The Road Back to Regular Season Valhallaby Matt MacInnis | April 27, 2018, 5:20 PM ET
The Vancouver Island Norsemen had their most successful season in franchise history in 2016-17, narrowly missing out on the championship. Despite the great year, GM MacInnis was left with an incomplete team heading into the off-season as the Canadian Conference champions were gutted by free agency and other issues that removed full-timers from the projected 2017-18 lineup.
Last summer the Norsemen lost: Ryan Getzlaf, Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Quick, Patrick Elias, Nick Spaling, Duncan Keith, Zbynek Michalek and Carl Gunnarsson. The team also functionally lost Nick Bjugstad and Dale Weise, who were major contributors last season but unavailable this year due to performance issues.
This year the Norsemen are unexpectedly a top team in the Canadian Conference again, and may earn home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Here’s how this surprising contender was reconstructed on the fly.
Goaltender Matt Murray stepped up as the #1 goaltender for the team and currently leads the SICHL in GAA. His development has been a shot in the arm of the franchise.
On the blueline, prospects Adam Pelech and Steven Santini stepped in to play 50+ games combined as emergency fill-ins. Neither were expected to be pressed into action this season, but have done an admirable job when needed.
MacInnis made a pair of draft weekend deals with the Dublin Shamrocks, first giving up their 27th overall pick for defenceman Josh Manson, who has been a beast for the club this year. That was followed up in a trade that saw the Norsemen move down about 10 spots in the 50-60s range and give up a 4th rounder for depth forward Richard Panik. He’s become a key part of the third line.
A few months later, Anders Nilsson was acquired in a series of moves with the Stockholm Cougars that resulted in Jonathan Quick being traded for Nilsson and Stockholm’s 2018 1st round pick. Nilsson was expected to be the backup, but due to the signing of Alex Lyon, has actually spent the bulk of the season in the minors and has appeared in just four SICHL games.
Finally, the team’s only in-season trade was also with the Shamrocks, as they acquired Tyler Bozak for Oscar Lindberg and a mid-round pick. Bozak played great for the Norsemen, anchoring the second line, but is now out for 3 weeks with a concussion.
A major departure from team history, GM MacInnis opened up the wallet and spent to bring in several impactful free agents. The biggest name was Rick Nash, who scored 25 gaols and 52 points over 79 games before suffering a gruesome knee injury that has ended his season. Right winger Brian Gionta was also brought back for a second stint with the team, and he’s moved up and down the lineup as needed.
The best value move in free agency by the team was the $1.27 million contract given to defensive specialist Sergey Kalinin, who has appeared in all but two games for the team this season. The versatile Russian has 27 points and a +16 rating playing all three forward positions.
Similarly, MacInnis made other investments in his fourth line, bringing in cheap veterans Tom Kostopolous and Jay McClement, who’ve both appeared in most of the games this season.
MacInnis will need to replace all these players next season as they were brought in on one-year deals.
The only player signed to a multiyear deal was blueliner Brooks Orpik, another returning Norseman. Orpik spent the first 5 years of his career with the team before being dealt with a mid-round pick for the Cougars’ 2009 first rounder – which turned into Ryan Ellis. Orpik will return to Victoria next season if he’s not taken in the expansion draft.
The near-champion Norsemen dressed 27 different players in the playoffs, including 13 acquired via trade, 12 drafted and 2 free agents. This year’s squad, counting all 34 players to appear in a game was put together:
Waiver draft: 1
It is worth noting that the ‘drafted’ number of players is artificially skewed upwards due to six players who played single-digit games this season being former draft picks.
Obviously free agency played a much more significant role on this year’s team than the 2016-17 finalists.
The Norsemen have a pair of first round picks in the 2018 draft, but have just six picks in total as they previously traded away their 3rd and 5th round selections.