. He has flown under the radar as a pretty good player defensively and is a “low-quantity” type of player who doesn’t allow chances at either end when he’s on the ice, which is ideal for a team looking for nothing more than a sixth defenseman for his spot and no real issues.
Being next to last on his team in Relative Corsi among defensemen, his advanced numbers aren’t all that strong, although he does play against middle of the pack quality of competeition. He won’t wow you, but he’s sturdy. He also may come with a higher price tag than the Canucks are able to afford.
THE CASE FOR STEVEN STAMKOS
Former Current team: Tampa Bay Lightning
2010-11 stats: 82 GP, 45 G, 91 Pts, 74 PIMs, +3
Unicorns exist, right?
I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, unicorns do not exist.