There is no shortage of relevant Canucks topics to discuss right now. Planning for the summer and beyond seems a tad premature, as does writing a eulogy for Roberto Luongo as a Canuck. Will Mason Raymond be back? Much to the chagrin of many, I’ll say yes. What happens to Keith Ballard? Do the Canucks address the lack of a playmaker on the second line? Who do they build the third line around? The answers to these questions will come in due time.
Mike Gillis was about as candid as a general manager is going to get during a season-ending press conference on Tuesday morning. He admitted that Cody Hodgson had requested a trade, confirming what we knew already. He also admitted that the team made sure to put Hodgson in situations that would increase his trade value (i.e. not in the defensive zone). Thom and Cam have been on the ball tracking stuff like zone starts all season long, and it was nice to see Gillis admitting that the team does the same (again, confirming what we knew, or at least suspected, already). Thom was bang on in analyzing how the team was deploying Hodgson as far back as February of this year:
“In some ways, January was the perfect storm for him, the team was playing poorly, so they were often in need of offense late in the game. As a result Hodgson saw his ice-time increase. Partly as a result of his increased ice-time, steady diet of offensive zone starts and a dramatic spike in his on-ice and personal shooting percentages: Cody Hodgson delivered a whole whack of goals in “clutch” situations. This isn’t to take anything away from his performance over the past month, Hodgson’s shooting ability is high-end and he’s immensely creative. That said, if the team, and Hodgson personally, don’t find a way to turn it around and control play on a more regular basis, both their record and Hodgson’s production are going to plummet over the next 31 games.”
With the benefit of hindsight, the Hodgson-for Zack Kassian swap is still a tough one to get a read on, but for a different reason than you may think. Not for the fact that the Canucks traded away a Calder hopeful, but because the move weakened Vancouver in the short term. Most assumed that the window to win for Vancouver was open for another season or two, tops. As the deadline approached, many thought it was time to load up.
Gillis obviously saw differently. Why? Let’s take a look.
The ever-durable Sedins (flying elbows notwithstanding) turn 32 later this year. Ryan Kesler will turn 28 at the end of the summer. Dan Hamhuis is still on the right side of 30. Kevin Bieksa is 30. Alex Edler turned 26 only a few days ago. Max Lapierre, Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins, and David Booth are all on the right side of 30, too. Why did many view this season as a now- or-never type of scenario? Was it the fact that Roberto Luongo is 33? Starting Cory Schneider in Game 3 raised many eyebrows, but the team first revealed its confidence in Luongo’s understudy with a shocking Game 6 start against Chicago last spring. After Schneider’s fantastic three-game stint against the Kings, Luongo’s future in Vancouver began to be questioned, on Tuesday, Luongo openly admitted he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause if the team asked him to. On Wednesday, Luongo requested a trade in his exit interview. Luongo is many things – mercurial, spectacular, tire-pumping, and dramatic. Stupid, he is not. He sees the writing on the wall.
It is hard to say whether or not Gillis saw Schneider’s take-over coming as far back as the trade deadline, but the Hodgson swap makes more sense because of it. Kassian is incredibly raw (he was still eligible to play as an overage player in the OHL this season). He wasn’t ready for the pace of playoff hockey (although three minutes per game is hardly enough time to really prove much of anything). What the Canucks saw was a package of talent in a 6’3”, 220 pound 21-year-old. They saw a future power forward, a guy with good enough hands to skate with the Sedins and produce, while also being a physical enough presence to intimidate the opposition (and protect the twins somewhat). He’s not there yet, of course, but Kassian wasn’t seen necessarily as a player who would make an impact this season, and he might not next season, either. This was pretty clearly a trade with a long-term payoff horizon.
Schneider is no longer the goalie of the future – he is the goalie of the present. The team is going to build around the 26-year-old for a few reasons. He’s going to cost less than Luongo. He is significantly younger. He appears more even-keeled, although Luongo doesn’t get nearly enough credit for how he handles the media off the ice, and the pressure on the ice. He also doesn’t get enough credit for how consistent he plays (in months that don’t start with the letter ‘O’). Schneider, for all of the great things he has done, is still unproven. Of course, it is impossible to prove oneself without the opportunity, but until he does it, the risk remains.
However, the biggest reason why that window to win has just been cranked back open – Schneider has played in just 3,984 minutes of NHL action (regular season and playoffs, combined). Luongo has played in a combined 45,407 minutes. Sure, Patrick Roy won a Cup and Conn Smythe at the age of 36 in 2000-01, and Dominik Hasek played hockey well into his 50’s (at least it seemed that way). However, Luongo isn’t the same goalie he was when the Canucks acquired him back in 2006. His movement often appears labored, especially laterally.
Did Gillis not think the club was ready this season? He did bring in Sammy Pahlsson to “replace” Hodgson. However, he didn’t break the bank acquiring a top four defenseman, which was and is the most pressing need for the team. Gillis saw what we are starting to see now – the Canucks will be able to field a contender for the next three or four years, at least. He also saw a team that wasn’t necessarily worth going all in on. Depending on how the rest of the summer plays out, this season could be a case of the team taking "one step back, and two steps forward."