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View From the Back

Monday, 09.07.2007 / 8:50 PM / Features
Vancouver Canucks
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View From the Back
At times this summer it’s seemed that all a forward needed to land a lucrative NHL deal was a pair of skates and curve on his hockey stick.

In the midst of a free-agent frenzy that’s seen goal-scorers rewarded with Hollywood-sized contracts, the Canucks’ approach has represented a sharp departure from the trend.

Rather than toss expensive bait into the free agent pool in hopes of landing one of the offensive “heavyweights,” general manager Dave Nonis has instead played sensible small-ball.

He’s locked up Kevin Bieksa and added veteran defender Aaron Miller to what has to be considered the premier defensive corps in the NHL, while adding the likes of Ryan Shannon, Brad Isbister, Jason Jaffray and Byron Ritchie up front.

“Each summer it seems to be a little different,” said Nonis. “This summer it seems there were some aggressive teams that wanted to make a push and improve themselves. Obviously a couple of those teams did very well, and sometimes you have to pay for that.”

“Every team is in a different situation. Ours didn’t lend itself to a big July 1st splash. There were some teams out there with significant cap room and felt they had to make some moves. I’m not terribly surprised, but the market was pricey and I don’t think that will change next year.”

It’s no secret that the Canucks are relying on a time-tested strategy of putting the big chips on the back end and building from within.

Banking on defence isn’t a novel approach, though a hard look at the history books will tell you it’s certainly a winning one.

“The way our team is put together - and the way that most teams that are competitive are put together - is from the net out,” said Nonis, who now has six solid NHL defenceman under contract after adding Miller and re-upping rising star Kevin Bieksa.

“We think we have one of the strongest defensive corps possible… and having any chance of being competitive in this league is going to take good goaltending and good defense, and that’s what we’ve looked to shore up.”

One could say that focusing on defence this summer tantamount to the strategy former Canucks GM Brian Burke deployed last summer in Anaheim when he built a big, tough team in an era where small and skilled was de rigueur.

That’s not to say the rest of the NHL is tossing their collective weight behind goal-scorers alone, but the spotlight has most certainly focused more intensely on the forward position.

The situation in Vancouver is no different.

With the defence all but carved in stone, is there still room to stack another forward on top of a squad that was top-five in goals against (2.4 per game), but ranked 22nd in goals for at 2.65 per game?

“If we can find the right one,” said Nonis. “I believe there will be some player moves in the next three or four weeks as teams look at their cap situations and realize they have to move up or down.”

Nonis said he’s happy with the roster following Monday’s signings, but wouldn’t rule out adding another player – most likely via a trade.

“There’s more to do if it presents itself. There’s not something out there that we feel we have to chase or anything like that. We’re in a position now that if a deal comes up that makes sense, we have some flexibility to make some more moves, and we’re going to keep searching for those opportunities, but we’re not going to chase them.”

Nonis added that several opportunities to acquire a forward have already passed across his desk; he just hasn’t seen one that he likes quite enough.

If one doesn’t come, Nonis says the team is fine as is.

“If there’s a deal that pops up tomorrow, we’re prepared to move on it. If not, then I don’t see any reason why the group we have can’t be competitive.”

NOTES

Nonis said he hasn’t any discussions with Jan Bulis’ agent “for a couple of days,” adding that the Canucks are in a holding pattern at this point. “We’ve got a couple other things out there that we hope will come to fruition, but as we stand here right now, there’s no change”…Nonis indicated that heading into the season $2 million under the cap would be ideal…Nonis said he hasn’t spoken to Trevor Linden for the last couple of days. Linden is heading to Europe and both sides will get together when he returns.