While the biggest move of the Canuck off-season has yet to transpire, there has been some recent activity that demands our commentary.
The most impactful move so far was yesterday’s signing of defenseman Jason Garrison. Garrison, a local product with less than three NHL seasons of experience, has struck it rich, signing a six-year deal for nearly $28 million – a lofty pay-day for a player with one notable NHL season to his credit and who was passed over at the entry draft years ago. But the 27-year-old, a late bloomer, has been a quick study at the NHL level, logging over 22 minutes per game in his first two full NHL seasons. And with 16 goals last season, he looks to be more than capable of filling the offensive void left by Sami Salo, who has begun his retirement early alongside former teammate Mattias Ohlund in Tampa Bay. And while we’ll miss Salo, at times the Canucks most complete d-man, he was clearly (and rightfully) looking for a financial home-run instead of another year in Vancouver at a market discount.
But the committment to Garrison smells like the Keith Ballard debacle all over again (a significant financial commitment to a player with some success albeit only in a low pressure hockey backwater). We can only hope that he won’t wilt under the spotlight of playing in his hometown and, most importantly, manages to avoid the doghouse of Alain Vigneault. While Garrison is a big body, he is not known for his physicality, which will put him at odds with Vigneault from the get go. The real oddity here is that Garrison now becomes the Canucks’ highest paid defender. And he won’t have the smooth skating Brian Campbell to partner with, but instead the inconsistent Alex Edler. At this price, it seems impossible that Garrison will be able to meet expectations. But Ballard can keep him company.
Outside of Garrison, there has been no other additions, but plenty of players on the way out. Joining Sami Salo on the way out-of-town are Aaron Rome, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Sami Pahlsson, Victor Oreskovich, Mike Duco and Ryan Parent.
The only real surprises here are possibly Rome, who seemed to be a favourite of Coach Vigneault and Gragnani, who was obtained at the trade deadline and forecasted in the long-term as a possible power play quarterback.
Rome, as a depth defender, was essentially redundant with Andrew Alberts still on the team. But the decision to not retain Gragnani seems bizarre, particularly since the team bent over backwards to give him ice time down the stretch so that he could remain a restricted free agent thus giving themselves first crack at retaining his services. Perhaps the signing of Garrison was anticipated, allowing the team to give up on Gragnani?
We will not at all mourn the loss of the overrated Pahlsson, but only the price paid to get him (two fourth round picks and a minor leaguer) - this deal looks like something a panicky Dave Nonis would have cooked up. And for the time being leaves the Canucks (with Ryan Kesler on the sidelines) with Manny Malhotra and Maxim Lapierre as their second and third line centres. Where have you gone, Cody Hodsgon?
Players that seem to be destined surprisingly to start the season in Vancouver include Mason Raymond, Manny Malhotra and, of course, maybe even Roberto Luongo.
Since Raymond was untradeable at the deadline, the Canucks seem prepared to give him another look, at a reduced price. The return of mister flash and dash and his perimeter puck handling are not what this team needs.
Manny Malhotra suffered through a horrible season and the Canucks are on the hook for another year at a very pricey $2.5 million, but with the loss of Ryan Kesler for at least the early portions of the season, Malhotra will get plenty of opportunity to return to his one-dimensional form.
While the signing of new number one goalie Cory Schneider to a three-year deal should have officially put the end to the Luongo era, it would not surprise us if Bobby Lou starts the season here. After all, Mike Gillis, in case you haven’t noticed, is quite determined to do things as unconventionally as possible. From our perspective, it is in everyone’s best interests to move Luongo sooner rather than later. While it’s conceivable that early season struggles by goaltending starved teams like the Leafs and Lightning could up the ante in the Luongo sweepstakes, the reverse is also true and could leave the Canucks with $9 million tied up in a position where only one guy can play. Ultimately, Roberto is a proven commodity whose value, independent of other team’s needs, will not get any higher. Further, he has been the consummate professional in his time here and should be spared any further indignity in this market.
There is still plenty of time in this off-season for Mike Gillis to upgrade his back-to-back President’s Trophy winning team and despite the log jam in net, there is still plenty of money to spend. And we expect it will be spent. Just ask Jason Garrison.
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