To be fair the Canucks have exceeded expectations so far this season. After 26 games the team has a 9-9-8 record and sits fourth in the Pacific Division, somehow just five points out of first place. However, they’ve played the most games of anyone in the division and have a negative goal differential. The point is that things aren’t too exciting in Vancouver right now and once again fans are wondering what the plan is.
During the 2015 offseason general manager Jim Benning made some inconsistent moves by bringing in some veteran players while also making a pledge to making room for youngsters. He definitely followed through on the latter as the Canucks have six players that are age 24 or younger on their roster.
But as the Canucks continue to slide from a surprisingly strong start to the season, the likelihood of a playoff run is dwindling quickly. With it has also gone the production of some key veterans and it has raised eyebrows on what to do with them.
Cutting Ties With the Past
Most of the players from the 2011 Stanley Cup run are gone but one player that remains is Chris Higgins. Over the years Higgins has proven to be an important source of secondary production and leadership. Unfortunately in the last few years as the Canucks have begun their decline into a rebuild, Higgins performance has gone with it. But at 32-years-old and with his history of consistency he offers an important commodity for many teams in search of a final piece.
At the beginning of the 2015-16 season Higgins endured a foot injury that held him out of the first few weeks of action and hasn’t been the same player for the Canucks since. Higgins has almost always been at least a 35-point player – or more. In comparison he has just two goals in thirteen appearances for the Canucks this year.
On top of the assumed frustration Higgins must be feeling after being a member of the Canucks during their brightest hour, he is nearing the end of his career and without a doubt wants a shot at a championship.
For a team in need of leadership and some second or third line scoring Higgins could come at a very affordable cost. He makes just $2.5m per season and is signed through the 2016-17 season. The Canucks would be treasonous to send him to a team in the Pacific Division but Higgins could easily find himself a home on a team like Minnesota who is so close to being competitive with the big dogs but hasn’t been able to slay the dragon.
When Benning signed Radim Vrbata to a two year $10 million deal it seemed a bit overboard. Vrbata had a useless playoff scoring record and had never been a part of a team that had gone past the second round of the playoffs. While other scoring forwards were on the market and given similar money Benning decided that Vrbata was his best option. The goal was to reignite the fires under the Sedins. The result was an offense just as stagnant as before and a first line with three players of the same skill set.
On top of that and after somehow ridding themselves of two bonafide starting goalies the team signed veteran goaltender and longtime Benning prospect Ryan Miller. Miller was supposed to come into the scene and give Vancouver an undisputed number one. No worries, Eddie Lack stole the show last season and was promptly traded at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
To no surprise both Miller and Vrbata are having subpar seasons. Vrbata has just 12 points in his 24 games which has him scoring at a much slower pace than 2014-15. He’s played mostly with the second and third forward units while Burrows and Hansen have split time with the Sedin twins. Even less impressive are his plus/minus which is at a team worst minus-13 and his nine year low shooting percentage of 6.9%. That’s down from 11.6% in 2014-15.
Miller has been in the same category of performance. After a disappointing initial campaign in Vancouver Miller had made it a point of his to be ready for the 2015-16 season. His stats say differently. Miller has played 21 games for the Canucks already this season but has won just seven times. His save percentage is a .910. Compare that to last season where Miller won 29 games but his save percentage was a similar .911. Now compare both of those years to Miller’s final season in Buffalo which was just three years removed – he recorded a .923.
Neither Miller nor Vrbata’s stats are anything to send home about. They are both nearing the end of their careers. The two of them account for $11m in cap space which means they are occupying 15% of the Canucks salary. They both have gas left in the tank, but it it’s time for the Canucks to accept the fact that the gas won’t be used in Vancouver.
It’s a prime example of take what you can get while you can get it and move on. With Lack on the move to Carolina this past summer and four players under 24 on the current roster, the team really doesn’t need under-performing veterans around.