The Canucks are heading into free agency with $9.2 million in cap space and a shopping list that requires immediate attention – a top-6 winger to do everything that David Booth and Mason Raymond can’t, and a defenseman to replace Christian Ehrhoff a year too late. There are plenty of big names on this year’s market which are already garnering attention (namely Suter and Parise), but the one everyone seems to be glazing over is Rick Nash.
The media frenzy surrounding Nash died out at the end of the trade deadline when he remained in the coffin that is Columbus (think Ryan Reynolds in “Buried”). Despite his unfortunate location, there is no doubting Nash’s talent – he consistently puts up 60+ points in Columbus alongside a dilapidated fellow winger and no decent center within the city limits. If he had someone to actually play with, say Ryan Kesler, he is the 80-point power forward that makes the Canucks a force to be reckoned with. Although Nash being an all-star in Vancouver is still somewhat speculative because he has never played in a high intensity market, there is no denying he is a monster on the international stage (a pretty good indicator that whoever picks up his contract will get their money’s worth).
As it stands, there are three big obstacles standing between the Canucks and Nash: (1) His cap hit, (2) how much Columbus will demand in return, (3) and the competition. Let’s start with the price tag. Nash’s hit on the salary chart is an atrocious $7.8 million – in comparison, the Sedins make $6.1 million a piece and are proven 80+ point players. As I have gone over in the past, this is a serious dilemma. There is absolutely nothing that can be done about this because the contract has long since been inked; if the Canucks want Nash, they will have to be prepared to let some other players go to make room. Might I suggest cutting Mason Raymond and “dissapearing” Keith Ballard? (once again, think Ryan Reynolds in “Buried”).
The next problem with getting Nash into a Canucks jersey is there is very little the Canucks can offer Columbus from their active roster short of Luongo and a defenseman to play alongside Jack Johnson (most likely Edler would be a name on the table). This is counterintuitive to what Gillis will need to get done this post-season, which is picking up a stronger d-man to fill a void as opposed to create a deeper one. Also, come hell or high water, there is no way Luongo will be opening his no-trade clause for Columbus. Gillis will have to think outside the box to make this happen, but there are still ways to make it work because draft picks, prospects, and young talent are enticing for the rebuild process in Columbus.
The last issue standing in the way is the Competition. Nick Lidstrom is retiring – this means anyone attempting to acquire a top notch player on the free agency market just got a whole lot more difficult. The Red Wings will be in the hunt for every player the Canucks are, except they have the draw of being an American team who will be on HBO this season (and playing in the Winter Classic will definitely be a draw for a superstar who hasn’t got to see much love during their career like Suter or Nash). Coupled with Detroit’s history of success and fans treating their players like royalty, Vancouver will be a tough sell in comparison. Speculation about Detroit aside, there are still lots of other competitors for these players and the Canucks will have to be ready to pay with blood if they want the cream of the crop. Heavy payments are quickly becoming the defacto way to make an impact in the NHL; just look at the two teams currently facing off in the Stanley Cup Finals and the players they recently acquired on the free agency or trade market (New York makes the cut as well for being pretty damn close):
L.A. – Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Dustin Penner on offer sheets
New Jersey – Kovalchuck’s “life-time imprisonment contract” (15 years, $100 million)
New York – Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik
Unlike other teams around the league last summer, the Canucks took very few risks from the Stanley Cup *almost* winning team to this year’s rendition. If anything, it was actually a step backwards due to the loss of a few key components. Booth was acquired, but a strong case can be made that Samuelsson was actually a better fit on the Canucks – not to mention provided playoff experience and veteran leadership. Like it or not, Booth hasn’t been the same since he had his brains turned to mush by Mike Richards.
Maybe that head injury is why he thinks it’s a good idea to tell everyone in Vancouver about his hunting exploits…
Ehrhoff was lost to the UFA market, but the spot was never filled. Instead, Edler was asked to step in and play the role of two defensemen simultaneously (an unfair request to put on any young defenseman in the league). To make matters worse, Salo is getting too old to play top 4 minutes and after getting low bridged by Marchand, he never quite recovered. Even if Salo does re-sign with the Canucks, he will take more of a Kaberle bottom 6 PP specialist type role with a minimal cap hit. It is quickly becoming apparent that there is no one on the roster that can replace Ehrhoff offensively while still being defensively responsible (which is why Gragnani doesn’t make the cut). Seeing as the Canucks play defense-first hockey, Gillis will most likely see finding a defenseman as the top priority.
Because of this “must have” top pairing defenseman, Even if the Canucks theoretically can get Nash and the paperwork is all set, is that $7.8 million price tag worth it? Absolutely. With Luongo off the books to add even more money to the Canucks’ pool and signing Schneider at roughly $4 million, it brings their total spending budget this summer to $10.5 million; that leaves plenty of space available to grab another top flight d-man. Not to mention elite power forwards show up on the market once in a blue moon.
Regardless of whether the Canucks acquire Nash or a different high-tier winger to pick up the slack, Vancouver’s head office is going to have to make some serious changes this off-season and deal with the holes exposed by their disastrous post-season run. If Gillis doesn’t find a partner for Edler and the Canucks rely on their current second-line wingers (Booth, Raymond, Higgins) to play significantly better than they are apparently capable of, the Canucks will once again be on the links far too early next year.