At the 2011 trade deadline, the Vancouver Canucks traded for Chris Higgins and did it thinking he’d play wing on their fourth line.
Wednesday’s Tom Sestito signing sure suggests the times have changed.
The Canucks re-signed the hulking, tough, slow-footed, waiver-wire pickup, essentially an anti-Higgins, to a two-year, $1.5-million contract, for a $750,000 cap hit.
Fans may not have seen much in him in 23 mostly forgettable games he played with the Canucks.
But the Canucks crave his size and see some promise, and untapped potential, in the big guy. And this is a management team that’s always been a sucker for a project.
Sestito acknowledged to The Province that he remains a work-in-progress. At 25 years old, he needs to improve his fitness and his foot speed. He’s got big plans this off-season to move those needles.
“I don’t want to be walking into the locker-room wondering if I’m going to play,” he said. “I want to be confident. I want to know I’m going to be in the lineup.
“It’s going to big a summer for me. My foot speed has to get faster in the summer and I have to work on the cardio more than anything.”
He told the team he wanted to re-sign in Vancouver after the season. He’s not dumb. He heard people continuing to say the Canucks need to get bigger, and tougher.
For those who kept saying it, you are getting your wish. It starts here.
Why would Sestito be a priority over Dale Weise or Max Lapierre? Because he’s 6-foot-5 and 228 pounds.
But the most remarkable element of the signing isn’t the money, or the two-year term. It was the local reaction.
Generally, fans were fuming, which should emphasize just how little credit GM Mike Gillis and assistant GM Laurence Gilman have left in the public bank account.
One main criticism of the signing, of course, centred around Sestito’s foot speed. It’s not going to help the Canucks’ dump-and-chase future to sign players who can dump but not chase.
Another critique was a sense this signing feels like the same old, same old in a city craving change.
But it can’t be both.
When Higgins was acquired in 2011, the Canucks were looking at a potential fourth line of Higgins, Max Lapierre and Tanner Glass.
That is a fast fourth line with impressive skill, and three players who can all kill penalties.
This year’s fourth line is not likely to look anything like that as the Canucks seek out that tougher wrapping paper.
The Canucks didn’t sign Sestito to be a 13th forward. They signed him to play, knowing that the free agent market is not going to include many 6-foot-5 wingers.
Gilman suggested players like Sestito may be a lot more coveted than most people realize.
He’s not wrong. When the Canucks got him off waivers, there were multiple claims. There were also teams who looked into trading for him near the deadline, and one of them is believed to be the Philadelphia Flyers, the team that waived him.
Heck, 6-foot-8 John Scott re-signed in Buffalo for $750,000 and he can barely play a lick.
The Canucks acquired Sestito after they lost Aaron Volpatti to Washington in an odd, uncharacteristic sequence. They put Volpatti on waivers, because they wanted to get Steve Pinizzotto on the active roster. They never did replace Volpatti’s physical play.
Sestito fought four times, and essentially lost all four, though he had one tilt with Ryan Reaves that was close.
Still, even with the losses, it turned out to be a fortuitous situation for Sestito. He came to a team that was searching for a player with his enforcer DNA and desperate enough to give him the two-year contract he wanted even though he only played 30 NHL games this past season. His next highest in a year is 14 games.
“Talking with my agent, he reinforced to me that it was a team looking for a physical big-body role,” Sestito explained when asked what he was told about the Canucks before he got here.
Sestito’s March 2 debut with the Canucks was quite a barn burner. He upended Colin Fraser early, fought Jordan Nolan and kept up his physical play all night in an impressive 5-2 win over the L.A. Kings.
The Canucks could use a lot more games like it.
Since Manny Malhotra’s horrific eye injury, the Canucks have had zero consistency on their fourth line.
Compare it to the Boston Bruins, who are still rolling out the same fourth line that was winning games against the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup final.
“I think the last couple of years, it’s always a fourth line which you see making huge contributions to playoff wins. Even Jersey last year on their run,” Sestito said.
“You need four lines to win.”
As of now, the Canucks have only one.
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