Edmonton - June 12, 2014 - The Vancouver Canucks need to make improvements to their top 6 forward group this off season if they have any chance of returning to the Playoffs. Luckily some of the improvements will come from within. Henrik and Daniel Sedin should both have bounce back seasons. It would be foolish to assume one bad season by the twins indicates they are on the downslope after so many years of high-level play. Injuries and coaching clearly had an impact on them, and with a new coach, and full health a bounce back year makes sense. The same can be said for Alex Burrows to some extent. He is not a Sedin, and is not anywhere near their talent level. But in the past Burrows has proven capable as a finished and a line mate with the twins. He was always a guy that could compliment the Sedins by simply being in the right spot at the right time. This past season he had some issues, due in large part to the Sedin struggles. If Burrows can bounce back and be that complimentary top line player for the twins, then the Canucks are already far better off than this past season.
After that it is a complete question mark though. Ryan Kesler will be moved at some point, and the hope is that he can bring back a capable player for the second line he is leaving. Without a replacement in plan for Kesler at 2C, the Canucks second line looks very bleak. They don’t really have anyone that can step into that position from within, certainly not with the offensive potential necessary. It is imperative that when Kesler is traded there is a plan in place for an immediate replacement.
The second line also need an upgrade on the wing. David Booth is likely on his way out, and he was a very disappointing player in his time here due to injuries and uninspired play. The Canucks need a more effective player to fill that 2LW spot. Down the line the hope is that one of Shinkaruk or Horvat could fill that spot, but they still need time to develop. Rushing them would be a mistake. The same goes for whomever they select at #6 overall in this year’s draft. Which means they need to either trade for someone, or spend some money on the free agent market.
One hope is that Jannik Hansen or Zack Kassian will take another step offensively and become a solid 2RW. Both have shown flashes, but have yet to establish themselves as a legit top 6 player. They will have all the opportunity in the world to do so this season, and one of them needs to take the ball and run with it. Kassian has the size, but he needs to improve his discipline and foot speed to become a truly effective top 6 player. Hansen meanwhile is very fast, is solid in his own end, but has room to grow offensively to be a true top 6 player.
Top 6 Target Search
The free agent market is quite weak this season in terms of top flight offensive guys, but there are some players who could help the Canucks. Obviously staying away from the big names like Vanek and Gaborik that would cost way to much to sign, the Canucks should focus in on capable players with lower salary hits. If the plan is to avoid a full out rebuild, there are certainly options on the market which could help Vancouver challenge for a playoff spot next season.
Target #1: Milan Michalek
Michalek would be a solid pickup by Vancouver. Coming off of a $4.33 million/season cap hit he will likely fetch money that is in that same range, although he didn’t have a great year offensively so the price may be lower than expected. At age 29 he should still have lots of game left, last season he scored 17 goals and 39 points playing in all 82 games for the Sens. But just two seasons ago he scored 70 points (35 goals) in 77 games. If he can return to that form, or even 90% of that form, he would be a great addition. He has good skating, and is a smart player that can play both the power play and penalty kill. Last season his CF% was 51.9% with heavy offensive zone starts. He could be brought in as a guy that can alternate between both the first and second lines. Michalek has shown the ability to be a high scoring winger, and with Vancouver would have every chance to return to form.
The cost may be a little high, especially if other teams are betting he can return to the 70 point player he was in 2011-12. By moving out the cap hits of both Kesler and Booth there will be some money to spend and Michalek has the offensive upside and would be a great fit in the top 6.
Target #2: Matt Moulson
Matt Moulson is an interesting case. He is not a driving force offensively, but rather is a great complimentary player. He can put up points when placed alongside offensive line mates, the play doesn’t die on his stick, which is incredibly valuable. This past season he put up 51 points in 75 games. His CF% was 46.6% but that number was no doubt affected by playing on the Islanders, Sabres and Wild. All poor possession teams. His CF% Rel was +1.8% indicating his possession stats were indeed affected by the teams he played with. His two-way play is not there, but he is a scoring winger.
Moulson is not the best skater, but he finds holes and has good hands. He could come into Vancouver and play the power play and be a decent top 6 offensive player. The cost for him may be the biggest hurdle, because the options are not great this off-season, Moulson could be a guy that gets a contract worth far more than he would if there were more options out there. But if the Canucks can bring him in for a decent price and play him in a top 6 role with lots of PP time, he will be a great addition.
The downside with Moulson is that at 30 years old, and with poor skating already, he could be on the start of steep drop off in terms of production. Spending big money on him would be a mistake if it was for a significant number of years. On a short term deal it could be worth the price though.
Target #3: Benoit Pouliot
Benoit Pouliot is going to be highly sought after this off-season. A big winger with speed and good puck handling skills who has yet to fully reach his potential. He has been rapidly improving as a player and at age 27 he is just now entering into the prime of his career. He is not a top line player at this point, but he most certainly could slot in on the second line, with sparse appearances on the first unit. He suffers with consistency, but he has a high level skill and at 6’3 has the size to crash and bang and create space for his line mates.
This past season he scored 36 points in 80 games, had a CF% of 55.1%. He was however heavily sheltered, playing against weak competition with mostly offensive zone starts. Placed in a similar situation, such as in a soft zone starts with offensive line mates, he would be very effective. He is also increasing his value with his play this post season, which is unfortunate for the Canucks. But as a young guy he still has much to prove to become a true top line player. He has room to blossom into a very good player, and would add size and skill to the top 6. At 27 he has yet to reach his full potential as a player, and should be able to take another step forward next season.
Target #4: Dustin Penner
Yes I know, Dustin Penner is widely regarded as a lazy player, and he may be best known as ‘Pancakes’ at this point of his career. But Penner would be a cheap addition, with good upside. He is a player that often times looks disinterested and disengaged, but he can also be a very effective player. At 6’4 and 245 lbs. he doesn’t use his size as effectively as he should, but he has great hands and is a decent possession player. He has proven in the past that when engaged he is a very effective player, and can play alongside skill players with a high level of effectiveness.
This past season Penner scored 35 points in 67 games playing with the Ducks and Capitals. Not great, but not terrible. He is getting up there in age at 31 years old, but he should still have a couple seasons left in him. He would be capable of playing a soft minute’s role, and could add some depth scoring to the Canucks at a bargain price.
The Canucks are going to have options this off-season for improving their top 6. The Kesler trade could be a great starting point, as he is a valuable player that will no doubt bring a solid return. Once the Kesler situation is sorted out, the Canucks will have options in free agency for adding one or two more players to that top 6 group. Michalek and Pouliot are the guys I target hard, and just hope that with a weak free agent group, the prices don’t become outrageous.
Let me know who you want the Canucks to target for their top 6 @maddex19
Information from extraskater.com and capgeek.com are used in this article