2009 was another step forward, or so we thought.
It was Mike Gillis’ second summer in charge. What was orginally a risky hire had paid off – Gillis signed free agents that worked, the team made the second round of the playoffs for the just the second time in more than a decade, everything looked on the upswing.
It was a summer that featured another decision to let a long-time face of the franchise go, while minting gold in a trade that can only be described as alchemy.
Yesterday, we looked at Mike Gillis’ first summer in charge and found that he mostly did a pretty good job.
So, how did he fare in the summer of 2009?
Inventory – Forwards
That’s a pretty solid core group. Mats Sundin’s mid-season arrival shuffled the chair arrangements around for a while, but once the playoffs got rolling, this group scored in bunches. Alex Burrows began his partnership with the Sedins, while the RPM line showed glimpses of dominance. But there was still lots of icetime being thrown at Ryan Johnson, and Taylor Pyatt’s production came to a halt.
While the twins were very clearly first line players, I’m not sure anyone was prepared for the season Henrik Sedin was about to author:
Inventory – Defence
The core was there in 2008-09; Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler were clearly talented on attack, while Sami Salo’s two-way game remained vital. Willie Mitchell was proving to be a great addition by Dave Nonis (his season-ending concussion in the 2009-10 season at the hands of Evgeni Malkin exposed a gaping hole on the back end), while Shane O’Brien was useful enough on the third pairing. Finding better depth defencemen than Rob Davision, Lawrence Nycholat and Ossi Vaananen (yes, him) was next on the list.
Finding new balance on defence, especially in the face of the impending loss of Mattias Ohlund was a priority. Adding to the now-solid forwards core would be essential, especially as it looked like Mats Sundin would not return.
The second-round loss to the Blackhawks in 08-09 was disappointing, especially after the stellar sweep of the Blues in the first round of the postseason. The Canucks had seemed so close to taking the next step, Gillis needed to make another bold addition or two.
The 2009 free agency period featured more tough decisions on another Canucks lifer. Mattias Ohlund’s price tag turned out to be far more than the Canucks could consider (and more than Tampa should’ve considered). Before the salary cap era, Ohlund would’ve been back, but with younger dmen in the fold and a need to open doors for cheaper depth meant he was gone. Taylor Pyatt was also on the move. The winger had had his moments, but with the team moving to an up-tempo game, his average wheels weren’t needed. Pyatt was also still dealing with the death of his fiancee, so his desire to move elsewhere was understandable.
Few acquisitions have been as well-reviewed as Gillis’ feat of magic in adding Ehrhoff for two of Nonis’ disaster picks – Patrick White and Daniel Rahimi. San Jose had cap problems and wanted to acquire Dany Heatley. The Canucks were only too happy to help out. Ehrhoff was a master on the powerplay and was a fine partner for Alex Edler.
Added to the Ehrhoff trade as a salary dump, Lukowich accepted a demotion to the AHL and few expected him to be come back to the NHL. But an injury crisis saw him recalled; Lukowich did what he had to do, and then scored his first goal in two and a half years. It was off of some spectacular Sedinery…
Andrew Alberts (picked up mid-season) – Again, the injury crisis that seemed to last all year meant that Alberts was brought in as yet another depth defenceman. His post-acquisition adjusment was rough; many fans soured on him, but he redeemed himself as a capable, big body, willing to chip the puck out of the zone to avoid trouble. To this day, he remains a solid piece. He proved to be a solid pickup, especially given the forced circumstances.
Everyone’s favourite. He played solid, low-event minutes, much to the consternation of many. He was exactly what you are looking for in a 6/7 dman.
The Canucks liked his potential as a depth guy so much, they brought him back after losing him on waivers the year before. He didn’t suit up again, though, spending most of the year in Manitoba.
A true money-puck signing, Samuelsson had been a solid role-player in the Mike Babcock system. Gillis and company saw second-line potential at worst, Sedin beneficiary potential at best. And for most of two seasons, he was that. He was vital on the powerplay and as a positive-possesison player and of course he single handedly lit up Jonathan Quick in the 2010 postseason.
Oh man. Ol’ Tanner, the smartest fourth liner you’ll ever meet. He did nothing particularly well, but he didn’t complain and he didn’t make the fans mad until the day he couldn’t hit the net. A fourth liner is there not to hurt the team as much as anything, and in his adequacy, Glass was that.
Razor had been run out of Toronto on a rail. He’d ridden an outrageous start in Boston all the way to the Vezina but the narrative said he bombed thereafter. The truth was he was never really that good, got saddled with out-sized expectation, slumped and only barely recovered in Vancouver. Being a useful backup would be only a one-year thing it seemed.
(Oh, what the hell, go enjoy his great moment again. And, yes, for the record, the two Canucks fans at end, banging on the glass? Yes, I know those guys.)
Brought in with some fanfare, Schneider was meant to play a depth role, while turning the powerplay into a mean operation. Turned out that Schneider thought he was going to play every day (or something) and fell out with the coaches and with management. He was sent home, convinced to go to Manitoba for a time and then finally shuffled off to Phoenix. The whole episode stunk.
After crashing out following the Matt Cooke trade – Dave Nonis’ worst? – the Canucks brought him back a year later, basically because there was no one else around to play for them. He mostly played in Manitoba, made a cameo appearance at the beginning of the season and was recalled at the end of the year to be a black ace.
Gillis’ second draft featured three players already playing NCAA hockey, and one college-bound teenager.
The 2009-10 season is also notable as the beginning of the Cody Hodgson mess. Hodgson hurt his back while working out in the summer and didn’t resolve his injury for a year. He struggled in training camp, Alain Vigneault questioned his fitness and his attitude and the battle was on.
On the other hand, there was the development of Michael Grabner. The young Austrian finally made the jump to the NHL and he proved to be ready. Dave Nonis’ off-the-board selection in 2006, Grabner played a useful depth in 09-10 role and, in tandem with Mason Raymond, would force a dilemma for the 2010 off-season.
Jordan Schroeder made the lineup this year, showing flashes of what he could be, but lots of questions remain. He’s an NHLer, but will it be with the Canucks?
Once he was drafted, Anton Rodin was thought by many to be a true darkhorse, but he flamed out in Chicago. He could skate, had great skill, but never added the strength needed to survive the grinding North American game.
Kevin Connauton‘s development looked to be on the up and up, many thought he might end up with the big club this year but the Canucks soured on him. He was traded to the Stars for Derek Roy.
Jeremy Price went to Colgate, played four impressive years there and signed with the Canucks in March. He finished the season in Chicago and the Canucks will have to make a decision on his future by August 15th or he’ll become an unrestricted-free agent.
Peter Andersson. The big Swede struggled out of the gate but eventually found his groove in Chicago and was quietly impressive for a Wolves club that mostly frustrated. He’s got plenty of upside and could be a darkhorse at training camp in September.
Joe Cannata. Cannata is currently number four on the Canucks’ depth chart, but with Roberto Luongo likely to be moved this summer, he’s well positioned to handle the bulk of the team’s AHL netminding next year. He even sat on the bench for the Canucks at the end of the season and in the playoffs.
As a seventh-round pick, Steve Anthony was always going to be a longshot and he never progressed.
Some very astute summer pick-ups – Samuelsson and Ehrhoff being the highlights, with depth additions like Tanner Glass, Aaron Rome and Andrew Raycroft proving to be solid. But there’s also the mostly-crap draft class and the Mathieu Schneider and Cody Hodgson messes. The team was dumped out of the 2010 playoffs by the eternal villains from Chicago; the second year in a row.
Then there are the steps forward in 09-10 by the Sedins (Henrik won the Art Ross and the Hart), Ryan Kesler (his first 70-point season) and Mason Raymond (25 goals, 53 points…more on that tomorrow). Should Gillis get credit for not tampering with the core? Probably not.
The team moved forward, it was the second-highest scoring unit in the league. Everything was coming together…