Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Canucks' Offseason Gameplan - Defence

We continue our look at the Vancouver Canucks as they look to fill out their roster prior to training camp.  In the first section, we looked at the Vancouver Canucks' Offseason Gameplan at Forward.  Now before we look at who is available via free agency, let's look at their defence.  With the recent addition of Keith Ballard, the Canucks certainly have some options on the back end, but are they done adding to their line up?  Perhaps more importantly, are they deep and talented enough to compete with the Chicago Blackhawks in the ultra-tough Western Conference?

Let's take a look at who is under contract for next season, and their depth chart.

Christian Ehrhoff
The German defender performed admirably all year and helped every Canuck fan get over the loss of Mattias Ohlund.  Ehrhoff was widely considered the team's #1 defenceman all year and he will likely maintain that role this year as well.  Well-rounded and fleet of foot, Ehrhoff can help out on the power play and penalty kill, and can move the puck very well

Alex Edler
Edler has a tremendous post-season series against the Los Angeles Kings and was steady for most of the year.  This coming season Vancouver will expect him to log big minutes and realize his vast potential.

Keith Ballard
Recently acquired Ballard will have some sizeable expectations on him due to the price the Canucks paid to obtain his services.  That being said, Ballard is a solid and tenacious defender and all indications are he will compete quite hard for anyone he plays for.  A swift skater and solid defender, Ballard will add some stability to the Canucks blueline.

Kevin Bieksa
Often targeted as the defence corps weak link, Bieksa really woudl be well served by regaining the form he showed in his first year where he seemlessly replaced Ed Jovanovski.  Bieksa follows a long line of Canuck defenders to be scrutinized by the Vancouver fans.  From Dana Murzyn to Ed Jovanovski to Brent Sopel, there always seems to be one scapegoat on the Canucks blueline.  Bieksa is tough as nails and have a broad skill set, but struggles with the mental aspects of the game at time, making poor decisions based on being overly competitive.

Sami Salo
The Fragile Finn demonstrated his 'testicular fortitude' in the playoffs against Chicago, but his frailty also speaks to how the Canucks can no longer rely upon him as a top four defender.  While his skills are still very solid, he is injured far too often to be a pillar of the Canucks blueline.  Salo can play big minutes but would be best used as a powerplay specialist, gobbling up decent minutes at even strength and in pressure situations, but at a reduced rate of minutes.

Aaron Rome
Rome was used sparingly last season until injuries forced him into action.  Rome was stellar and was rewarded in the off-season with a two year deal.  Affordable and dependable, Rome will likely be the #6 in the corps this year.

Shane O'Brien
'SOB' endured a tumultuous season that involved far too many headlines and a suspension for reportedly missing practice as a result of being out late drinking.  O'Brien is loved by his teammates and plays an inspired game that can rally his teammates.  The Canucks would be well-served to keep O'Brien - who can forget him losing his cool against the Los Angeles Kings in round one, which was arguably the turning point of the series.

Andrew Alberts
Alberts has one year left on his deal after being acquired from Carolina at the deadline last year.  Alberts was horrible for the remainder of the year and the playoffs, taking an inordinate number of penalties and being a human pilon on a few occasions.  Alberts, in his defence, was asked to perform beyond his usual level due to injuries, but will likely be an emergency call up only.

Willie Mitchell?
'Bill Pickle' suffered a concussion at the hands of Evgeni Malkin last year and did not return.  His absence was felt, and as of writing, the Canucks and GM Mike Gillis are unsure if we will regain form and warrant a contract offer for the upcoming season.  At this point, he likely will not make the team and that is a shame.  Hopefully Mitchell can shake off these concussion symptoms and he can resume play.

On the horizon
Since the passing of Luc Bourdon, the Canucks have not had a quality prospect on the back end.  Evan Oberg and Kevin Connauton have been pleasant surprises.  Yann Sauve and Taylor Ellington also show some promise but perhaps not for this season.

The Canucks do not really have any holes on their blueline with the addition of Ballard, but one of the criticisms may be that their top 4-5 rear guards all play the same style of game.  They are well-rounded but there is nary a powerplay quarterback or rough-nosed defensive first shutdown defenceman in the group.

Pairing may alternate, but as th depth chart is concerned, here's how opening night looks as of June 30th:
Alex Edler - Christian Ehrhoff
Keith Ballard - Sami Salo
Kevin Bieksa - Shane O'Brien / Aaron Rome

x - Andrew Alberts

Roberto Luongo will again be the man between the pipes for the Canucks.  He will look to rebound from a tough year last year, but will have a bit of a push, as the young Cory Schneider, who is widely regarded as the best goaltender in the league not in the NHL, will back up Luongo this year.  He may give Bobby Lu a bit of a push, but at the very least, he will take some of the workload off him, perhaps energize him with his enthusiasm, but most importantly, audition himself to perhaps be traded for a larger asset down the road.

Part 3 - Vancouver Canucks Free Agent Wishlist

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