The Vancouver Canucks intend to stay the course. Their goals for next season remain making the playoffs while developing their prospects in a “winning environment.”
That’s not to say the Canucks don’t recognize the need to get younger, because they do. There will be opportunities in 2015-16 for the likes of Jake Virtanen, Sven Baertschi, Frank Corrado, and Adam Clendening.
Just don’t expect a massive roster overhaul this offseason — even after the Canucks lost their fourth straight playoff series, this time to a younger, faster Calgary squad.
“We are committed to our plan,” president of hockey ops Trevor Linden said today. “We started that last year. We’ll have difficult decisions to make this year, as every team does.”
Some of those “difficult decisions” may include approaching veterans with no-trade clauses and asking them to accept a move. GM Jim Benning reiterated his willingness to do that, which won’t do anything to quell speculation about Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins, and a handful of others.
But Benning also provided a caveat there: “It’s tough. When you go to a player and you approach him to do that, they have all the leverage and they decide which teams they want to go to. You have to try and figure out a deal with those teams.”
Moreover, Vancouver management has no interest in developing its prized prospects in a losing environment.
“You end up with a team full of real good players that never wins anything,” said Benning. “We want to draft and develop well, but we want our young kids to learn how to play in a winning environment, so they learn the right way to play.”
Here’s a name to keep an eye on as this summer progresses: Dominic Toninato.
Toninato, 23, was Toronto’s fifth-round pick way back in 2012. From there, he went the collegiate route and put together a strong four years at Minnesota-Duluth. His NCAA career culminated with a senior season in which he served as team captain, set a personal high in points and led the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four final.
Though his rights are currently owned by the Leafs, Toninato would become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16 if he and the club don’t reach an agreement. You’d think, based on his body of work, Toninato would be a major priority for GM Lou Lamoriello, but it’s not that simple. Thanks to years of stockpiling draft picks, Toronto has a ton of prospects — but can only have 50 players under contract at the NHL level.
Adding to the complexity? There are other teams lined up to make Toninato an offer.
“Dom’s a good player. Will teams be interested? Yes. There will be many teams interested in him,” agent Neil Sheehy told the Star. “The process right now is working with the Leafs. They hold his rights till Aug. 16.
“They have a lot of things that they’re trying to figure out.”
Reading between the lines, it doesn’t sound especially promising in Toronto. The club offered Toninato a deal last summer, which he turned down to return to school. They could offer him an AHL contract — there’s no limit on those — but Sheehy said his client isn’t interested in that.
Sheehy said he hopes to have more clarity in late June, following the expansion and entry drafts.
Expansion draft will force Ducks to make some big decisions
Bieksa, 35, has a no-movement clause, so unless the Ducks find a way to get around that, they’ll need to protect him. (Chances are, they’ll seek a way around it, either via trade or buyout or just convincing him to waive.)
Fowler, meanwhile, only has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. And after the season he just had, with 39 points in 80 games, the 25-year-old won’t be cheap to re-sign. For that reason, it’s possible Murray may choose to shop Fowler instead. Or perhaps it’s Vatanen that goes on the block.
In goal, the Ducks have John Gibson under club control for years to come, but they’ll need to choose a backup. Jonathan Bernier is an unrestricted free agent, and even though he played well during the regular season, his performance against the Predators wasn’t great. Murray may want to at least consider his options there.
“I don’t think we played poorly in the series,” said Carlyle. “I think that the toughest part I have about the whole thing is that this was our seventh game in 13 days.
“Now, there’s various reasons for that, but I think there’s got to be some consideration in the scheduling in the future between series. We finished on a Wednesday and had to open again on Friday, whereas other teams had to open on Saturday. An extra day would have given us a chance to recover. And we know how tough these games are. And that was a tough hand that was dealt to us.”
The “other” team to which Carlyle was referring is Pittsburgh. The Penguins beat Washington in Game 7 of the second round on May 10, then opened against Ottawa on May 13.
The Ducks, on the other hand, knocked out Edmonton in Game 7, also on May 10, then had to start against Nashville on May 12.
Fatigue may, indeed, have been a factor early in the series against Nashville. In Game 1, the Ducks were badly outshot, 46-29, and lost, 3-2, in overtime.
Carlyle said afterwards that the extra rest had made a difference for the Preds, who’d eliminated the Blues in six and gone four days without a game.
Nick Sorensen, the forward taken 45th overall by Anaheim in 2013, has opted to return to Europe and sign a two-year pact with SHL club Linkoping, the team announced on Tuesday.
Sorensen, 22, returned to North America this season after spending ’14-15 and ’15-16 in Sweden (the latter with Linkoping, so this is a homecoming of sorts).
A former Quebec League standout, Sorensen impressed during training camp and made the Ducks’ opening-night roster, appearing in five games before being dispatched to AHL San Diego.
“Every game, every practice, every day for me, it’s a look to try to stay here,” Sorensen said back in October, per the Daily News. “Even if I play zero, one, five or 20 games, I’m not going to get comfortable up here. It’s the best league in the world.
“I’m just going to try to prove to them every day I want to be here.”
With the Gulls, Sorensen had 10 goals and 22 points in 48 games. He also chipped in with another four in eight playoff contests, but did suffer an injury during the postseason.
Sorensen was a pending RFA, having just wrapped the last year of his entry-level deal.