Oh how quickly a situation can deteriorate for a franchise in the National Hockey League. In the case of the Vancouver Canucks, they were never quite able to recover from the 2013 playoff ousting that saw both significant roster and personnel changes. What the team is left with now is a revamped staff of fresh faces, a bevy of quality prospects and about three quarters of the core that brought them within one win of the 2011 Stanley Cup.
One of the biggest problems the Canucks faced this season was consistency beyond their first line, and the lack of what I would call skilled grit on their 3rd and 4th lines. Now where credit is due, it shall be given, and there were some definite positives this year for some names on the Canucks bottom six.
Bo Horvat had a breakout rookie year that displayed his bright future in the league, the unexpected development of Ronalds Kenins caught both Canucks brass and fans by surprise, and Derek Dorsett took the city by storm. But something has been missing from this club for a few years running: Maxim Lapierre.
In Lapierre’s eight full seasons in the National Hockey League he has missed the post-season…well…never. He has made the Eastern Conference Finals (2010), Been a part of two President’s Trophy winning squads (2011,2012) and made a Stanley Cup Final appearance (2011). That is a pretty stacked list of successes that Lapierre’s teams have achieved.
Now let’s be frank here, Lapierre doesn’t turn any heads when he is skating, nor does he blow up the scoreboard…ever. His most productive season ever was in 2008-2009 where he recorded 15 goals and 13 assists for the Montreal Canadiens. But what Lapierre does do, every single year, is play a subtle but vital role in as the energizer of the bottom six. Without a doubt, the guy has clearly got winning DNA in his body.
What the Canucks Get Out of Lapierre
Unless Jim Benning has got a few cards up his sleeve that nobody knows about, the Canucks are going to be a bit strapped for cash this upcoming season. Benning and co. have yet to sign RFA’s Yannick Weber and Ryan Stanton and look poised to let both Brad Richardson and Shawn Matthias walk come free agent frenzy on July 1st. With limited room and some obvious upgrades needed why not look where it has already worked in the past.
Maxim Lapierre is coming off of a 2-year $2.2 Million deal and didn’t have a stellar year so it’s not like he’s due a significant raise…if any at all. If the Canucks really want to be competitive this year they can’t afford to not get production out of their third and fourth lines, whether that comes offensively or defensively. With Lapierre in the mix, the Canucks would have a bona fide face-off man with the ability to carry the fourth line as a helpful and usable piece of arsenal.
Imagine lining up against Max Lapierre flanked by Derek Dorsett and Ronalds Kenins. Better hope you’re fast enough to avoid them all because the hits are coming, and if you let down you’d be surprised how fast those three will find mesh.
There is nothing that can replace a gritty but skilled forward. They are equally as important as a franchise player but never given enough credit. If the Canucks keep Bonino (which I would argue against), the center position would more than likely go; Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat, Nick Bonino, Max Lapierre. That doesn’t sound half bad to me. Yes, maybe Horvat struggles at times during the year while learning the ropes of being a truly two-way center in the NHL, but he proved himself worthy of the opportunity and Lapierre solidifies the fourth unit as one that Desjardins can feel comfortable putting on the ice at any point.
At age 30 this coming season Lapierre will be at his physical and mental peaks, not to mention he knows he has only a handful of quality years left meaning he will put his all into his role on the team. When push comes to shove there might not be a better fourth line center option available via free agency or trade, and neither Brendan Gaunce nor Cole Cassels are the right guys.
What Lapierre Gets Out of the Canucks
Sure, Lapierre got to play in his home province to begin his career and had some pretty good success playing his role in Montreal for a handful of years, but Lapierre’s most defining moments of his career were surely as a Vancouver Canuck. He was pivotal during the 2011 Stanley Cup run and was a core piece of the team that won the President’s Trophy the following year. A homecoming to Vancouver would give Lapierre a chance to relive those moments and possibly mentor some younger players. It’s not out of the question that the Canucks are competitive next year, especially if they sign Maxim Lapierre.
If I were Benning and Co., and maybe there is a reason why I’m not, I would make a serious run at grabbing Lapierre via free agency. Forget trading for another ‘impact’ forward and choking up your salary cap. The Canucks are built around the Sedin and need to play off those offendive instincts. But Lapierre is the perfect combination of skill and grit that the Canucks lacked out of a fourth line shutdown guy this past season.
Lapierre is a proven winner and with the Canucks still shaken up from all the movement the last few years it wouldn’t hurt to bring him in and calm things down. All the Canucks need is another move that brings the team unnecessary attention. Note to Benning: stick with what has worked for this club. Sign the French Canadian face-off master.