The Canucks and a Lockout – Good or Bad?

On the surface, it may seem like the Canucks (a contending team with a window to win that appears to be closing) wouldn’t be a team that benefits from missing any hockey in 2012-13. However, that isn’t the case. Read on to find out why.

Neither the owners nor the players want the outcome of the ongoing CBA negotiations to be a lockout, but both sides are prepared to remain in the sidelines for the first few months of the 2012-13 season.

Back in 2004, there were several players and teams that came out of the lockout refreshed, recharged, and ready. Teemu Selanne is the most obvious example. The Finnish Flash used the year off to completely rehabilitate his wonky knees, and he has been one of the best forwards in the NHL since that time.

Several young players spent the year away from the NHL developing, including Eric Staal and Jason Spezza, who both dominated the AHL. Staal emerged as a superstar after the lockout ended, racking up 100 points 2005-06 and leading Carolina to the Stanley Cup, while Spezza led Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Final just one year later. The elite draft crop from 2003 was given another year of developmental time, as NHL teams weren’t able to rush players from the CHL or Europe to the NHL.

The 2005-06 rookie crop was one of the strongest ever, and several players benefitted from the bonus year of developmental time, including the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, and Zach Parise.

This time around, there are several young players who will either stay in Major Junior or Europe or go down to the AHL if the start of the season is delayed. In general, the younger teams like Edmonton and Long Island stand to benefit, while the contending teams like Boston, Detroit, and San Jose stand to lose out. However, it isn’t that simple.

The two best players on the Canucks are on the other side of 30. Daniel and Henrik turn 32 this fall, and the odds are we have seen the best from them. A season completely wiped out would hurt the Canucks, there is no arguing that. It would take a prime year away from one of the best teams in the league (and it would also burn the final year off of Chris Tanev’s rookie deal). However, if the season were to start in November or December, the Canucks stand to benefit, for a few reasons.

1) Solve the goaltending dilemma

The additional couple of months of no hockey would allow the Canucks more time to work up a trade for Roberto Luongo. Conversely, if the new CBA comes with an amnesty clause or a lower salary cap, the Luongo trade market would change radically.

However, all else being equal, a few more months gives GM Mike Gillis more time to extract what he wants (Nick Bjugstad) from the team(s) who want Luongo (Florida, Toronto, and I wouldn’t count out Chicago).

2) Let Kesler rest

This offseason was the second consecutive one that Kesler went under the knife for a serious procedure. Last summer he had a torn labrum in his hip fixed, and this summer it was a torn labrum in his shoulder. Kesler likely came back too early from his first operation, and he wasn’t his usual dominant self in 2011-12. With a delayed season, he wouldn’t be able to come back early, as he is on track to return at some point in November or December right now.

Kesler, it could be argued, is Vancouver’s most important player. He isn’t their best player, but when he is going, everything else seems to fall into place. He scores on the power play, he dominates his even strength matchups, and he gets under the skin of the opposition’s top players. He is one player who you can tell very early into a game if he is “on” or not. He isn’t chirping, he isn’t diving, and he is skating miles up and down the ice. One could argue for a brief few days that Kesler was the best hockey player on the planet (try and find any Nashville fans from last May who would disagree).

Kesler the good:

Kesler the bad:

3) More time to develop

The key for a contending team to remain at the top of the perch is strong player development. Great hockey teams have great players (most of the time, unless Dominik Hasek is in goal), and great players usually earn big money. Having rookies and young players capable of playing a regular shift on an entry level contract is a necessity for teams right up against the salary cap (especially if the salary cap does indeed drop from the $70 million it is currently at).

There are five young Canucks who are pushing for roster spots right now. Zack Kassian is a mortal lock to make the team in some capacity, but he would benefit tremendously from starting the season off at the AHL level in Chicago. Center Jordan Schroeder isn’t far off either. On the back end, the Canucks are expecting both Frankie Corrado and Kevin Connauton to contend for roster spots. Corrado is a physical, two-way defenseman, while Connauton is an offensive defenseman with a booming slap shot.

In goal, Eddie Lack signed a contract that will pay him an average of $750,000 at the NHL level for next two seasons (the first year of the deal is two-way, meaning Lack will earn $85,000 at the AHL level if he plays there). The Canucks would love it if they could plug in three players on the roster all making less than $1 million per season.

A late start to the season would grant Gillis more time to move Luongo, it would give Kesler time to recover fully, and it would give the team an extended look at five young players itching for NHL action.

Here are the first two teams in the series:

Lockout Beneficiary Part I – Long Island

Lockout Beneficiary Part II – Philadelphia