Has Gillis waited too long on trade?
Vancouver in dire need of a centre, but GM says he's perfectly happy standing pat
The needle on the Tim Connolly interest meter didn't move a single centimetre in Vancouver on Thursday.
Despite the obvious need for a centre with Ryan Kesler still rehabbing offseason shoulder and wrist surgeries, the Canucks didn't make a claim on Connolly after the Toronto Maple Leafs placed the 31-year-old centre on waivers. Connolly was supposed to challenge for top-line consideration last season, but was ineffective in a third-line role and with just 36 points and his two-year, $9 million US salary expiring, the Leafs are making roster room for the younger Nazem Kadri and perhaps Matt Frattin.
The Canucks remain hopeful that Kesler returns at some point and that maximum value in a Roberto Luongo trade can still be obtained, despite the impression that leverage was lost with David Booth being sidelined four to six weeks with a groin strain sustained in a Sunday skating drill.
In the interim, Henrik Sedin, Andrew Ebbett, Maxim Lapierre and Manny Malhotra are expected to be centres of attention Saturday when the Canucks open their 48-game schedule against the Anaheim Ducks. And until general manager Mike Gillis acquires another centre through a trade, the Luongo watch could be rivalled by the Kes-ler watch. The centre said a week ago that range of motion in his left shoulder was still a problem from a May 8 procedure that was followed by June 27 surgery on his left wrist. The rehab prognosis for the shoulder was sixth months but complicated by a second procedure on same side of the body. That alone should be reason to act more promptly to acquire a centre, but Gillis doesn't see it that way.
"There are multiple options and we haven't limited ourselves in the discussions we've had," said Gillis. "Ryan is going to be ready to play, but I'm not going to put a timeline on it. And I don't feel the (trade) need because one team decides it wants a certain player off your roster and you give it to them. We have to get return. And right now, we would prefer a centre, but that player could take on any dimension. We think Brendan Gaunce (first round, 2012 pick) is going to be a good player, so we have a centre coming.
"What we need is one who can play today and play tomorrow."
That's why centre Tyler Bozak, 26, of the Leafs made sense in a trade package because he would slide into the third line once Kelser returns. But the Regina native was on the top line in Toronto and an expiring $1.5 million contract makes the 18 goals he had last season attractive on the open market. Maybe all the more reason for the Canucks to hope that a Kesler return is somewhere on the horizon, not some distant sign post. Then again, the centre has had a penchant for returning early from surgeries because of his zest to play.
"There's no timeline," Kesler said last week following a UBC skate.
"I'm not going to come back until I'm 100 per cent. I still need a lot of practices with actual NHL players. That's going to come in time. This (recovery) is not short term for me. I've got to take care of my body first and foremost, but I'm like anybody else. I want to play."
The former Selke Trophy winner is accustomed to playing in pain.
"We're happy with his progress and hockey players are all cut from the same cloth," Gillis said of the itch to play. "They seem to accelerate a little bit and we're hopeful without any setbacks, that he's not far away."
Regardless, the immediate concern is how the diminutive Ebbett can shoulder the second-line load and how Jordan Schroeder fits into franchise needs. Ebbett's experience and versatility are an asset, but the Canucks will struggle to score without Kesler and Booth and will likely revert to a defence-first strategy. So, has Gillis waited too long to pull the trade trigger?
"No," stressed Gillis. "Our position has been clear from the outset. We have one of the top players (Luon-go) in one of the most difficult and one of the most influential positions in the league. We're going to get fair return for him or we're perfectly happy keeping him until we get fair return.
"We've talked about multiple scenarios and multiple teams. And because every team is coming at it from a different place, it isn't exactly what we're looking for. We feel confident we're going to get what we're looking for."
Part of that may be what has transpired in short training camps and with no pre-season. Groin injuries are prevalent and teams are going to get off to either good and bad starts.
"It's going to be very challenging," said Gillis. "There are going to be lots of injuries with zero exhibition games. It's like taking a thoroughbred out of the barn and say 'start running.' There is going to be stuff that happens and we're confident with two goalies who give you every chance to win every night."
That's true. However, Alain Vigneault wouldn't name his starter for Saturday, although it would be a shocker if the coach didn't go with his anointed starter Cory Schneider. And because he usually splits his stoppers in back-to-back scenarios, expect to see Luongo on Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers.
And expect great debate about two starting goaltenders sharing one crease until the trade occurs.
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