Changes Needed on West Coast

The Vancouver Canucks have for the last few season have been a very solid, competitive team. But they have struggled to get over the hump and do much damage in the playoffs. In fact, the damage they usually inflict is on themselves. Whether it be the poor goaltending by Dan Cloutier, the disappearance of captain Markus Naslund or of course the infamous Bertuzzi incident, Vancouver has not had everything fall into place. Instead, things seem to fall to pieces.

Perhaps the personnel that they have now is not the right mix to get it done. Though the talent is there, perhaps the days of being a one line team continuously hoping for the Sedins to be superstar players and relying on the shaky goaltending of Cloutier are over. With a new CBA on the horizon, a new NHL to be showcased, perhaps Vancouver can put out a new Canucks team in the fall.

In fact, now may be the best time for Vancouver to make some changes. In this new economic world, the Canucks would be one of the teams in better shape. The Canucks only have 4 players under contract at a cost of approximately $11 million:

Forwards: Todd Bertuzzi, Trevor Linden, Ryan Kesler

Defence: Ed Jovanovski

They do have plenty of work however signing all their free agents. Much of their offence is without contracts with guys like MOrrison, Naslund, and the Sedins needing to be signed. Several solid role players like Cooke, Ruutuu, Chubarkov, May, Rucinsky are not with contracts. Most of their defence needs to be retained with Ohlund, Sopel, Salo, Allen, Malik all without deals and of course goaltender Cloutier needs to be resigned.

The big question is, will all or any of these players with contracts or without be back? That is a huge question for GM Dave Nonis to answer. As new GM, he was left with this daunting task of reshaping the Canucks. Nonis has a huge chance of remodeling Vancouver and building a team suitable for coach Marc Crawford and those potential rule changes aimed at opening up the game.

First Nonis is going to have to see if he can resign Naslund. Though he is their captain and best player, does Vancouver want to commit to him with a big long term deal? Based on his production, he may be looking at getting the maximum deal, but does he deserve it? He has not done that great in the playoffs and in he isnt the best fit as captain, especially after his immature comments about Steve Moore and the class of fringe NHLers. It is also unsure what Naslund will decide. There has been some retirement talk and him staying in Sweden for good. There is a chance he could join former Canucks GM Brian Burke in Anaheim. And there has also been thought that Naslund wishes to play with one of his best friends in Peter Forsberg. If the Canucks and Naslund decide to part ways, Vancouver will have some decent free agents to choose from. Namely Paul Kariya. Though Paul has not been as productive as Naslund, the skill set and impact are similar and the bonus is that he is from the area. It also may help that Kariya is a bit younger and likely will come cheaper than Naslund. it would be terrific for Vancouver to bring in a guy like Kariya as not only is he one of their own but a top player at that.

The Canucks second order of business is to decide what to do with Todd Bertuzzi. Do they keep him? Trade him? Will he even be reinstated? These are questions that remain unanswered. Perhaps Bertuzzi’s time is up but at the same time it would be very difficult now to get much of a return. In trading one of the best power forwards in the game, the Canucks will demand much in return. But considering his status, right now teams will not be offering as much. The fact that Bertuzzi has moved back to Ontario can be taken with a grain of salt, but it has put the seeds of doubt on his return. If the Canucks do trade him, it will probably be after he is reinstated and gets to play some games. The guy has been out of the game much longer than the other NHLers and really will need time to get his game back. But the Canucks could move him to get rid of his big contract and at least get something in return as when his contract ends, he will likely be unrestricted. Moving Bertuzzi may help Vancouver in the long run as it could provide the team with a decent return that could transform the Canucks to a more balanced scoring team. The rumour mill has mentioned countlessly Bertuzzi for Joe THornton but that seems very far fetched. Bertuzzi has been rumoured to Toronto but the Leafs have nothing to give in return. Teams like the Devils, Hawks and even the Wings have been looking to add a big forward who can score and have some assets to possibly move. And teams like Carolina and Florida are in the mix and would offer Bertuzzi a bit of a santuary away from the media hockey hype of Canada. And of course, on of Bertuzzi’s biggest fans is Brian Burke. Moving Bertuzzi and losing Naslund will completely change the face of the Canucks.

It is for certain that BC native Brendan Morrison will be back in the fold. So will their key role players like Cooke, Ruutuu, Linden and perhaps Brad May. Vancouver is in need of a natural centre who can win faceoffs. Linden is all they have at this point and Chubarov should be trade bait to perhaps improve other areas of the team. But the other question for Vancouver is what to do with the Sedins. The twins have not been as big of an impact as expected. Though good support scorers, they have not produced as well as expected and have not shown the kind of consistency that the team needs. This is why the team has struggled in the playoffs as it became more evident the Canucks were a one line team. It will be interesting to see if the twins come back as they could probably make bigger money playing over in Sweden. The Twins were Burke’s big move but perhaps GM Nonis may look at it differently and perhaps move them out. the tell all tale will be how easy/difficult the Sedins can be signed.

The twins have done a good job playing a third line support scoring role on the team but if they are gone, the team may look at their prospects to fill those roles. Ryan Kesler is almost certain to be on the big club thanks to his size and versatility. He had a solid 30 goal year on the farm and showed that offensive potential that seemed to be lacking earlier in his career. He should be a very good two way player. Jason King also should be with the Canucks full time next year. In his rookie year he bursted on the scene in Vancouver scoring early and often only to fade as time passed. But he has sniper potential and should be a solid performer if he gets to play and play with offensive players. Brandon Reid and Nathan Smith have kind of been busts after showing some flashes of potential but Brandon Nolan, the son of former NHL coach Ted Nolan may have a chance at the Canucks roster. Through sheer hard work he may will himself on the team. He probably be only a 4th line energy player at best but could do that job well. He could use more seasoning down on the farm at that wouldnt be a bad thing as he could use work in all facets of the game. The Canucks do have some decent depth that give the team some hope in the future.

The other huge question that needs answering is if Dan Cloutier the goalie who can deliver. We havent seen anything yet and perhaps we never will. He has been a solid goalie in the regular season, helping his team to a division title, posting regularly 30 wins and putting up solid numbers. But he has also been chronically hurt and has let in some deflating goals that have come at the absolute worst times. Everyone remembers the Lidstrom goal from centre ice. But the Canucks may have no choice but to keep Cloutier. The market for goalies is thin as there is nothing but aging backups or has beens available and Vancouver only has Alex Auld who is NHL ready. But is Auld number 1 goalie material? He was ok when thrown into the fire against the Flames in the last playoff but looked pretty shaky at times. His uneasiness is likely why the Canucks started to look to teh future by drafting Cory Schneider. After his 13-1 season at BC putting up impressive numbers, he is looking more and more like a smart move by the Canucks. Though he is years away, his size and agility give him NHL potential. But as of now, the Canucks goaltending picture is fuzzy. Cloutier is just not the guy to get it done.

The Canucks do have a very solid blueline. One that may be even better if the game gets opened up. All can skate and move the puck and are solid passers. All love to join the rush and gamble on offence. In a more open game, it will give the Canucks a huge advantage. But at the same time, their blueline is much to blame for their goaltending woes. There are too many gamblers on the Canucks defence. Jovanovski is a terrific impact defenceman but seems to look too much for the seek and destroy hit than playing his position. Ohlund is their most important guy back there as he always plays against the opponents top players. But he seems to either get hurt quite a bit or takes too many penalties to be effective in that role. If the refs do implement a big crackdown on fouls then Ohlund could be in trouble. And Ohlund is already saddled by playing with Brent Sopel. Though Soapy is a very good offensive blueliner and great at joining the rush, he is too soft and too lost at times in his own zone to be effective. Seeing how Ohlund plays against the best, Sopel struggles even more. The same can be said for Sami Salo. His huge shot is great on the PP but he may be a bit too soft to play against top players. The fact that he usually misses about half the year with injuries doesnt help either. The biggest surprises have been Bryan Allen and Marek Malik. It has been surprising that Allen with the way he plays has been able to stay healthy the last couple of seasons. He has been injury prone since even before he was drafted but has given the Canucks what they need in terms of size and toughness. Malik has also been good too using his size well in the defensive zone but showing some decent offence with solid passes to start the rush. It was surprising he played so consistently in 03-04 considering his rap has been the lack of consistency. The Canucks hope he can keep that up. Even the team’ top blueline prospect Kirill Koltsov is offence first. He has a chance to make it especially if some of the in*****bents are not brought back. 2 years on the farm has helped him be better in his own zone, but his offensive ability, speed and skills are what is going to get him to the bigs. He is small though at that may hurt him at the NHL level.

As you can see, the Canucks have some talent on defence but with just Jovocop signed, some changes may be in order. Vancouver may be a team that intrigues free agent defenceman Scott Niedermayer. being unrestricted and free to go anywhere, and also being a BC native, it seems logical that both parties have an interest in eachother. The Canucks do have some room under the cap to use and really could use steady Scott to boost play in their own zone. His time in Jersey has made him into one of if not the best all around blueliner in the league. He could be a huge addition possibly giving the Canucks a big 3 on D with him, Jovo and Ohlund, or perhaps allow Vancouver to move some of their existing guys for help in other areas. It could also pave the way for Scott’s brother Rob Niedermayer to end up in Vancouver adding more forward depth. It is something the brothers have thought about, playing together and at the same time go home. Right now it is all rumours at this point but there is some sense to them. The Canucks either way need a steady defensive presence in their own zone to help clear the front of the net, preventing so many point blank chances and bring a calming influence to the team.

As you can see, the Canucks have a world of possibilities to explore. They may stay status quo, add a few pieces here and there and still be a solid competitive team and stick to the guys they have. or wholesale changes could be in store changing the face of the franchise and look to go into a different direction. Dave Nonis is the man who has the answers to this and the man who must address all the teams questions.