What the Canucks REALLY need

As this seemingly intermimable offseason continues, it appears increasingly likely that the Vancouver Canucks will head into training camp without the one piece that everyone seems to think they need in order to contend (if you’re optimistic) or compete (if you’re in the doom-and-gloom crowd):  a top-flight offensive defenseman who can quarterback the power play like John Elway on skates and lead the rush like a modern-day Alexander the Great.  Or at least a reasonable facsimile.

Unfortunately for GM Mike Gillis, such players are in high demand around the league.  The few that have been available via free agency (e.g., Derek Morris) have received bigger contracts than their stats might have suggested, and certainly larger than the Canucks’ cap situation allows.  Others (such as Tomas Kaberle) are rumoured to be available via trade, but at prices that amount to extortion.

Some fans are now hanging their hopes on a lower tier of offensive D-men which includes such as Marc-Andre Bergeron — players with some offensive potential but significant defensive deficiencies.

But maybe we should take another look at this team and ask, is that what we really need?  Let’s examine the existing defense corps:  Kevin Bieksa, for example, put up 11 goals, 32 assists, and 43 points this past season (compares well against Jay Bouwmeester’s 15-27-42) and 12-30-42 in 2006-2007.  Yet Bieksa is mentioned more often as trade bait these days than as the offensive catalyst that he has been and should continue to be.

What about Sami Salo?  We all know about his injury woes over the years, but when he is in the lineup he is a dependable puck mover.  With his booming point shot, he should be scoring much more than he has in the past couple of  years, however (5 goals last year, 8 the year before).

Lest we forget, we also have Alex Edler, whose 37-point (10g, 27a) breakout season may be a sign of even better offensive production to come.  Shane O’Brien also showed some decent ability to handle the puck.

At this point, it seems pretty obvious that the Canucks are not short on offensive talent on the backend.  In a nutshell, this is what they need:

  • 65+ games from Sami Salo:  A full season is too much to wish for, so let’s not bother.  If the Canucks can get 65 or more games from Salo, the power play will be in great shape.
  • Fewer risky plays from Kevin Bieksa (and Willie Mitchell, for that matter):  The only thing holding back Bieksa is sheer boneheadedness.  If he can cut down his mental mistakes, he is a potential all-star.  Willie Mitchell was very steady during the regular season and the first playoff series, and much less so against the Blackhawks.  He needs to get back to playing steady defense; doing so would help ease the loss of Mattias Ohlund.
  • Continued development from Alex Edler:  If Edler can continue to improve, all this talk of needing a new offensive defenseman will disappear in a flash.
  • A dependable sixth defenseman:  Salo, Bieksa, Mitchell, Edler, O’Brien.  That’s five.  There will be ample opportunity for the likes of Lawrence Nycholat, Aaron Rome, Evan Oberg, or a Mike Gillis acquisition-to-be-named-later to step up and fill the void.
  • Some way to convince Kirill Koltsov to play in Vancouver: If only.

  • Derek Jung

    Phil: That’s an excellent comment. I hope Coach V is taking notes! You are right; their biggest problems result from panicking under pressure when the forwards aren’t helping out.

  • Phil

    I think the Canucks forwards and defense also need to support each other more effectively in their own end. Too often, a fore checked defense man just pushes the puck around the boards or reverses direction because the forwards have gone to half boards and the center is stationary in front of the net. As soon as the forwards recognize their defense man with the puck needs an outlet they should move together to give him a short safe pass opportunity; that would force the fore checkers to react and the opposing defense to move back off the blue line unless they wanted to risk an odd man breakout chance going the other way. This is just an example; my main point is that the Canucks can limit the problems in their own end attributed to a lack of defensive foot speed by improving they way they use all 5 players to create easy outs from their own end.

  • Derek Jung

    Thanks for the comment! Yeah, Salo is brittle….But then again, he has played 60 (last year), 63, 67, and 59 games in the past four years, and actually had 74- and 79-game seasons with the Canucks pre-lockout. So I don’t think 65 is out of the realm of possibility. If they can get over 3/4 of a season out of the Fragile Finn, they’re looking good. That said, if they can find a top-4 d-man for a reasonable price (trade or free agent), I’d be all for that. Just stay away from the crappy 5/6 d-man who’s going to give us heart attacks all year….

  • http://www.nucksmisconduct.com Zanstorm

    Nice article! Only problem is: how in the blue hell is Salo ever going to remain healthy? I’ve given up hope on him. This makes me believe that an acquisition of a top 4 d-man is necessary.