As the 2010 NHL Entry Draft approached, I had hoped the Vancouver Canucks would address their present and future team needs by drafting a defenseman, regardless of if he was the best player available. With one round in the books, the Canucks have yet to make a selection — but they have filled a need.
Early this afternoon the rumour mill kicked into high gear with talk that Keith Ballard was on the move out of Florida. Ballard — the center-piece of Florida’s Olli Jokinen trade just two seasons ago — has five years left on a contract that pays him $4.2 million a season. That’s a fair price for what he brings as a player, but as a 27 year old on a Panthers team heading into yet another major rebuild, that contract will likely expire before they’re ready to compete.
Vancouver and Florida have a rich history of trading together — the Pavel Bure and Roberto Luongo trades being the most notable of the bunch. So it was no surprise then that Vancouver was at the top of the list to acquire Ballard’s services. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s where he ended up.
The original deal as it was first reported was Ballard to Vancouver for Steve Bernier and the 25th overall pick — a solid trade for both sides. [Editor’s Note: Calling bullshit on myself. That would be a landslide steal for Vancouver.] Unfortunately, that’s not what it turned out to be. Vancouver sent Bernier, Michael Grabner and the 25th to Florida for Ballard and “enigmatic” forward Victor Oreskovich, with the pick contingent on the players on Vancouver’s list having already been selected. Right now, just hours removed from the trade becoming official, I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Adding Ballard gives a much needed boost to Vancouver’s defense group, and his contract is much better than what you’d wind up paying one of the few top-tier free agents in this year’s UFA crop. More than that, as much as I’d hoped the Canucks would draft a defenseman in the first round this year, odds are that player would be at least three years away from making solid contributions in a Vancouver sweater. The Canucks can’t afford to wait that long.
In Ballard they get a proven defenseman who plays with a physical edge and has a better offensive game than he was able to showcase on the lowly Panthers. He is a top-four defenseman with top-two potential. It would have taken a miracle for the Canucks to unearth a better player than this at the 25th spot.
But giving up Grabner hurts. Anyone who followed this blog during the playoffs should know how much I love the guy. I’ve had nothing but glowing reviews for him in each of my Canuck-related entries thus far, and his promising play was one of the best stories to come out of this year’s disappointing playoff run. Line him up next to Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler and there’s enough speed there to make you think your fridge is trying to kill you.
At the same time, I can see how Raymond’s development makes Grabner somewhat redundant. That was the sentiment Mike Gillis expressed in explaining the trade to the media:
“With Mason Raymond’s emergence, with our lineup, it would have been very difficult for Michael to get in. If Mason continues to advance and gets into the 30-goal category, our third line can’t be constituted with guys who are goal-scoring players. We were fortunate to have that kind of redundancy so we could look at a trade like this.”
The Canucks need to get bigger up-front, and as much as I think Grabner will eventually be better than Raymond, he isn’t right now, and probably won’t be next year either. You can’t have too many players with the same skillset, and between Raymond and Grabner, and with 2009 first round pick Jordan Schroeder on the way, that’s what Vancouver has had.
As much as I wanted to see Steve Bernier stick around, if only to shatter Todd Bertuzzi’s playoff scoring records (as I’ve written before, they are currently tied for most playoff goals in Canuck history), he now gets to go to Florida and shatter Bertuzzi’s scoring records there. Seeing as “The Toddster” only ever played seven games for the Panthers, that shouldn’t be difficult. I still believe Bernier’s a better player than he showed this year, where he was hampered by both a sports hernia and a recurring groin strain. I wish him nothing but the best.
With both Beau Bennett and Jarred Tinordi off the board (20th to Pittsburgh and 22nd to Montreal, respectively), the Canucks elected to give up this year’s first rounder instead of deferring to next year. Florida used the pick to select Moose Jaw forward Quinton Howden. At this point, the balance of the trade now lands on his shoulders. Should Howden go on to have a long and distinguished NHL career, then it’s safe to say the Panthers won the deal — even more so than they already have. But that’s getting caught up in the future again, and for Vancouver, this trade is all about the here and now.
Even if Tinordi had been available, it’s unlikely he’d crack the line-up next season, or even the year after. With the Sedins and Luongo in their primes, and Kesler just entering his, that won’t be soon enough to put this team over the hump. Is Ballard the missing piece? Maybe. Maybe not. But his toughness would have helped in the battle against the Blackhawks, and it’s hard not to like his game. He brings similar elements to what you hope for from Kevin Bieksa but rarely get. Indeed, his acquisition makes Bieksa expendable, and I’d be very surprised if he isn’t dealt tomorrow morning when the draft continues. The Canucks don’t have a pick until the fourth round, and moving Bieksa could change that in a hurry.
With both Bernier and Grabner gone, Vancouver’s bottom six is wide open at forward. Kyle Wellwood and Ryan Johnson are set to test free agent waters next week, and are unlikely to return. Darcy Hordichuk could very well spend next season in the AHL if his abysmal play this year carries over into next. That leaves only Rick Rypien, Jannik Hansen and Tanner Glass. Of that group, only Rypien is signed through next year, while Hansen and Glass are RFAs.
Gillis has to believe at least one of Schroeder and ’08 first rounder Cody Hodgson are ready to go next year, and Schroeder’s future may be as key to this deal as Howden’s. As much as I like Grabner long-term over Raymond (and how can you not like that laser of a shot?), Schroeder could easily be better than both of them. I was able to catch a live AHL game out in Abbottsford a few months back, and Schroeder was far and away the best player on the ice — miles ahead of where Grabner was at the same age. If he can step into the NHL next year, as it’s rumoured Canuck brass believe he can, then Grabner becomes even more redundant.
Is it a landslide trade for Vancouver, the way the Luongo deal was? Obviously not. But it’s hardly the bad trade some have made it out to be. Sometimes you have to give to get, and the Canucks certainly did both today. Personally, I can’t wait to see Ballard level some unsuspecting sap with his head down. Remember this doozy from four years back?
That’s one hell of a hit, even if the video quality is poor. Another beauty (with bonus Crosby fight!):
Next season can’t start soon enough.