VANCOUVER - Even the hockey gods must feel the Vancouver Canucks didn't get enough in the Cory Schneider trade because They are offering to the team the potential, unexpected bonus of suddenly-free-agent defenceman Jon Blum.
The former Vancouver Giants junior star, a first-round National Hockey League draft pick just six years ago, became an unrestricted free agent this week at age 24 when the Nashville Predators chose not to make the Californian a qualifying offer. Blum is excited at the possibility of joining the Canucks, who happen to need a depth defenceman or two, a right-handed blueliner and some good news.
Blum would check all three boxes.
The Predators' decision not to simply retain Blum's rights and trade him is one of the more surprising things that has happened in one of the most crazed weeks in NHL off-season history.
Clearly, Blum may have had a falling out with Predator coach Barry Trotz or general manager David Poile and no longer can be considered a can't-miss NHL player after missing in Nashville.
But the 6-1, 190-pound defenceman has a tonne of skill and outstanding hockey IQ, has already shown in spells over the last three years that he can play in the NHL, and is young enough to reset the trajectory of his career. And coming off a one-year, two-way contract that paid him $650,000 in the NHL, Blum is likely to be a bargain for someone when free agency opens today.
“It definitely does have a lot of appeal,” Blum said Thursday of a potential return to Vancouver. “I was there for four years and they were some of the funnest years I ever had, playing in a hockey city like Vancouver. The fans are passionate and love the game and the Canucks are a top-notch organization.
“I would be familiar with a lot of faces and the town. It would be an easy transition if that's the team I go to. Being a free agent at this age is exciting.”
Blum said the Canucks were among the first teams to contact his agent, Gerry Johannson, on Wednesday.
Although Blum's game lacks the “bite” new Canuck coach John Tortorella said the team needs, the Canucks are down a couple of defencemen (see next item) and, squeezed by the salary cap, can't afford to sign any big-ticket players.
Blum said he thinks it would be a “great experience” playing for Tortorella, who may be more volatile but is no more demanding than Blum's old junior coach. Don Hay played Blum in all situations from the moment he arrived in Vancouver.
The defenceman spent four years with the Giants and in his final season, 2008-09, registered 66 points and a plus-53 rating in 51 games. Blum split the last three seasons between the NHL and American League. He logged 90 games for the Predators, who deemed him expendable after selecting stud blueline prospect Seth Jones with the fourth pick in Sunday's draft.
This past season, Blum's average ice time was just 14:17, down from 17:56 the previous year.
“I appreciate what Nashville has done for me and it was a pleasure to play there,” Blum said. “But things didn't work out and I'm excited for a fresh, new start. I'm sure every hockey player has ups and downs. To get a chance to play on a good team with a good offence would kind of suit my game.”
He should suit the Canucks.
MOVING ON: In some ways, it's sad to see the departure of that hard-working, amiable Canuck defenceman from Minnesota, the one who didn't play as much as he wanted but never complained and was always a good teammate. Keith Ballard? Him, too, but we're referring to Andrew Alberts.
While Ballard agreed Thursday to a two-year, $3-million contract with the Minnesota Wild, a day after the Canucks bought him out for $5.6 million over the next four years, Alberts' exit from Vancouver will get less attention. Just as Alberts received less attention than Ballard when they were here.
The 32-year-old from Minneapolis did what Ballard did, but for much less money and without anyone publicly advocating for him or suggesting the coach was ruining him. Alberts arrived three months before Ballard in 2010, played nearly as many games and did a difficult, physical job whenever he was asked. He was a loyal soldier for the organization.
While Ballard will pocket $18.2 million for his time in Vancouver, Alberts earned less than $4 million. But with the Canucks facing a salary-cap crisis, even Alberts has become too expensive to the team for a depth role and is expected to leave as a free agent.
BUFFER MAN: Now that we know Tortorella’s assistant coaches will be longtime right-hand man Mike Sullivan and failed Canuck head coaching candidate Glen Gulutzan, one has to wonder if players will be buffered at all in Tortorella’s angriest moments.
Sullivan, Tortorella’s associate coach the last four years with the New York Rangers, has a reputation for possessing every bit the volume and volatility of his boss. We’ll see if Gulutzan, the junior member of the group, can get between the head coach and players when needed and soften the message coming from Tortorella.
Former Canuck Brad Lukowich twice played for Tortorella in Tampa, first when Craig Ramsay was the associate coach, the second time when Sullivan was on the staff.
“He was a lot like Torts,” Lukowich recently told The Sun’s Brad Ziemer when asked about Sullivan. “It was kind of like beating the same drum. You’d hear it from Torts and then you’d hear it from the next guy in pretty much the same way ... with the same delivery.
“So I’m not sure the message got across quite as clearly as it did the first time. With Rammer and Torts, they were a great one-two punch. Going to Vancouver (Tortorella) is going to need the same thing; he is going to need a guy that can come in and settle down the crew when it’s needed.”
Good luck, Glen.
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