Off-season outlook: Can Gillis reshape declining Canucks?

Mike Gillis could be looking to trade Roberto Luongo to create salary cap for the Vancouver Canucks.

Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has the most challenging off-season of his career ahead of him.

After two straight first-round exits, the Canucks fired head coach Alain Vigneault and are expected to make several changes across the roster.

Vancouver has become a stale group in recent seasons. With a bleak salary cap situation and a lack of high-end prospects in the system, the time is now for Gillis to retool the organization and make his legitimate mark on the team.

The Canucks have essentially no cap room coming into the summer so it’s easy to understand why Gillis has openly discussed the likelihood of a Roberto Luongo trade.

Clearing up Luongo’s salary cap hit of $5.33 million would help kick-start things for the Canucks, who are in dire need of size and younger players up front.

With the Sedin brothers aging and contracts set to expire after next season, the time is now for Gillis to get the Canucks back in order and if not, he could soon find himself following in Vigneault’s footsteps.

WHO SHOULD RE-SIGN

Projected cap room: -$102,778 (via capgeek.com)

Here’s where it gets tricky for Gillis and the Canucks.

Coming into the off-season, the team is already projected to be over the salary cap and have almost no flexibility to make moves in free agency.

That is why a Luongo trade becomes a clear move for Gillis as the Canucks could look to restock their system with some high-end prospects.

The problem Vancouver may run into is getting fair market value in a trade when everyone is aware the Canucks are desperate to move a goalie.

Other than a Luongo deal, an option Vancouver could look into is using their available two compliance buyouts to create more salary cap space.

The Canucks would have several possible candidates with a group of players in their lineup who are not living up their contract value, including forward David Booth ($4.25 million cap hit) defenceman Keith Ballard ($4.25 million).

Even if Gillis is able to create the necessary cap space, it’s hard to imagine the Canucks bringing back most of their free agents with the franchise looking to get younger and shape a new identity across the board.

And with the Sedin brothers’ contracts coming up after next season, they shouldn’t be looking to shell out too much money this summer.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Derek Roy, centre – Failed to make an impact after late-season trade — scored only three goals in 16 games.

Mason Raymond, left wing – Speedy winger has never quite lived up to his potential. One of the few players who could be brought back for the right price.

Maxim Lapierre, centre – Canucks should look to upgrade on a player who scored just four goals last season.

Manny Malhotra, centre – Both sides appear to be moving in a different direction.

Andrew Alberts, defence – Decent depth player for Canucks that could be re-signed on the cheap. Fits role as a seventh defenceman.

Cam Barker, defence – See ya! Canucks got little value out of the former high Blackhawks pick.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Chris Tanev, defence – Solid defender that the Canucks should certainly hope to keep on their roster.

Dale Weise, forward – Canucks need to improve their bottom-six and Weise may be considered expendable at the position.

Derek Joslin, defence – Fringe NHLer will not be a priority. Doesn’t offer much upside but could be kept to serve as depth on the back end.

FREE AGENT FITS

Note: The Canucks won’t be able to afford the below players without clearing significant cap space.

Ryane Clowe, left wing – Clowe would add needed size and toughness to their second line. With his decline last season, the veteran forward could be a cost-friendly addition for Vancouver.

Tyler Bozak, centre – The Canucks were rumoured to show some interest in Bozak during trade talks with the Leafs last year. Bozak is the ideal age (27) for a player Vancouver should be looking to add up the middle.

Bryan Bickell, left wing – Bickell could be out of their price range after a breakout season but the Blackhawks forward would add a much-needed boost to the Canucks’ declining forward group.

Andrew Ference, defence – A bit long in the teeth but Ference is tough as nails and is a proven playoff defender for a team that could buy out one of their overpriced blueliners.