I was thinking about this while having a conversation with a friend of mine who happens to have the unfortunate trait of cheering for the Vancouver Canucks. He was arguing about how much better shape the Canucks are than the Calgary Flames, and it hit me… the Canucks aren’t really all that far off from being in a similar situation than the Flames.
Let me preface this with a couple things. First, this is not going to be a post criticizing the work of Vancouver GM Mike Gillis. Fact of the matter is, he’s done a real good job of building this Canucks team and deserves a lot of credit for back-to-back Northwest Division titles. Also, I want to make sure that I’m writing this the right way in that there’s no guarantee the Canucks will be missing the playoffs in two or three years. I’m also not trying to frame a poor allocation of resources on the west coast.
Instead, I remember the analogy of "the window" being used for the Flames after some of their disappointing post-lockout playoff exits. As in, "well, that’s disappointing, but the window is still wide open" at first to "another disappointing exit, is the window starting to close?" I think we’re starting to hear that in Vancouver.
2004 was a dream playoff run for the Calgary Flames, and it set the bar high for the team going forward. The timing that saw the lockout follow Tampa’s Stanley Cup victory helped change the landscape for Canadian NHL teams. It was a big reason, but not the only reason, why GM Darryl Sutter and the Flames could start investing more resources into signing and re-signing players.
Following the April 2008 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings, the Flames had a very defined "core" (oh no, not that word again) of players. Key cogs from the 2004 run: Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and Robyn Regehr. A player acquired during the summer of 2004: Daymond Langkow. And a highly touted first round draft pick: Dion Phaneuf. Names like Tanguay, Huselius, Cammalleri, Jokinen and others had, arguably, been part of this core at different times…but entering last off season, those five were the long term, big money guys. Add in Jay Bouwmeester, and you had $34 million invested in a goalie, three blueliners, and two forwards.
But anyone reading this knows all that. How does this relate to those dastardly Canucks? Well, the allocation of resources is very similar. The cornerstones? $12.2 million annually to the cranium brothers, and another $6.75 million to their captain/goaltender. Add in another $5 million per year starting next season to Ryan Kesler, and it’s starting to take form. Alex Edler is signed through 2012/2013 for a 3.25 cap hit.
Again, that’s not to say any of those are bad contracts, or will be. Here’s where things start to get interesting for me. From the outside, the Flames are now starting to run into issues where sizeable money is being allocated to, depending on different opinions, diminishing results. While some hate Daymond Langkow’s contract, others wonder if if $7 mil to Iginla is too much. Fact is, regardless of what contract you believe to be the anchor, these longterm and big money contracts have limited flexibility somewhat for the Flames. And now, I believe it’s fair to say "the window is starting to close" on a good majority of the aforementioned Calgary core.
So, for Vancouver, what moves will GM Gillis make to keep that "window open"? A good chunk of money will come off this offseason as both Pavol Demitra and Willie Mitchell become unrestricted free agents on July 1. The following summer, Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo will both see their contracts expire. Admittedly, things aren’t identical: the Sedin’s (now 29) were both 28 when they signed longterm extensions while Iginla, Langkow and Kiprusoff were 30; Luongo is signed to a 12 year deal, far longer than any of the Calgary deals.
But with two straight disappointing playoff exits for the Canucks, is it fair to think the urgency level might be ramping up a little with this current group of cornerstone guys? The Canucks have a little flexibility, and I’ll be very intrigued to see what Gillis does this offseason. The right moves could keep this team dangerous right now without hurting them in two or three years; however, we’ve seen many times (and not just with the Flames), it doesn’t always work that easy.