There's that smell in the air. It only comes around once a season and its only equivalent is the bedlam around early July.
But for one day we all get to pretend (pray?) that the GM who runs the team we live and breath on doesn't shoot himself in the face trying to land the best deal.
Some teams - Sharks, Wings, maybe the Bruins to a lesser extent - probably don't need to do anything besides find a spare mortal in case of injuries. Others - the Avs, Isles, Sens and Leafs - will start their dismantling now.
Your Canucks are right there in the middle. You could make an argument that they could do nothing. But if you think this team right now has what it takes to lift the Cup in a few months, I'd argue you're wrong and haven't seen, as proof, their last three hockey games.
In the last three there have been cases where Vancouver played almost like they didn't know what to do with a lead (Sens), played down to the level of their competition (Leafs) or decided not to show up at all (Habs). If you're nice, you could fault the emotional element in Toronto, the fatigue factor of a long trip, Halak and Toskala playing out of their minds, the refs, etc. But that blame game gets really old right quick.
It's not fun, but don't forget that this is the same team that stumbled a bit out of the gate, had a respectable run until Luongo's injury, essentially played .500 without their captain and spent all of February making up for the losing streak sins of January. So let's call it as it is: the Canucks are good, not great. Period. No different then most playoff caliber NHL teams. But name the last time just a good (not great) team got to hang with Lord Stanley for the summer? And even if you could, there's not a chance in hell a good team is going to survive against the likes of the top two great teams in the West.
There is no single deadline move that Vancouver can make to change their fortunes, but if you examine the team's weakness (besides their abhorrent PK and laughable PP) one thing jumps off the page: that third line.
Try it with me:
Is Vancouver fine in net? That's almost too stupid to bother asking unless you're this kid.
Is Vancouver fine on defense? Cautiously sure. Salo is always one step away from snapping all 206 bones in his body. Ohlund's having an off year and Edler is still prone to some sophomore errors that makes the vomit jump up in the back of your throat. But Mitchell is still a rock, Bieksa is scoring regularly and O'Brien has calmed down his PIM race. Collectively perhaps they could use some insurance at the deadline but everyone wants a puck-moving defenseman. I don't think their lack of a top tier one is their greatest weakness.
Is Vancouver fine on offense? It's sad that in a year when they are scoring so much more than last year that offense, yes, remains a problem. As always it comes down to consistency.
The Sedins are fairly consistent but always lack that third linemate. Kesler and Burrows are having career years but should we expect that to continue and, if so, for how long? Demitra runs hot and cold with the best of 'em. Sundin too. And sadly I just described the top six.
Looking down the charts gets mighty ugly: Wellwood is back to being thoroughly unreliable, Bernier (who is having a career season mind you) hasn't scored in damn near a month and Taylor Pyatt is on pace to maybe crack 20 points. Maybe. Now add Raymond in, a guy who hasn't scored since December and has bounced around every line as well as the press box and soon, if Vigneault gets angry enough, he'll be rocking a sushi stand at GM Place. And while it seems unfair to criticize the fourth line guys, please note that Johnson is well off the mark from his 18 points last season.
When Vigneault dismantled the third line it had unexpected results the likes of which no one thought of. But now the biggest weakness I see is restoring that third line. If Kes and Burrows cool off, or if Vancouver makes the playoffs and needs their true shutdown line back to deal with the Thorntons and Iginlas of the world, holes will start appearing all over the place. Better to have some guys who can help offensively, accept a third line role if needed or can step up if AV needs Kes/Burrows back in shutdown mode.
Or, to look at it yet another way, let's break out the erasers and fix the mistakes of the past.
That starts with evicting the current squatters on that line and my vote would go to Wellwood and/or Pyatt. I'm a reluctant Bernier supporter despite all his cons. He's still young and my hope is he just needs to settle in more (both on the team and in one geographic location). Besides that, even if he's not scoring he's still a brute (unlike Pudge), not brittle (unlike Pyatt) and can drop the gloves or cause havoc in front of the net if cattle prodded correctly.
So, let's assume Pudge takes a seat and Pyatt finds himself playing on another team. Gillis could target one or two guys that can play first or second line minutes or can be used as spare weapons on the third when the first two lines fall asleep.
Looking at TFP's list, the guys who leap off the page to me are Upshall, Hejduk and Knuble. Hejduk is expensive and a pipe dream, but my oh my would he look good with the Sedins (and I hate saying that because every time you do that person inevitably looks terrible with them). Hell so would Tkachuk for that matter and I am allowed to say that now because Gillis and JD have manhugged.
Knuble is in Demo land with his age, but his point production is in the mid -50's for the past couple of seasons. Another guy who could probably play anywhere AV needs him and brings some veteran experience as well.
And then there's Upshall who has a bit of Bernier in him in terms of age and production. He can also play either wing and muck around in the corners. A clear upgrade to Pyatt with the exception of them blue eyes, but not a first line type player either.
Probably none of this will happen, but it's fun to play around with. For Vancouver to make this post season relevant first they'll need to actually make it and they'll be helped greatly in that pursuit by dropping some dead weight and stocking the cabinet with proven players (and ideally ones that can hang around for next year).
That dead weight is upfront and screams to have something done to the unemployment line. It's been a fun ride while it lasted Pudge and Pyatt, but there'll be no tears shed if you find youself in another time zone next Wednesday afternoon.
And if you think I'm wrong, put your ideas here to enter our deadline contest. But please note: I'm never ever wrong.
OK, maybe that one time...