Gallagher: Canucks take pop-gun offence into Western Conference arms race

 

They’ve acquired a No. 1 goalie, possibly alienated the other, all the while failing to upgrade their offence

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks' general manager Jim Benning speaks during a news conference after the NHL hockey team signed goalie Ryan Miller to a three-year contract in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday July 1, 2014.
 
 

Vancouver Canucks' general manager Jim Benning speaks during a news conference after the NHL hockey team signed goalie Ryan Miller to a three-year contract in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday July 1, 2014.

Photograph by: THE CANADIAN PRESS, Darryl Dyck

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“Make no mistake, there is a full-blown arms race of centre icemen going on in the Western Conference.”

Those words were uttered by Sportsnet analyst Billy Jaffe shortly after the announcement that Jason Spezza had been dealt to the Dallas Stars, and the comment — repeated often by many — was more than underlined less than an hour later when Paul Stastny stayed in the conference, signing with St. Louis after the Blues had missed out on the former Ottawa centre.

With the California teams all having at least two tremendous front-line centres and Chicago boasting a Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews combo, which has proven to be more than compensatory for having a two-centre punch, the Stars and Blues are now in similar shape to push for a Western title as this arms race leaves some teams behind.

And guess which team is fading rapidly into the rear-view mirror?

With Ryan Kesler having joined the Anaheim Ducks in last weekend’s trade, the Canucks are left with a top centre who is 33 years old and anything but physical to match up against all these great centres the team will be playing throughout this next season.

No wonder the Canucks are interested in augmenting their goaltending ranks. Given the barrage they may well be facing, it may not be a bad idea, as many Vancouver games this year are likely to resemble a replay of the Alamo, with the incoming Western teams in the role of the Mexican army and the Canucks wearing coonskin caps.

Now it’s not like the Canucks are as bad as a team that signed Mason Raymond to play in the West for $3.1 per year and Deryk Engelland at $2.9M per — both for three seasons — something the Flames did Tuesday for reasons known only to themselves. But when you look at the prospects for Vancouver fans in this immediate future, unless there are some very pleasant surprises at training camp or they can use their remain cap space creatively on the trade market, the prospects for excitement at Rogers Arena this year are remote.

The defensive pose this roster strikes with the emphasis on the back end while Nick Bonino acts for the moment at least on paper as the No. 2 centre simply doesn’t auger well for much entertainment.

Consider this team finished tied for 28th in goals-for last year and since then they have lost their top scorer in Kesler and their top scoring defenceman in Jason Garrison. And in their stead, they added a centre who got 20 of his 49 points on the power play playing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

This is extremely unlikely to happen on the Vancouver power play given the Sedins are both left-handed shots — the same as Bonino — whereas the chemistry in Anaheim was developed with the two right handed shooting all-stars.

Where this management group thinks the offence is coming from with this team is a total mystery at this point.

Miller is no doubt an on paper upgrade in goal over Lack, nobody would argue that. And nobody would argue that despite this arms race of centres in the West the goaltending position isn’t the most important on the ice on any team. But at this stage in his career, playing on the West Coast with all its attendant travel at his age, is the difference between Miller and Lack great enough to make it worthwhile sacrificing $6 million in cap space for the next three years after this team just got out from paying a goalie big money long-term?

What’s difficult to understand about paying Miller this much money is who were the teams out there that would have matched this kind of a deal for him? Out of whose clutches did the $6 million per the Canucks spent steal their prize goalie, particularly given he made no secret of the fact he wanted to be on the West Coast?

Meanwhile, Lack certainly has to be feeling knocked right out of the picture, a pretty tough blow for a guy who recovered from hip surgery and in his first year back took the job from Roberto Luongo.

Whether it was their intent or not, Canuck management sent him a clear sign they have very little confidence in his ability to hold the job long term. Miller is No. 1 for three years guaranteed given the money he’s making, and with Thatcher Demko drafted and the new goalie of the future, Lack has to be thinking he needs out of this organization if he wants to be a starter.

This may not be a goalie graveyard in that they all keep playing the game when they leave, but neither is it a health spa for them, either.

tgallagher@theprovince.com

twitter.com/tg_gman

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks' general manager Jim Benning speaks during a news conference after the NHL hockey team signed goalie Ryan Miller to a three-year contract in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday July 1, 2014.
 

Vancouver Canucks' general manager Jim Benning speaks during a news conference after the NHL hockey team signed goalie Ryan Miller to a three-year contract in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday July 1, 2014.

Photograph by: THE CANADIAN PRESS, Darryl Dyck

 
Vancouver Canucks' general manager Jim Benning speaks during a news conference after the NHL hockey team signed goalie Ryan Miller to a three-year contract in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday July 1, 2014.
With Ryan Kesler, right, now a member of the Anaheim Ducks, that leaves Henrik Sedin, left, as the Canucks’ No. 1 centre. With several Western Conference powers bulking up at the centre position, it leaves Vancouver with not much to battle with in this offensive arms race.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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