Smart moves highlight Canada Day for Canucks

By most accounts, Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Free Agency period was a success for the Vancouver Canucks and General Manager Jim Benning.

While adding five players – six if you include re-signing potential UFA Anton Rodin – who are all expected to be contributors at the NHL level might not seem like an appropriate tactic for a team on a so-called rebuild, I thought all their additions made on Saturday made good sense.

The signings of Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto give a team that finished with the second-fewest goal totals a year ago with an offensive boost both up front and on the back end, while Anders Nilsson fills the hole in net left by the departure of Ryan Miller while providing fans what they’ve been hoping to see now for a couple of seasons and that is a chance for Jacob Markstrom to run with the starting job.

Patrick Wiercioch is a solid, depth defenceman who comes with an inexpensive price tag and you can never have too many of those. Last season the Canucks used 10 different defenceman and the only one who appeared in all 82 games – Luca Sbisa – is now a Vegas Golden Knight.

Alexander Burmistrov’s prove-it contact might be the most intriguing and is certainly loaded with possibility. I think most teams that add a former first rounder to their roster all feel they can be the one to unleash the potential. Burmistrov has certainly not lived up to his draft hype from 2010 but it’s a low-risk, high-reward opportunity and it’s more depth at centre for the Canucks.

I thought, though, the best part of the day were the moves that weren’t made. In the days leading up to the opening of free agency the Canucks were linked to several impending UFAs or players on the trade block ranging from the head-scratchers (Karl Alzner) to the absurd (Joe Thornton).

I think, as a good general manager, you’re always out there kicking tires whether or not it actually fits into your original plan. If Joe Thornton wants to play in Vancouver and do so at significantly less than market value would you really say no?

The one move not made, but apparently the closest to coming to fruition, was the rumoured swap of defencemen between the Canucks and Panthers that would have sent Erik Gudbranson back to Florida in exchange for Jason Demers. It was a move vetoed by Demers.

This one I couldn’t understand at all if it was a straight-up one-for-one swap. Gudbranson certainly had a challenging first season in Vancouver hampered by injuries but it’s not as if he’s suddenly lost all the qualities that sold you on him a year ago when you dealt away one of your top prospects for him.

Gudbranson is four years younger than Jason Demers, and at least for the time being, is someone you have under cost control. One of the reasons the Panthers moved him a year ago was because they were afraid he’d command a huge salary increase this summer – something that obviously didn’t happen for a myriad of reasons.

At the same time, tying themselves to a defenceman who would have instantly become their second-highest paid blue-liner (behind Alex Edler) and one with a partial no-trade clause just seems counterintuitive.

Had it gone down it wouldn’t have wiped out what was otherwise a solid day for the Canucks, but it certainly would have dampened it.

I’ll count it as the first win of the 2017-18 season.

Photo credit: Sarah Connors

Hockey Canada’s Top-5 since 2000

With Canada’s own Joe Sakic being inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2017 this past weekend, it cemented his legacy as one of the top players to ever compete for his country on the world stage.

Among players who have suited up for Canada since the turn of the century, he certainly remains among the cream of the crop even though it’s been nearly eight years now since Burnaby Joe hung up the skates.

There’s a lot of players that deserve to be on the list and way too many to list, but here’s my pick for the top five to suit up for Canada (in men’s seniors competitions) since 2000 – one of whom preceded Sakic into the Hall of Fame and three of whom are strong candidates to one day join him there.

5. Ryan Smyth

They don’t call him ‘Captain Canada’ for no reason. Smyth, the long-time Oilers star, was a mainstay on many of Team Canada’s World Championship rosters in the early part of the century – though he would have preferred have a little more success in the NHL post-season – and served as Canada’s captain on six occasions. Though he might not have put up dazzling numbers, success did find a way to follow Team Canada under Smyth’s leadership as he was a two-time gold medalist and a one-time silver medalist at World Championship events. Smyth also won gold with Canada at the 2002 Olympic Games, 2004 World Cup of Hockey, and 2012 Spengler Cup.

4. Joe Sakic

Sakic was on the back half of his career by the turn of the century but his spot on the list is thanks to his role in helping Canada record their biggest win on the international stage in a half-century at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Late City. Sakic’s international experience was largely limited in his career even before 2000 – winning too much at the NHL level has a way of doing that – with his biggest international accomplishment prior to 2002 being the gold medal he earned at the 1994 World Championship.

Four years after a disappointing, injury-plagued run at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Sakic ensured Canada would have a much better fate in 2002 earning tournament MVP honours while helping Canada earn gold at the Olympic Games for the first time since 1952. His breakaway goal on Mike Richter to clinch the victory for Canada remains an iconic moment to this day. Sakic also earned gold for Canada at the 2004 World Cup.

3. Scott Niedermayer

Touted as one of the best defencemen to ever play the game, it took a little while before Niedermayer managed to enjoy the same success he did on the international level as he had playing in the NHL but once it started, success would keep finding Niedermayer time and time again up to the point he finally called it a career.

Niedermayer was already a two-time Stanley Cup champion at the time he was selected for the 2002 Olympic team earning his first-ever senior gold medal in senior international competition (he had won a gold medal at the 1991 world juniors, and was a part of Canada’s 1996 silver medal team at the World Cup of Hockey). After adding his third Stanley Cup ring in 2003, Niedermayer would win two more gold medals for Canada over the course of a few months in 2004 first joining the Triple Gold Club by capturing the gold at the World Championships followed before earning gold again at the World Cup of Hockey held that same year. Niedermayer, however, would save his best for last as he captained Team Canada’s 2010 Olympic squad in Vancouver leading his country to a gold medal on home ice before retiring several months later.
Niedermayer was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2015.

2. Jonathan Toews

The youngest player to ever join the Triple Gold Club, Toews arguably saved his toughest feat for last when he captained the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 2010 – their first of three to date under his leadership. Before that, he had already established quite a name for himself on the international scene. His heroics as a junior aside, Toews earned a world championship gold in 2007 (also earned a silver in 2008), and several months before winning the Stanley Cup was part of Canada’s Olympic gold medal winning team in 2010 in Vancouver. Since 2010, he’s added another Olympic gold medal and a World Cup of Hockey gold medal.

1. Sidney Crosby

Think Jonathan Toews, but with nearly twice the point totals in senior international competitions, the honour of being a multi-time captain, and a flare for the dramatic and you have Sidney Crosby’s work on the international stage for Canada. Gold medals just seem to find a way to follow Sid around. With the exception of his first trip to the World Championship in 2006 – Canada finished fourth that year despite the eight goals and 16 points Crosby put up in nine games as an 18-year-old – Crosby has walked away from every international competition with a gold medal around his neck and that includes the 2010 Olympic Games, the 2014 Olympic Games, the 2015 World Championship and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. He was the captain for Canada at the latter three competitions.

Crosby’s iconic ‘golden gold’ moment in 2010 where he led Canada to a gold medal on home soil is one that may never be topped, but sadly we may see far fewer iconic Crosby moments on the international stage given the NHL’s seeming unwillingness to take part in future Olympic Games.

Cover photo credit: s.yume [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons