Canucks’ Stanley Cup window not closed yet

The Vancouver Canucks amazing season did not finish as hoped in 2011. But unlike most other Stanley Cup finalists in years past, this does not necessarily have to be the team's only shot at a Stanley Cup championship.

The Vancouver Canucks amazing season did not finish as hoped in 2011. But unlike most other Stanley Cup finalists in years past, this does not necessarily have to be the team’s only shot at a Stanley Cup championship.

There is no reason for the Canucks to reinvent the wheel. After all, this team did win the President’s trophy and made it all the way to within one game of winning the Stanley Cup. Had their roster not been decimated with injuries, Vancouver very well may have somehow found a way to one more game.

The Canucks core players are locked up with long term contracts. The Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Roberto Luongo, Alex Burrows, Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis are all signed for at least 2 more years. Say what you want about their performance against Boston, but these are the guys most responsible for the Canucks most successful season ever.

With that core locked up they should be able contend again. In fact, Bodog already has them as 5 to 1 favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2012. There is no need to blow this team up.

The Canucks have about $46.5 million committed to 14 players under contract next season. With the salary cap expected to rise to about $62.5 million, that leaves $16 million to fill out 7 or maybe 8 roster spots, although realistically their actual working number may be $15 million or lower to allow for some cap flexibility that they did not enjoy this past season.

The Canucks most pressing needs are acquiring 2 quality defensemen (which may very well be by resigning UFAs Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff) and ideally finding a scoring forward to play with Ryan Kesler. Add the need to resign restricted free agent Jannik Hansen, who should be in for a healthy raise.

Realistically all that might eat up the better part of the available money right there, leaving 4 roster spots unfilled. It will be interesting to see how they solve this. They have a number of creative options.

Here’s a more in depth look at the team’s needs.

Forwards

The Canucks most pressing contract issue up front will be Jannik Hansen, though since he is only a restricted free agent he may have to wait until later in the summer to get his deal done. The only other RFAs up front are Maxim Lapierre and Victor Oreskovich. With Cody Hodgson needing ice time this season, it is possible that the Canucks choose not to offer Lapierre a qualifying offer and walk away from him and his unlikable reputation. Oreskovich impressed in the second half of the season and should make the team this next season.

The Canucks also have to decide what to do about unrestricted forwards Chris Higgins, Raffi Torres, Jeff Tambellini, and Tanner Glass. Ultimately all are replaceable commodities, although it is a weak pool of UFAs to choose from this summer. Given the way Boston beat up on the Sedins, they may look to invest in a tough guy a la Shawn Thornton or Ben Eager.

Ideally the Canucks would like to add a scoring forward to play with Ryan Kesler on the second line. Their mighty regular season offense dried up completely against the Bruins in large part due to a lack of a secondary scoring threat. But with no intriguing candidates available in the UFA pool, the Canucks may have to look at trade options.

Defense

The blue line needs the most attention. First and foremost the Canucks need to make a quick decision about impending unrestricted free agents Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff. Conventional wisdom suggest they will try to keep Bieksa. Can they keep both? Or do they let Ehrhoff walk and use the remaining cap space to try and land another scorer up front?

What they do with Keith Ballard will be nearly as interesting. He is the Canucks 2nd highest paid rearguard at $4.2 million. That’s a hefty ticket for a player coach Alain Vigneault clearly, for whatever reason, has no faith in. The Canucks should be able to move that contract, although do not expect anything in return. The salary floor is increasing to over $45 million, and with defensemen at always at a premium a few lower end teams will be interested.

Along with Hamhuis and Edler, impressive rookie Chris Tanev and cap-friendly Aaron Rome are the only defenseman guaranteed to be back. Decisions also need to be made UFAs Andrew Alberts, who has a good chance at coming back, and Sami Salo, who does not.

Goaltenders

Both goalies are locked up for next season, though what they opt to do is potentially fascinating. Quite a few teams will be inquiring about Cory Schneider. Conventional wisdom originally had the Canucks looking to maximize his trade value by moving him this summer before he reaches unrestricted status next summer when he will almost certainly walk. Do they move him hoping to find that scoring forward now, or do they hope for another Stanley Cup run with a strong goaltending tandem and lose him for nothing? Moving him at the trade deadline is another possibility, but as a rental player his trade value will not be as high.

Roberto Luongo is of course locked up seemingly forever and has a no trade clause. Yet some (or is it many?) fans would rather dump Luongo and sign Schneider long term. Even if Luongo wanted out, trading partners would be incredibly limited. It is an interesting idea, but unlikely.

The Canucks have some interesting decisions to make. But they must be made fast, as most of this action will take place in late June at the NHL draft or in early July when the free agency period begins.

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