I'll say this for the Canucks: after years of predictable behavior, they've suddenly become great at surprises. Of course that can be good and bad.
Let's punch out the four big items staring us in the face after yesterday.
1. Ginger Bricks to New Jersey
I didn't think the Canucks would bite on John Tortorella behind the bench and the almighty invisible hand of Aquilini helped seal that deal. If that wasn't enough, the refreshing bite of lime following that tequila shot was moving Cory Schneider to jump into the top ten of the 2013 draft. Those waiting to bury a knife into Gillis had all they could possibly ask for.
Gillis lost some karma points with some of his quotes ("this was all part of the plan") yesterday that even the most ardent Canucks supporters shouldn't be believing. The situation was as plain as day: lose Roberto Luongo for nothing (or worse yet take on a DiPietro contract and buy that out instead) or move Schneider for the best deal on the table. That deal was, reportedly, from Edmonton where Gillis could have had a much more favorable return but ran the risk of watching Schneider slam the door on his own squad multiple times a year. That left the Devils.
Starting with that first round loss to the Kings, Gillis played a dangerous game with Luongo at a time when the goalie landscape and CBA were changing around him. Again, no one should be letting him off the hook for that. That it came to this conclusion is frustrating, but at the same time to suggest the Canucks are worse now than they were a day ago isn't fair either:
Acquiring an elite player for nothing more than the cost of a draft pick is life changing for NHL teams. Rightly or wrongly, teams are able to command awfully high prices for those draft picks. There’s no guarantee but they seem to treat the possibility as being enough to command a high price. It is, I think, defensible to do so.
It’s easy to say that Vancouver should have got more because of what Washington was able to get from Colorado in exchange for Semyon Varlamov but, frankly, that was an insane deal the moment that it was made. I don’t think it’s all that sensible to judge a deal based on the highest price:value deal you can think of.
All of that said, the Canucks seem to me to be a stronger team now than they were two days ago. They acquired a really good prospect in exchange for a slight reduction in the ability of their goaltending, given that only one goalie can play at a time. The price seems reasonable to me, given the way in which NHL teams have historically valued the possibility of striking gold in the draft. If the return seems to be something that helps in the future rather than now, well, that’s kind of been the way that the Canucks are operated. If you tend to think that a consistently well run team will win a Cup eventually, as I do, it’s hard to be too critical of that, even if you kind of look at the clock and wonder how much longer a Cup contender can be built around the Sedins.
Is this the best of a bad situation? Sure feels like it, but no one knows that answer yet. For now I'll settle for keeping my eyes peeled towards the Tri-State area, first at the kids in Utica and then in Jersey where hopefully Schneider can frustrate Vigneault on a regular basis.
2. Goalie Problems 2.0
Until we see Luongo roll right on up to a podium at Rogers and proclaim he's a proud Canuck again (or at least lies through his teeth and makes it remotely convincing), I'd hold off on thinking the crease conundrum is over. On the one hand this is what Luongo, in theory, wanted: being an unquestioned number one goalie with a shot at the Cup. On the other hand, he's been dicked around by this management for so long - and has been nothing short of an all-star in taking it all in with grace and humor - that if he gave Aquilini the Stone Cold salute and demanded a trade or buy-out, could you truly blame him? At least, for a change, Luongo has the power to make the brass sweat a bit.
Another upside to keeping Luongo is the cost certainty involved. In a few years Schneider should rightfully command a $5.5-6 million dollar contract. Keeping Luongo under wraps for the foreseeable future stabilizes the crease financially, especially if the cap (as rumors suggested yesterday) jumps to nearly $80 million. His contract may be untradeable, but it's also a known known to build around.
Then, of course, there's the vacant back-up role. Eddie Lack makes the most sense, but making him battle it out with Joe Cannata and Joacim Eriksson is the better way to go. Even with Luongo and Schneider Gillis was right in stashing some strong goalie prospects in the pipeline. Who develops into the next Schneider is a good sub-plot in all of this (unless you're Luongo in which case it's best to ignore it entirely).
3. The Cupboard Isn't Bare Anymore
Heading into the draft anyone could have looked at the Canucks depth chart and surmised it was pretty bleak, especially at LW and down the middle. I goofed on the Twitter yesterday about how not long ago we could cite Cody Hogdson, Cory Schneider and Jordan Schroeder as reasons to be excited about the future. Before yesterday those deck chairs were rearranged in favor of Nicklas Jensen, Frank Corrado and Brendan Gaunce. But now joining those guys are Bo Horvat down the middle and Hunter Shinkaruk on left wing.
It's rare indeed when the Canucks farm looks all around promising and Gillis took a giant step in that direction. That's not even including what may come of Cole Cassels or Jordan Subban in addition to bubble guys like the aforementioned Schroeder, Kellan Lain, Yann Sauve and - deeper down the list - Adam Polášek, Joseph Labate and Patrick McNally. When you consider the Sedins are heading quickly towards the dreaded 35 years old, it's a relief to know the roots for the next generation are there.
Considering some horrific draft years still lingering in the back of our minds (hello 2002!) it's a pleasure to see days like yesterday, especially if Torts can develop some of these guys quickly and strongly at the NHL level.
4. Free Agency!!1
Gillis is back at it this Friday when free agency begins. Even today's minor moves - Dale Weise in, Keith Ballard out - help the bigger picture (for Ballard of course that comes in the name of cap relief). The Canucks still have plenty to do offensively where there are some gaping holes and defensively if Andrew Alberts should return as the reserve depth on the blueline. In addition we have Chris Tanev who could be RFA'd by Friday unless Gillis gets him qualified or under wraps before then. [Update: he's been qualified, extension still in the works]
I'm not too concerned about the defense; I would be amazed if Gillis doesn't make retaining Tanev a priority. The biggest question is who replaces Derek Roy as the checking center. He could promote from within, but I'd prefer to see Gillis make a shrewd move on the open market to make sure whoever slots in between Higgins and Hansen is a strong enough player so the third line doesn't become a rotating door of despair again. If you assume the Sedins and Burrows/Kassian will lead the charge again followed by Booth/Kesler/whomever then the top six is set. If that third line implodes once again, I don't see how Vancouver will keep up over 82 games with teams like LA and SJ much less go deep in the playoffs.
Some of the other notables - Mason Raymond, Manny Malhotra, Steve Pinizzotto - are expected to hit the market and leave town. Malhotra alone should be given keys to the city on his way out. Raymond deserves a fresh start, but his time up here. Maxim Lapierre is a toss up as well; I'd love to see him back but wouldn't be shocked if he's offered a better deal shortly after free agency begins. I'm not jazzed about Sestito as a fourth line option (ditto Weise), but I'm doing my best to remember there's a new sheriff in town and maybe Torts can cease the endless parade to the box that's become synonymous with Vigneault-style hockey.