Following the heartbreak of 2011, the playoff failure of the Canucks vs the Kings highlighted a lot. Had the team forgotten its strengths? Was Ehrhoff really *that* important? Mike Gillis was faced with having two elite number one goalies, a probable lockout and huge expectations.
Was the time right for a new approach?
Ultimately, GIllis still beileved his core could overcome and remain a top contender in the West.
Inventory – Forwards
The sheen came off the Sedins. They were still pretty good, and clearly first line players, but they weren’t great anymore. Daniel’s season was marred by Duncan Keith’s elbow (hmm imagine that). Ryan Kesler came back from hip labrum surgery far too soon. It was unlikely that he’d score 40 goals again, but he struggled for most of the year.
David Booth, by his underlying numbers, should have produced more, but he didn’t. Manny Malhotra’s attempt to return from his eye injury didn’t quite work. Coupled with his extreme defensive-zone deployment, no wonder his plus/minus looked terrible and his points total was depressed. He’d been a consistent 30+ point scorer, but starting 15 percent of your shifts in the offensive zone limits your opportunities…
Mason Raymond hadn’t had a great season the year before, but his back injury meant that he didn’t rebound, instead he went the other way. Was it a tough recovery from injury? Maybe. Was he lacking in confidence? Most definitely.
Cody Hodgson showed off his offensive prowess and then was shipped off for Zack Kassian. The Kassassin remains a project; in 2012-13 he spent time with the Sedins, on the fourth line and was demoted for a time to Chicago.
On the other hand, Chris Higgins continued to re-discover his past successes, as he was a key player on the second and third lines. He played some pretty good hockey in tandem with Ryan Kesler.
The deployment of the forwards was a pretty straight-forward division – scorers got their shifts in the offensive zone; defensive players got their shifts in the defensive zone.
Andrew Ebbett turned out to be an interesting find; his shift deployment showed that not only was he was seeing more than the typical 4th line deployment, he was also a positive corsi player. It suggested he could be a useful talent further down the lineup.
But we look at the bottom six in 2011-12 and we can’t help but compare it with the lineup from the year before. Malhotra was a chicken or the egg question – was he being played wholly defensively because he couldn’t score? Or was he not scoring because he was only playing defence? It’s likely A came first. So, whereas a year before the third line was the killer Torres-Malhotra-Hansen combo, it was now Higgins-Lapierre-Hansen. Three solid players, but clearly a different mix.
(Yes, a glitch in somekindofninja’s software spat Marc-Andre Gragnani out as a forward. In an odd way, this makes sense.)
Inventory – Defence
With the loss of Christian Ehrhoff, a hole on the blueline emerged. A healthier Sami Salo and a resurgent Kevin Bieksa filled in much of the gap; Dan Hamhuis chipped in too. But the lineup had a strange balance to it. In 2010-11, there was a fair bit of competition for places. In the 2011-12, not so much. The top four was set for much of the season, while the bottom pairing felt like a revolving door at times.
Sami Salo wasn’t re-signed; he was done. Chris Tanev was expected to take his role. As ever, finding depth defencemen was the prey.
And then there was the Roberto Luongo situation. Two goalies wasn’t the best option; Gillis and company believed a real hockey trade was there for the taking.
WIth most of his defencemen locked in long-term, there wasn’t much room for tinkering. There was space to add one more defenceman, but at what cost would that be? With the lockout looming large, Gillis mostly tread carefully, not looking to upset the cap-cart. He also clearly figured that getting Luongo off the books would solve most of his problems.
Sami Salo left for Tampa Bay, Aaron Rome got what he could from the market and shuffled off to Dallas, while the momentarily intriguing Gragnani signed with Carolina after receiving no offers from the Canucks.
The lightest season of his career on the trade market, Gillis made no moves in the off-season and just one during the season, sending out apparently failed-prospect Kevin Connauton for Derek Roy, who started well but then fell off the face of the earth.
Jason Garrison was the latest of Gillis’ defensive free agents. By the end of the year, every one was screaming for more Garrison, as much Garrison as possible, all Garrison, all the time.
Cam Barker‘s signing was not popular at this site. He needed a lot of massaging, and at times, he did ok. But he was also the cut-rate eight defenceman.
Derek Joslin, Patrick Mullen, Gil Desbiens and Jim Vandermeer were all signed to be fodder on the farm, though there was always a chance that Vandermeer might’ve suited up for the Canucks had everything gone awry.
Brendan Gaunce is expected to challenge for a job with the team in 2013-14; that’s how well-rated he is.
Alex Mallet is another project player. He started the year with the Wolves but struggled to score, eventually ending up in Kalamazoo. He found himself in the ECHL and made a late-season return to the Chicago lineup. Yet another off-the-table selection, Mallet remains far away from making the jump.
Ben Hutton, Wesley Myron and Matthew Beattie were all college-bound though I think you’d only describe Hutton’s season as successful. Wesley Myron withdrew from the NCAA over playing time.
With cap changes looming, Gillis chose to ride out the storm to see what would lie on the other side. He didn’t move Luongo before the yardsticks on the big Italian’s contract were changed, now many wonder how he will be rid of what is a true noose around his neck.
Signing Jason Garrison was a stroke of genius. Like Hamhuis, Garrison signed a contract that likely wasn’t the highest number total, but it was the place he apparently wanted to be.
How he re-tools the forwards this summer will establish his future legacy. The plan has struggled for two years. He’d meant for his team to have a chance every year, but the success playoff failures have highlighted the need for him to find players who can score under duress. The Sedins aren’t getting any younger; one day their flame will be weak. What comes next starts now.