Silver Linings Playoff: The Vancouver Canucks Need to Dominate the Free Agent Market

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by Kolby Solinsky

Editor and Vancouverite, White Cover Magazine

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“Lemon, let me tell you a little story. It was 1994, and I was ice climbing when I fell into a crevasse and hurt my leg. There was only one way out, so fighting every natural instinct I have, I did the thing I hated the most. I climbed down into the darkness. And when I came back to camp, I went to the person who cut my line and said, ‘Connie Chung, you saved my life.'”

– Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock (The Crevasse)

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There is a way out for Vancouver, and it starts the way it ended. They have to go out. They have to go deeper. They have to go into the crevasse.

The Canucks are always this close, but you know what they say about Horseshoes. Whether it’s Chicago, or San Jose, or Los Angeles, or Boston, the Canucks will always have the same excuses and they’ll always be called excuses because they’ll always lose, and they’ll always lose because they’ve always lost. Their greatest seasons — 1994 and 2011 — are remembered by locals for both heroic overtime moments — Bure, Burrows, and Bieksa — and heartbreaking, season-ending riots.

(What kind of team has only had two great seasons if neither of them ended with a trophy, by the way?)

Right now, the Canucks are like the rest of us in a nightclub at 1:45 a.m. They’re looking in the mirror at closing time and wondering aloud, Am I good enough for anyone tonight? Is this going to cut it? Do I have what it takes?

Forget this last loss. Forget this talk of blowing up the team. If you forget it, then you’ll remember that the San Jose Sharks were in a far worse and very similar position at the end of last season, when they tanked the second half of the regular season and slipped to 7th in the West and a five-game exit at the hands of a mediocre St. Louis Blues squad.

Are the Sedins getting older? Sure, but Joe Thornton is a cavemen and Patrick Marleau’s middle name is “gutless” and, entering these playoffs, both of them were far more famous for their playoff ineptitude than Vancouver’s Swedish Twins.

(Let’s not forget: the Sedins may have been ordinary in this latest four-game swing, but Henrik and Daniel also combined for 18 points (12 of which were Henrik’s) against the Sharks just two years ago, and neither of these teams have changed a whole lot. The Twins need help up front, but that doesn’t mean they can’t handle the pressure. I don’t remember Thornton or Marleau ever putting up numbers like that in a Western Conference Final, nor having the chance to.)

Here’s the good news: the Vancouver Canucks could be the biggest players in this year’s free agent market, if they so choose and if the markets suits their needs — although beggars really shouldn’t be choosers.

What better way for Gillis to distance himself from his critics than to spend his way out of it?

Once the Canucks buy out Keith Ballard and David Booth — and once they don’t re-sign Derek Roy — that clears up roughly $11.7 million they would have had to pay. You can expect Mason Raymond to sign elsewhere but, even if Vancouver elects to keep him, he can’t cost more than he’s already making.

Add to that $11.7 million the single-season contract of whatever goalie they decide to part from — Schneider makes less than Luongo but is by no means starving, although it’s probably best to trade the goalie who’s already put his home on the market — and the Canucks would have their Top 6 defencemen (including Frankie Corrado), the Sedin Twins, Burrows, Kesler, Higgins, and Hansen locked up with cash and room to spare.

Their Top 6 forwards are intact, for the most part, and the Canucks will probably look to extend Maxim Lapierre for one or two seasons, ensuring they at least have three healthy centres who can bounce around and play in any situation (yes, the Sedins can kill a penalty).

Zack Kassian may not have finished they way he started, but he’s only 22 and there’s a lot more to his game than he’s shown anyone outside B.C.

There’s been a lot of talk in Vancouver about how the Canucks haven’t built a strong-enough prospect but this is, quite honestly, a load of bullsh*t. The Chicago Wolves aren’t a strong farm team, but how many AHLers are really ever going to become full-time NHLers, anyway? Kassian is joined by Jordan Schroeder (who didn’t have a great year with the Canucks but can still play) and Nicklas Jensen. Corrado and Tanev also still qualify as youngsters, and Brendan Gaunce has had a hell of a year with the Belleville Bulls.

The Canucks can’t help the fact that they’ve been to good of a team to get a shot at Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Seth Jones, or Jonathan Huberdeau.

Vancouver could even sign Roy with that extra cash if they felt he was a better centreman than anyone else on the open market, and that may be a reality.

Who else is out there?

Stephen Weiss? Ryane Clowe? Mike Ribeiro? (Tyler Bozak?) You can be sure that neither Jarome Iginla nor Nathan Horton will sign with Vancouver.

Really, though, Vancouver could offload all its failed experiments and focus on its core. That’s what L.A. did last year. That’s what San Jose did on the fly this year. Washington, too.

And, remember, this Canucks team were only minutes — seconds — away from winning Games 2 and 4. Everyone’s got an excuse, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t still a lot of talent left in VanCity.

So — including Lapierre — the Canucks would have eight forwards pencilled in for 2014. Then, they fill the holes… you add speed and size and you bank on dependability. You don’t need to stretch for stars.

And, if they’re really worried about the Sedins productivity in the playoffs, then who’s to say Ryan Kesler can’t be a first-line center?

The Canucks have needed another elite winger for a while now. They should have traded the farm for Rick Nash when they (maybe) could have, but they didn’t, and now they have to move forward.

The Canucks need to forget their regret. Some think trading Cody Hodgson was a mistake. Same goes for Michael Grabner, although even Florida passed on him after Vancouver did. Others think moving Luongo to Toronto for Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak would have put this team over the hump, although I’m not so sure they would have even started the season in scoring position in Vancouver.

You never blow the team. You never give up.

There’s always, always a way out.