Dreaming of Ryan Clowe? Canucks’ dilemma really centres on draft failures
Poor lottery history has forced Vancouver to seek a trade to fill gaping hole down the middle
VANCOUVER — “You say goose pate, I say chopped liver. You say they’re discards, I say they’re refuse. Let’s call the whole thing off.”
That is Trade Deadline Day 2013, set to music by the Gershwin brothers, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers — in the roles of TSN and Sportsnet, respectively — dancing their little hoofies off to distract you from the flimsiness of the plot.
Of course, it’s too late to call the whole thing off, but if Ryane Clowe — a big strong winger who had zero goals in 28 games heading into Monday night’s encounter with the Vancouver Canucks — is truly the piece de resistance, next to which all other potential deadline movers pale by comparison, can we at least agree to downgrade Deadline Fever to a mild case of the sniffles, and go on with our lives?
Look, it’s nothing against Clowe, and only a little bit against the sports networks.
No doubt TSN and Sportsnet have done cost/benefit analyses that show Canadians have an insatiable appetite for hours of air-filling, iPhone-twiddling work by approximately half the nation’s gainfully employed journalists, all converging on what will probably be about a dozen trades involving 30 players/draft picks, very few of them worth so much as a raised eyebrow.
So if we’re buying, who can blame them for selling?
As for the sudden demand for Clowe, it’s fairly straightforward. He might rediscover his scoring touch if given good enough linemates — so goes the reasoning, evidently, in Vancouver, where GM Mike Gillis is said to believe that the Sedin twins would soon cure his dead hands — and besides, he’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.
So if he’s a bust, a team has no obligation to him beyond the playoffs. And even if he scores a little in the time remaining, having gone this long without a goal in the final year of his contract isn’t exactly setting him up for a bonanza in 2013-14 and beyond.
That said, the 30-year-old heavyweight — who rumours have it may be headed to Philadelphia — would be a welcome addition to any team’s dressing room, if only for his quotability. He’s bright, blunt, and obstreperous. For the Canucks, any addition of obstreperousness that could also handle a hockey stick would have been an upgrade.
It’s just that he was never really what they needed, and still need: that is, a centre, not a winger.
What they need is what they haven’t been able to find in the draft since ... well, Ryan Kesler, 10 drafts ago: an actual, reliable scorer of goals (when healthy).
Forget trading Roberto Luongo. If Gillis can find someone willing to take on that monster contract now, he’s Houdini, and all credit to him, but there are goalies available who’d cost someone a lot less, and the never-ending story of the Maple Leafs’ urgent need for an upgrade on James Reimer looks like pure wishful thinking from here.
So how are the Canucks supposed to get that centre to fill the yawning gap (for as long as Kesler remains out) between Henrik Sedin on the first line and Max Lapierre on the fourth? Good luck with that.
Canada’s best team for the last several seasons is now just a face in the crowd, dealing from weakness at that, and doesn’t appear to have much beyond draft picks to offer in trade. They are fairly teeming with players who would be useful third- and fourth-liners on a good hockey club, but nobody is giving up what the Canucks are after for a package of plumbers.
It’s no big secret how they came to their current state. It’s the draft.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the last time the Canucks picked a player who proved able to put the puck in the net at a major league level without simultaneously being a pain in management’s butt (sorry, Cody Hodgson) was Michael Grabner, whom they soon traded away because they felt they had the very same player in Mason Raymond.
That was 2006, seven drafts ago.
Drafted after Grabner that year? Chris Stewart. Claude Giroux. Patrik Berglund. Milan Lucic.
Drafted after Hodgson in 2008? Erik Karlsson, Jordan Eberle ....
Of course, it’s easy to play this game. It used to be an automatic column every year in Edmonton, when the Oilers were an absolute washout as a drafting team, using as an excuse (and it wasn’t a bad one) that they were constantly picking late in the first round because they were so good.
From the year after they drafted Grant Fuhr in 1981 until the end of the millennium — encompassing 19 entry drafts — the Oilers utterly wasted a staggering 16 first-round selections on players who simply could not cut it: Jim Playfair, Selmar Odelein, Scott Metcalfe, Kim Issel, Peter Soberlak, Jason Soules, Scott Allison, Joe Hulbig, Nick Stajduhar, Jason Bonsignore, Steve Kelly, Matthieu Descoteaux, Michel Riesen, Michael Henrich, Jani Rita, Alexei Mikhnov.
A few played a bit in the NHL. Not one ever rose to any significance.
In 2001, they drafted Ales Hemsky 13th, and the healing (ever so slowly) began.
The Canucks’ skeleton closet has its Dan Woodley, Rob Murphy, Jason Herter, Alex Stojanov (who at least turned into Markus Naslund, so there’s that), Libor Polasek, Mike Wilson — and in more recent times Nathan Smith and Patrick White — but they’re not even in the Oilers’ class as draft knuckleheads.
Just to underline the point, forwards picked later than the Canucks took Nathan Smith include Brad Boyes, Steve Ott, Justin Williams, and Jarret Stoll. After R.J. Umberger, the Canucks’ 2001 first-rounder whom they promptly traded away, teams found Mike Cammalleri, Jason Pominville, Tomas Plekanec, Patrick Sharp, Ryane Clowe (!), Brooks Laich, and P.A Parenteau.
After washing out with Patrick White, the very next pick was David Perron by St. Louis. Later came P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Frattin and Jamie Benn.
See how easy this is?
Maybe their drafting has improved since Gillis took the reins, but it’s only a guess.
Six years, in an organization that wants to pattern itself after the Detroit Red Wings with a policy of bringing draft picks along slowly in the minors, isn’t a very significant amount of time to judge results.
But if Kesler were healthy and the Canucks had acquired the centre they ought to have had by now as a partial return for one of their goaltenders, it’s doubtful there would be a place in the team for the only Gillis draft pick currently playing for the Canucks: Jordan Schroeder (give or take emergency call-up Nicklas Jensen, who was to play his first NHL game tonight).
The point is that you can only have so many first-round disasters on your resume before the system begins to fail you, and your stockpile of elite players slowly dwindles ... and you end up dreaming of Ryane Clowe.
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