The Canucks in Free Agency

The Vancouver Canucks made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games. In the off-season, Mike Gillis had (and has!) the chance to make significant changes, but so far, he seems content to make small moves and keep most of his core group together for another shot at glory. After the jump, I'll take a gander at how all of his recent moves fit together.

What have they done since we last checked in?

Signed D Sami Salo to a one-year contract with a cap hit of $2,000,000 - Salo is a hurt a lot, but when he's not hurt, he's still a pretty darn good player. He's handled tough minutes adequately in the recent past, but probably won't get that role in 2011-12. More likely, he'll be asked to play on the second pairing with long-time partner Alexander Edler and take over some of the power play minutes that Christian Ehrhoff left behind. He's a good bet to get it done, which is why I thought he might cost the Canucks about a million dollars more. That he didn't makes this a great deal for Vancouver.

Signed F Chris Higgins to a two-year contract with a cap hit of $1,900,000 - Higgins is an good player who doesn't have a lot of finish. He has able to outchance his opposition at even strength with the Panthers and generally did more of the same with the Canucks throughout the playoffs. But last season he shot just 8.1%, which was well-below the forward average and his 4.8% shooting percentage in 2009-10 was one of the league's worst. His career average is a little better (just above 10%), and if he can bring that up, he may well score twenty goals. He's capable of playing on either Ryan Kesler's scoring line or Manny Malhotra's defense-only line, which makes him an excellent fit in Vancouver. Another excellent signing for the Canucks.

Signed F Mark Mancari to a one-year contract with a cap hit of $525,000 - At 6'3'' and 225 lbs., Mancari is a huge right-winger, and with 205 points in his last 203 AHL games, he has some skill too. But despite the size and the impressive numbers, the twenty-six year-old forward has yet to establish himself at the NHL level. But he's getting closer. He played in a career-high twenty games for the Sabres last season , but this one-way contract gives him the inside track on a fourth-line job with the Canucks. I like this deal because it gives the Canucks a reasonable option for the fourth line at the minimum salary. If he doesn't work out in Vancouver, they can just send him down and he's pretty much a lock to help big-time in the AHL. Bringing in a few of these guys to compete with your best kids for the last few roster spots is exactly the kind of bet a rich team should be making.

Signed F Marco Sturm to a one-year contract with a cap hit of $2,250,000 - Chris Higgins must be rolling his eyes at this deal because he's a much better bet than Sturm who's had some significant injury problems in the last few years. In his last full season with the Bruins (2009-10), Sturm played a lot with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi and was very successful against tough minutes. His long-term history in the league (six consecutive 40-point seasons from 2001-02 to 2007-08) further suggests that, if he can recover fully from the aforementioned injuries, he should certainly be able to help. I think that Canucks will probably use him as a replacement for Raffi Torres on Malhotra's defensive line, and demote him to the fourth line if he struggles. Mike Gillis mentioned it when he signed Sturm, but the one-year term makes this a low-risk bet.

Signed D Nolan Baumgartner to a one-year two-way contract with a cap hit of $525,000 - Baumgartner has been in the Canucks organization for the last three years collecting pretty good money to play in the AHL. The veteran defenseman will earn $250,000 as a mentor with the Chicago Wolves in 2011-12, so that trend continues, but I doubt he makes an appearance in Vancouver. Right now, he's definitely no better than tenth on the depth chart, and he may be even lower than that, which speaks to the number of quality blueliners in the Canucks' organization.

Signed F Andrew Ebbett to a one-year contract with a cap hit of $525,000 - Ebbett has bounced around a lot since turning pro in 2006-07 after four years with the Michigan Wolverines. He's played in Binghamton, Portland, Anaheim, Iowa, Chicago, Minnesota, San Antonio, and Phoenix. That list of cities tells you exactly what he is: a tweener. The 5'9'' forward has 0.97 points per game in  210 career AHL games and 0.36 points per game in 145 career NHL games. His time in the NHL in 2010-11 was spent mostly with Phoenix where he played on the fourth line, and that's his likely destination should he make the Canucks out of training camp. This fringe one-way deal is very similar to the Mancari signing - although they're quite different players - but as I said earlier, it makes sense to have a few of these guys.

Signed F Steve Pinizzotto to a one-year two-way contract with a cap hit of $600,000 - Pinizzotto is another of these fringe guys, but unlike Mancari and Ebbett, he doesn't have any NHL experience. What he does have is a history of scoring in the OPJHL, NCAA, ECHL, and now AHL with a mean streak along for the ride. He's not particularly big, but with 0.65 points per game, 302 penalty minutes, and 15 fights in his last two AHL seasons, the twenty-seven year-old certainly isn't a shrinking violet. Vancouver's coach employed a similar player in Tanner Glass last season, so there may be an opportunity for Pinizzotto to make the team, but if he doesn't, the $275,000 AHL salary is a nice consolation prize.

Signed D Alexander Sulzer to a one-year two-way contract with a cap hit of $700,000 - Sulzer played in 40 NHL games last year with the Predators and Panthers bringing his career total to 62, but I think he's probably ninth on the Canucks' depth chart at this time, so he'll probably get put on waivers. It's not a guaranteed that he sneaks through, but Sulzer was an unrestricted free agent and wasn't able to get a one-way deal from anyone, so it would seem likely that he makes it through. His $105,000 AHL salary means that he doesn't need to clear re-entry waivers on the way back up, so he'll likely get a chance to add to his NHL games played total sometime during the year, and if he impresses, he might even get to stay.

Signed G Matt Climie to a one-year two-way contract with a cap hit of $525,000 - The Canucks have Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider entrenched at the NHL level, and Eddie Lack - who was named to the AHL all-rookie team - under contract as the third goaltender. As such, this seems like a strange landing-spot for Climie who's had pretty good results over his last two seasons as an AHL starter (save percentages of .919 and .913). It's a great signing for the Canucks who now have more quality depth at the position, but a terrible fit for Climie unless the $105,000 AHL salary was significantly more than his other offers.

Traded F Sergei Shirokov to Florida and received F Mike Duco. Signed F Mike Duco to a one-year two-way contract with a cap hit of $550,000 - Duco is a goonish 5'10'' forward who can score a little too (he's scored 0.40 points per game in his AHL career) while Shirokov is a slick forward who led the Manitoba Moose in scoring last season but has signed with a team in Russia. It's an odd trade for the Panthers unless they plan on offering Shirokov a one-way deal next summer - they probably will, and it'll be a three-year deal for $3M per year - and a clear downgrade in skill for the Canucks. Still, this is a clear win for Mike Gillis once the comedic aspect is taken into account. Trading for a guy who said (via Twitter) "sick of watching the sedins dive and lay on the ice" and "HA... solid night Luongo" after Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals is plain old amusing. Solid work, Mike(s).

Looking ahead to 2011-12

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 decide on a budget figure for each team, and for Vancouver, I've decided to use the cap ceiling of $64.3M, which means the numbers listed below will be cap numbers instead of salaries. Here's the chart:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5% or 17.68M
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0% or 12.86M
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5% or 17.68M
Goaltending - 10.0% or 6.43M
Bottom 8 Players - 15.0% or 9.65M

And here it is again with the players that the Canucks have signed:

Top 3 Forwards - Sedin, Sedin, Kesler - 26.7% or 17.20M
Middle 6 Forwards - Raymond, Samuelsson, Malhotra, Burrows, Sturm, Higgins - 21.3% or 13.70M
Top 4 Defenders - Bieksa, Hamhuis, Salo, Edler - 22.3% or 14.35M
Goaltending - Luongo, Schneider - 9.7% or 6.23M
Bottom 8 Players - Lapierre, Ebbett, Mancari, Ballard, Alberts, Rome, Tanev, (Bonus Carry), ??? - 14.2% or 9.14M

That last question mark will soon be filled by Jannik Hansen who played most of last season playing in Vancouver's top nine, but is likely going to start 2011-12 on the fourth line with Maxim Lapierre. Those two can both play higher in the lineup for long stretches, which means that Vancouver's forward depth is excellent to start the year. I think that teams like San Jose, Los Angeles, and Chicago have all improved since last season, but Mike Gillis has done an excellent job making sure that Vancouver comes in with all of the high-end players and most of the depth that they had in 2010-11. Most of these players are in their prime, and the Canucks still have plenty of room to add another significant piece either before or during the season. As such, I think that the Canucks should probably be favored to win the Western Conference at this time. But let's not dwell on it.

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