Free Agency Attrition


Nearing the end of the third week in August, with training camp yet to begin, the Vancouver Canucks roster is already looking different.

General Manager Mike Gillis wasted no time supplementing the blueline with the addition of Dan Hamhuis, in a very surprising turn of events at the beginning of Free Agency.  Though the Philadelphia Flyers had obtained exclusive rights to negotiate with the 27 year old Baudette, Minnesota native (at the cost of a 3rd round pick), it was a longer-term deal with Vancouver that enticed him away from the City of Brotherly Love.    With the uncertainty surrounding Willie Mitchell’s status, and Salo’s penchant for untimely injuries, Canucks fans were ecstatic with the signing.

Then, of course, was the move that no-one really foresaw happening:  The trade sending Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and 2010 VAN 1st round pick (Quinton Howden) to Florida in exchange for Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich.  At this point in time, no matter how Ballard plays, props must be given to Gillis for his aggressive pursuit of free agents and use of assets to give the Canucks what they need: Reliable, healthy, time-tested defense.  Both d-men have a track record of rugged durability, which should help eliminate one of the X-Factors that essentially eliminated the Canucks in the 2010 Playoffs.  More than that, it’s a sign of commitment by Gillis to compete for the now, which in times past perhaps wasn’t as transparent.

As usually occurs in the NHL, when money is transfered to an area of concern, some players become, for lack of a better term, expendable.  The Canucks have several prime examples of this.

Willie Mitchell has been practicing with other NHL teams, so it’s almost a foregone conclusion that he won’t be back next season.  Again, as I stated in “Pity For Mitchell” (a few blogs back) it’s a bit of a travesty that things have played out this way for the shutdown defender.  We’ll certainly miss the big Willie-style poke-check.  I’ll never, ever, forget the way he caught Jonathan Toews in the trolley tracks.  But it’s sure an argument for “Those that live by the sword, perish by the sword”.

Another victim of the early numbers game is center Ryan Johnson.  The shot-blocker extraordinare was not offered a new contract by the Canucks, and has yet to find employ in the NHL.  Apparently, if you listen to Red Wings upper management, the NHL is trying to force older players to sign for less money, with the constant push from younger players willing to play for much less.  Perhaps I had a different perspective, but I can’t recall a summer when so many legitimate NHL players were without a contract this close to training camp.  But with the option for players to go and play in Europe or in the Kontinental Hockey League, and for a decent salary, the financial landscape truly has changed.  Just imagine how murky the Canucks fiscal situation would be if the League nullified Luongo’s Conditional contract approval?   Rumors still swirl around Kevin Bieksa, but one has to believe that with every day that goes by that he hasn’t been traded, the more likely he won’t be.  The iron has never been hotter, and the Ottawa Sun reported there were no less than six teams interested in him.  I can say this much:  If he doesn’t get traded, the Canucks might have the most expensive checking line defensive pairing in the NHL.  The Canuck Way will certainly be there to break any story that involves the heady defender.

I certainly don’t wish to come off as cliche, but it’s hard to recall a summer that held so much optimism in regards to the Canucks chances for success in the upcoming season.  Mike Gillis thrust out his scythe into the Free Agency field and appears to have reaped bountifully.  The addition of Manny Malholtra is a bit understated as well.  Fans do have to say goodbye to a few familiar faces in order to do so, but there is excitement at the prospect of what some new blood will infuse into the chemistry of the 2010/11 Vancouver Canucks.