Friday, July 02, 2010

I Watched This Frenzy: Free Agency Day, July 1, 2010

I don't know where you were yesterday, but I'll always remember where I was. I was deeply enmeshed in my first liveblogging experience, sharing a desk with Skeeter while we hosted the Spectacular 1st Annual PiTB Free Agency Day Meta-LiveBlog Spectacular (the S1APiTBFADMLBS, for short). And what a day it was for the Canucks, who made four notable signings. It was also a pretty good day for the TSN panel guys, who have been somewhat hung out to dry on big hockey news days in recent years, for Pierre McGuire, who won the opportunity to stand too close to someone new this year (where was Dutchy anyway?), and for my wife, who was called on to make us breakfast and lunch while we hammered away at our keyboards. Frankly, the only person I can think of who might not have had any fun was Darryl Sutter, who is likely he didn't lose his arm, reaching back through history. (We know how cold it gets when you time travel, at least according to Back to the Future.) Suffice it to say, a good time was had by all. Let's get into the Canucks signings:

The Canucks Sign Dan Hamhuis
Definitely the biggest Canucks free agent signing of the day, and, considering all the hype around the guy and how the rights to speak to him privately were passed around as though he were The Girl Who Uses Tongue at a "spin the bottle" party, maybe the biggest overall. While the early Gonchar signing was for the most money, Hamhuis was considered the prize of the day. The deal has some heft to it, coming in at $4.5m for six seasons. On paper, Dan Hamhuis is officially our #1 guy. Is he? The jury's out on that. Somewhere, it was said that the Canucks now lead the league in number three defensemen, but is that the worst thing? The jury's out on that too. Put another way, the Canucks lead the lead in guys you'd be comfortable averaging over twenty minutes a game. There's nothing negative about that.

If there's a trend with Mike Gillis, it's signing guys with upside, guys he believes might be able to have a bigger role. It makes sense. Undervalued guys are obviously a big part of his moneyball philosophy. Mind you, they're also the only guys available. I've heard a number of fanboys lament that while, yes, we got Hamhuis, we didn't get a guy like Pronger or Weber or Keith or Doughty. I've heard it said that we're a superstar defenseman away from winning a Stanley Cuo. Right, and the Philistines were one One True God away from being the best military nation in the Bible. It's not exactly something you can just flip a switch and fix. Gillis did what he could: he got the best player available, with the belief he might be even better than we've been told. Here's hoping.

While Hamhuis was the #3 defenseman on Nashville, the Preds are a team with two of the best defenseman in the NHL. It's not like he was being beaten out for ice time by Ryan O'Byrne. We're talking about Shea Weber and Ryan Suter here. For people with concerns, consider that the Predators' leading scorer was Patrick Hornqvist, with 51 points, good for 91st in the NHL. Despite this atrocious fact, Nashville still made the playoffs, and fared as well against the Blackhawks as any other team that faced them, largely because their defense corps is stupid good. Dan Hamhuis was a gigantic part of that. And now he plays for us.

So what sort of defenseman is he? I'm sure that's probably covered elsewhere, so I won't belabor it. I will say, however, that he apparently loves to hip check, much like Keith Ballard. This means that spotting a Canuck on the positive end of a hip check won't be like spotting El Chupacabra, for once. That's a good thing. Hamhuis also has some offensive upside. Put those two things together, and you get this:

Consider that Hamhuis, who can do the thing we see above, makes Kevin Bieksa--who stars in this clip--expendable. So what are the downsides to this signing? Well, from where I'm sitting, there aren't many. Granted, his cap hit is high, but consider first that he took a paycut and denied a bunch of attractive destinations, and second, that, in a surprising turn of events, he was not given a no-trade clause. Hamhuis can be moved without too much difficulty, if need be. Verdict: this is an acquisition chock full of win, and I am ecstatic about it.

The Canucks Sign Manny Malhotra
Until the Hamhuis thing broke, this was the big news of the day. Earlier, the Canucks signed Manny Malhotra, the guy that could have been had for chump change a year ago, after Columbus had decided they didn't want him. He wound up with San Jose where he was a lights-out faceoff man all season and playoffs, was a reliable third-line checking center that played top-six wing at times, and showed some grit. A real turnaround year for him, right? Wrong. Turns out that's exactly what he's done for the last six years. Why did Columbus let him go for nothing? I heard one of their radio guys joke that Columbus fans called him as fifth-line center. It makes no sense, but we're about to find out, for $2.5 mil. a year for 3 years.

But don't panic. Not only were we not the only team to chase him this summer, but we were one of many teams that offered him over $2 mil. to be our 3rd center. People are going to gripe about this signing, but, if they do, remind them of how the NHL has changed. The playoff game-changers aren't the superstars. For the last half-decade, it's been the third-line checking centers: Rob Niedermayer, Jordan Staal, Dave Bolland, et al. Matt Cullen fetched a 2nd round pick at the trade deadline last year, and he went for a $3.5 mil. yesterday. This has become a crucial position, and while Cody Hodgson might have been able to fill it, Mike Gillis couldn't take that chance. After a few years of Kyle Wellwood impressing people by being up to the job, Gillis needed somebody who would do more than impress simply by showing up. That's what Malhotra brings.

On the negative side, that contract is a lot. In fact, it's the same contract Mikael Samuelsson got, except this one has a limited no-movement clause. Is Manny worth it? We'll see, but if he's not, we're not absolutely stuck with him. Let's talk about the NMC. Don't panic. It's not, contrary to some report, a NTC. This clause gives Malhotra some veto power, but it doesn't give him ultimate veto power. I'm not surprised. Gillis has some numerous times he won't ask a player to waive a no-trade clause. That's an integrity thing. Here, he won't have to if Malhotra winds up on the block; Gillis has merely promised to let Malhotra have some say if a move comes up. That's beyond fair.

I like this deal. Consider that Malhotra is paid to be the veteran presence on our third line, and he'll likely stay there no matter what. Unlike last year, where our third line was all over the map, Gillis has established Manny Malhotra, who can play all three slots, as the mainstay on it. This gives us the option of letting a ton of our young players fight it out to skate with him. Verdict: good deal. Fills a major hole for us. This was the move Mike Gillis had to make. That's why he paid so much to make it.

The Canucks Sign Joel Perrault and The Canucks Sign Jeff Tambellini
I have less to say about these two moves, as I don't really know what to expect here. Neither Perrault nor Tambellini are really known as crash-and-bang style guys. Instead, they're prospects on the verge of washing out. Both these guys have a ton of talent and impressive junior resumes, but, to the chagrin of their former teams (the Coyotes and Islanders, respectively), it's never translated to the NHL. In both cases, however, there's more than enough potential for a gambler like Mike Gillis to offer them $500,000 deals and see if they pan out. What's the harm? Relatively speaking, $1 mil. is chump change to test drive a couple of former first-rounders, and if even one of them pans out, we're in luck. The claim here is that these guys have solid enough two-way games to play on the third-line, and since Gillis expects his third-line to be physical, they make be stretched a little more than they were elsewhere. Tambellini has already been trying to develop a reputation as a fighter. Considering they'll likely be competing for spots with the best prospects the Canucks have, it should only boost the level of competition and motivation Canuck draft picks have to make this team.

Do these guys honestly have a shot? Maybe. Perrault might be a good fit as a fourth-line center, but he'll have to battle Alex Bolduc, Mario Bliznak, Rick Rypien, and any training camp walk-ons for the spot. Jeff Tambellini's in tougher, likely fighting against Cody Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder, Sergei Shirokov, Victor Oreskovich (and maybe Nikita Filatov) for a spot. If neither guy makes the cut, they'll help the Moose stay competitive, and since the waiver wire is so seldom used these days, provide excellent depth in the case of regular-season injuries.

Here's the thing nobody has mentioned yet. Tambellini is a perfect replacement for Michael Grabner. They're similar players, though Tambellini is a little stronger. They both play left wing, they both skate extremely well, and they have both failed to live up to their billing. It certainly allays any unease I had over losing Grabner in the Ballard trade. Verdict: I am okay with these moves.

And finally, if this does not provide concrete enough explanations of how these guys will affect the team, take a look at this image, courtesy of Nucks Misconduct.

1 comment:

  1. Columbus really had no idea what they had and what they were getting rid of. It seems absurd.


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