The Offseason So Far

Canucks GM Mike Gillis has been reasonably quiet this off-season,
making safe, reasonable moves. Is it about due for a BOLD decision?
(Photo by Jason Payne , PNG)

It was 29 days ago that the LA Kings won the Stanley Cup on home-ice, and marked the commencement of the 2012 offseason. In the four weeks since, the Canucks have been relatively busy. The team made some curious decisions in terms of who they selected in the NHL draft, and who they’ve allowed to walk in free-agency. They’ve become younger too, as General Manager Mike Gillis re-signed Cory Schneider to a reasonable deal, and brought in 27 year old free-agent defenseman Jason Garrison with one of the best value deals of this 2012 "free agent frenzy." 

Usually what we’ve seen already would constitute the "meat" of the offseason for the team. Between now and September there’d be a couple of arbitration decisions remaining, perhaps some minor trades, several PTO offers and that would be that. But this isn’t your usual NHL offseason.

For one, with the CBA set to expire in a bit over two months time, there’s an atmosphere of uncertainty lingering over the market. Meanwhile, the Northwest Division has beefed up, and with several of Vancouver’s divisional rivals looking poised to take a major step forward, it seems likely that the Canucks still have significant work to do this summer. The Stombonian one remains on the roster, as his situation continues to fester into mid-July, and the team has yet to meaningfully address their need for another scoring winger, or their lack of depth at centre. 

We learned on Tuesday that the Canucks re-signed much-maligned winger Mason Raymond to a one year contract worth $2.275 million, a pay cut from his $2.6m salary last season. While he doesn’t necessarily address the Canucks need for a scoring winger (his scoring troubles have been well documented over the past season and a bit), he is a low value asset that Gillis and his management team can use in a trade.

With 22 players currently under contract with the Canucks, and just less than $3.5 cap space remaining after the Raymond signing, it seems likely that any changes to the Canucks roster before the season begins will involve a trade, though the team can exceed the cap by 10% during the summer and may do so if they get in on the Doan sweeps.

Still, trading Roberto Luongo appears to be an inevitability, and all that remains to be seen is the return that the Canucks garner on the eventual deal. Yes, Luongo himself admitted that the time has come for him to move on, but the writing was on the wall even before they re-signed Cory Schneider to a new 3 year, $12m deal.

It’s now up to Gillis and the team to pull the trigger, but Gillis is not someone who tends to make a quick deal for the sake of simply jettisoning players. Even if it appeared that this was the case when they traded Cody Hodgson, Gillis was very clear that Zack Kassian was a target of theirs for quite some time (and orchestrated a two month showcase of Vancouver’s prized rookie). Expect Gillis to hold firm and wait for the right deal to present itself. This approach is risky, and has dragged on for a while now, but rest assured: Luongo will be moved and will don a new jersey come September.

The Canucks have dabbled a bit into the free agent market, picking up defencemen Derek Joslin and Patrick Mullen. Joslin is the more familiar of the two players, having split time between San Jose and Carolina in his young career. He doesn’t exactly project to be an all-star first-pairing D-man, but he’ll certainly help the Canucks farm team and adds some much needed depth on defence. Mullen is the son of Cup-winning NHL’er Joe Mullen, and he’s an undersized two-way defenceman who, like Joslin, will likely spend the majority of his time with the Wolves in the AHL.

Those understated moves, however, pale is comparison with the big splash Gillis made on July 1st. The Canucks caught the biggest fish on July 1st when they lande former Panthers defenceman and BC native Jason Garrison. Garrison signed with the Canucks for 6 years at an AAV of $4.6m, well below what some pundits had expected him to take in free agency. Sure, it is a bit of a risky signing, but Garrison played some pretty tough minutes and projects to be a successful fixture on Vancouver’s blue-line for many years.

Garrison aside, the players the Canucks signed were discussed about as often as the players left to walk. Aaron Rome mosied down to Dallas, and Sami Salo bolted for Tampa Bay. Losing those two defenceman to free agency is hardly the end of the world. Rome is a decent, but replaceable sixth defenceman, and the aging veteran Salo is full of more bolts, pins and rods than Frankenstein’s monster.

The biggest and most glaring swing-and-a-miss for the Canucks was losing out on the Justin Schultz, a highly coveted free agent defenceman who defected from the Ducks organization to find a new home. Schultz ultimately chose to sign with the Oilers, which will certainly guarantee him plenty of time as a top 4 defencemen, as well as plenty of time to tee off, starting the second week of April.

In this year’s draft, the Canucks made a reasonably safe selection of their own in the first round, before going off the board on day two. The Canucks selected Brendan Gaunce, a player that the Canucks had targeted at the start of the draft and were quite pleased to find still available when the Canucks made their pick at #26 overall. Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus liked the Canucks pick, labeled it a safe choice and describes Gaunce as full of hockey smarts with a good shot and a physical presence, but lacking in some skating skill. As we’ve seen with Canucks prospects in the past, skating speed can be developed over time, sometimes later rather than sooner.

Derek Zona at Copper and Blue (and our own NHL Numbers) gave the Canucks a ?? grade on their draft selections. Zone identified Gaunce as a great choice, but pointed out Gillis’ rather unorthodox picks of overage players with his other selections. Well, Gillis DOES has a habit of drafting older players, as we talked about before the draft at CanucksArmy. So, this year’s selections were really not out of the ordinary for the Canucks. The Canucks also stuck to form in terms of WHERE their draftees played. We chronicled Gillis’s preferred "fishing holes" before the draft as well, and sure enough, Gillis and co. fished from where they were comfortable.

It hasn’t been an especially high profile off-season for the Canucks thus far. Garrison was a great snag, but he certainly wasn’t the marquee free agent signing of the summer. The contracts that the Canucks have signed so far have been fairly responsible. Of course, shit will really hit the fan once Gillis finally pulls the trigger on a deal to trade Roberto Luongo. The only question now is: will he make a safe, conservative trade? Or should we expect some bold moves?

  • KleptoKlown

    @Bill – try reading his words as opposed to looking at his name.

    @Tinfoil – Good read, but still far to premature for an offseason bit. We’ll all have to wait until the Bobby Luo deal is completed before analyzing this offseason. It’s like talking about a full meal after eating just the potatoes.

    • I hear what you’re saying, but the majority of the deals to be done and contracts to be signed (numbers wise) involving higher-end players has already happened.

      We’re now left with only a few decent UFA’s left unsigned (Semin, Doan) and likely a few trades.

      So, while it’s early in the summer, much of the good stuff has already happened. Much like a heavily front-loaded contract.

        • There is certainly the possibility of other news happening.

          You COULD see a Raymond trade or a Ballard trade separate from a Luongo deal. You could also possibly see the Canucks sign Shane Doan.

          But IMO I don’t see the Canucks doing much except focus on trading Lu.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Perhaps Gillis is waiting with the Luongo trade until it is clear whether or not he can land Shane Doan as that might influence what he really wants as a return for Luongo (ranging from a top 6 winger, to a back-up goalie to mere cap space).

  • puck-bandit

    Great article.

    People seem to be getting impatient regarding the Luongo issue. But they forget this is Mike Gillis at the helm. He has a history of patience and out of the box thinking. He’s methodical and very strategic. I’m not necessarily his biggest fan, but he’s smart and I trust he will do the right thing …. in time.

  • puck-bandit

    Good point brought out about Gillis, slow, methodical, and too safe in my opinion. He is by no means a risk taker, especially when so much is on the line, some risks have to be taken.

    Won’t miss Rome, or Sami, but will miss the big boomer shot of his. I think Florida or Toronto will be the landing zone for Lou, and by all appearances Mike has played this fairly smart up to this point. In reading everything I could get my eyes on today, the general contentious in Leaf land is impatience for Burkie to do something. What I found almost funny is the turning trend of Leaf fans warming up to the idea of having Lou in net for them. Really hope that Mike does not hold out too long to pull the trigger on this, could very easily backfire.

    If we were really lucky Shane Doan will join the Nuck’s this summer. He is the one critical piece that we really need, he is a leader and will fit like a glove in our market.

    Good read………..

  • “Schultz ultimately chose to sign with the Oilers, which will certainly guarantee him plenty of time as a top 4 defencemen, as well as plenty of time to tee off, starting the second week of April.”

    The only difference between the Canucks and Oilers/Flames last season was a week difference in tee off times.