So Mike Gillis and the Vancouver Canucks opted to make a deal with the Florida Panthers. Unlike the Indiana Jones franchise, it seems that making yet another trip to the well has paid off for the Canucks, as they obtained defenseman Keith Ballard and forward prospect Victor Oreskovich in exchange for Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and the Canucks 1st round pick in this year’s draft.
Many folks are screaming bloody murder over the deal, believing that the Canucks were ripped off or overpaid. I will admit that I was initially one of those folks, although I will attribute that to my being a fan of Grabner and being a little irrational when hearing that the Austrian had been traded. Having given it some more thought, though, I actually really like the deal. Broken down, it makes a lot of sense and isn’t as bad as one would think.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Assets Coming In
With Willie Mitchell sitting on the injured reserve this past season and with no real immediate help in the Canucks farm system available, it was clear that the Canucks were desperately needing to upgrade their backend if they were wanting to continue being the Stanley Cup contenders that their fans want them to be. Even if Willie Mitchell is no longer feeling post-concussion symptoms, and I’m skeptical as to how close to 100% Mitchell is given the timing of his announcement, the Canucks still needed to upgrade the backend in the worst way.
Enter Ballard. Although he isn’t a gigantic Norris candidate that can also put up points (and really, who outside of Chara, Pronger and perhaps Myers would qualify?), he is a physical, fast skating forward who is more than capable in his own end. His skillset alone should be making fans happy as he is almost exactly what folks were hoping and praying Gillis would pick up at the trade deadline. Throw in the fact that he is signed for another five years and has a cap hit of $4.2M and fans should be rejoicing that Gillis picked him up.
What’s that? You mean that his cap hit is not an albatross hanging from his neck? I’d argue yes. While he does become the Canucks highest paid defenseman, it’s not by a significant amount and it’s not something that should be held against him. Regardless, even if the Canucks plan was to sign a free agent defenseman July 1st, they’d be paying at minimum $4.2M or more for a contract. For reference, the top UFA defensemen this offseason are Sergei Gonchar (who is reportedly looking for a deal north of $5M/year), Dan Hamhuis (who has been rumored to be seeking a deal in the $4.5M range), Paul Martin (who was making $4.5M this past season) and Anton Volchenkov (who will more than likely be receiving a deal that pays him $5M+/year.) No matter how you slice it, the Canucks were going to have to pony up some cash to upgrade the blueline.
Interestingly, Ballard’s contract has a limited no-trade clause. Starting last July, he had to list 7 teams which he would accept a deal to. Assuming he didn’t further waive his NTC, that means he liked the Canucks enough to include them on his list last off-season, which is a good sign, as hopefully he’ll enjoy playing here.
Unfortunately, I don’t know a whole lot about Victor Oreskovich beyond the fact that his name is more annoying to spell than mine. I do know that his addition to the Canucks roster DOUBLES the total number of people named Victor that are on the Canucks payroll. Oreskovich joins Victor de Bonis, who is the team’s Chief Operating Officer. I guess you could say that Oreskovich’s impact is immediate, as he’s already given the Canucks a pair of ‘vic’-tories.
That was horrible and I apologize. More seriously, Oreskovich is a big man who likes to hit. Depending on how you look at it, he’s either an upgrade on perennial AHLer Pierre Cedric Labrie, who was moved at this year’s trade deadline, or a downgrade on Steve Bernier. Depends on what part of his skillset you want to obsess over. I’m unsure where he’ll end up, but Gillis did state in his presser after the first round that ‘our third line can’t be constituted with guys who are goal scoring players’ translated that means the Canucks bottom six will be more rough and tumble and less finesse and flash this year, which means he’ll probably be getting a shot.
Also, both players have connections to Vancouver: Ballard played under Canucks assistant coach Rick Bowness in Phoenix and Oreskovich is familiar with Dave Gagner, Director of Player Development for the Canucks.
Assets Going Out
Steve Bernier, despite my defending him over the course of the past season, wasn’t meeting expectations and his $2.5M contract made him a liability. While I don’t think he was as bad/inept as people were making him out to be (he did play most of the season injured or WAS injured) he had slipped down into the bottom six and was underperforming relative to what he was making. Not a good combination and I think most people are happy to see him gone.
Michael Grabner, on the other hand, has captured the attention of most Canucks fans. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t a lot of room on the roster for Grabner: with the Sedins, Kesler, Samuelsson and Burrows all occupying fulltime spots in the top six and with Mike Gillis intending to get Mason Raymond signed to a deal, there wasn’t any room to slot Grabner in, especially if you go with Gillis’ comments about not wanting goal scorers on the third line. Factor in players such as Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder, both of whom have higher potential than Grabner, and it’s clear that Grabner got lost in the shuffle. Unfortunate, but he’ll be getting a very real chance to shine down in Florida, which is probably the best possible situation for him.
Finally, there’s the 25th selection who ended up being Quinton Howden. I know it’s incredibly rash to render judgment on a player who just got drafted, but based off of what Bob McKenzie and Pierre McGuire were saying, Howden looks like he’s going to be a bit of a project and will take some time to develop. That’s of no benefit to the Canucks, who are clearly in ‘win now’ mode. I do appreciate that the Gillis made some aspect of the deal conditional contingent on whether or not certain players were available.