Byron Isbister and Brad Ritchie? Or is it Brad Isbister and Byron Ritchie? Are these guys even household names in their own households?
Questions, questions and more questions. Evidently public opinion, and the track record of the Canucks' two free agent acquisitions, suggests Dave Nonis hasn't exactly addressed the club's scoring void.
We know the price was right. Ritchie will earn $675,000, Isbister $525,000. Ritchie and Isbister, not exactly budget busters. (Liked the ring of that last sentence, had to get it in.) We also know that Nonis is somewhat cash strapped, with nearly $44 million of his $50-million salary cap already committed to 18 players. Jan Bulis is still unsigned. So is that Linden guy. And so is some sort of offensive help.
It was well documented after the season that Nonis wanted to address his top six forward situation, to find a guy who had that elusive, and expensive intangible of puck sense. Ritchie's resume does not include this knack. His forte is using every inch and pound of his diminutive frame in driving the opposition to distraction. He is difficult to play against, he is tenacious, he will be good in the room. He is a local kid. All positives. But he will not win the Art Ross Trophy.
Vancouver will be the sixth NHL team for Isbister, which begs the question, what happened with the previous five? The simple answer is: Not enough.
Most recently, he was with the Rangers, scoring once in 19 games this past season. He also spent parts of the 2006-07 season with the Wolf Pack and River Rats, which the last time I checked, aren't monikers for NHL teams. Isbister is 30 years old, with a reputation for a guy who hasn't played to his potential often enough.
What these two signings do is address the bottom six forward void. Ritchie will love playing for Alain Vigneault, and Isbister better learn to or else he will have a bond with Marc Chouinard. It is vital to have players on the third and fourth lines who embrace the team concept, don't bitch about ice time and make the very most of the minutes they get. For what they cost the Canucks, Ritchie and Isbister represent a worthwhile venture.
But we can only assume Nonis isn't done yet. He hasn't addressed the teams' biggest void. He knows he has a coach who can bleed everything out of every player. Within reason. There is a danger in asking a team to skate through walls 82 nights a year, only to go unrewarded. How reasonable is it to expect Luongo to maintain a level of sanity playing 75 games, stopping virtually everything, but watching a group of forwards short on finish and compromise a winning season or playoff run?
You can't blame Nonis for his inability to land a marquee free agent. The price was too steep, and there is that pesky cap issue. But should the Canucks head into the 2007-08 season, and should said team struggle to put the biscuit in the basket, the GM will come under fire. Which is not exactly lost on the GM. He knows criticism goes with the territory. Nonis also knows if he starts the season well under the cap, he has more flexibility at the trade deadline, or earlier if he deems necessary. That said, I have the feeling Canuck fans would feel much more positive if the help was on the way sooner, rather than later. But the pickings are getting mighty slim.