Though their season ended in disappointment, the Vancouver Canucks appear to be quite content with their team as is.
Why wouldn’t they? The team’s most successful season in history including the President’s Trophy, Northwest Division and Western Conference championship and a playoff run that fell just short in game seven of the Stanley Cup final.
Are changes needed? Yes, after all they did not complete their goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Perhaps more concerning than that is that their top players, for a variety of reasons, all had questionable failures at various times in the playoffs.
Some fans were hoping for aggressive changes to put the Canucks over the top. Trade Cory Schneider and Cody Hodgson for that top six scoring forward to play with Ryan Kesler. Get rid of Keith Ballard and his contract. And of course the popular though ridiculous outcry to trade Roberto Luongo anywhere.
While some impatient fans are clamouring for changes, so far the Canucks have chosen to stand pat. Their key move was to re-sign unrestricted free agent defenseman Kevin Bieksa, but they were unable to retain another key blue liner in Christian Ehrhoff. On the blue line they also re-upped Sami Salo and Andrew Alberts on defense.
Otherwise the Canucks have basically been in housekeeping mode, making moves that likely will have low impact. Up front they re-signed Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre while letting Raffi Torres, Tanner Glass, Alex Bolduc, Jeff Tambellini and Rick Rypien leave. They added virtual unknowns Mark Mancari and Andrew Ebbett as depth moves, hoping to find hidden gems. Andrew Alberts and Sami Salo return on the blue line.
The Canucks biggest splash so far was signing Marco Sturm. It may also prove to be their biggest gamble. Sturm was once a valuable role player who gave coaches incredible flexibility. He can play all three forward positions, play on lines two, three, or four, and play on both specialty teams units. But knee injuries in the past three seasons have significantly slowed the once-speedy German. Even if he can stay healthy, will he be able to find his game back? If he can, general manager Mike Gillis will look like a genius.
That the Canucks are standing pat in the free agency market is the correct call. The key missing ingredients – namely secondary offense – can not be found amongst the unrestricted free agency group. This is one of the thinnestest UFA classes ever. With a lack of supply, many teams – looking just to reach the salary cap floor – are overpaying to meet their own demands. The Canucks do not have the salary cap space to gamble on the wrong puzzle pieces. Thomas Fleischman at $4.5 million a year? Overachieving Joel Ward at $3 million per? No thanks.
Instead the Canucks will patiently wait for the free agency dust to settle and will test the emerging trade market in the off-season and in training camp. Perhaps even into the the season. Options are emerging. If Washington can get a potential top 5 draft pick in exchange for Semyon Varlamov, imagine what Cory Schneider might be worth. I would still be surprised if Schneider is a Canuck by the conclusion of the trading deadline in 2012, and I still believe his trade value is at it’s highest this summer.
Changes are coming. Canucks fans just have a little patience.