Tuesday, July 03, 2007

West Coast Express, Take Two?

Today, Canucks Senior Vice-President and General Manager Dave Nonis announced that the club had signed three players to contracts. Veteran forwards Byron Ritchie, Brad Isbister and goaltending prospect Cory Schneider are the newest members of the Vancouver Canucks organization. What do these signings mean for the Canucks and how do they impact the team?

At first glance, the signings of Byron Ritchie (formerly of the Calgary Flames) and Brad Isbister (most recently a New York Ranger) seem to be almost trivial. Ritchie, a speedy and hard-nosed veteran is a fourth line player at best who won't contribute much (if at all) offensively. And Isbister, who was expected to do big things early in his career has recently been a big underacheiver and has had a tough time holding on to an NHL job.

However, if you look deeper in to the first two acquisitions, you'll see that the two signings - although small scale - could possibly address two needs of the Canucks this off-season. Coach Alain Vigneault is on record saying that he would like this coming year's Canucks team to be more hard-nosed and gritty and more willing and able to drop the gloves while still playing the speed and defensive game which made the team successful last season. Ritchie fits this mold perfectly.

The Canucks have also expressed (through their actions) that they need a player that will help Markus Naslund produce. The consensus seemed to be that this player needed to be a big, talented center such as Scott Gomez or Patricky Marleau, leaving Brendan Morrison and his contract elsewhere. Now despite the fact that this scenario could solve the problems, we have seen that with the high prices of free agents that it is becoming more unlikely that it will occur. What would be more likely and possibly more acheivable would be the addition of a big, talented winger that has a scoring touch - somewhat like a Todd Bertuzzi of old - to play along side Naslund and Morrison and rekinldle the spark that they once had. This player could very well be Brad Isbister. Isbister showed in junior and in his first years in the NHL that he was an offensive player. With his size and hands and the fact that he has to be able to skate to play in the new NHL, the Canucks may just have found the right piece of the puzzle to take both Naslund and Morrison out of their so-called slumps. Effectively, with his quiet signing of Brad Isbister, Dave Nonis may have given the Canucks the tools for a threatening second line.

Of course, this would be the ideal situation. We saw last year that not all of the trio's that head coach Alain Vigneault threw out on the ice worked well together, chemistry has a large part to play. Adding a piece to the puzzle in Isbister, who at least isn't a square peg for the empty round hole that is a scoring winger, may just solve the Canucks' offensive woes. And if it doesn't pan out, Nonis always has the option of trading the other signing, Cory Schneider, for immediate offensive assistance.

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