Humility, affordability and loyalty best describe the past four seasons for Alex Burrows. Reality may best describe the next four.
The Vancouver Canucks right winger has a four-year, $18 million US contract extension that kicks in next season and includes a no-trade clause. It’s a palatable $4.5 million annual salary cap hit and the yearly payout of $6 million, $5 million, $4 million and $3 million rewards slogging through a previous deal that made Burrows one of the best NHL bargains at $2 million annually.
However, nobody understands the deep unrest sparked by being swept in the Western Conference quarterfinal series more than Burrows. He knows one postseason victory the last two springs has put the entire organization under the microscope and that the coaching staff may be gutted. Core players may be moved as general manager Mike Gillis attempts to re-set the organization under the constraints of a reduced $64.3 million salary cap ceiling that the club has already exceeded for next season.
“We have guys who can be difference-makers and it’s up to management to decide who to go with,” said Burrows, who turned 32 last month. “You’ve got to be able to close games out. It’s frustrating, disappointing and embarrassing. We thought we had a much better group, hopefully that will fuel the fire.”
There are few movable parts as Gillis attempts to address gaping holes. The six-year, $30 million extension that kicks in for Alex Edler next season also carries a no-trade clause that takes effect in July. It leaves a window to possibly move the defenceman. The strong play of Jason Garrison and emergence of Chris Tanev and Frank Corrado mean Edler could be traded for help down the middle or at wing. The Canucks can also buy out Keith Ballard and gain some cap space by not re-signing Mason Raymond, finally moving Roberto Luongo and not re-signing trade-deadline rental Derek Roy.
The top line combined for nine points in the playoffs but Henrik and Daniel Sedin failed to scored. Burrows had two goals and one question that will be coming up, is he the right fit for that alignment? Yet, even before that conversation started, Burrows understood the concept because of the collective under-achievement and growing ownership angst.
“It’s part of the business,” he added. “If ever management felt it was best to trade a guy who had a no-trade clause and it fits, you can talk it out for sure. It’s possible. Personally, I have a no-trade and I’d love to stay and be a part of the future of this team. To be asked to go somewhere, you consider it, but I really believe in this group.”
Whether it was the system, tuning out the coach or whatever, the group failed miserably. The league’s 19th-ranked offence and 22nd ranked power play was hampered by the 25th rated face-off percentage and it was no better against the Sharks. The Canucks were second last in playoff draws and scored but eight goals in the sweep. That’s two wins in the last 14 playoff games and just 20 goals. That’s terrifying.
Upon further individual review, you could argue a shortened season in which Burrows was ranked 37th among right wingers with 24 points (13-11) — including a 10-game goal drought and 27 minors that tied for most in the NHL — will make management take a long look at his worth. It should be a quick and favourable assessment. Burrows knows how to complement the Sedins, is a key power play and penalty kill component, moves seamlessly from the first to second lines and plays with an edge. When working off the rush in Game 4 against the Sharks, the top line was back in top form and if that was just pure desperation, it should be the mantra next season in the suffocating Western Conference.
Regardless, right wing is a major concern for the Canucks. They’re anxious to see the real David Booth, if he’s not a compliance buyout option, and anxious to see if Zack Kassian can take another development step. Jannik Hansen is a third-line winger and it sounds like rookie Nicklas Jensen is going to learn on the job. David Clarkson is out there as an unrestricted free agent, but the 29-year-old right winger is poised for a raise on an expiring $2.6 million after 24 points (15-9) in 48 games with the New Jersey Devils. The Canucks chased Ryane Clowe, 29, at the trade deadline but the UFA will go way north of his expiring $3.625 million cap hit. The Canucks also made a play last summer for UFA Shane Doan.
Maybe the system is part of the solution. Talk to the Canucks about how they went up-tempo and blew the zone in Game 4 and they almost sigh, even though Burrows vows they play it any way to win.
“We just wanted to make plays off the rush, rather than just getting it deep every time and using our instincts and skills to find the second wave of offence — and then backcheck our butts off to get back into the play,” recalled Burrows. “We’ve been really good playing high percentage for a long time and that’s how you win games in this conference. We didn’t feel it was our best chance to run and gun with teams.”
OF NOTE — Dan Hamhuis logged a game-high 22:39 as Canada edged the Czech Republic 2-1 in preliminary-round play Sunday at the world championship tournament in Stockholm to improve to 5-0-1-0.