Friday, July 10, 2009

The Northwest So Far - Vancouver Canucks

Over the last few days, I've been looking at the budget for each team in the Northwest division for both the upcoming season and the 2010-2011 season as well as taking a brief snapshot of each of their significant NHL level moves over the last month. In terms of budget expectations, I will use the following as a basic guideline with 56.8M as the cap figure for this season and 50.0M as the possible cap figure for 2010-2011 to see how flexible teams are if the cap declines:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 players - 15.0%

Many of the statistics used for evaluation wouldn't be possible without the wonderful resources available at, Behind the Net and Time on Ice (thanks Vic and Gabe). I have already taken a look at the Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. Today, I'll be looking at the Vancouver Canucks:

Budget 2009-2010 (56.8M Cap)

Top 3 Forwards - Sedin, Sedin, Samuelsson = 14.70 or 25.9%

Middle 6 Forwards - Demitra, Bernier, Burrows, Kesler, ???, ??? = 9.75 or 17.2%

Top 4 Defenders - Bieksa, Salo, Mitchell, Edler = 14.00 or 24.6%

Goaltending - Luongo, Raycroft = 7.25 or 12.8%

Bottom 8 Players - O'Brien, Rome, Nycholat, Johnson, Raymond, Hordichuk, Rypien, ??? = 5.98 or 10.5%

The Canucks were marginally outshot last year with a Corsi of -89. Yet they rode a PDO number of 102.0 all the way to a +30 goal differential at even strength and the Northwest division title. That they're slightly overbudget in net is entirely forgiveable given that they probably have the best netminder in the league. But once you get past Luongo and Kesler, there are no steals on this team. They have a mix of gusy that are on the back-end of their careers and are injury
concerns (Demitra, Salo) or are being paid for potential that hasn't quite seen the light of day (Edler, Bieksa, Bernier). Samuelsson is a stretch on the first line, but that's where I expect him to play and with nearly 18M already tied up in their top three players it would be difficult to plug in another really big salary at forward while still maintaining the depth necessary to win. The middle 6 will almost surely include unsigned RFA Kyle Wellwood and one of Mason Raymond or Cody Hodgson. I didn't think the Canucks had a particularly good chance at winning last year and I don't think they've improved their roster from a year ago. Still, maybe this is the year Luongo gets hot at the right time. You never know.

1. Vancouver signs Daniel and Henrik Sedin to five year deals at 6.10M per year each. The Sedins are extremely talented players. They log the most even strength minutes on the team and they take on the best the other team has to offer although they usually do so in more offensive situations with Daniel taking 51 more offensive than defensive zone draws and Henrik taking 27 more. They more than deliver. On a team with a Corsi of -89, the Henrik managed to be +154 and Daniel was +160. When those numbers combine with the great percentages the Canucks put up this year the Sedins are outscoring the other team's big guns at a fantastic rate. At 3.5M per year each these guys were an absolute steal.

But what about 6.1M? Javageek put up a very interesting chart before the Sedins signed showing
how much cap space teams tie up in their top two forwards and how much each team spends on a per point basis. At the time, he suggested that - based on point production alone - something around 5.0M per year each would have been fair value. If that's the case, the Canucks are spending an extra 2.2M on their top two scorers relative to the rest of the league. Now, obviously there is a lot more to the game than simply point production but this is a nice place to start. With most of the big fish in free agency having come and gone, I decided to look at all of the teams that are spending at least 10M on their top two forwards:

1. Pittsburgh (Crosby and Malkin at 17.4M)

2. New York (Gaborik and Drury at 14.6M)
3. Ottawa (Heatley and Spezza at 14.5M)
4. Washington (Ovechkin and Nylander at 14.4M)
5. San Jose (Thornton and Marleau at 13.5M)
6. Montreal (Gomez and Cammalleri at 13.4M)
7. Los Angeles (Kopitar and Smyth at 13.1M)
8. Tampa Bay (Lecavalier and St. Louis at 13M)
9. Dallas (Richards and Ribeiro at 12.8M)
10. Detroit (Datsyuk and Zetterberg at 12.8M)
11. Buffalo (Vanek and Pominville at 12.4M)
12. Calgary (Iginla and Jokinen at 12.3M)
13. Philadephia (Briere and Richards at 12.3M)
14. Vancouver (Sedin and Sedin at 12.2M)
15. Carolina (Stall and Brind'Amour at 11.9M)
16. New Jersey (Elias and Rolston at 11.1M)
17. Anaheim (Getzlaf and Perry at 10.7M)
18. Saint Louis (Kariya and MacDonald at 10.7M)
19. Atlanta (Kovalchuk and Antropov at 10.5M)
20. Colorado (Stastny and Hejduk at 10.5M)

This shows that the Canucks are at about the mid-point of the league in terms of paying their offensive stars. In terms of value I think the Canucks have done pretty well. The only pair lower than them that I think is probably better is Anaheim's but of the pairs ahead of them I think the Sedins are superior to at least Buffalo, Dallas, Tampa and Montreal. There's a good argument that this is a good deal for the Canucks and for the Sedins. They're being paid in the same range as most other players of their quality and the contracts, at a glance, don't look out of place. Still, the Canucks have been outperforming their contracts by a wide margin for a couple of years. With the Canucks getting these new deals, they won't be able to provide the same kind of value and the Canucks are going to need to unearth some value deals in other positions just to maintain what they accomplished last season.

2. Tampa Bay signs Mattias Ohlund to a seven year deal at 3.75M per year. Ohlund is a good defenceman and a good teammate, the kind of person that organizations ought to strive to keep around. In the end, Ohlund got a fantastic deal and one that I don't blame the Canucks for not matching. Even if Ohlund sails into retirment once the money gets smaller, that doesn't happen until he turns 37 and by that time he could be well past his best before date. Still, the departure of Ohlund is a hit to the blueline and one that the Canucks didn't end up doing much to repair. Although the top 4 looks pretty good, one injury puts Shane O'Brien in the top 4 and that's a place no organization should want to be. With Ohlund's departure, defensive depth becomes a definite area of need.

3. Vancouver signs Aaron Rome to a one year deal at 0.53M per year, Nolan Baumgartner to a two year deal at 0.55M per year and Lawrence Nycholat to a one year deal at 0.50M per year. These guys aren't exactly what I'd had in mind. Only two of these players (at most) will be on the Canucks roster to start the year. They all have some experience at the NHL level but none of them have established themselves as full-time NHL players. At this point, one of them will be in the Canucks bottom pairing. If they don't sign anybody else (which would probably be foolish) at least the Canucks have given themselves some options. If they do sign one more established defender, these three make a very solid 7 through 9 on the defensive depth chart.

4. Vancouver signs Mikael Samuelsson to a three year deal at 2.50M per year. Samuelsson was a middle 6 forward on the Red Wings, finishing 7th among regular forwards in both quality of competition and ice time. Like almost all of the Red Wing forwards, Samuelsson handily outshot the opposition. In his case, a poor PDO number (98.2) kept him from being a terrific outscorer ending up only a +1 at 5v5. At even strength, Samuelsson really doesn't bring much offense: he scored at a rate of 1.20 pts/60 last season and 1.67 pts/60 the year before. What about special teams? Samuelsson played on Detroit's second unit and put up what looks like a pretty good 5.02 pts/60. The problem is that his total is the 9th out of Detroit's 10 regular power play options. The year before last Samuelsson put up similar numbers (4.98 pts/60) but the Detroit power play as a whole wasn't nearly as good and that placed him 3rd out of Detroit's 10 regulars. Samuelsson didn't get any time on the penalty kill either of the last two years.

To be perfectly honest, Samuelsson looks like a passenger to me. I doubt that he's driving the results on the PP or the Corsi advantage that Detroit has when he's on the ice. I have Samuelsson on the top line and it seems to me that he will get a shot there but I don't expect him to really succeed. Given the success of Alexandre Burrows in that slot for much of last season, it's quite possible that Samuelsson will be playing lower in the lineup. If that's the case, this is a could be a decent depth signing for the Canucks if Samuelsson is either able to perform well on the PP or drive some outshooting at EV. Given Samuelsson's age (he's signed for his age 33, 34 and 35 seasons) I think there's a better chance that this deal ends up being a disappointment.

5. Vancouver signs Shane O'Brien to a one year deal at 1.60M per year. This deal is a bit confusing. O'Brien had a couple of public outbursts about his playing time, so I was sort of expecting him to go along his merry way. That's what usually happens to bottom pairing defencemen that insult management. In this case, not so much. Clearly the Canucks think that O'Brien can still grow into a solid physical defender. I say "grow into" because to this point, he just hasn't been all that good. Last season O'Brien faced the easiest opposition of all Canuck defenders and played with middling teammates. To his credit, he did often start his shifts in the defensive zone (43 more defensive than offensive zone starts). He was outshot marginally at 5v5 with a Corsi of -34 but he made up for it with strong on-ice percentages to put up a +9 goal differential. The problem with paying him 1.6M is that he doesn't have a significant role on the power play or on the penalty kill and was last among regular Canuck defenders in EV ice time. He also takes an obscene amount of minor penalties with 48, good for the fourth highest total in the entire league (for Oiler fans that are reading, O'Brien took five more minors than Ethan Moreau last year). To me, that pretty well negates any of the small positive contributions he's making at even strength. So here we have, at best, a serviceable bottom pairing defender. He's 25 years old though which is still young enough to be someone with potential and he plays tough, so there is that element as well. I think that O'Brien is a good example of what I was talking about earlier: a young player getting paid too much for what he actually does to help teams win games.

6. Vancouver signs Andrew Raycroft to a one year deal at 0.50M per year. This is a truly silly contract. Tom Benjamin has suggested that Raycroft will only be seen in the Canuck net in the case of mop-up duty. In the case of Luongo taking a night off, the Canucks will send him to the farm and call up Cory Schneider. Once Schneider has made his start, he'll be sent back to the minors and Raycroft will be recalled to warm the bench. The theory goes that Raycroft is so terrible that no team will take him for $250,000. Thus, Schneider is not stuck warming the bench all year and the Canucks save a few thousand dollars in cap space over the course of the year. Now Benjamin might be right in this assessment of the plan. If he's not, this is just a terrible signing. If he is, I'm not convinced that Raycroft at $250,000 isn't an attractive commodity. If the Flames, for example, had been able to claim Raycroft after trading for Jokinen they would've probably done so. The sayings between Raycroft and McElhinney for the last month of the year would have (inexplicably) given them some extra flexibility under the cap. Since they really have no intention of ever playing the backup the (potential) drop in performance is really of no significance. All they care about is the cap savings. I can only hope that the Gillis plan backfires and that the Canucks end up paying Raycroft to sit on someone else's bench for at least a part of the year.

Budget 2010-2011 (50.0M Projection)

Top 3 Forwards - Sedin, Sedin, ??? = 12.20 or 24.4%

Middle 6 Forwards - Samuelsson, Bernier, Burrows, ???, ???, ??? = 6.50 or 13.0%

Top 4 Defenders - Bieksa, Salo, Edler, ??? = 10.50 or 21.0%

Goaltending - ???, ??? = 0.00 or 0.0%

Bottom 8 Players - ???, ???, ???, Hordichuk, Rypien, ???, ???, ??? = 1.33 or 2.7%

The Canucks are in a weird spot. It looks to me like they're suffering from paying full value and often a little more to players all over the roster. Many of their best value players have contracts that expire after this season and probably expect a raise for 2010-2011. How much are the Canucks going to pay Kesler? Luongo? Mitchell? If they pay Kesler 3.5M per season they'll have used up their entire middle 6 forward budget on four players. They can only afford 3.25M for Mitchell to stay on budget in the top 4 defenders. They have about 1.5M to spend for a top line player to play with the Sedins. These are all considerations because they need to stay on budget in these categories in order to keep Luongo who will probably be looking for his new contract to approach 7M a year which is 2M more than the budget for goaltending (and then they need to bring in a backup). The basic problem is that the Canucks have 8 guys signed for 2M or more and only 2 of them are really difference makers. The problem is difficult to fix because it isn't obvious in any one player. I think the Canucks will have a difficult time getting better over the next couple of seasons and since they're not really good enough to win a Cup now, that's going to be a problem. Still, as long as they have Luongo, you never know.

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