Change is coming. Or at least, it should be.
The Vancouver Canucks, whose odds of winning the Stanley Cup were not too shabby prior to the season, were unceremoniously swept in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday night by the San Jose Sharks. This was their second first round playoff exit in as many years since making it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. The team has never been as dominant since, and with the constantly changing state of the NHL, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis needs to make some changes to his aging team.
“When I took this job we decided on a style of play that resulted in great success and clearly the landscape has changed and we have to address those changes moving forward, we don’t have a choice,” Gillis told canucks.com. “It’s not something that I necessarily principally agree in, but that’s what we face and that’s what we have to do. We have to make the changes and adjustments necessary to compete for a Stanley Cup. It’s my intention to do it and recognize what’s going on and make sure that we have a team that is better equipped.”
While it is getting increasingly more unlikely that Roberto Luongo will still be in Vancouver come September, goaltending is not the biggest issue; no matter what happens, the team will still have a star goalie on the roster. The Canucks struggled this season with a lack of depth, both offensively and defensively. This in turn impacted their powerplay and their inability to score first or hold onto leads, not to mention an increasing lack of discipline, especially in their short series against San Jose (14 penalty minutes for Daniel Sedin in game four is not something you will see everyday).
The answer to this problem could be to fire head coach Alain Vigneault, the winningest coach in Canucks history. Despite the run to the Finals in 2011 and two Presidents Trophies, Vigneault has not been able to lead this team to a Stanley Cup, which they have now been searching for for over 40 years.
“We’re going to do a thorough review of every element of the organization over the next period of time and AV (Vigneault), like everyone else, will be evaluated for this season and seasons past, especially in the playoffs,” Gillis commented. As Gillis mentioned above, the keys to success in the NHL now are not the same as they were a few years ago, and a new head coach could serve as a strong platform with which to renew their team.
With eight UFAs and five RFAs, the Canucks have a lot of players to re-sign and/or a lot of players to acquire. This could be made even easier with a little bit more cap space. Alex Edler’s six-year extension starts next season, increasing his pay to $5 million a season with a no trade clause. With his inconsistency this past season, it would be most convenient to trade him now. Three of the Canucks other core defenders, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison, already have no-trade clauses, so trading away Edler would not entirely deplete the Canucks blueline; it is likely that they could receive a lot, such as another top defender, in return.
Other players possibly on the chopping block include Derek Roy, Mason Raymond, Andrew Ebbett, Steve Pinizzotto, Andrew Alberts, Cam Barker, Keith Ballard and David Booth.
With the other likely departures of Luongo and Manny Malhotra, the Canucks’ top-line of the Sedins and Alex Burrows will then host the Canucks’ oldest players; each is currently 32 years old. Add to that the fact that two of the Canucks’ youngest players, Chris Tanev and Jordan Schroeder, are RFAs this summer. It is no secret that the Canucks are an aging team with little hope of a bountiful future with the young prospects they have in their system.
“It’s my job to give the coach the best players that we can possibly give him and regardless of what happened, and regardless of what happened in the shortened season, that’s my responsibility and that’s my job,” said Gillis.
While their premature departure from the 2012-13 season is no doubt still stinging like a shark bite, this long off season and abrupt wake up call might be exactly what the Canucks need to gain what they lost in 2011. Injured players will have time to fully recover and both players and management can reflect on what went wrong and what went right in order to construct a plan for a Cup-winning team. They may be back at square one, but in reality, it’s not that bad of a place to be.