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.