Tuesday August 18th, 2009

From now on, I'm taking everything Dave Nonis says literally.

On the eve of the 2006 Entry Draft, Nonis, who is now the VP of hockey operations for the Maple Leafs but then was the GM of the Vancouver Canucks, had just swindled the Panthers out of the services of superstar goaltender Roberto Luongo. Nonis sent Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld and Bryan Allen to Florida for Luongo, Lukas Krajicek and a late pick.

After confirming the deal, Nonis was swarmed by the media. Almost glowing with self-satisfaction, he handled the questions casually for a few moments until one wag asked what element finally sealed the superstar swap.

"It was the sixth-rounder," Nonis replied with a smirk

It was a throwaway line, good for a laugh and quickly forgotten by most.

The pick, 163rd overall, was used the next day to grab a Russian that few in attendance had heard of: Sergei Shirokov. A small 20-year-old who'd been passed over in the two previous drafts despite a pair of strong performances at the World Juniors, he too was quickly forgotten. At least until Monday, when the Canucks announced they'd finally ironed out his transfer from the KHL and made his signing official.

Turns out that Shirokov had spent the past couple years developing into something of a dynamic force for CSKA Moscow. Now, after posting a career-best 17 goals and 41 points in 52 games, he has a chance to become the second best player moved in the Luongo deal.

Just don't expect it to happen right away. Though current GM Mike Gillis told a Vancouver radio station that Shirokov is "a little bigger" than his 5-10, 176-pounds suggest, there are questions about his conditioning and physical readiness to make the jump out of camp. But it may not be long before he slides into a top-six role for the Canucks.

"He's a dynamic player who has a lot of upside, who handles the puck very well and is an excellent playmaker," Gillis said.

Typical praise that you'd expect from the guy who'd just signed the player to a two-year, $2.7 million deal. But at least one scout agreed with the assessment.

"He's a bit of a hot dog," the scout said. "He loves whipping up the crowd. Beyond that, he's a classic Russian. Maybe not the fastest skater, but strong enough on his feet and very clever with the puck. He's got some moves...he's fun to watch. [And he] really thinks the game well. His size was always the issue [that hurt his draft stock], but he's got a big heart, a lot of determination."

The signing creates something of a logjam up front for the Canucks -- not the worst problem to have, but a situation that suggests Shirokov might start the season with Manitoba of the AHL unless he forces Vancouver's hand with a dazzling camp.

Either way, Shirokov finally has a chance to prove that we should never ignore a throw-in pick...or a throwaway line.

A week after repatriating former Red Wing Jason Williams with a one-year deal, Detroit is bringing home another bargain basement alum: Todd Bertuzzi.

Days after the team's VP Jimmy Devellano surprised radio listeners in Toronto with news that the Stanley Cup finalists were in pursuit of Bertuzzi, a league official confirmed that the Wings have finalized a one-year a deal with the big-bodied UFA, last seen scoring 15 goals and 44 points in 66 games for the Calgary Flames.

Though his last trip through town was something less than magical -- back injuries limited him to just eight regular season and 16 playoff games after the Wings acquired him in 2006-07 -- Bertuzzi still has a little bit of goal dust left in his stick. For a team that lost 80 goals to free agency and is looking to make it up by committee, he'd provide a strong power play presence and a bit of third line pop at a bargain price.

The trick was fitting him under the cap.

The Wings had just over $500,000 to spend, nowhere near enough to ink the vet. But Andreas Lilja (still having headaches five months after being concussed) is set to open the season on the long-term IR, so that clears another $1.25 million worth of space. That should be enough to get it done. The exec speculated that the deal would be for one year and something around Lilja's hit of $1.25 to $1.5 million.

The Bertuzzi signing also all but guarantees that prospect Justin Abdelkader and Patrick Eaves will start the season in Grand Rapids.

Just last month, Patrick Marleau told the San Jose Mercury-News that he'd be willing to give up the captaincy of the Sharks to help "get the team to the next level." Now it looks as though the team was willing to take him up on his offer.

A report in the same paper yesterday quoted coach Todd MacLellan as saying, "As of now, nobody's our captain. Who will be our captain? Who will be our assistants? At this point, I can't give you an answer."

No surprise that MacLellan would look for some kind of shift in the team's leadership culture. Say all you want about it being a team-wide responsibility, but when times are tough -- say, for example, the first round of the playoffs -- a player who can help his teammates elevate their game by example is invaluable.

Problem is, that guy doesn't appear to be currently employed by the Sharks. And even if Marleau's sweater doesn't have the C next season, the lack of any significant moves by GM Doug Wilson means there's unlikely to be any real change in the leadership culture.

This isn't anything like the situation in Dallas when the Stars pulled the C from Mike Modano and handed it to Brenden Morrow, a man clearly better suited for the task. The Sharks don't have a legitimate alternative in the wings. They could give the C to Joe Thornton or Dan Boyle or Joe Pavelski on a permanent or rotating basis (bet on them taking the latter route), but simply stripping it from Marleau is a meaningless gesture. Nothing really changes.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.