David Clarkson – Wikicommons Media
Assuming the Canucks go with the status quo for next season (relatively speaking, there will be some inevitable change to the roster), what holes do they need to fill?
Today, we will take a look at some options for the second line wing spot next to David Booth* and Ryan Kesler**.
Obviously there are two assumptions being made. Firstly that *Booth isn’t bought out. And **Kesler is healthy. I have made my thoughts on Booth pretty clear in previous work, but I don’t think you are going to find a better forward on the open market for $4.25 million this summer. And selling low is rarely the right course of action. Hopefully a full summer to train will help Kesler get back on track – his positive contributions to the Canucks have been far too sporadic over the last two years.
From everything we’ve heard, the Canucks aren’t going to make wholesale changes this summer. Mike Gillis and company believe in this core, and they are going to give them another shot at winning. Like San Jose, who largely stuck with the same core after repeated playoff failures, the Canucks know there is no knight in shining armor on his way to the NHL.
On the other hand, Gillis could just be blowing smoke. But let’s take him at his word and proceed.
The forward lines:
Sedin (6.1) – Sedin (6.1) – Burrows (4.5)
Booth (4.25) – Kesler (5.0) – XXXX
Higgins (2.5) – XXXX – Hansen (1.35)
Sestito (.75) – XXXX – Kassian (.8)
Right now, there are three or four lineup spots that need to be filled. In an ideal world, Kassian comes into camp ready to assume that open second line spot. However, it is never prudent to give ice time and responsibility to young players without them earning it. And sticking in this ideal world, Weise is brought back to play on line four, and Sestito slots in as the 13th or 14th forward. Jordan Schroeder is an RFA this summer, as well, and he will be in the NHL next year – either in Vancouver or somewhere else.
Last week I touched on some options to fill out the fourth line – on the left wing, at center, and on the right wing. There isn’t much within the organization on the left side, but there are a number of intriguing options on the open market. The pro scouting department has had more misses than hits in recent years, and they need to connect on a few signings this summer if they want to reopen the window to win.
So let’s assume that the Canucks find a way to move Keith Ballard and Roberto Luongo (I’ll leave the cap Jedi magic up to Laurence Gilman). And let’s also assume that neither player fetches a top six forward in return (unfortunately this isn’t a huge stretch).
How much money would the Canucks be willing to spend on a second line winger? They could bump Higgins up there, but on a true contending team he is best suited for a third line spot. Nicklas Jensen may be ready for NHL minutes, but it wouldn’t be fair to him to expect second line production, and it wouldn’t be fair to the team to assume that a rookie is ready for it. I understand that many out there want the team to get younger, but you don’t force the process. You insert young players into the lineup when they are ready.
It is looking more and more likely that the team won’t be trading Alex Edler this summer (just look at some of the money being paid out to inferior and less experienced defensemen) unless the Canucks are able to land a star in return. The team doesn’t really have any other significant trade assets to dangle, so the open market is probably going to be the only route to find scoring help.
The “Kesler to right wing” picks:
Stephen Weiss – C
Weiss is probably the best two-way center available on the market (although an argument could be made that Mike Ribeiro is the best UFA center overall). He’s pretty much money in the bank for 18-25 goals and 50-60 points. And before missing most of 2013 with a wrist injury, he had played in at least 74 games in five straight seasons. That’s about as durable as it gets for a Vancouver center not named Henrik.
Weiss would allow Kesler to move to the right side, giving the Canucks an actual second line. And if Kassian surprises with his offensive consistency, it gives Vigneault’s replacement the option of balancing three scoring units up front.
Weiss turned 30 this year, and he will likely be seeking a long term contract (five-plus years). Also, he isn’t big. How will that fit with the mandate?!
Weiss will also likely command offers in the $5-5.5 million per season range. Vancouver does need to add a center, and they need scoring depth. But there are other pressing issues within the organization and committing big money and big term to a solid – but not spectacular – 30-year-old coming off of a serious injury may not be the most advisable course of action.
Valtteri Filppula – C
Filppula, who turned 29 back in March, has quietly developed into a very effective two-way center. The Red Wings would love to keep him, but they may not be able to afford his salary demands. And he may want a bigger playing role – there are a few teams in the league that may give him the keys to the first line. He has a Cup ring, and now may be the time for him to go after the big contract (much like former teammate Jiri Hudler did last summer with Calgary).
2013 was a disappointing season for Filppula, especially after his breakout campaign in 2011-12 (60 points, strong two-way play). But he bounces back in the postseason, so that probably won’t affect his open market value much – many teams need centers, and there aren’t a lot of good ones available.
He’s solid on the draw, he can play on the wing, he can kill penalties, and he is good on the power play, too.
If Filppula prices himself out of Detroit’s range, he will be outside of Vancouver’s, too (Gilman magic notwithstanding). And his only season of 50+ point production (last season) came when he was playing primarily left wing on Henrik Zetterberg’s line.
The “cagey veteran” pick:
Danny Cleary – LW
Cleary has experience, skill, and he will likely come a lot cheaper than the other players on this list. However, there is a reason for that. He turns 35 this December, and he plays a very abrasive style of hockey (with low PIMs, mind you). How long can he remain an effective forward? Cleary scored 26 goals in 68 games back in 2010-11, but that number dipped down to 12 the next season. He has averaged over 20 assists a season for the past six full campaigns, and he is a versatile forward.
I like Cleary’s game a lot – he’s hard on the puck, he’s consistent, and his versatility would be a nice fit in the lineup. He’s kind of like Detroit’s Alex Burrows – a versatile player who can score, defend, and agitate the opposition.
Cleary isn’t a bona fide top six forward – he’s in that Higgins/Hansen range – solid enough in the top six, but better suited to a third line role (with increased ice time in the case of injury or a good stretch of production). And he really wants to return to Detroit.
The “likely too expensive” picks:
Nathan Horton – RW
He’s relatively young for a free agent (28). He is a proven 25+ goal scorer. He’s physical.
Horton is going to be a hotly-pursued commodity this summer. The Bruins probably don’t have the cap space to re-sign him, but at least a half-dozen other teams will throw big money his way. He has battled concussion problems over the past two years (the Aaron Rome hit for concussion one, and a Tom Sestito hit for concussion two), and he can’t play center or the left wing. The Canucks are actually reasonably deep on the right side (Burrows, Kassian, Hansen, and likely Weise, too) – however, bringing in Horton could maybe allow Burrows to slide back to line two.
Horton is finishing up a six-year, $24 million contract he originally had signed in Florida (the Canucks sure picked the wrong Panthers to trade for…), and he will likely be looking for a $1.5-$2 million per season raise.
David Clarkson – RW
If I could pick one UFA forward to add to the Canucks this summer, it would be Clarkson. He isn’t the most skilled player available, but he knows his game and he plays it every single night. He has great hands around the net, he’s tough, and he doesn’t change his game depending on who he is up against. He has scored 45 goals since the 2011-12 season began, which is more than any player on the Canucks roster.
The advanced stats back up Clarkson’s effectiveness – he shoots the puck a ton and is a terrific possession player (the two tend to go hand-in-hand…).
I can’t think of any reason to not sign Clarkson other than salary demands (term or salary amount). He’s 29, and has missed only two games total over the past three regular seasons.
Jarome Iginla – RW
To irritate an entire city, mostly. More seriously, Iginla is still an effective offensive forward (although you wouldn’t know it from having watched the Eastern Conference Final), even if his two-way game is atrophying rapidly. He wants to win… and he is likely going to sign somewhere that gives him another shot at the Cup. He’s made his money, and I’d expect him to take some sort of discount wherever he ends up going.
It’s Iginla. In Vancouver.
This isn’t a comprehensive look at the UFA market – stay tuned for two more parts to this series.