The Vancouver Canucks aren’t bowing out yet, nor should they.
Another of a dwindling free agent class came off the market Wednesday night when Radim Vrbata signed a two-year deal at a $5 million cap hit with the Canucks. It’s a deal that will help Vancouver through a transition phase and put Vrbata back up for auction in a couple years, after the salary cap rises.
Vrbata could fit on the Canucks’ top line with the Sedins, or on the second line to spread out the scoring a little. Vrbata scored 20 goals and 51 points for Phoenix this season and scored 62 points just two years ago. He has positive possession stats and fits under the team’s cap structure. As far as forwards go, $5 million is par for the course this free agent season.
The Canucks are not throwing in the towel under GM Jim Benning, at least in the short term. And that’s the best approach right now. Because Vancouver shouldn’t only be judged on one disaster year under John Tortorella that was doomed from the start. This team has the makeup for a bounce back season and while Vancouver isn’t the Cup contender it was three years ago, it can be in the playoff hunt. And if you get to the playoffs, who knows?
Shake up was necessary. Benning’s hand was forced with Kesler, but he was still able to get a center (Nick Bonino) who scored more points than Kesler in 2013-14 (but who isn’t necessarily better). Benning also acquired 24-year-old Luca Sbisa, who helped push Jason Garrison out the door, and then took care of any goaltendeing uncertainty by signing Ryan Miller. That’s a fair bit of shake up and the off-season just started.
Completely blowing it up was never really an option for the Canucks. Trevor Linden stated the goal was still to make the playoffs and Benning wasn’t likely to rush big trades. The Sedins are signed through another four years and have no-movement clauses, so any potential market would be slim. For at least three of those four years, the Canucks should be trying to make the playoffs. Miller’s contract runs three years, as does Bonino’s, Chris Higgins’ and Alex Burrows’, assuming those last two aren’t moved in the meantime.
And besides, look what’s going on in the Pacific Division. The Ducks and Kings are at the top, but the San Jose Sharks are confused and trouble is brewing on their bottom-six. John Scott and Tye McGinn were brought in and Mike Brown was re-signed. Who is playing on their third line? Something was supposedly going to change in San Jose this summer, but it hasn’t happened yet. And if San Jose doesn’t come back to the pack a bit next season, you get the feeling their window is closing faster than it’s opening anyway.
Are these Canucks better than the Coyotes? Well, they just poached Vrbata, Arizona’s second-highest scorer who turned down more years to return to the desert. Calgary and Edmonton are nowhere close. Could a Canucks bounce back overtake a young Dallas team, Minnesota, or a destined-to-fall Colorado? They’re at least in the conversation, because the Canucks aren’t as bad as the standings showed last season.
Entering into a rebuild deep dive sinks you to the bottom of the standings with no idea of when, or how, you’ll get out. And you also run the risk of developing a losing culture that can be hard to find your way out of with a core of youngsters. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers or Toronto Maple Leafs.
But by trying to keep a competitive team on the ice, one that can stay in the race for the playoffs, you can gradually bring along prospects into a strong system. No one needs to get rushed. And Benning comes with plenty of experience in talent evaluation, so who’s to say he can’t pick up a useful, undervalued player or two along the way?
The base of a playoff team is in place and it’s good to see the Canucks trying to mold what they do have, instead of tearing it down in panic.