Thursday, December 30, 2010

a bold prediction

Cody Hodgson will be on the Canucks roster by the end of the season, centring the fourth line and spending time on the second PP unit. 

It only makes sense that come playoff time the rotation of sizable fourth line players with limited offensive skill will be replaced by a player that can turn the fourth line in to a true offensive threat.  With the Canucks new physical third line the need for a crash n' bang fourth line is limited.  So, barring trades, this is how I see the Canucks roster entering the 2010-11 playoffs.

Daniel Sedin     Henrik Sedin      Alex Burrows
Jeff Tambellini  Ryan Kesler        Mikael Samuelsson
Raffi Torres      Manny Malhotra Mason Raymond
Tanner Glass    Cody Hodgson   Janik Hansen

Christian Ehrhoff  Alex Edler
Dan Hamhuis       Kevin Bieksa
Sami Salo            Keith Ballard


Areas of possible upgrade?  Rumors earlier in the month suggested the Canucks has interest in Josh Bailey of the Isles.  Bieksa has been linked to many teams, but with Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelson both underperforming I wonder if we could see an upgrade in the top six forwards?  If Bieksa is moved does Mike Gillis have enough faith in Salo's health, and also his 7/8 d-men?

If a trade required Schneider would they do it?  There are a plethora of solid back-ups available.

I see this team choosing chemistry of trade-route, and perhaps some promotion from within.

report card pt.3

just lost the final round of my report card and I'm not about to do it full-out again.  In brief....

Bieksa: B, played well, but not played himself out of town - still tries to force plays in dangerous zones
Ballard: C+, low point totals but shown great skating and tough in own zone
Hamhuis: C, Hasn't shown his full worth yet; better Offense and Physicality than expected, give-a-ways tho
Rome: C-, Team worst minus-5 sums it up
Alberts: B, and a strong, playing up to 20 minutes a game and chipping in offensively while limiting bad PIMs

Lou: C+, .914 Save Percentage not good enough for highest paid player of the year
Schneider:  A, How could it be any less, he only plays twice a month and hasn't lost in regulation yet

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

report card continued

Revolving Door of 4th Liners: B

I'll do this category collectively, explaining why each brings the grade up, and who may have brought it down, not including Schaeffer and Rypien, moving in order from worst to best.

Guillaume Desbien - Having a hard time keeping up, posting a -3 in 12 games, second worst on team: C
Joel Perraultt -  Brought in to be responsible fourth line centre, didn't look out of place, Bliz was better: C+
Mario Bliznak - Pleasant Surprise, called up earlier than expected (if at all) and was very responsible: B
Alex Bolduc - Versatile, and much improved, you get the sense the full time job is his to lose: B
Jonas Andersson - Could bring much needed offensive punch to fourth line, very phsyical: B
Aaron Volpatti - Showed he can chip in, willing to take all comers, good forechecker: B+

I like the format of trying new players every so often, and the ability to use certain players in different situations according to the oposition.  As the season progresses however I think we'll see Hodgson at centre, just a hunch, on the fourth line with some second unit PP time.  All of the above have played well, but their offense is limited, and a scorer like Hodgson could be the difference maker come playoff time. 


Very close to an A+, anyone who thinks Edler is not a true #1 defenseman is just a little too critical.  In my opinion one of the top ten in the league as no area of his game is lacking.  He is physical.  He plays big minutes, and all minutes. Skates well, good passer, nice shot, very calm and all at 24 years old; what else do you want?  22 points in 35 games, plus-9 rating and played up to the hype this year.

Ehrhoff: B

Scoring is still very much there, and has played through pain admirably, and one of a few great skating Nux D, but seems to be off ot a slow start overall.  Can score, needs to work on keeping it out, but you can't get everything all the time...definitely the top pairing with Eddy.

postponed again...another call, will continue later

Mid Season Report Card

Inspired by the recent Van Provie Report Card on the Canucks I've decided to hand out my grades just before the midway point, partly to keep pace with KB and the White Towel, but also because this team, in my opinion, just took it to a whole new level.

This scoring system does use A+, and we are going to use it.


Injury and roster turnover made for another famous Canucks slow start.  A hot December has this team showing it's teeth finally after being all bark and no bight through October/November.  The revolving fourth line logged 8 - 9 minutes last night showing the organizational depth which is among the tops in the league.  If they stay healthy they should win the West, dethroning the Wings who are currently one point up with one extra game played.


An area not often graded, especially part way through the season, deserves high marks thus far. What can you say about the pro scouting?  Everyone bemoaned the decision to cut B-Mo, and questioned the Petr Schaeffer signing, but the acquisitions of Victor Oreskovich, Bill and Lee Sweatt, as well as free agent signing of Aaron Volpatti, Jeff Tambelini and Eddie Lack, paired with the promising young talent pool among the league's best, set the competition bar high, and that has set the pace for this team.  Not to mention dealing with the Rick Rypien suspension and second lengthy absence and managing to keep what could be a huge distraction isolated. 


Coach V is tasked with the unenviable job of limiting Roberto Luongo's playing time, and while that hasn't really happened he has managed to get the best out of both goalies, finally.  His line matching is enfuriating but AV has managed minutes well, whether it be promoting Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome during stretches of injury to Christian Ehrhoff, Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis.  The fourth line auditions have worked well, and the same healthy level of competition exists in the crease, on special teams minutes and on the back end.  He's doing an excellent job of motivating, which has taken extremism at times, high-lighted by the four game benching of Keith Ballard, but you can't argue its effect.  He's also got special teams at or near the top in every category, most importantly on the PP, where his job of promoting Ryan Kesler to top unit has resulted in the #1 powerplay ranking, and also the further development of a budding superstar as Kesler alerady nears a career high goal total.

Alex Burrows: A

All things taken in to consideration Burr deserves an A.  His goal pace is down but he's still on pace to match last years average per game in points, and he has done amazingly well coming off major shoulder surgery.  If you questions this can you really ask for anything more? Well, maybe a few less bonehead penalties

Hank: A

Until recently you had to consider giving a sub-A grade considering the low goal totals.  Henrik developed a new side to his game with out Daniel last season, but he's turned up the scoring pace now at 8 goals, and when he's a goal threat this tandem is much more dangerous.

Dank: A

An A-rating from the get-go, Daniel is doing well sharing the spot light on the first PP unit with Kess. The two are now tied for the team lead in goals, but Daniel sits second in points with 45 through 35 games.

Mikael Samuelson: C

Better of late on the points sheet, but still playing very uninspired hockey.  Needs to turn up the compete level in a big way.  Points aside, whether or not last years break out 30 goal effort was above and beyond the high water mark for Samuelson he needs to bring the edge he showed last season, even though he is fourth in team scoring.

Ryan Kesler: A+

Tops in +/- and goals, he might finally get the Selke Trophy he's been looking for.  A new role on the top PP unit has led to an amazing 19  goals in 35 games.  The much publicized effort to concentrate on hockey instead of head games has really helped Kess turn in to one of the leagues best players.  You simply can't say enough about the guy.

Mason Raymond: C

You hate to do it to a guy who has battled inury, but he's been a streaky scorer and there's definitely the ability to do more.  When he returns he'll be fighting for a place on this team and should regain last years form.

Manny Malhotra: A+

Grades are given on performance in the role you are assigned.  How could you give the Sedins an A but Malhotra an A+? Quite simply put, he is the best at his job in the league and that gets him top marks.  Best Face Off man in the league, he's all that was advertised and more, and he's chipping in offensively on pace for a career high in points. He is fast and physical, the preceise upgrade our third line needed, and with Kess and Hank makes this team perhaps the strongest over all down the middle, and allows for so much more puck possession time, a small difference with a big pay off.

Raffi Torres: C+

Wish I could hand out a better grade for a guy who is some nights an A and some nights a C, but as Coach V recently said his compete level is there every night, so you can't get that low on a bargain basement deal.  If I were purely grading value in terms of dollars to performance he might be considerably higher, but it is critical he find a way to be that A player every night.  The fact his contract is cap friendly and his physical stature keep him buoyed above the C level, but his streaky play keep him from being the A guy he has the potential to be.  All in all a very good third line player, but still wanting more from the former 5th overall pick.

Jeff Tambellini: A

15 points in 21 games isn't bad for a guy who started the year on the farm.  Considering he's a call-up he gets an A, and he might just become a permanet fixture in the top six forwards even after Mason Raymond returns.  The stock of promising offensive forwards the Nux have and Tambi's performance may make someone expendable come trade deadline day.

Tanner Glass: B

Shot totals and +/- are well off last years pace, but he's done well playing with a revolving door of young up and comers, so he stays at B, barely.

Janik Hansen: A

The Dane has been great, a physical force, rotated up and down the roster from fourth to first line...what else can you ask for?  He's been the carrot that's got a lot of guys motivated, he's chipping in offensively, winning puck battles, +6, and in my opinion showing a kind of development I think few expected.  This guys is going to be a big part of where this team goes.

SIgning off for now, gotta hit a meeting...will tackle the revolving fourth line, D and keepers later.

The real story is Lou

How many times can your team post a beautiful display of balanced scoring against a team (rusty or not) that was until recently considered by many the best in the league and goaltending is the big story?  In Vancouver,  more often than usual.

The Nux shelled Philly for 49 shots, dominating play in all zones in a 6 - 2 home ice victory, but they also surrendered 37 shots on net with Bobby Lou turning aside all but two, the last a flukey own goal.  Even if he had let in four goals it wouldn't matter because what was important is how he played.  Lou hasn't looked so calm in net all year, and while taking only one regularion loss this December he has seemed to be fighting the puck all year; last night he looked like Lou of old, and if this means he's hitting his stride then this team is going to another level.

Without tower of power Chris Pronger for another month the Flyers D-Corps seemed unable to thwart a balanced Canucks attack.  Well Rested or Rusty?  Either way it's no excuse.  The Canucks deserve full praises for beating the Flyers at home for the first time in 22 years.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

22 year monkey

The Nux attempt to remove a 22 year old monkey from their backs tonight as they host the reining Eastern Division champion Philledelphia Flyers, having not beaten the Broadstreet Bullies at home in over two decades. 

Relatively big news day in the NHL as Darryl Sutter steps down in Calgary, and the Habs make an interesting move, both which will have ripple effects throughout the NHL.

Many of the Flames overpaid stars have lengthy contracts well over market value, and worse, many of them also have no movement clauses.  Jay Feester is in the interim position right now trying to right the ship in the Sea of Red, but the first ever mid-season change of GM in Flames history doesn't imply that the correct bearings for that ship is a playoff appearance this season.  It looks likes Feester is the man brought in to blow it up and he should be hoarding prospects and picks to re-stock an aged roster with little or no real stand out farm hands.  Where do Flames players fit in on the Nux radar?  Is Robyn Regher a worthwhile upgrade on Andrew Alberts?  Could we move some salary to put Iginla on our third line?  I don't really think anyone on Calgary fits the Canucks, but I'm sure lots of teams are salavating at the thought of acquiring a few of the experienced vets off this Flames team.

That takes us to Long Island, where management and ownership couldn't be tighter, however, that's not necessarily a good thing.  Montreal dumps a second and fifth round pick in projected weak draft year for a 21 point blue liner?  This is a good trade for Les Habitants, and it really sets the price in the market early.  I'm sure a lot of teams have been after Wisniewski and if Garth Snow felt the best he could get for him was a pair of picks then I wonder how soft the other offers really were.

With competition just to make the playoffs, let alone go all the way, being at an all time high, I think we're in for a fairly fluid market as teams try to make tweaks earlier than usual in hopes of getting the upper hand, and it seems to be a Buyer's market.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Nux Report Card

Just browsed the Nux report card in the Province and can't say I'd argue much with it, other than the low grade Keith Ballard has gotten.  To knock the guy because his pay scale doesn't fit his placement shouldn't be indicative of the grade his performance has received. After hip surgery, concussion and flu Ballard has been at times our best defenseman, rushing the puck like a modern day Paul Coffey, and laying devestating and accurate body checks in our own end.  If our fifth defenseman makes 4 million plus, big deal, we have the luxury and safety of being deep at defense, we've obviously needed it this year.

I guess you could say I also disagree with some feedback on Kevin Bieksa's grade. I agree his play has upped his trade value, but since our fifth defenseman makes 4.2 mil a season and we have Baldy One Nut coming back I'd say we could afford to move Bieksa...three years ago I never imagined I would ever say that.  Also, Edler is a true number one. It's not fair to have his coutnryman Nick Lidstrom as a measuring stick, but just because Ed doesn't have top tier points (very respectable points though) doesn't mean that other aspects of his game aren't better than his contemporaries.  If you don't think Alex Edler is a legitimate number one then you better redefine your expectations; I'd like to see a better D-man for the money and for his age. 

I definitely agree with the statements about Coach V over line matching, amongst other things, but as stated in the report you can't argue the results, slow start or not, this team is dangerous and ranks among the best in most categories, despite being one of eight teams with 20 or more wins to this point, and still trailing the Wings and Stars for the division lead.  Those two teams play in a real conference too and that makes a big difference.  I think of the Central and Pacific divisions every team at one point has led their respective conference, maybe not Columbus but they're in the hunt,..that's insane.

Anyway the gang all take on the Oil tonight, who I still argue will make the playoffs as I stated minutes after they drafted Taylor Hall. 

My report card at a later date....for now, back to turkey bunwich and Carolann's

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nonis deserves to be a GM again...soon

Dave Nonis is very underrated.  While his drafting record wasn't stellar he did bring in Roberto Luongo for next to nothing (and I say that as a huge Bertuzzi fan).  People only remember that this team missed the playoffs under his watch in 2008 and that proved to be his prompt undoing, but they also forget that acquiring Luongo is the only reason the Canucks made the playoffs in the 2006-07 season.  They were the lowest scoring team in the regular season to make the playoffs.  They improved 13 points over the season prior when they finished 9th place out of the playoff picture.

Dave Nonis should be considered a bit of a groundbreaker, and a man with great foresight (despite the afforementioned draft record), he had the gumption to deal with the then uncommon offer sheet from Flyer's GM Bobby Clarke that would see Kesler leave the organization that had drafted him 23rd overall in the stocked 2003 draft, ahead of four team Canada 2010 Gold Medalists: Patrice Bergeron, Mike Richards, Cory Perry and Shea Weber and a slew of highly touted prospects.  At the time of the offer sheet, after a full season to develop in the AHL during the lockout and fresh off a disappointing 23 point season it seemed highly unlikely the Canucks would match the offer.  They had a week to do it or lose Kesler, the former first round pick only a few years earlier for a whole compensation of one second round choice from the Flyers the next season.  Nonis matched it despite the jeers of his peers around the league; it was feared this grossly inflated contract would  make negotiations difficult for all GM's. 

Kesler's hattrick last night is truly a benchmark in his career.  He is now on the first unit power play in Vancouver.  He has worked his way up from defensive specialist to the level of premiere two-way player and one of the best forwards in the NHL.  Last year's 75 point performance was a break-out for Kesler, but it's looking more and more like this is a player that is still improving, and the sky is the limit.  Kesler cahsed in this past offseason with a 6 year, 30 million dollar contract, and it's looking like a great investment by Canucks GM Mike Gillis.

Kesler has 24 points in 29 games.  11 of those points come on the power play.  Since Kes joined the top unit the Nux PP is tops in the league.  Kess' 11 powerplay points dount count to his plus/minus that leaves kess with 13 even strength or shorthanded points against a plus-7 rating.  His usual Selke trophy competition aren't even close to that with Datsyuk's being 26 even strength or shorthanded points to a plus-10 rating, and Mike Richards with 22 pts to a plus-11 rating.  His point totals are soaring, but I think Kesler covets a Selke Trophy win more than point total gains in terms of individual performance.  Now that he has focused more of his attention to the on-ice game and not the trash-talk game Kesler may achieve that, and ultimate team success as well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What happened to 'Cup Favourites'?

In late August it seemed like the NHL was already spell checking the Canucks roster for there shiny new name plate on Lord Stanley's Cup, but just as they were asking, "How many Ls in Alain?" The train fell of it's tracks. 

Could it have been the slow start as the team dropped five of their first six games?

Did injuries to newly acquired Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis remind the collective hockey world that this organization is a defenseman graveyard?

Was the Rick Rypien fan incident and subsequent estrangement that big a knock on the club?

Was it the continued epic failure against the Blackhawks?

It's anyones guess, but it seems the Canucks aren't hockey's darlings anymore just a third of the way through the season, and even though they are leading their conference they still sit third in the West, and it's pretty tough to consider that living up to the hype.

So who is the favourite a third of the way in to the 2010-11 season?

You gotta like the Penguins who just lost for the first time after a twelve game winning streak.  Despite the loss Sid Crosby continued his torrent pace recording a couple assists in a 3-2 loss to division rival Philly.  Crosby has 38 points in the midst of a 19 game point streak and leads the league in scoring by a mile. Evgeni Malkin has had a hot and cold year but he returned earlier than expected from a recent knee injury to score the teams only goals in the loss.  If he gets back on track, Jordan Staal returns and Marc-Andre Fleury promises not to play the puck this team is scary.

The Flyers who bested the Penguins tonight could also be argued as the early favourites.  The revolving door of goaltenders continues.  After last year's hero Michael Leighton left early with back surgery Russian Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky has stepped in admirably.  A rejuvinated Andrej Meszaros joins an already solid defense.  Claude Giroux is emerging as a top-level talent. Dany Briere has regained form and captain Mike Richards is looking like a Selke Trophy candidate again.  Add to that Nik Zheredev finding his NHL calibre goalscoring and you've got a jugernaut.

The Pens and Flyers are 1-2 in total points in the league but Pittsburgh is ranked fourth in the East as they are one behind Philly in the Atlantic conference. Second overall Washington are mired in a losing slump and the North East leading Habs have been very good but its the 7th place Bruins who might also be considered a Cup Favourite - not just contender, a favourite.  They have played four fewer games than the Pens, and assuming they win them all they would have the same points total.  What sets them aside as the only other true favourite in the East is their third over-all goal differential at +25, trailing only, you guessed it, Philly and Pittsburgh.  Boston has allowed a league low 56 goals for exactly a 2.00 Team GAA.  Though they aren't racking up the goals there forward depth is definitely among the elite especially down the middle where they boast: David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard, not including Tyler Seguin and Gregg Campbell.

Out West it's a little harder to seperate the men from the boys with only five points seperating second place Dallas from twelfth place St. Louis.  I think you still consider the Canucks a favourite when you consider they are still very much finding themselves after a fairly major offseason roster make over, and fighting significant injuries to top six forward Mikael Samuelson, Alex Burrows who is just now finding his game following off-season shoulder surgery and Mason Raymond, as well as Ballard and Hamhuis.  They still have the makings of a favourite, leaning heavily on their new and improved third line during this bought of the injury bug.  Newly acquired Manny Malhotra is the leagues top face off man.  His old buddy from the Columbus days, Rafi Torres, has brought a physical presence and contributed eight goals so far, and Janik Hansen leads the team in hits.  Once healthy this is a favourite for sure but not the clear cut winner in the west.

Detroit is first overall right now and they deserve to be.  They are third in scoring, tops in goal differential and are exhibiting the same two-way/puck-controll game that has led to championships in years past, and that's exactly what sets them appart.  Many of the players currently starring for the Wings have been there in the past.  This veteran laden club is led by a rejuvinated Pavel Datsyuk who has found his scoring touch again to compliment his heralded defensive play.  Nik Lidstrom is still getting it done at fourty posting 22 points in 29 games, and underrated goalie Jimmy Howard is playing lights out.  Every team in their conference has led at some point.  It's hard to say The Preds are a favourite sitting fourth in the West even though they've got the same amount of points as the Canucks. It's even harder to argue The Stars' case when team scoring leader Brad Richards is still the topic of trade talks. The Avalanche lead the West in scoring but sit in fifth.  Craig Anderson has returned from injury though, and the team has added scoring depth with Thomas Fleischmann.  The Avs are highly underrated buy hardly a favourite.

So that leaves your NHL top five contenders in order as

5 Vancouver Canucks
4 Boston Bruins
3 Pittsburgh Penguins
2 Detroit Redwings
1 Philledelphia Flyers

The Expendables

The Canucks have faced the injury bug (as usual) and come out four points ahead at this point in the season of where they were last year.  For the first time in a long time (maybe ever) the masses have anounced the Canucks the Cup Favourite prior to the 2010-11 season.  We haven't heard too many rumblings about that since, but they are ahead of last year's pace but still seem to be a disappointment.  Has it been the injuries?  Is it our continued lack of success against Chicago?  What is so bad about being third in the West, at the top of your division despite playing the least amount of games in your Conference thus far?

Anyway most feel they may have been too early in lauding praise on the Nux, who have dropped some "Should Win" games and have been blown out by the rival Blackhawks but they are getting healthier and playing better and will likely to continue to do both.  When Sami Salo is healthy it will raise some questions.  Undboubtedly this is a Cup Contender, and I still think Cup Favourite, and there's no way they are rolling in to the playoffs with this roster so when Salo returns we should expect some change.  I don't think anyone is trading for him coming down the stretch so if he stays healthy with the Canucks he should stay in Vancouver, that  means somone has got to go.  It's so cliche to hate on Bieksa but he's got to be the odd man out.  Whether or not Salo plays to the level he can after returning from one of the most serious of his many career injuries he can't be more of a liability than Bieksa, and Rome and Alberts seem to be favourties of both coaching staff and management.  Bieksas downfall is his decision making with the puck and without it.  The give-a-ways and poor positional play are too big a risk in the postseason...if he's still a Canuck come playoff time and Salo is playing then Bieksa will be in the box - traded or not when this roster fills out he's expendable.

Ideally Salo plays like he can and pairs up with Alberts/Rome as your 5/6 group while the tandom of Ehrhoff and Edler are re-united and Ballard and Hamhuis get together.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike Gillis make a play for a depth D-Man at the deadline though, as well as Rome and Alberts have played this is the year and if you're a liability you're not going to play...ask Ballard if this team's brass are bluffing.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Best Off Season Additions

So often it's the under-the-radar signings of the offseason that make the biggest difference for playoff bound teams; this year is no different.

The Blue Shirts attracted Alex Frolov from the Kings which triggered a knee-jerk reaction from LA as they immediately signed Alexei Ponikarovksy to fill the gap; neither have panned out as their respective teams had hoped. While Frolov was expected to bring some much needed offense to New York it was fellow Kiev native Ruslan Fedotenko signed from the Penguins in the offseason who has had a great impac.  The veteran of two cup wins has 13 points in 31 games, and his hulking 6'2", 200lb. frame are a great fit in a small-ish Ranger forward corps.  The Kings made a surprising move giving Willie Mitchel 3.5Million/season over two years after many thought his career was in jeopardy.  Mitchell has been sidelind over a month with a broken wrist but had four points in 11 games before being injured and was  agreat fit with young stud Drew Doughty on the top unit.

The Flyers lured Nik Zherdev back from the KHL this offseason, but his 9 goals in 28 games aren't exactly living up to expectations.  In yet another move with the Bolts the Flyers acquired defenseman Andrej Meszaros from the Bolts.  While the former first round pick had disappointed in Tampa he has poste 11 points so far this year and is an astound plus-18 thus far, and has been a rock on a Philly D playing infront of a rookie Russian goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky who has got to be one of the top five new players in the NHL this season.  The undrafted Ruskie puck-stopper was skooped from the KHL by Flyers GM Paul Holmgren and has posted a staunch 2.29 GAA to accompany a 14-4-4 record.

Penguins GM Ray Shero was busy re-stocking his teams blue line after the departure of Sergei Gonchar.  He put an emphasis on two-way play bringing in Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek after losing out on Dan Hamhuis in a number of high-profile offseaon moves.  Martin and Michalek are begining to gel in a new look Pens group who are in the midst of a 12 game win streak, but it's another former Devil, the rugged Derek Engelland whos 5 points in 26 games along with a team high 67 PIMs have been a big impact on the Penguins.

Canucks GM Mike Gillis rolled the dice signing Raffi Torres to a one year one-million dollar pact and Torres has been a great fit on the bigger, badder, better Canucks third line riding shotgun for the league leading face-off man Manny Malhotra, who inked a three-year 7.5 million dollar contract with the Nux this past season also.  They've been stellar with a revolving door of linemates bringing grit and scoring to the Canucks bottom nine, both playing special teams roles for their new club.

Montreal picked up well traveled Jeff Halpern and the 34 year-old veteran who split time with Tampa and Los Angeles last season has been a shocking offensive jugernaut with 16 points in 31 games this year.  After recording the last of three 40+ point seasons with the Capitals Halpern hasn't had more than 25 in the past four.  He's on pace to eclipse the 40 point plateau once again for the Northwest Division leading Habs.

Rookie GM Steve Yzerman had Brett Clark picked to shore up the Lightning blue line early in the offseason, and while many doubted Clark's ability the former Canadien's draft pick is the teams highest scoring d-man.

I'm sure there are quite a few more names that deserve mention in this list, but of those mentioned above all are now on playoff bound teams whos GM's and Scouting Staff can find the roll players to get the job done.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Henrik and Daniel are locks for jersey retirement

Just an afterthough we are sure running out of numbers fast for a team that doesn't have any cups.  Along with Smyl's 8, Linden's 16 and Naslund's 19 are 99 retired league wide for Wayne Gretzky as well as Wayne Maki's 11 and Luc Bourdon's 28 which have been taken out of circulation.  Undoubtedly Henrik's 33 and Daniel's 22 are next; both men poised to become the firt 1,000 point Canucks players.  If Bure ever gets retired that could be two numbers: 10 and 96.  That would be ten of a possible 99 numbers taken out of use for a club who has 0 Cups in 40 Seasons.

The Canucks expansion cousin Buffalo Sabres retired an entire line, the French Connection, as well as Tim Horton, Danny Gare and Pat Lafontaine so I guess that puts us on pace with the Sabres, but neither team has ever won a cup...somehow winning has to figure in to this jersey retirement equation.

Naslund, Bure...where's the line?

I have to say that at the outset of researching this blog post I was 50/50 on the Naslund jersey retirement, but when the second and third leading scorers on the team are up there that pretty much means your all-time leading scorer has to be.

Markus Naslund was...

3 time first team all star as a Canuck
Lester B. Pearson award voted MVP by his peers
Longest continually serving captain at 8 seasons (tied with Stan Smyl)
Member of the best line in hockey
All Time Canucks Leading scorer with 756 points in 882 games played, including most goals ever with 346

The other two men who's numbers are retired, Smyl and Trevor Linden, had cup runs, and that means a lot to a franchise with so little to brag about considering it's 40 year history, but what Markus did for this team warrants a jersey retirement, not just in Vancouver but in basically any market.

Pavel Bure still doesn't.  No ammount of stat research will convince me otherwise.  Here's the bizarre part, he does belong in the hall, no question; how?

Linden wore the Captain's C for 6 seasons, Smyl and Naslund for 8 each for a total of 22 of the franchise's total 40 years in existence...that's a good run.  The fact that they are 1-2-3 in team scoring only solidifies the argument that they belong.  Bure is a distant 7th on the Canucks All Time Scoring list but was never a leader.  He did electrify fans like no other player in team history and was part of an astounding cup run in 1994, but the way he left the organization makes it near impossible for him to have his 10 (or 96) ever retired in Vancouver.  If Naslund wasn't the all time leading scorer he wouldn't have his jersey retired.  If Bure was the all time leading scorer then he almost certainly would, despite the soured relationship with the city of Vancouver.

Naslund's career 869 points and 1110 games played (about .78 points per game career average) aren't enough to ever enter hockey's hallowed hall, but Bure's individual point totals: 779 points in only 772 games, 437 of those goals for a total of 1.11points per game average are hard to ignore.  His goals/game ratio of .62 is better than Cam Neely's 395 career goals in 726 games played and he is already in the Hall.  Both of these players had injury shortened careers so based on Neely's numbers Bure would appear to be a lock for the Hall.

Bure also represented a transition in the game which has left a permanent mark on the NHL as one of a first wave of Russian defectors.  His very drafting by the Canucks schrouded in mystery as he was only draft eligible due to meeting the minimum number of international games played, a fact no other NHL GM or Scout realized on draft day in 1989. He does also have the Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year in 1991-92, led the league in goals three seasons, twice scoring 60, and recording 50 or more five times which makes him a member of an elite nine man club which boasts Brett and Bobby Hull, Phile Esposito, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne and Mario Lemieux. Bure also has an impressive international medal haul: Two Silvers and a Gold for the Soviet Union in the World Juniors, one gold and one silver for the USSR in two World Championships, and a Silver and Bronze for Russia at the Winter Olympics. He holds the record for most goals in the World Junior Championship tournament with 27 in only 21 games. He was a six time All-Star and All Star Game MVP.   The list of accomplishments goes on and on with Bure, and if he had played his career with the Canucks I'm sure his number 10 would be in the rafters, but he left town, so he'll have to settle for a bronze plate in Toronto, something Naslud, Smylr or Linden will likely never earn.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

reality check - escape with two

If you've been a fan of the Canucks for any small length of time you must be as confused as I am as to why they play to the level of their opponent.  Every season, no matter the changes, this team gets up for the big teams (in the regular season atleast) and coasts with the non-playoff cellar-dwellers.  It's Enfuriating.

Two points is two points though, but the Canucks did not come back so much as escape with a win.  It was like watching Indiana Jones run through some South American temple with a gold idol in his hand from a series of boobie traps and a giant stone.  Where have the Sedins been the past few games?  Why do they feel that they deserve to score after making brilliant passes and dekes; they need to remember that you still have to shoot the puck (above the goaltenders flailing pads) to score the goal, not make 100 moves and then slide it in. 

I'm not so upset with the win, or how we won, or even with the pour goaltending performance, my realization after this game, which I am considering a loss in which we were awarded two points, is that a players salary is reflective of the organizations success financially and not indicative of his play.  Roberto Luongo is the highest paid player in the league this season, but that doesn't mean he has to be the best, or can really even be expected to be.  He signed a contract with a corporation and he earned it.  How he did not win the Vezina his first year in Vancouver is beyond me, let alone the MVP.  That team had nothing and former GM Dave Nonis ripped off the Panthers, stole Luongo who won the division in a year we weren't supposed to even make the playoffs, but it wasn't enough to save his job.  Fact is that year Lou had no help and he may have actually been the best player in the league.  Now he has lots of help and lots of money and he isn't the best player in the league, in fact, he's not even in the top ten in his position, not even close, but he's an athlete and he's a human being like all of us with a job.  I have a job and right now I'm not doing it, why should Roberto Luongo be so different?  Some nights, like the 3-0 blanking of Chicago he looks like the 10 million dollar man, other nights he is a liability, like when he only stops 16 of 20 shots and is outplayed by a guy making 1/20th his salary.  It looks bad. It's easy to get on these guys for their play vs. their pay, but at the end of the day nobody is forcing NHL GM's to shell out big money to players.  Anybody disappointed with Alex Bolduc's play last night?

I actually feel sorry for these high paid players, honestly and legitimately feel for them.  Sure, I'd like to make millions of dollars, but would I really want to have everybody in the world know how much I make and expect me to perform everyday like I deserve that much?  I'd have to really think about it.  It can't be good for a persons mental standing to have that kind of attention and scrutiny paid to their income.  Not that I ever have to worry about that, right now I earn in a year what Bobby Lou makes for one save.

What does upset me is in all this empathy if a player shouldn't be bound by the fans to his contract then the best player should play.  In the course of a game we see star players benched for depth players with lower salaries but in the relm of goaltender it's either you start or you don't and Luongo has his coach and GM wrapped around his finger with his need to play every night so he can get in his groove.  Maybe these guys need to grow a spine and play the best goalie and that's Cory Schneider who hasn't started in forever.  Yes you pay Roberto more money than any other hockey player in the world right now, but if he isn't the best option then he shouldn't play.  How can Cory Schneider feel when Alain Vigneault says he can't afford to not play his number one goalie who almost single-handedly cost the team two games in a row against lesser opponents?  Schneider is expected to support Lou and get a start every now and then; how can he ever expect to play well when he never plays at all?  I thought we were resting Lou because only two goalies to play 70 or more games in the season have won a cup in recent memory. 

So, either Lou is expected to earn his 10 Mil this year by being the true number one or he should have the same shot as Schneider to play night in and night out.  I think they have to go with the hot hand and forget about this "number one".  If that was the issue then Schneider would have the bulk of the games and arguably the Canucks might have a couple more points.

Sure, team management and coaches would feel embarassed to not be playing the guy they gave the big contract to and the title of "number one" but I don't think any fan in Vancouver would be disappointed to see Cory Schneider treated better and given more starts when he deserves them.  Are you listening AV?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Again, the good 'ol days

It was funny that after my day alone at Roger's Arena my dad was telling the story of his first Canucks game.  My family has lived up the North End of the Sunshine Coast, at the end of Highway 101 in Powell River for four generations, ever since MacMillan Bloedel started what was the worlds largest Pulp and Paper operation in the early 1900's.

We were all visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Vancouver last weekend and dad after a couple of 1516's told the story of his first game, and it reiterated the fact that the accessibility of NHL teams and facilities isn't what it used to be.  If you can imagine the eary 70's and my grandfather (who you have to meet to believe) loading up my dad, Ken, and his big brother Freddy in the '66 Ford F250 single-cab straight axle with a lone standing room ticket to Pacific Coliseum that he got from his buddy in the parts department at the mill, and making the two boats, seven hour one-way trip to the big city still hoping to acquire two more tickets for his sons. He wasn't able to.  THey could only buy one seating ticket from scalpers prior to the game, if you can believe Grampa Jimmy (honestly, you gotta meet him to believe him), smooth talks the doorman in to letting all three in with only two tickets; could you imagine pulling that off these days?  Unbelievable. The guy probably smuggled his own Old Stock in with him too, ha ha.  The Good 'Ol Days.  The sum total of the two tickets is probably half the cost of one tinny Molson's at a game today.

I miss the Coliseum.  I went with dad and grampa to the last game there against the Blackhawks...I didn't realize it at the time, I was too young, just how special that place was.  I've never been good with heights and we've never had lower bowl seats so sitting up in Pacific Coliseum was frightening.  It still is.  I hadn't been in it for years until I watched the Cherry/Orr game their a few years back, so many memories. I stepped in a huge pile of gum and watched two huge drunks beat on each other after the game; I guess it was an emotional time, and we all still hate the Hawks. 

The game my dad and uncle got snuck in to was a Leafs game, I guess dad and grampa and uncle freddy watched a lot of the leafs in those days.  In the nineties when we used to catch a lot of games it was always the Blackhawks.  Always the lowly teams, but we saw soem good hockey.  I remember Chelios got tossed one game for a two-handed slash; can you imagine? When's the last time that happened?  One time my sister dropped a friendship bracelet in the men's bathroom after throwing up in the first period; she tried to reach in to grab it but luckily dad stopped her in time. Nothing beats my five seconds of fame on the huge jumbotron at my first game in GM Place though; waving my old plate of spaghetti logo pennant in one hand and the Canucks new Birthing Orca logo in the other.  It's funny when you see yourself on their, the first thing you do when you realize you're on the jumbotron is look away, and everybody is looking at you, it's a weird feeling.

anyway, i'm rambling...anyone got any great Canucks memories to share?

Team is still tangible for fans

If you're in or around my age bracket you probably don't have the priviledge of recalling the days when you could hang your program over the glass to be autographed during the pre-game skate.  Less fortunately you probably don't remember what it was like to stand and cheer at a hockey game without getting a cross look from a guy wearing a be-jewelled t-shirt and a neck tattoo who has managed to wear gaudy white framed Oakley's inside a hockey rink (no could take a poke at a guy who's entire wardroab is straight legged levi's and grey T's, but you don't have a blog do you?  or maybe you do, anyway, this isn't a fashion blog, I digress), the point is the game has undeniably lost some of the beautiful interaction between the fan and the on ice product.  Much of that has to do with the heightened stakes of pro sports.  Preperation, concentration, win or your fired and you don't get the multi-million dollar contract, and so on.  That's respectable, but it's still tough to hear the hockey game over the click-click of Blackberries inside Rogers Arena, and that's sad.  Kudos for Rick Rypien for trying to reignite the once strong connection between fans and players, but that definitely backfired.

No, if youre in your mid twenties you have probably only heard of the glory days of hockey jambories, intermission games, autograph sessions and a real interaction with the team from uncles, dads and grandpas. The team is an excellent community partner, and really gives back to the community, especially those most in need, but it still would be nice to revisit the old days at the rink for your average blue collar fan, but then again, it would be nice for your average blue collar fan to be able to attend a game at all.

A couple weeks ago at an unnamed establishment in Coal Harbour I spotted an unnamed CBC On Air personality and we had a chat about our roles in colour commentary.  Not being a former NHLer I wanted to gleen some of the tactics of this former cup winning, fifty goal scoring forward and his approach to calling the game; he agreed to meet with me outside Roger's Arena the next day and take me to the morning skate so I could observe his prep.  True to his word we met, got inside, and the story from that angle is very anticlimatic as I learned mostly that preparing to do colour for NHL games is much more involved than Junior hockey and I was left to watch THREE NHL PRACTICES.  VERY COOL!!! 

If you have the opportunity to watch NHL practice do not miss it.  What these guys do in morning skate has almost as much entertainment value as a game.  Watching the intricacies of their stick handling; hearing their conversations, feeling the explosion of the puck in to the boards or glass in an empty building is not at all like it is in a full is a great experience.  Chicago had gotten in late and I watched an intimate skate with a couple younger players and Assistant Coach Mike Kitchen, and they all chatted with us while skating and after.  I didn't want to get noticed and try to track down media members so I just tried to look like I belonged and not be too excited and get myself kicked out while unescorted in Rogers Arena.  Sitting close to the bench I heard a trainer tell a friend that Rypien was being sent down for a conditioning stint, he never did get demoted though he was a healthy scratch, then he left the team again under a schroud of mystery.  This same trainer rolled out the practice sched for the rest of the day.  I would've left after Chicago but I heard him say Phoenix was having a full skate.  It was like a time warp.  Ilya Bryzgalov was nowhere to be seen and out skates Goaltending coach and former Canuck Sean Burke fo play net for the whole practice...he's still very much got it!

After the third practice I got a little brave and scowered the building; it was amazing.  The Jim Robson Broadcast Gondola was totally unoccupied.  I sat up their watching the crew prep the glass and rink for the game; I felt like Caesar in the Coliseum.  I explored some more, managed to get stuck in an elevator because I didn't have the right access capabilities and eventually popped out a strange side door on the viaduct. what a day.  I guess if you can recognize these guys when they're out in the community you might get an experience to recreate the magic of the days of helmetless players smoking in the dressing room and signing autographs during warm-up, but until then enjoy the nose-bleeds, but do it quietly so neck-tattoo guy can text in peace.

2014 - What to do with the Twins

It could be speculation. It could be science. But why are Swedish Superstars still at the top of their game in their late 30’s and early 40’s, and what does this mean for the General Managers that have to re-sign them? There appears to be a higher number of elder statesmen of the NHL from the U.S. and Canada, but their roles have diminished so greatly while their Swedish counterparts continue to dominate. The aging North American players aren’t being extended the big contract, but their play hasn’t warranted it either. In many cases their hands are being forced as teams leverage a players legacy against losing him to free agency (see Modano, Mike and Tkachuck, Keith).
When Henrik Sedin, reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy Winner, and his identical twin brother Daniel’s identical twin 30.5 million dollar contracts expire at the end of the 2013-14 season they will be 35 years old. While the man who drafted them 2nd and 3rd overall in 1999 (former Canucks General Manager and current Toronto Maple Leafs G.M. Brian Burke), was waiting in their native Sweden prior to the pair entering Unrestricted Free Agency last July ready to open the Vault to the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Fund, current Canucks G.M. Mike Gillis was able to re-sign his only proven offensive weapons. Those contracts seem very favourable to the Canucks now but more than a few skeptics doubted the Sedins worth at the time.
Gillis swore he wouldn’t use the Ken Holland Approach of circumnavigating the salary cap system and signing players to “Retirement” contracts, but ended up caving and signing Roberto Luongo for the remainder of his playing days, and further, shortly after refusing to offer the same to the Twins.  Henrik promptly had a record year, while Daniel, despite injured, finished with an identical points-per-game average. One must wonder how the twins feel about that, as Henrik has since stripped Luongo of the Captaincy and continued on his break-neck points pace in 2010-11, while Roberto has failed to live up to the hype.
Henrik currently sits 10th in league scoring, on pace for a 100 point season (12 shy of last year’s total), all without yet registering a goal 9 games in to the season.  He’s been busy setting up his brother Daniel who has nearly notched a goal-per-game to start the season, and ranks third in league scoring with 12 points in 9 games. The twins, both slow developing seemed to have finally cemented their identities as great second line players, posting between 71 and 84 points each between 2005/06 and 2008/09 leading up to their first chance at free agency. They have now officially proven to be two of the absolute best in hockey, mentioned in the same breath as Crosby and Ovechkin. But Ovi already has the life-time agreement, and the trend of signing 30-something free agents to big money has all but died as teams give term to young players they hope will continue to develop, rather than big bucks to players they hope will continue to produce. The question is: what does this mean for the Sedin’s next contract?
Behind them now on the list of the NHL’s top scorers are a trio of 35-year-olds which include two former teammates, Tod Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison, as well as Tampa’s Martin St.Louis, who are all clipping along at point-per-game or better paces. While St.Louis, like the twins, blossomed in to a premiere NHLer later in his career, Morrison and Bertuzzi are considered pleasant surprises, both scoring 40+ points last season, and both on the verge of early retirement. So what boat will the Twins be in at 35? Will we still need them? Will we still feed them? When they’re 35.
The answer I feel is in the genes.
Only two spots back of Henrik is countrymen Daniel Alfredsson, the soon-to-be 38-year-old face of the Ottawa Senators franchise, who, after a slight dip in production last season is starting off hot this year with 10 points in 9 games. One spot behind him is 40-year-old Finnish Flash Teemu Selanne. Aside from Selanne, Alfredsson and the trio of 35s, the rest of the top 30 scorers are young players in or entering their prime. Detroit’s Niklas Lidstrom trails only John-Michael Liles in scoring by defenseman this year, and went on a tear of three straight Norris trophies starting at the age of 35, and he looks to be in Norris candidate form again.
Perhaps the most overlooked aging Swede in the league is one of few backstops that hail from the Tre Kronor. New Jersey must be planning on resting Martin Brodeur much more this season after acquiring 37-year-old Johan Hedberg, who spent last season with Atlanta relieving oft-injured Khari Lehtonen, and platooning with budding star Ondrej Pavelec. At the age of 36 Hedberg, a back-up goalie in the truest sense, played a career high 47 games, and posted an impressive .915 Save Percentage, very respectable 2.62 Goals Against Average, four shut-outs and a winning record of 21-16-6 on a non-playoff team.
Hedberg is revered for his work-out regimen, and Alfredsson and Lidstrom are aging very gracefully.  Or maybe it’s the calm demeanor most Swedish players exhibit. There are other older players in the league, but they’ve mostly assumed depth roles. Alfredsson and Lidstrom are still top-level competitors, and like the Sedins who have shown incredible durability in their playing careers, haven’t been hampered by injury. Even if the Sedins continue this pace in to their next go-round with free agency, based on their track record and their birth certificate, there’s a good chance they’ll still demand top dollar at 35.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Goals! Getcha Goals here!

The pugnaxious sub-500 team that made a startlint run to the cup in 1982 had a long list of characters and castoffs. 1994's high flying edition of the Canucks was a well built machine, with a battle-tested captain, tier-1 sniper, former Vezina finalist goaltender and big, veteran blue-line, and was helmed by the Big Irishman himself but fell to New York's other team. Bertuzzi, Naslund and Morrison were the best line in hockey, but any incarnation of the Canucks pails in comparison to the offensive jugernaut that was the 2009-10 team:

Henrik Sedin became the first Canuck to win the Heart and Art Ross Trophies, leading the league in scoring.

Six players totaled 25 or more goals and the team finished second only to Chicago (the eventual cup champion) in goals for last year with 268, fourty of which came from defensemen.

But the wheels fell off as the soft third-line underbelly was exposed, the defense lauded as one of the leagues best going in to the season unraveled and Bobby Lou was bested by Byfuglien again in the second round.

That's all in the past. If last year's team wasn't the best we've ever seen here in Vancouver then the off-seasons improvements have made this years team our best chance at a cup ever.  GM Mike Gillis shored up the soft third line by adding bruising winger Raffi Torres, former fifth over-all pick and twenty goal man, at a bargain price. We all thought he overpaid for Manny Malhotra, but shouldn't the league leader in face-off winning percentage demand upwards of 2-mil/season? Malhotra and Torres are familiar with each other after skating with the Blue Jackets. Their third line pairing has included the likes of Jeff Tambelini, Janik Hansen if promoted from his usual fourth line duty, Tanner Glass, the almost come-back story of the year Peter Schaefer and Mikael Samuelson after a demotion. But Schaefer was sent to Manitoba, cleared waivers and refused to report; Samuelson, who was finding his game is now out with a concussion. Tambelini has put up 8 points in 11 games and looks to be filling a hole on the second line for the time being.  Hansen, the teams best player in a home loss to a hurting St. Louis squad could end up earning the job full time, and hopefully will.

Shane O'brien and his happy-go-drinky show were shipped off with promising but long-term project forward Dan Gendur for an intriguing Swede, and graduate of the OHL, not to mention former second round pick Jonas Andersson, and former first round blue-liner Ryan Parent. They've joined a group with Kevin Connauton, Yann Sauve, Eddie Lack, Jordan Schroeder, Sergei Shirokov and Cody Hodgson that form perhaps the best young core of up and coming Canucks ever. The children of the farm and a group of hungry, seasoned vets will round out our fourth line.  The team has battled injuries early to new acquisitions Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard, defenseman specifically brought in for their durability who both missed time early in Vancouvers blue-line grave yard.

It's a new team, but it's core is in place for a long time to come, so, was last year's team better than this year, or is this year's team, with it streaky, inconsistent play a sleeping giant waiting to find formiliarity and traction in a battle to form an identity and overcome injury all it's cracked up to be? 

The answer is, on paper atleast, yes.  They're impressive.  Everything you could mould a Stanley Cup Champion out of.  New players will establish themselves in their roles.  The walking wounded (not even including Sami Salo) will return, but one thing that is a concern is the offense we saw a year ago and its subsequent vanishing act. 

The top six forwards are all stillt he same group that had 25 goals or more each but at the current pace only two of last year's top six forwards are currently on pace to reach 25 or more, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Alex Burrows missed ten games early on but hasn't regained his 35 goal pace from last season and Mikael Samuelson is out.  Most disturbingly last years MVP seems to have lost faith in his shot which looked so good in the six week absence of his twin brother early last year.  Unarguably Daniel's absence forced Henrik to rediscover his ability to score and something needs to job his memory again because he has only 3 goals after 25 games, but he does lead the league in assists.

The third line has been better than imagined. Torres has picked up some of the slack and is the teams third leading scorer, earned early player of the week honours in the NHL but has proven streaky.  It's up to the unmentioned top-six winger Mason Raymond to pick up the production.  He's got all the tools. One of the fastest men in the league, strong in puck battles, used in all situations (even strength, shorthanded and powerplay).  He's off to a slow start, but a hattrick in his last game before missing time with a flu should make him the most likely candidate to step up the offense.  The fact that his hard work and smart play has earned him more ice in all situations means he'll see enough ice to do it, and the fact  that he's had 7 points in 11 career games versus the Ananheim Ducks makes tomorrows game the perfect time to pick up production.

The Canucks 80 goals so far this season are good for fourth in the West and put them on near the same pace they were in last years dynamic showing, however, if we're going to see the Stanley Cup in Stanley Park this summer last season's top-six are going to have to show up offensively at the same level they did last season, along with the new pieces of the puzzle performing to their potential. Goals are coming from the blueline as always, the league's best powerplay and a new and improved core of depth forwards, but to borrow a cliche, your best players need to be your best players.