The Vancouver Canucks have no salary-cap space available, a shortage of National Hockey League-ready prospects and lack portability among their key player contracts. Other than that, general manager Mike Gillis’ summer “reset” of the team shouldn’t be a problem. The week after their second straight first-round playoff elimination, Gillis was still working through his coaching review and a planned summit meeting with ownership, while his top assistant, Laurence Gilman, continued to tour North America for potential minor-league locations. The really heavy lifting — think Superman shifting the moon’s orbit — still lies ahead. And it doesn’t take a superhero to understand how difficult it will be for Gillis to make even a few impactful roster moves to catch up to the NHL curve towards big, brawny teams. It took the Canucks years, literally, to configure their team the way it is: skilled, fast and too small up front. The evolution spanned managerial regimes; most of the core players were already in Vancouver when Gillis replaced Dave Nonis five years ago. So the idea that there can be a quick, effective overhaul of the roster is unrealistic. There can be changes, yes. And no matter how disillusioned some are with the Canucks’ playoff performances since the Stanley Cup Final two years ago, the team may yet be only two or three significant acquisitions away from challenging again for a championship. But a full-scale remake of the Canucks would take at least two or three years, unless Gillis wants to simply gut his team and turn it into the Florida Panthers or another draft-lottery contender. Since owner Francesco Aquilini fired the last GM who missed the playoffs, calling it unacceptable, and the current crisis is due primarily to two or three terrible weeks over the last two playoffs, it’s unthinkable that Gillis will knowingly sink his team for two or three years. Assume that he won’t. Figure that his “reset” will begin with a couple of key moves this summer. Even that modest objective is still easier said than done. Capgeek.com, the online bible of player salaries and cap space, shows the Canucks are already $100,000 over next season’s $64.3-million-US payroll limit, and that’s with just 17 of the 22 or 23 players Vancouver needs for a roster. But cap space is easier to fix than most problems. Finally trading backup goalie Roberto Luongo and buying out the final two years of spare defenceman Keith Ballard’s bloated contract, which would cost Aquilini $5.6 million, will create $9.5 million of breathing room under the salary cap. The Canucks would still need seven or eight players for that, but it’s doable.
No quick-fix solution to Canucks’ problems
Vancouver Sun | May 18