The Stanley Cup has been awarded, the Draft has come and gone, and the win /loss column has officially been reset to zero. Even though the Draft is the start of the off season, it is still based on the past season's standings. As the Free Agent signing period begins on July the first, all teams have an equal chance of making vast improvements, establishing themselves as early Cup contenders. It may not be realistic, I'm certainly guilty of it, but it's the one day of the year as fans we can all say " this will be the year."
With two days to go until the signings begin, let's take a drive across Canada's NHL landscape and pay a visit to our six Canadian clubs. Since Vancouver was my home for ten years, why don't we drop by GM Place and have a brief look at the Canucks.
The exception is Kirk Maclean in the early nineties, otherwise, Vancouver has been a goalie graveyard. Now that they have Roberto Loungo in place, that position should finally be solidified. Although, they have struggled to find a suitable back up for their number one. They have their man behind the mask but now the question arises; who is going to score on this team?
New GM Mike Gillis made the unusual move of retaining Head Coach Allain Vigneault but firing his entire staff. A slow start will translate into a quick change behind the bench. I expect a slow start.
Injuries decimated the Canuck defence last season. Top man, Ohlund played 53 games, Salo - 63 games, Miller - 57 games. Miller might be moving on as a UFA if he's looking for more than last year's $1.5 million. Restricted Free Agent, Alex Edler, played 71 games and should probably get a multi year extension and a raise. With a reliable D group, things should stay the same on the back end.
Vancouver has $21.6 million in space under the new $56.7 million salary cap. Henrik and Daniel Sedin are going into the final year of their contracts at $3.75 million. They'll double that number in a new deal. Gillis has made it a priority to meet the twins next month to explore an extension. The names on every teams wish list could be the former Penguin teammates, Hossa and Malone. Both have made it clear they'll go to the open market July first. Hossa might be too expensive but Malone would be a perfect fit with the down low control game of the Sedins. Malone will certainly get a raise from last year's salary and the Canucks have the room if a bidding war develops between four or five teams as is expected. Malone is a hot commodity after his trip to the Finals.
The last time the Canucks had a power house line was prior to the Bertuzzi "incident". Morrison played only 39 games last season but I expect him to be back in the Fall. He's a good second line center and could drop down to the third line if Wellwood is offered a contract and regains his form. Naslund said a few years ago he would raise his children in Sweden and probably wouldn't sign another NHL contract. Well that time has come. At $6 million last year, is Naslund over paid for his 55 points? He hasn't been the same since good friend Bertuzzi mugged Steve Moore. Bert by the way, was just bought out by the Ducks making him a Free Agent. I honestly would not be surprised, if the price was right, to see Morrison centering the second line with Naslund and Bertuzzi on the wings. Vanouver fans loved these three and they were one of the NHL's dominant lines in 2003.
It's hard to know how Mike Gillis will spend his money. The former player agent, Naslund's agent by the way, has no track record as a GM. What kind of team is he looking to build? By keeping the coach, he seems to be happy with the team defensively so it's time to open up the offence and that means opening the wallet. Huselius from Calgary could be a cheaper secondary scoring option. Also, look for Restricted Free Agents Antoine Vermette in Ottawa and Nigel Dawes from the Rangers to garner a look from the Canucks. They are young, have grit, scoring potential and could probably be signed for a reasonable $2.5 million a year for three or four years.
Now, let's cross the scenic Rockies, head North, and drop by Oil country...