Canucks Need Change
On the east coast, the Ottawa Senators after another disappointing playoff are contemplating change. The situation is the same out on the west coast. The Vancouver Canucks did one worse than the Sens missing the playoffs altogether despite a talented group. It was a rather poor showing by the Canucks who really faltered in the second half. Yes some of the blame is due to the injury to star blueliner Ed Jovanovski and Dan Cloutier being out forcing the Nucks to run with rookie Alex Auld in goal. But really it’s the big stars who really failed to deliver. It has been the same group that the team has ridden the last few years put together by then GM Brian Burke and his former assistant turned current GM Dave Nonis. Instead of progressing the team is regressing missing the playoffs for the first time in 5 years.
Things do not appear to be getting any better in Vancouver. With the other Western Canadian teams finding success, the pressure is more now for the Canucks to do the same. If they wish to have that happen, changes are going to be needed.
The process has begun. The Canucks fired coach Marc Crawford and are now in search of a replacement. The most logical step would be to promote Manitoba Moose coach Alain Vigneault to the big club and make him the new coach of the Canucks. Vigneault is no slouch as he would bring NHL coaching experience in fact being a former Jack Adams Trophy nominee. But there are other candidates to consider and I guess whomever gets hired will depend on what they do with the team itself.
If the same core group of players are going to remain, then they probably need a proven more influencial coach such as a Pat Quinn or someone like that to try to get their veteran star players to reach the next level. But if there are to be some major changes on the ice, specifically getting younger and faster, then a guy like Vigneault or even a Ted Nolan would fit the bill. It will be a tough decision for GM Nonis to make. It must be the reason there has been such a delay in hiring a new coach.
But one thing that will make whomever is behind the bench look good is a top goaltender. This is something the Canucks don’t have and have not had in a while. It has been the team’s achilles heel for years. The Canucks have 3 guys to choose from now in nets, but none really capable of doing the job the Canucks need. Dan Cloutier should be ready to go by training camp but for years he could not win the big game, make the big save, or at times make the save period. Alex Auld replaced Cloutier last year after he got hurt but with him in nets, the Canucks missed the playoffs. Is he the upgrade in goal the team is looking for? Mika Noronen might be, but he may yet again be relegated to 3rd string next year as he was this past season with the Sabres. The talent is there, the results have never been. So it makes it a difficult choice whether or not a change is needed in the Vancouver net. Some will say no, here says yes. The team has a bunch of Huets or Gerbers who are not overachieving like those guys did for their teams. It may be best for them to go out and get a proven guy who has delivered like a Giguere or a Nabokov to have a trustworthy man in goal.
At least though the pipeline in nets is deep. The Canucks in a year or two may finally have their first homegrown goalie to come along and play for them since the mid 70s and Glen Hanlon. Cory Schneider who was excellent for Team USA at the world Jrs is the best of the bunch. Julien Ellis is yet another solid French Canadian goalie prospect on the way and Maxime Ouellet, who is also French Canadian, has played in the NHL is around as well. If anything, this “problem” could allow the team to shuffle some of these assets for help in other areas.
One of those areas is defence. The reason is that Jovanovski could leave via free agency. His injury had a huge impact on the Canucks fortunes and his replacements, Sean Brown, Keith Carney, Eric Weinrich did nothing to make anyone forget Jovo. Jovanovski is such an offensive catalyst and physical player that he could change a game around in a heartbeat. Losing him for good may not be an option, but keeping Jovocop may not be an option financially with lots of money tied to others and a host of big name blueliners on the market likely to drive the price up.
They have another top guy in Mattias Ohlund, but he is not dangerous offensively as Jovanovski is. Ohlund is whom the Canucks used to take on the other team’s best lines. I guess him being a minus player says he didnt do a good job last year? The Canucks need a partner for him, someone steadier than Sami Salo. Salo is one dimensional. A big shot and that is it. He is soft on defence.
Improving within will greatly help the defence. They cannot go another year with Nolan Baumgartner ending up as their best blueliner statistically (he led the Canucks blueline in points and plus/minus). The rest of the D needs to get better like Bryan Allen did last season. Allen finally stayed healthy, played it rough but not over the top, staying out of the box most of the time and being a rock on D.
The Canucks used plenty of young players as fill-ins on D with the best being Kevin Bieska. He should be a regular next season as he did not look out of place in his first 39 games and skates and moves the puck well enough to be a nice cheap option in the new NHL. But no young blueliner will have as big an impact in the Canucks organization as top prospect Luc Bourdon. Bourdon is like a young Jovanovski. He is a tremendous skater who has good offensive sense, can play it mean, and is an emotional player who looks like he would go to hell and back to make an impact. I think the Canucks should keep Jovo just to have someone mentor young Bourdon. It makes sense to learn from someone who plays such a similar game. There may be room on the big club next year but a season with the Moose wont hurt Luc. Kirill Koltsov is still on the Canucks radar. He is a good offensive defenceman who is shoddy in his own end. He would be ok if the Canucks had a goalie who could save his bacon.
You will see changes on defence. But it is ok if there is not as that would mean Jovo’s return. But they need more depth, a solid defensive blueliner and more speed. Nonis has alot of work to do.
But most of his work will come up front. There is plenty of talent around for the present, but it just seems that the Canuck forwards are not the sum of all their parts. They have a great top line in Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison. Or is it had a great top line. The trio certainly did not play well at all. Morrison failed to even get 60 points, and Naslund and Bertuzzi were well below their usual more than 1 point a game pace. The line was atrocious defensively and were not producing offensively. That is a bad combination. Naslund is not much of a captain in my book. He did nothing to help the Canucks get out of their slump after the Olympic break and it cost them. His remarks on Steve Moore were tasteless and probably left a bad taste in some of his teammates mouths. Many of those types of players have gone through the wall protecting their captain. His buddy Bertuzzi was as bad. He is a walking controversy and a distraction. He needs to be moved, perhaps at all costs. He may be an immense talent but he will never shake those constant Steve Moore reminders unless he is out of Vancouver and perhaps Canada altogether. Unfortunately for Morrison, he was along for the ride and paid for it with poor play. He may be moved as well as he is a year from UFA. It might be good for Nonis to think about starting from scratch, clear some cap room and trade his star guys to bring in some extra bodies and some young talent to the organization. With the way things are going, it may be better to cut ties with the guys who havent gotten it done.
This was a good year for the Sedins to step up. They needed it. Finally they found a 3rd guy in Anson Carter to mesh well with them and it turned into the best offensive seasons for the twins. They brought Carter back to life after 3 poor seasons and were part of the reason the Canucks were still alive in the final week. Unfortunately their contributions, which would have given the Canucks 2 dangerous lines, were fruitless as the top line delivered nothing.
When they drafted the Sedins they were fairly hot prospects on the way up. Now they are proven veterans and since then the Canucks have not at all filled the system with skilled young forwards. The only one to speak of is Ryan Kesler. Kesler is not a skilled guy but a solid two way player who will probably be more of a checker with scoring ability than one who will play on the top 2 lines. The team needs skill skill and more skill, young skill to start challenging for roster spots. The team is getting a bit stale and needs some fresh legs.
They need to improve their 3rd and 4th line guys and bring more speed to the lineup. Trevor Linden might retire and Richard Park and Jarko Ruutu are UFAs. Matt Cooke will still be around but did not earn the pretty nice contract he received last summer. He was even holdling out or ready to if I remember. Simply but the team needs depth and good skaters with energy to get the team going, especially if they wont get it from their top line guys. Their Western Canadian counterparts have an abundance of those types of players and look at the success they have enjoyed recently.
It will be a very big summer for Nonis. He needs a coach, but he needs to build a good team in front of that coach. He needs a front line goalie, depth on defence, to keep his top defenceman and add depth up front. He will need to decide what to do with his top players up front. I guess we’ll know if the Canucks star players are safe when the new coach is named. You can be sure it is on the mind of the GM to perhaps find a coach who could jumpstart his stars. The team needs to improve in so many areas in terms of chemistry, leadership, team play, organizational depth and development. I guess that wont happen in just a couple of months but they will need to do something quick before things on the west coast deteriorate further.