Edmonton - July 15, 2014 - The Canucks second line is a bit of a mess right now offensively. As it sits the best guess from me is a Higgins-Bonino-Burrows line. Bonino is a lock at 2C, Benning made sure that he was in the deal with Anaheim so that he had a replacement for the departing Ryan Kesler.
Alex Burrows is a relative lock on right wing, though after last season it is hard to imagine him having enough offense with anyone not named 'Sedin' to out up offense. He scored just 5 goals and 15 points in an injury riddled 49 game season. He has been consistently falling in the wrong direction offensively. In 2011-12 he scored 0.65 points per game, in 2012-13 that fell to 0.51 and in 2013-14 it fell to 0.31.
Now that drop off is definitely influenced by injuries sustained not only by him, but by the Sedins as well. However, looking at the decline in production over the past couple seasons for Burrows and taking him away from the best players on the team, that is a sign that a hard season may be ahead for Burrows offensively.
Higgins is the guy I have listed at 2LW at the moment, last season he put up 17 goals and 39 points in 78 games. That is not terrible by any stretch of the imagination. If he can get close to 20 goals again this season, then that is a solid contribution to the second line. His possession numbers aren't spectacular though, sitting at just 50.7% Corsi and -1.2% Rel Corsi. The second line will likely be getting solid zone starts, which will mean that the Corsi should at least maintain around the 50% mark.
I see Burrows as the guy that needs to be replaced on the second line. He may have a bounce back season, but with his decline in production and his body starting to break down, Benning has to at least be considering replacement options. The options from within to replace Burrows are limited, Linden Vey, who recently accepted his qualifying offer, should challenge for a spot on the second line at training camp. However hoping that a guy who has yet to find any success scoring in the NHL to suddenly break out is risky. Nicklas Jensen should challenge, but he hasn't lit up the AHL by any stretch of the imagination, so expecting a lot of offense from him is absurd. The young guys Virtanen, Horvat and Shinkaruk are longshots to have NHL impacts at this stage of their careers.
Shinkaruk's injury filled season took a serious toll on his production and development. He needs time to get back on track as a prospect. Virtanen is a gunslinging power forward type, but his all around game isn't primed for the NHL just yet and rushing him along could do more damage than good. Although a good showing at training camp could earn him a 9 game stint to see how he handles the rigours of the NHL. Bo Horvat is not an offensive dynamo. Alot of his value as a prospect is that he projects to be a solid two-way player, with middling offense. This is great, and bodes well for a future NHL career, but the offense isn't there right now for second line duties. These are all good young prospects, but they need seasoning before they are ready to handle a top 6 role in the NHL.
Free Agent options Limited
The problem with free agency is a lack of cap space. With only $1.4M available, it would be tough to fit either of the best options in free agency on the roster. Mike Ribeiro, who is reportedly set to make a decision in the next day or so is available, but he brings a lot of headaches with him wherever he goes. His reported off-ice issues would serve as more of a distraction then is necessary, and he doesn't bring the best attitude. Dustin Penner is another option; in 67 games last season he scored 14 goals and 35 points that’s 0.52/Game, which isn’t much better than what Burrows posted a couple seasons ago. The problem with Penner is that he disappears for long stretches and as he continues to get older his foot speed gets worse and worse. He could be had for cheap though, as his value around the league seems to have dropped significantly. It makes just as much sense to hope that Burrows can return to a 0.5 points/game level than it does to bring in Penner.
Other than those two, the free agent top 6 options are miniscule and non-existent. Which leaves the trade route. The problem is once again that the Canucks have only $1.4M in cap space. Which significantly limits their ability to trade for a big contract without giving one up. This means they can’t make a trade with a team like Philadelphia to help Philly with their cap space in exchange for a good asset. For example, the rumours are that Philly is willing to trade an asset alongside Lecavlier in order to get Vinny's contract off the books. Unfortunately this isn't an option for the Canucks. Any trade would need to involve money going out, which means it would have to be Burrows going the other way. The problem is that at a $4.5M cap hit and with injuries taking their toll, Burrows value is very low. Benning would likely have to package one of the young prospects (Shinkaruk) alongside Burrows to make a deal. That is definitely an option, but the trading team would have to believe that Shinkaruk can recover from his unlucky 2013-14 season.
Bringing it Home
The fact of the matter is that the lack of cap space basically eliminates any hope of bringing a top 6 option in from the outside. That means that one of Vey, Shinkaruk, Jensen, or Virtanen has an opportunity. If one of those guys can come in to training camp and provide more offense then Burrows, Benning and Desjardins will have to consider keeping the young player in the NHL. The only chance of success in that scenario is if they can run their second line as a soft minutes, easy zone starts line. Even then it is a huge risk, especially in the stacked Pacific Division.
Benning has his work cut out for him if he truly wants this team to challenge for a Playoff spot. From the outside, the second line appears as though it could be the offensive anchor on this team in 2014-15.
This article uses information from capgeek.com and extraskater.com