With Jaroslav Halak being traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the St. Louis Blues, it's become apparent that the off-season has arrived. Over the next several days I'll take a look at each team in the Northwest Division to get a sense of what they might need to do in order to improve. Today's focus is the team that won the division and carried the Northwest Divison flag further than any other in the playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks.
Over the last two years, Mike Gillis has done a very good job of retaining his top talent at a reasonable price (new contracts for the Sedins, Luongo, Kesler) but his new acquisitions have been much less inspiring (Samuelsson has been the best but there's also Wellwood, Bernier, Demitra, Alberts). This off-season requires Gillis to do some shopping for new talent and how he performs will likely cement whether he's an adequate general manager or a really good one. After the jump, we'll take a look at what the Canucks have done since the trade deadline and then move on to look forward to their cap situation for next season and what they might add to their team.
Signed F Jordan Schroeder to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of 1.025M per year - It's hard to believe that Schroeder fell to 22nd in last year's entry draft, but fall he did. His second NCAA season wasn't as good statistically as his first but after signing with the Canucks he had a solid AHL debut scoring nine points in eleven games and another six points in his six playoff games. There's some chance that Schroeder will make the Canucks out of training camp but if not, he should still provide excellent offensive depth for the Canucks when they need to deal with injuries.
Signed F Aaron Volpatti to a two-way contract for two years at 0.61M per year - Although Volpatti just finished his career in the NCAA he was old enough to avoid the entry-level system which helped him to earn more money from his AHL salary ($200,000 per season) than would have otherwise been possible. Volpatti is already 25 years old so he's not really a prospect but in his last season with Brown he scored 32 points and had 115 penalty minutes in 37 games. He's most likely penciled in as a "goon who can play" with the AHL's Manitoba Moose but, depending on how much he can play, he may see some time with the Canucks in the Rick Rypien role.
Signed F Prab Rai to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of 0.57M per year - The Canucks drafted Rai 131st overall in 2008. He's under six feet tall and his last three WHL seasons all saw him score between 0.9 and 1.1 points per game; he's essentially an inferior version of the Oilers' Philippe Cornet. There's only a very minimal chance that he gets even a cup of coffee at the NHL level.
Signed F Stefan Schneider to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of 0.90M per year - He's not likely to make it to the NHL. Schneider scored 23 points in 72 games for the WHL's Portland Winterhawks in 2009-10 and signed with the Canucks as a free agent. As you may have guessed, he's also really big. At least they didn't waste a draft pick on him.
Signed G Eddie Lack to a two-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of 0.90M per year - Mike Gillis decided to use free agency to add a goaltending prospect, a tactic I think NHL teams should use more often. Lack spent last season in the Swedish Elite League where he posted a .911 save percentage in 14 games with Brynas. Lack will likely be in the mix for the starting job next year with the Moose as Cory Schneider will move up to the Canucks. This is a solid low-risk move from Gillis.
Signed D Kevin Connauton to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of 0.90M per year - Connauton was taken 83rd overall in 2009 and is one of six defenders to sign an NHL contract with the Canucks since the trade deadline. Connauton spent last season with the Giants and put up big offensive numbers (24-28-72 and +4 in 69 games). It seems likely that Connauton will not make the Canucks this season and, as such, will spend another year in the CHL.
Signed D Yann Sauve to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of 0.67M per year - Sauve was drafted 41st overall in 2008 and, although the numbers in his last year of junior point to a good player (7-29-36 and +42 in 61 games), the contract is a bit of a red flag. Of the thirteen defenders drafted in the second round in 2008, nine of them have agreed to contracts. Of those nine, only Sauve and 31st overall selection, Vyacheslav Voynov ($845,833) received less than the rookie maximum at the NHL level. It's possible that Gillis promised him an improved chance at a roster spot if he took less money but if that's not the case, it seems both the club and the agent agree that Sauve is worth less than the other defenders taken in the second round of '08. I'll be very interested to see how the Canucks treat Sauve over the next couple of years.
Signed D Chris Tanev to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of 0.90M per year - Tanev was signed as an undrafted free agent after just one NCAA season. Tanev scored 28 points in 41 games as a freshman with R.I.T. and is a big player who will likely spend a year learning the pro game in the AHL. This is a really nice signing by Gillis as it adds a real prospect to the organization for nothing but money.
Signed D Lee Sweatt to a two-way contract for one year at 0.65M per year - Sweatt was a free agent signing who has spent the last several years in Europe. The contract includes a $150,000 signing bonus and an AHL salary of $150,000 which is a very nice payday for Sweatt. He's about 5'8'' and scored less than a point per game in the KHL, the SM-Liiga, his senior year at Colorado College and in the Austrian league. I'd be surprised to see him play a game in the NHL.
Signed F Anton Rodin to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of 0.69M per year - Rodin was taken 53rd overall in 2009 and played last year in the Swedish Elite League where he scored five points in thirty-six games. Not too inspiring. He will not make the Canucks this year and will spend the 2010-11 season either in the AHL - where he would earn the rookie maximum of $67,500 - or back in Sweden.
Signed D Peter Andersson to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of 0.68M per year - Another Swede from the 2009 draft, this time 143rd overall. Andersson spent 2009-10 with Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League and had 5 points in 21 games and like Rodin, he will receive the rookie max of $67,500 if he plays in the AHL but could also play another year in Sweden.
Signed G Cory Schneider to a one-way contract for two years at 0.90M per year - Schneider was drafted 26th overall in 2004 and has been a very good AHL goalie for the last several seasons. Although his save percentage declined from .928 in 2008-09 to .919 in 2009-10, this past season was the first time he posted a better save percentage than his back-up in the AHL. In that there are a lot of people who believe Schneider will be a very good goaltender, this seems like a pretty poor contract from Schneider's perspective. At the end of this season, Schneider would have become a Group 6 unrestricted free agent if he had played fewer than 21 games (for at least 30 minutes per game). Thus, a one year contract with the Canucks basically guarantees him 21 games in 2010-11. The two year deal only guarantees him 21 games over two years. Further, there may well have been teams out there willing to give him an offer sheet that would have earned him more money. As it stands, Schneider has signed on for two years as the back-up to Roberto Luongo. This is a very good deal for the Canucks and a poor one for Schneider.
Signed D Aaron Rome to a one-way contract for two years at 0.75M per year - I was surprised to see Rome get a pay increase since he hadn't established himself as an NHL player (until signing this contract). Last season, Rome's goal differential per sixty minutes was the worst among Canuck defenders at even strength (-0.73/60) which is right where you'd expect a player at the bottom of the roster. At any rate, he's a capable enough seventh or eighth defender and while the dollar figure is a bit high for that kind of player, it's not as though Gillis is breaking the bank either.
Looking Foward to 2010-11
Those who've read here before know that I like to use the chart below as a cap space guideline. Because it's based on percentages, we need to set a cap figure for 2010-11 and I'll use 57M, which is a slight increase from last season. Here's the chart:
Top 3 Forwards - 27.5% or 15.675M
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0% or 11.4M
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5% or 15.675M
Goaltending - 10.0% or 5.7M
Bottom 8 Players - 15.0% or 8.55M
And here it is again with the players the Canucks have signed:
Top 3 Forwards - Sedin, Sedin, Kesler - 30.2% or $17,200,000
Middle 6 Forwards - Samuelsson, Burrows, Bernier, ???, ???, ??? - 11.4% or $6,500,000
Top 4 Defenders - Salo, Edler, Ehrhoff, Bieksa - 23.9% or $13,600,000
Goaltending - Luongo, Schneider - 10.9% or $6,233,333
Bottom 8 Players - Rome, Alberts, Baumgartner, Grabner, Hordichuk, Rypien, ???, ??? - 7.9% or $4,518,333
The bottom line here is that the Canucks have about $8.5M to spend and five players to sign including three top nine forwards. One of those players is sure to be Mason Raymond who needs a new contract this season. Raymond is certainly a good forward and is likely to cost somewhere between $2M and $3.5M which leaves the Canucks between $5M and $6.5M to spend. Let's go with a $3M salary which leaves the Canucks about $5.5M.
At this point, I'd be tempted to plan on one of Cody Hodgson or Jordan Schroeder making the team. Hodgson's cap hit is $1.7M but a lot of that is in bonus money which doesn't count against the cap unless Hodgson meets his bonuses. The upshot is that they can add Hodgson to the lineup for a cap cost of $839,833. Schroeder also has some bonuses in his contract but his base salary is slightly higher which means adding him to the lineup would come at a cap cost of $900,000. Let's plan on one of the two making the team, which leaves the club with $4.6M and three more players to sign.
I think we can easily knock off one of those bottom six forward slots by bringing back Ryan Johnson (or another player who the coach will trust for defensive zone draws) for about $0.8M, bringing our running total down to $3.8M for two players. I think one of those players needs to be a talented even strength forward and the oft-mentioned Colby Armstrong seems like a good fit if it can be done somewhere around $2.5M. The rest of the money would then go to a defender to play in the bottom pairing but who is capable of moving up the lineup when injuries hit. In my opinion, that player should not be Shane O'Brien who has taken penalties at a higher rate than any other Canuck defender for the last two seasons despite facing some of the easiest competition. For a sub-$1M player this might be acceptable but O'Brien's qualifying offer is $1.6M, already far too much for what he brings to the team. He's a guy that I expect Gillis to shop at the draft.
The Canucks also have several unrestricted free agents but I don't expect any of them to sign. I'm sure that they would love to keep Willie Mitchell but the probable price and concerns over his health will likely prevent that from happening. The other players available with expiring contracts don't fit into the team's needs going forward. All in all, I expect Mike Gillis and the Canucks to be bit players in unrestricted free agency, looking for two solid players - one forward and one defender - from outside of the organization. In that three of the Canucks' top four defenders will be off to unrestricted free agency after this season, I would think that the Canucks will try to sign the defender to a mid-to-long term contract. Mike Gillis can earn himself some extra spending money if he can get Raymond's contract done for less than $3M or if he can move Andrew Alberts and Steve Bernier, two players who are likely paid a bit too much for what they bring to the team. Even if those things happen, it's unlikely the Canucks will be in the market for any of the top free agents.
Looking forward to next season, I figure the Canucks to be a slightly better team this year than they were last season but most - if not all and then some - of that increase will be eaten away by a likely decrease in the team's percentages at even strength (in 2009-10 they had a .924 Sv% and a 9.2 Sh% for a PDO of 101.6). As a result, barring any really big surprise improvements, the Canucks will probably once again be a step down from the very best teams in the Western Conference.
My next detailed look at the Canucks will likely be around July 10th after the dust settles from the unrestricted free agency signing period. I'd also like to acknowledge capgeek.com for providing all of the contract information.