Wednesday, December 14, 2011

CoHo, Lou, Realignment...

Random thoughts following a tough loss to the lowly Blue Jackets. 

You just knew when Steve Mason was announced as the starter earlier in the week that this could be one of those games tailor-made for a disappointing loss.  Sure, the Canucks took the first period off, but rarely do they ever compete in them, and they looked great from then on out.  On the bright side we gained a point in the division race as Winnipeg shut down the Wild in a chippy affair, and, Roberto Luongo had a terrific game.

On the topic of Lou's game, and he did play great, was my growing concern at the Canucks apparent lack of crease-clearing.  How many times was there a man alone in front of Lou last night?  It's not just the lack of ability to clear the man in front, but too often bad reads or poor positional play as both D-men will chase.  This has got to be from a combination of the lack of consistency in both the defense pairings, althought the top four are usually consistent, and the abundance of centres which has lead to a lack of familiarity in this position as well.  The Canucks claim to play a first forward back picks up the defensive responsibility system, well, it ain't workin'.  Too often when the centre is trapped and the winger fills in it causes a chain reaction of confusion that leads to wingers, centres and defenseman out of position.  We need some consistency and a return to the traditional defensive responisbilities of centremen.

But I digress, I was on the topic of Lou.  He should never ever, ever EVER be left in for a shootout again, it's not his forte and that's just the way it is.  We've seen goalies swap after OT before and the Canucks need to realize now that it will cost them a very valuable point about 80 - 90% of the time they leave Lou in for the skills contest. 

And back on the topic of the lack of consistency the defenseman on the wing is a flop.  If you're not going to risk the loss of a veteran depth player to the waiver-wire then the Canucks can simply dress seven defenseman and let them all play defense and rotate double shifting some of the many forwards they have that need more ice time.  So the seventh d-man will play five minutes, big deal, it's a nice luxury to have when one of your top PK blueliners happens to be in the box or injured.  Some teams run this line-up on a semi-consistent basis.  The fact remains that poor Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome are lost as forwards and shouldn't be thrust in to the fire like that.  Why not give extra ice to CoHo, Higgins, Hansen or Raymond - the team will be better for it.

On the topic of Cody Hodgson, I appreciate the fact he was playing his first game back after getting wumped by Nick Foligno, but, eight minutes of ice is not an uncommon occurence for him.  This kid has put up amazing numbers considering his ice time. As the season progresses he needs to be given more minutes.  He is showing top-six skill and producing incredibly well.  Lets examine the numbers comparatively.

Hodgson averages just under 13:00 minutes per game with 2:00 PPTOI/G : 6-9-15 2PIM +4 in 30GP
D. Sedin averages just over   19:00 minutes per game with 4:00 PPTOI/G : 12-22-34 22PIM +9 in 30GP

Hodgson has 6 points on the power play, so, given the fact he has half of Daniels ice time it's relatively fair to assume you could double those points totals, leaving CoHo with 12; Daniel has 16.  That means Daniel plays about 25% more even strength time which would boost CoHo's points ES to 12 as well, for a total of 24, good for third on the team...not bad.

Would like to see him get some more ice.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Random Hockey Thoughts

Two teams in the South East Division made coaching changes today - the fourth change already in this young NHL season: Are teams more prone to making drastic moves in today's NHL with the level of parity and the great equalize, the loser point?  I'm really not sure that I would gas Bruce Boudreau just to replace him with a junior coach.  Some guys are better suited to developing young talent: Brian Kilrea, Perry Pearn, the Sutters, etc... and while I'm not writing Dale Hunter off but this isn't a team trying to make the playoffs, it's a team trying to become the champion they should already be. Hunter is an alumni and his personality might lend itself ot managing the massive compilation of egos in the Caps room.  I wish him the best.

Paul Maurice also lost his job with Carolina...again.  When you ice a team as weak as the Caps can you really place blame on the coaching staff? Is it his fault Eric Staal has been innexplicably damaged after jeopardizing the career of his own baby brother? Carolina has a solid goalie, and should have two superstar calibre players, but one is in a cloud, the other is finally hitting the sophomore slump and the supporting cast just isn't that good.  Maybe the Sutter boys, Drayson Bowman and Zach Dalpe will develop over time, but it seems unfair Maurice wasn't given the same opportunity.  It's not like Paul Maurice is responsible for signing Tomas Kaberle.

The next coach to go has got to be Randy Carlye in Anaheim.  Hockey pundits are mystified as to the Ducks' inneptitude this season, clammering about the great collection of talent they have and how it should be performing better. True, the Ducks have some high-end power on their team in all departments, just not enough decent players.  Visnovksy and Fowler can run a power play, and Sbisa is looking like a solid shut-down D-man, but Beauchemin is horribly overrated and cost them a great prospect and one of the league's leading scorers.  If you're even considering dressing Sheldon Brookbank you've got a problem.  Up front they have a great line plus one well aged Finn (not Koivu), and that's about it.  Andrew Colgiano is the sixth highest scorer on the team...that about sums it up.

What gets me about the Anaheim situation is the Bobby Ryan for Jeff Carter and a prospect rumors...are you serious?  Carter and a prospect for Bobby Ryan???  If Columbus gave up Couturier and Voracek for Carter and then gave away another prospect and Carter for Bobby Ryan it'd be a worse move than Gardiner and Lupul for Beauchemin.  Neither of these two teams should give up on their current players.  That would be an amazing trade for Anaheim to add another premiere centre, which they need, but the Ryan, Getzlaf, Perry chemistry is too good to write-off.

Lastly I just wanted to comment on my level of amazement with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  The Calder is his.  Yes, I know Craig Smith and Matt Read and a number of other previously unheralded players are making their cases, but barring injury he's got it wrapped up and may just play his way in to serious competition for other hardware.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Canucks Trade Thoughts

The obsession with trades amongst NHL fans is almost innexplicable.  NHL Trade Deadline day is far more anticipated than the All Star Game, Awards Ceremony, and to a growing dynamic of fans even more adored than the Cup finals since less than 10% of NHL fans have a horse in the race.

Here I sit dreaming up trades, playing GM of my favourite team, when I've got about 100 better things to be doing, and there's nothing I'd rather be occupying myself with.  It makes no sense.

That said, wouldn't it be great if the Canucks could find an affordable player to provide the kind of playmaking on the second line they so desperately need? 

Cue the Blue Jackets. 

Columbus's season is already done, it's time for the Blue Jackets's brass to start figuring out what they need and what assets they can move to get it.  In their case they need a healthy dosage of just about everything and they have some very interesting assets.

First and foremost is Vaclav Prospal, the aging Czech winger is one of the biggest suitcases in the league; a suitcase full of championships that is.  We all remember his role on Tampa's cup winning team.  Looked like he had a home in New York as one of the key cogs to that over-achieving team but at his age and pay-grade he became one of the sacrificial lambs that ushered in the Brad Richards era.  So, for the low low price of just 1.75 + bonuses the Jackets made a smart move and brought in a guy who at 36 and without a home in the Rangers's putrid offense is now their leading scorer.

Columbus has strung together a couple wins lately, unfortunately that constitutes 40% of their W's this season.  Jeff Carter is back, healthy and apparently is not demanding a trade (sure....), but the Jackets have finally given up on Kris Russel, shipping the young puck-mover to St.Louis for rugged Ruskie Nikita Nikitin.  I'm thinking Prospal is next as his value, at 18 points through the first 20 games, won't get any higher.  The Jackets need help on D still, even with the additions of Nikitin and Wisniewski, they are still one of the weakest groups in the league.

So, Jackets's GM Scott Howson can play the NHL version of Billy Beane and take an undervalued asset and move it to a team in need of said asset for a King's Ransom.

The Canucks have a lot of solid young defense prospects, and they added more this past offseason via draft and free-agency, so I'm thinking they realize that they'll have to move one or two at some point during the season.  Chris Tanev, currently hurt and in the minors, was showcased nicely during the latter half of 2010-11 and through the Stanley Cup Finals.  Kevin Connauton has five goals in 15 games in the AHL this season and has an underrated defensive game.  Adam Polasek and Yann Sauve are rugged young defenders and both have shown the ability to produce points while in the QMJHL.  So, Scotty, take your pick.

Without removing a player from the current roster the Canucks can add a guy who would instantly be their third highest scorer - not a bad option I'd say. And, he's only signed through this year so you're not bound to a long term deal.

On a side note Howson's move for Nikitin (four points in his first five games in Columbus and a team high plus-2 rating), and the addition of Mark Letestu (two goals in his first six games) were great moves.  His draft selections, Ryan Johansen and John Moore are up with the big club and looking very impressive, and his trade with Carter will be considered a land-mark move in the history of this franchise.  He's also shown skill in the UFA market adding 51 point powerplay quarterback James Wisniewski for just 5 Million per season. So from a guy playing GM when he should be working, to a real NHL GM, 'Great Job!'

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sid and Ovi move Over

Remember how the NHL rose from the ashes of the lockout with a well-timed changing of the superstar guard?  Thankfully the moniker of 'New NHL' has since disappeared, sadly, the young men that helped right the ship are taking a back-seat to a new breed of NHLer.

Sid and Ovi is probably the greatest NHL superstar rivalry of all time, and yet Sid the Kid has missed nearly a full season's worth of games. As for the Great 8, he's not even the best forward on his team let alone the league. It seems like so long ago that these two authored one of the greatest playoff classics of any major North American sport ever.

Caps' GM George McPhee was lauded for his offseason roster acquisitions and the hockey world seemed to agree that Washington was going to be the team to beat this year. They burst out of the gates like a cup contender, and now Bruce Boudreau's job is in jeopardy after the Caps recent 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the heavily injured Leafs. The Pens had a respectable playoff run last year without Crosby and are leading the Atlantic division so far this year.

Even the supporting cast of the Pens/Caps rivalry are fading in to obscurity. Remember Mike Green? The former 30 goal defenseman, Ovi's partner in crime, he's been injured most of this and last season, ditto for Gino Malkin, who has looked both great and awful at times this year.

So, in the words of George Jones: "Who's going to fill their shoes?"

In Chicago the duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane returned a once proud Original Six team to glory, and, they've got a catchy name, but neither has produced the type of individual points totals a league poster boy should.

The Sedin twins have the numbers, but no championships, and their stoic Swedish disposition doesn't scream 'Marketability'. Plus they play in the all too often forgotten West.

There was some hope that the tandem of Cory Perry and Ryan Getzlaf might carry the torch, they've got the numbers, the international success, the cup rings and individual accolades, but again, they're even more west than Vancouver and have stumbled out of the gates.

Steven Stamkos has unrivaled aliteration to his name, and he's a Richard Trophy winner, but he's trapped in a boring system in a watered down division on a forgotten team. Ditto for Jeff Skinner.

Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were seperated like talkative classmates, but now Carter, the former 48 goal man is struggling to stay in the line-up and Richards is loving life in La La Land.

It seems as if there is no logical replacement for the Sid/Ovi story line.  No one can match the classic case of the wholesome Crosby and extravagent Ovechkin, rivals in the same Conference where each year only one can lead his team to the finals. No one seems to compare to the level of similarity in production but extreme polar opposite in style that Sid and Ovi represented. The debate as to who is better is yet to be answered and might just fade away.

If the NHL is going to look for a new class of league posterboys then they may just have to go back to the well again, literally, to the City of Champions.

Nestled in an already rabid hockey market the Edmonton Oilers have assembled a young core that is eerily reminiscent of the Gretzky/Messier days. In 2008 they had the steal of the first round when they used the 22nd pick to select Jordan Eberle from the Regina Pats of the WHL. Eberle would endear himself to Canadian hockey fans before ever gracing an NHL scoresheet with his timely play for Team Canada in the WJC. The next season they nabbed Magnus Paajarvi with the 10th overall pick. The Finnish power forward has had a difficult sophomore season but make no mistake, his speed, size and puck skill are second-to-none, and if the Oilers can't find him more ice they'll find someone who will.  In 2011 they took back-to-back Memorial Cup MVP Taylor Hall with the first overall pick.

The trio of Paajarvi, Hall and Eberle performed well in their rookie season together, just well enough to land the Oilers the first overall pick in consecutive seasons which they used to select Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from Red Deer of the WHL. The skinny pivot had an impressive season with the Rebels, but many felt the Oil, with their plethora of young skilled forwards, should've taken Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, who was thought to be more NHL ready because he had already played three seasons against men in the Elitserien.

Luckily the Oil took the best player available and didn't draft by positional need.  The Nuge is leading the team in scoring with 19 points through the first 19 games of the season, and has found isntant chemistry with Hall and Eberle as the Oil currently sit eighth in the West.

This group has the potential to do what Pittsburgh and Chicago did before them. If Edmonton's management can find a way to keep them all together they could even surpass the Hawks and Pens in greatness and become the long awaited NHL dyansty that fans have longed for since the great Oiler teams of the 80s.

Speaking of those Oiler teams it's fitting that in the Eastern conference right now the Flyers have restocked the cupboards after a pair of blockbuster trades and are loaded with young talent like Sean Couturier, James Van Reimsdyk, Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn. These two franchises can boast seven cup championships between them and clashed twice during the Gretzky days; could we see them rekindle the rivalry of yore? The Oil also famously met the Islanders and Bruins in the finals and both of those teams are at various states of their respective youth movements. Staying at home in the Northwest Division the Avalanche are lead by young superstars Erik Johnson, Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene, rival Canucks are coming off of a President's Trophy winning season and the Battle of Alberta is always entertaining, even if the Flames are among the most underachieving teams in the league.

The Oiler seemed destined to repeat history, especially if the league does itself a favour and scraps the salary cap during collective bargaining this off season, as many speculate they will.  If they don't turn out to be the pitchman for Canada's great frozen game that Bettman and the boys running the league hope they will be, and Sid and Ovi don't return to prominence then the league has plenty of options to choose from.

We've yet to see the likes of Emerson Etem, the SoCal kid who is among a growing number of star players coming out of Cali, who is lighting up the Dub this year at over a goal per game pace. Brett Connolly is off to a solid start in Tampa, and they've also got budding power forward Carter Ashton set to join the big club any game now. Ryan Strome could put the Islanders over the top when he makes the jump to the pros. Jonathan Huberdeau could probably start for the Panthers right now, and they're looking like a force to be reckoned with. The list of high-calibre talent that enters the league each season is growing deeper and stronger each passing season, but can anybody really match the once great Sid and Ovi?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Minute Men

Ilya Kovalchuk is back in the line-up after missing a few games, and the cause, if you take a look at the stats, was probably exhaustion.  Devils coach Peter DeBoer was running Kovalchuk ragged as he logged over 25 minutes per game of average ice time, over three minutes more than the next closes forward. Kovalchuk was doing it all, playing well over a minute shorthanded every game and over four minutes per game on the powerplay, leaving nearly 20 minutes of tiring even-strength play. In his first game back Kovalchuk was eased in to the line-up with just over 22 minutes.

I was thumbing through some box scores of that very same game between Buffalo and New Jersey and was pretty impressed to see Nathan Gerbe had notched his seventh assist of the year in a losing effort. I wanted to see how many points he had this season. 10 in 18 games is pretty impressive for the league’s shortest player, but then when I checked the far right column of the box score, Time On Ice, it became all the more astounding. Gerbe had plaid just 11:16 that game with no power-play time.

So, he inspired my search for others like him, who are producing points for their team without the big minutes and special-teams time.

5. Nathan Gerbe: Ten points in 18 games, his plus five rating is second on the Sabres, 14:13 TOI/G
4. Sean Couturier: Eight points in 18 games, tied for team lead in +/- as a rookie, 13:06 TOI/G
3. Victor Stalber: Ten points in 17 games, a plus-7 rating in just 12:59 TOI/G
2. Tanner Glass: Nine points in 19 games, second on team in plus/minus in just 11:29 TOI/G
1. Tim Stapleton: Who? Fair question. The undrafted and undersized native of Forest Park, Illinois enjoyed four productive years WCHA with Minnesota Duluth but went undrafted. He left college and joined Jokerit of the SM-Liiga for two seasons, then returned and torched the AHL with the Marlies but soon left Toronto’s system to join Atlanta, and while he bounced up and down from the minors to the NHL he has found a home this year as a powerplay specialist with seven points in 15 games all in just 9:19 TOI/G.

Honourable mention to Cody Hodgson for his nine points in 19 games, all with just 13:39 TOI/G

Jesse Newman of the Lions stops in to preview the West Final and Canucks chat in the new podcast!

Don't be Hating

“In 22 years they are the most arrogant team I played against, and the most hated team I’ve ever played against.” – Mark Recchi on a Boston radio program November 16, 2011.

So Mark Rechhi, one of BC’s own native sons, has helped resonate the sentiment that the Vancouver Canucks won’t be winning any popularity contests any time soon. Most Canuck fans are too tired of the topic of their team’s approval rating to care if one of their own is calling down their team. I think I speak for the majority of the Canuck fans when I say we’re right now more concerned about trying to win some games.

As the famed English Dramatist Douglas Adams once remarked:

“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.”

By now most Canuck fans have resolved themselves to the idea that they’re team is hated, but Recchi’s comments stand out and should be paid special attention because he has at long last supported his disdain in stating: A) A reason, arrogance and B) Evidence to support his bold statement that in a long and storied career his experience in last year’s Stanley Cup Final was enough to call the 2010-11 Canucks “the most hated team I’ve ever played against.”

In all fairness, Roberto Luongo’s critique of Bruins’ Vezina Trophy winning goalie Tim Thomas epitomized arrogance. Canuck defenseman Kevin Bieksa can accredit great vision and ability to carry the zone to his upright skating posture, unfortunately, he also walks around off the ice with his head in the clouds. Ryan Kesler’s nude ESPN photo shoot was both arrogant and latently homo-erotic. Recchi might be on to something here…
As far as the diving goes, well, it’s almost indisputable that a team that features Kesler, Maxim Lapierre and Alex Burrows can be presumed guilty of any offense of embellishment.

Lucky for Recchi he’s just hopping on the bandwagon and the target of his distaste has grown so obviously revolted amongst their own brethren that even players they trade for that are buried in some other teams minor league system don’t want to come play with the Canucks.

While Recchi’s comments are accurate and fully supported by indisputable evidence the most overlooked aspect of the whole Canuck-bashing fad is the fact that the very team they lost to in the finals, Mark Recchi’s own Boston Bruins, could be considered the biggest collection of jerks in one single dressing room, so why are they getting a pass?

Ya, there was some diving by some Canucks, but we’re not talking Mike Ribiero here. And yes, they’re arrogant, but the only harm of arrogance is self-infliction.

So here’s my list of the top five hated teams in the history of the NHL starting with….

5) The 2010-11 Boston Bruins: In a game between two of the most heated rivals in sports Boston Bruins defenseman, the Captain of the Black and Gold, broke a guys neck and got away scott free. Watch the replay. Chara knew exactly what he was doing as he looked up at the blunt edge of plexi glass and rode Canadien’s forward Max Pacioretty’s head right in to it, breaking two of Pacioretty’s vertebrae and giving him a concussion; did I mention these two had a long-running feud?  In game six of the Stanley Cup Finals Bruin defenseman Johnny Boychuck rode diminutive Canuck forward Mason Raymond in to the boards away from the puck and in an awkward position, and broke his back – is there an echo in here?  Brad Marchand is probably among the top-five least respected people in the game.  He’s now joined by power forward Milan Lucic who accidentally-on-purpose steam rolled and subsequently concussed Sabres’ star goalie Ryan Miller, who just happens to be the most important player on a key division opponent, as well as gives up about 75 pounds to Looch.  Again, no suspension was warrented. Throw in a healthy dosage of nepotism as Bruin winger Gregory Campbell is former league disciplinarian Colin Campbell’s son – no favouritism here of course.  Boston’s whole game plan that year was to play great team defense and beat the crap out of everybody else.  They were a couple minor penalties away from having four players with over 100 PIM. They were the 8th most penalized team in the league that season, with the third most major penalties and game misconducts.

4) The 2008-09 Dallas Stars: An interesting case, but hated none-the-less.  You could start at the top when Brett Hull, hated in Canada as a traitor and Buffalo as a cheater, was added to the management team. His first order of business? Go out and give a ridiculous contract to the games most hated player, Sean Avery, who would soon alienate his entire team and be exiled to the minors and then getting jettisoned to New York where he would go on to alter the NHL rule books and infamously call Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur ‘Fatso’. Hull apparently felt it necessary to add the league’s most hated pest because the number two guy on that list, Steve Ott, wasn’t already doing a good enough job. Ott was recently selected the top agitator in the league after Avery’s most recent banishment to the minors. Add to the mix the Stars playmaking centre Mike Ribiero, who made his name while in Montreal, doing the funky-chicken during a playoff game which turned out to be a complete act to stop play.  Team Captain Brenden Morrow racked up an astonishing 49 PIM in just 18 games that year. He didn’t do himself any favours getting caught-up in the middle of usurping the Captain’s ‘C’ from the franchises favourite player, Mike Modano. You can even go as far as adding Krys Barch name to the hated list, by whom you ask? Sportswriters, for having the most ridiculous alternate spelling to a normal name ever.

3) The Islander Dynasty: Let’s start with Bad Boy Billy. The Islander goalie was known as one of the greatest ‘Money Goalies’ for his clutch play, but his goaltending ability is overshadowed in his legacy by his stick work.  This guy makes Ron Hextall look like Jean Ratelle.  Just ask Curt Fraser. A youtube search of his name reveals a near vomit-inducing playlist of horrific on-ice acts. The Isles were anchored on defense by Denis Potvin, a man Don Cherry describes as, “One of the meanest hockey players who ever played.” Let’s not forget about Bryan Trottier.  One of the greatest all around players to ever lace up the blades the digital era has shed new light on just how complete Trotts’ game was by exposing perhaps his most gifted area of expertise: trash talk. If you haven’t seen it already enjoy this fine example of his handiwork (not for the faint of heart) . One of the biggest reasons this team was so hated was the fact that they almost won at will during their hay-days and the feeling of total helplessness in playing the Isles must have instilled an awful lot of hate.

2) The 1978-79 Boston Bruins: This team nearly took the top spot when you look at the shear depth of pugilism on its roster. Five players recorded over 100PIM for the Lunch Pale Crew that year, including Terry O’Reilly who actually topped the 200 PIM mark, John Wensink, Mike Milbury, Al Secord and Dennis O’Brien. Perhaps the biggest goon on the squad, Stan Jonathan, had 96 PIM in just 33 games on a goon-squad that also featured the rugged Wayne Cashman. Don Cherry, loved by his players and known as a true player’s coach, was the appropriate leader of this group of ruffians.

1) Who else could it be? The Broad Street Bullies of course. Probably the only team that can boast to be rougher and tougher than the ’79 Bruins. Lead offensively by Bobby Clarke who recorded three 100+ point seasons during the Bullies’ Salad Days.  Clarke was known to warn opposing centremen that if they even made an effort to touch the puck during the face-off he’d take their eyes out. In those wild days of hockey you didn’t dare question him. Clarke was a saint compared to some of his Flyer teammates. The most notable of the pugilists was Dave “The Hammer” Schultz who topped the 300 PIM mark in seven seasons and in 1975 set the insurmountable single-season record for PIMs with 472. Gary Dornhoefer had five straight 100+ PIM seasons for the Broad Street Bullies. Andre “Moose” Dupont had three straight 200+ PIM seasons, four total for the Flyers, finishing with a career mark of nearly 2000. His son Danny lead the QMJHL in PIM in 1994-95 with 446. Ed Van Impe and Don Saleski rounded out the best of the Bullies as the Flyers fought their way to back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 1974 and 1975.

Catch my interview with JESSE NEWMAN of the BC Lions as we preview tomorrow's big match-up: and of course Canucks chat!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Canucks Trivia with a Twist and Prizes

Back by popular demand here is the 'Guess that Canuck' trivia game.  In this instalment I provide the Hipster name for five of our favourite current Canucks, as well as a brief description of that player, and the first person to answer correctly wins a Tim Horton's gift card.  Send your answers to

1. Kingston Theo: This Canuck was a 'king' of offense early in the season but has since cooled off, and brings the kind of speed and determination that another famous Theo was noted for.  The Nux recently hosted and roasted his hometown NHL team.

2. Ray Frank: To be frank it's looking like the team the Canucks traded with to get this guy got fleeced.

3. Rufus Hugo: This guy has the propensity to be excellent on a nightly basis, but lately he's been accused of spending more time swimming on the ice than Roberto Luongo (hint, it's not Roberto Luongo).

4. Miles Ike: This young man has come miles from the player we first saw in camp, and is starting to show the type of skill that made him the tenth overall pick in his draft year.

5. Odin Holden: This ginger hipster has been Holden on to pucks in his last few starts hoping for a break in the action. The team has left him high and dry and scored only two goals total in his past three starts.

Ok, some easy, some not so easy - hit me up with your answers to and we'll find out who gets to take home a Tim Horton's gift card.

Clock Striking midnight for AV?

Montreal had an awful start to the season.  Their defense was still missing power-play quarterback Andrew Markov and free-agent signee Erik Cole was stumbling offensively and not providing the power and size to the Habs' diminutive group of forwards that he was supposed to. So who paid the price?  Assistant Coach Perry Pearn. Subsequently the Canadiens have gone 7-2-1 over their past ten games.

The St.Louis Blues, also ravaged by injury, stumbled out of the gates - except for games against the Canucks, but those don't really count right now. They started the season still without uber-talented David Perron (the type of skilled top six guy the Canucks could really use right now, only they passed up in the draft), and quickly lost Andy McDonald. In fact a number of their offensive options have had poor starts to the 2011-12 season, and to sum it up, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is leading the team in scoring. To top it off their star goalie Jaroslav Halak was stinking the joint out so they had to go to journeyman Brian Elliot in net. And who took the fall?  Head Coach Davis Payne.

The Blues' leadership duo of Doug Armstrong and John Davidson decided it was time to make a change, and if you thought the Canadiens were under pressure for their slow start consider the fact that there's new ownership rolling in to town in St. Louis and it's not exactly like new owners to keep a front office that is underachieving.  Armstron and Davidson were happy to take Ken Hitchcock's salary off of Columbus' books and since he has turned the team around, saving the season and a lot of jobs, as the Blues have gone  6-3-1 in their past ten games.

There's some sort of recurring theme here isn't there? 

In Vancovuer there's a total lack of secondary scoring and as always, injuries to key defenseman, and of course a goaltending controversy on top of it all.  If hockey-mad Montreal can make a personnel change this early in the season why can't the Canucks? 

Alain Vigneault got this team to within one win of the Stanley Cup last season, surely he should be afforded some grace in this tough start, right?

There are those who feel AV's lack of emotion and propensity to engage in unnecessary line-matching duels have actually cost this team, and there's an argument for that too.  But each coach has their style and AV is relaxed, unforunately for him it looks like this team needs the type of emotional spark that comes from the top down because it sure isn't igniting in the dressing room amongst this group, as we have seen time and time again.

It's beginning to look like the hiring of Craig MacTavish in Chicago, the Nux AHL affiliate, is infact a safety net against this groups lack of response to their very Zen coach.  AV has been (in my opinion) an excellent head coach and wouldn't be hard-up for work if the axe did fall.  He has shown an ability to coach any style.  When he arrived in Vancovuer he was known as a defensive specialist and then helped mould this team in to one of the top two or three offensive units in the league.  But he hasn't shown the ability to alter his personality and it might be his undoing in Van.

Even coming off a Stanley Cup Finals appearance nobody in this league is safe if the results aren't there, and boy are they ever not there.

Fists to Match 'Steel Heart'

CLICK THE LINK to listen to or download my NEW PODCAST:

It’s a long way from Ostrava, Czech Republic to the NHL but Adam Polasek knew that’s the road he wanted to travel.

“My dream was always the NHL.” Polasek states, as if there was ever a question about it.
Ostrava sits at the confluence of four major rivers, the second largest city in the Czech Republic next to Prague. It is a heavily industrialized area that during the years of Communist rule was dubbed “Steel Heart of the Republic”. It’s a coal mining town on the Czech-Poland border (one of the most polluted in the European Union) and is not exempt from the current global economic climate; many of the plants are shutting down. Of late Ostrava is better known for exporting big NHL defenseman than coal: Marek Malik, Roman Polak and Filip Kuba to name a few. The average height and weight of the trio is 6’3”, 228 Lb.
Unfortunately Ostrava’s hockey program allows gifted youth to either dominate a watered down Czech junior program or play reduced minutes in the men’s league, so when Adam landed in Fargo, ND for the 2009 IIHF World Under 18 Tournament to play amongst his true peers he knew he’d found a better path to his ultimate goal.
“I didn’t believe the first time but after the World Junior Under-18 in Fargo I had a couple meetings with scouts from the NHL. I started to believe that there was a real interest (in me) and decided to go to Canada.”
Adam soon landed in the QMJHL playing for the PEI Rocket.  Prince Edward Island, ‘the Garden of the Gulf’ is a long ways from Ostrava, not just in distance but surroundings also.  It may have been hard for a kid from an industrial Eastern European town to adapt to the wide-open landscape of Maritime Canada but it didn’t take long for his game to adjust to the new league.
“Here in Canada there’s a lot more scouts and people who care about your future and take care of you.”
Adam finished the 2009-10 season with 41 points in 66 games. His offense hadn’t fallen off as he transitioned to North American ice, and at 6’3”, 210 Lb. he welcomed the increased physicality and posted 91 PIM on his way to being selected in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Draft by the Vancouver Canucks.
Adam played one more year in PEI before joining the professional ranks. Once he dawned the green and blue of the Canuck’s it didn’t take him long to get noticed. Down 7-1 against a power-house Oiler squad in the 2011 Rookie Tournament Adam decided to do something he’d done only twice in his QMJHL career, fight.
Off a draw in his own zone Adam Polasek dropped the mitts with one of the Western Hockey League’s toughest combatants, Oiler prospect Colten Teubert. While Teubert, the experienced pugilist, got the jump on Adam it was the Czech defender that delivered a knock-out punch to the jaw of the young Oiler defenseman. It is about as clean as a blow can land amidst the elbow pads, shoulder pads, helmets, visors and jerseys that obstruct the space between hockey brawlers, and it was an absolute hay-maker.
Following the play the camera panned from a bleary-eyed Teubert, wiping blood from his face and straining his neck while adjusting his aching jaw, to Canucks’ prospect team coach Craig MacTavish and focused on him for an extended period of time as he stood on the bench mouth agape, eyes looking at nothing in particular, awestruck by what he just witnessed.
“He (MacTavish) was a little surprised but I was surprised also.” Adam laughs. “I know the guy after had a concussion and a broken nose, so ya, it was a pretty good punch.”
“I’m not a really big fighter or something like that, it just happened. The score was 7-1 and we had nothing to lose. I saw him, a big tough guy, so I fought him. Last year in the Quebec league I fought just twice.”
Polasek now plays for MacTavish in Chicago with the AHL Wolves. Through the first ten games of the season he’s set up a couple goals and is a plus-2. He hasn’t made another foray in to fist-to-cuffs but he does still use his physical gifts to his benefit.
He’s paired up with slick puck-mover Sebastian Erixon on a young Wolves’ defense corpse that features Chris Tanev, Yann Sauve and Kevin Connauton, all three played last year when the Canucks’ AHL affiliate was the Manitoba Moose.
“I think Yann and Kevin, they have already one year in pro, so all the questions I have or for help I’m going to ask them. They’re helping me a lot. They know what I should expect and what I should be prepared for.”
“I’ve already set up all the stuff outside of hockey, living and stuff. Now I’m in my routine and everyday I’m going to the rink, practicing; it’s starting to feel like any normal season.”

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life without Lou

The cloud of mystery hovering about Roberto Luongo's upper body injury is even thicker than the fog he usually plays in each October, but just as he is rounding in to form Lou is sidelined.  This in the midst of rumors the Canucks are interested in Evgeny Nabokov and the surprising back-to-back starst Lou got in Southern California.  The play that speculatively caused the injury, a Mark Streit point shot that struck Luongo in the mask while he lunged cross-crease, seemed to have strained Lou's groin, a problem area for him in the past, but the team is calling it an upper body injury, and they're not going much further than that. 

Could Luongo be suffering concussion like symptoms?  The shot was hard enough to dent the cage of the mask but a major league catcher might take a 90/MPH foul tipped fastball to the mush once or twice a week during a 162 game season using the exact same gear so it doesn't seem likely that even a hard shooting Streit could concuss a goalie with a puck that strikes him flush in the mask.  Directly after the play Cory Schneider was seen loosening up incase he had to come in for Lou, but Lou finished the game and did say he felt fine but missed two practices leading to the Nux confirming Schneider as the starter Wednesday at home against Chicago.  Eddie Lack will likely be recalled from the Wolves to back-up Schneider until Lou is healthy.

Are the Canucks so tight-lipped because they allowed their big-money goalie to stay in a game while concussed and didn't issue base-line testing or sit Lou in the quiet room?  Everyone seems to think that Alain Vigneault's referencing of the recent Buffalo/Boston goalie running incident alluded to the player/goalie contact issue, but maybe it had more to do with the fact that Sabres goalie Ryan Miller finished that game after being steamrolled by Bruin power-forward Milan Lucic and later was diagnosed with a concussion.  It's evident that the team still kneels to Luongo's authority on many subjects as clearly demostrated in last year's playoffs; is there a chance they wanted to pull Lou from the Islander game to abide by the league's new concussion diagnosis rules but were veto'd by Louie?

All politicking aside there are bigger issues at hand here: what does this mean for the Canucks?

Cory Schneider has been saying all the right things as the better goalie stuck backing up the guy who is supposed to be number one.  He's an RFA in the final season of a two year pact with the Canucks, but his restricted status does little to assure the team's brass and fanbase that he can be kept as a number one goalie playing second fiddle.  If they go to arbitration, which isn't the Canucks style, it will get ugly, a lot ugglier than with a depth forward or role player, and Cory will likely get his due meaning the team won't be able to afford him anyway.  Money aside they won't be able to sign him because it's not about the dollars but the opportunity to play number-one minutes and that's something the Canucks can't offer him, so if he isn't moved before the end of the season and they don't come to an agreement before the start of free agency they probably won't even have to worry about arbitration because he'll be getting an offer sheet from any of the many teams in the league that would kill to have a Cory Schneider.  Of course the Canucks could also lose him on their own terms and trade his rights but that would hugely diminish his trade value which right now would be sky-high considering Semyon Varlamov netted a first and second round pick as an unsigned RFA rumored to be heading back home to Russia.

Luongo is a polarizing personality.  Some of his comments in the media, as well as his interaction with the club and it's staff, haven't been great for his image, and his play at key times for the Canucks has been undeniably poor, but, he did get this team to within one game of the Stanley Cup and was a Vezina nominee...see what I mean, he's about as polarizing as a compass.  Some people still love to Lou him when he makes a big save, others just see an albotross hanging from the neck of this organization for the next decade.  Really, for the numbers he puts up his cap-hit isn't bad, it's the length of his retirement contract and the presence of Cory Schneider that get people upset.

Clearly the current structure of the Canucks goaltending position is about to change.  The Canucks always say they have two number one goalies and in the face of years of Schneider trade rumors have said they intend to keep him around, and why wouldn't they, he's their best goalie, but now their hand is being forced. 

Lou won't be out long, but if this injury somehow turns in to a Sidney Crosby-like episode then this team is going to be faced with some very hard decisions.

Another thing to consider is that Cory Schneider has never had to play under the pressures of being the starting goalie for a powerhouse NHL team.  He has excelled in the some-what relaxed world of back-up, playing road games against lesser opponents, but now he is the number one goalie until Luongo is healthy.  He should continue to play great hockey, but what if he doesn't?


Sunday, November 13, 2011

As deep as it gets

After a win tonight at home against the Islander the Canucks will move above .500 with a 9-8-1 and become the sixth team in the West with 19 points, ranging from fifth to tenth.  It's been an up and down start to the season, one that has included lengthy road trips and roster turnover, but the Nux seem to be working themselves out of a funk and finding new line combinations.  With chemistry in mind here are a few things to consider and a look in to the future and at the current depth charts.

David Booth: No team (perhaps in the history of the league) has ever experienced such a massive roster overhaul in one single offseason as the Florida Panthers did this past summer.  The new team made power winger David Booth and his 4.25 Million Dollar cap hit for this and three more seasons expendable.  GM Mike Gillis hooked up with one of the Nux favourite trade partners to acquire Booth for a pair of injured veteran forwards, Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelson.  The thought was Booth would find chemistry with his former minor hockey teammate Ryan Kesler, but the two quickly showed they are far too alike to ever co-exist on the same line. No problem!  Booth is a character player, and some of his ancillary skills include speed, forechecking and hitting (he's actually fourth among Canuck forwards in hits), this makes him a perfect hit on the third line.  He looked good tonight with Cody Hodgson and Maxim Lapierre, who has played his way up the ranks in this young season. That line combined for five points and a plus-6 rating. So, will the Nux pay top-six money for a third line player?  As long as Booth is OK with it and they can find this skilled third line the ice time I think they might stick together.  They all had atleast 15 minutes of ice tonight.

Mason Raymond: The speedy winger is back skating with the team after joining them part way through the recent six game road trip, but where does he fit in?  The Canucks, despite operating at an impressive 86.5%, have the 11th rated PK in the league and Mason Raymond is a big contributor shorthanded. I don't see a player returning from a major injury being traded without first proving himself to be healthy, but if he is he might be expendable. With the current forward depth you have to think he'll be slotted in on the fourth line and the way things are going I don't see him getting up above it.  He'll find some extra ice on the PK but if he stays with the Nux he'll be taking on a new role, but only temporarily.  He's in the last year of a two-year contract and with the number of other quality top-six guys under pact there's no way he's sticking around to play fourth line and special teams with the Nux. He had an off-year last season that ended in a serious back injury but his skill set is tremendous and some team will pick him up under value and scoop a speedster with 30+ goal potential.

Top Line Shuffle: Alex Burrows might have just lost his job with the twins as Jannik Hansen has finally hit his stride along side the twins.  Burr is going to attempt to ignite Ryan Kesler.  The two are reunited after their years as valuable depth players, now, they're expected to shore up secondary scoring for a team that sputtered at the most crucial momment last season.  If Hansen continues to produce he'll keep his top line posting long term, and if Burr and Kess can find chemistry with Chris Higgins this team is going to make a lot better squads than the New York Islanders look second tier.

I admit I felt the Canucks needed to add another top six option, and we don't know how long this current incarnation of the Nux will last, but they are as of now looking like they're about as good as it gets lines one through four, I mean check out the current depth chart:

Sedin        Sedin         Hansen
Higgins     Kesler        Burrows
Hodgson  Lapierre     Booth
Weise      Malhotra    *Raymond

There's a lot of guys on this team taking jobs that could be considered below their skillset, but that's what it takes to win.

Open Season on Masked Men

Leaf Nation heaved a sigh of relief as Ben Scrivens stood on his head in place of injured puck-stop James Reimer but the bloom soon fell off the rose and buds are free falling back to their usual place at the trough.  Optimus-Reim remains the only Leaf goalie with a save percentage over .900 as the tanden of Scrivens and Jonas 'The Monster' Gustavsson haven't been able to carry the load.

Reimer has been out since mid October.  Gustavsson may have let the nature of Reimer's injury slip by accident but Leafs GM Brian Burke quickly clarified that Reimer was being treated for "concussion-like symptoms" after what was innitially reported as whip-last following a collision with Canadiens' forward Bryan Gionta.  No one outside of team staff really knows what's going on with Reimer.
Whatever the case an NHL team lost the key copponent to their success and have since plummeted in the standings. It doesn't matter if this happened to the centre of the hockey universe in Leaf Land or the stark interior of the St. Pete Times Forum, it's a big problem, one that is escalating quickly.

Since the Reimer hit there has been a rash of goalie contact, most recently in a heated game between division rivals Buffalo and Boston, when Bruin forward Milan Lucic drilled a wandering Ryan Miller, (If you haven't seen Miller's post game interview click the link and check out the hit:, prompting Miller to address the issue of contact with the goalie following the game.

If Miller had been seriously injured on the play the Sabres wouldn't be as hard off as the Leafs were for losing their number one goalie as Sabre back-up Jonas Enroth acutally has better numbers than Miller this season, but the point is not how an NHL team can expect to cope with the loss of their number one netminder, but why they should have to.

The debate has long raged that a goalie out of the crease should be fair game.  The issue of contact with the goaltender has been limited since the implimentation of the trapezoid, and we aren't seeing goalies exploit their cloak of invincibility as much as we did pre-lockout, but one would have to reason that this type of flagrant goaltender contact would not exist if the game were still policed by the players.  The way NHL referees mete out penalties in todays game the risk of taking any unnecessary fouls is too high, so teams are forced to watch as their goalies are compromised time and again.

Let's consult the NHL rule book:

Rule 69 - Interference on the Goaltender: "Intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted."

Amazingly an NHL rule sounds pretty cut and dry to me.  Clearly contacting the goaltender on purpose is not allowable in the NHL, so, why are so many tendies getting tenderized?

Could it be that Bruin's Vezina winner Tim Thomas threw down the gauntlet in game three of the Stanley Cup Finals this past June when he body checked a rightfully unsuspecting Sedin in his own crease?  Has goalie contact become a two way street? I'm sure nobody wants to see that, least of all the goalies, so what's the answer?

I personally would like to see the rule inforced as it reads, that intentional goalie contact, like Lucic's very purposeful steamrolling of wee Ryan Miller, be penalized. Everyone knows the insitgator rule has got to go, so to balance it out that power grubbing law should be done away with so that if a forward bumps your goalie he can expect both a penalty and a pummeling as well as a resulting power play for the team defending their crease.

Wake up NHL.  The NFL has gone to drastic measures to protect their most pivotal player, the quarterback, while the NHL has unleased the dogs of war on its most defenseless.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Radio, someone still loves you

While the Canucks were on the road in sunny California, hitting the links and soaking up the sunshine, I was somewhere in a muddy cut line or overgrown slash on Texada Island with leaky boots and dodging falling Alder limbs.

My fruitless four day hunting trip was highlited by end-of-the-day hot rums and the staticky Team1040 Canuck broadcasts and that was fine by me.  I've been raised on the theory that the success of a hunting trip is rarely measured on the hunt.

Radio is a lost art.  As a guy who has for the bulk of his life relied on BC Ferries for transport I get a healthy dosage of radio broadcast during ferry line-up waits while BC Ferries brass spend my money on lucrative playoff tickets.  Picturing the unseen is so much more vivid than any high definition broadcast could ever make it to be. The mental image of the game is so much  more grandiose than can ever be witnessed in moving picture or live action.  The aura that surrounds the ancient practice of radio broadcast and the legendary names that made it that way offer something that in-game advertisements and shameless food-product plugs can never provide.  I've never lost appreciation for radio broadcast and I never will.  It is quite simply from a broadcast spectrum, far superior to television in every way.  Radio broadcast compared to television is like baseball before the steroids, J-Lo before Bennifer or British office before the Steve Correl version.  They're all essentially the same thing adapting to change, and while one may have become temporarily more popular, to the purist the pryor is prefered.

Three generations of hunters were at camp this year, most of them the friends and family of my hunting partner Alvin "Chicky" Cimglia. You can guess by the family name that as an Anglo-Canadian I was grossly outnumbered by Italians, some who immigrated in their early teen years even.  The names of the hunters huddling around the oil barrel stove in the corner of the shack, known to the hunting community in the area as 30-30 Wop St., read like the film credits to a Mob flick: Sylvano, Vito, Felix, of course the mysteriously dubbed "Chicky" to name a few.

Despite the cultural differentials we had two very strong commonalities: a love of the national game, and, poor accuracy -  and I'm not talking about the two-holer.  Vito, Chicky's brother some 10+ years his senior, explains they were sperated by a sister and the second World War.  Chicky, just six when the Cimaglia's uprooted, has no accent, but Vito speaks the warm and hearty tongue of Wop-anese, which makes even meddling hockey commentary Shakespeare. Vito has never returned to Italy but has heard that the unique dialects of each town are being lost because of the public school system.  Here at deer camp the dialect is usually that of the common working man, beautifully blue collar and expletive rittled.

Their countrymen is off to a poor start, but Roberto Luongo earns the win in the first of back-to-back games in So-Cal as the Canucks stake an early three goal lead then play kitty bar the door, eaking out a one goal victory.  Needless to say they weren't Lou-ing at 30-30 Wop St the next night in Orange County as The Ducks, losers of nine of their past 10 games chased Roberto Luongo after lighting him up for four goals.  Tonight the Canucks were on the losing end of a come from behind one goal effort, but their were positives. 

Jannik Hansen found some chemistry with the twins notching two late goals and Kevin Bieksa got his first of the season as the Canucks dug deep and showed some resiliency. 

Aarom Rome may have cost the Canucks the game with an elbow to the head of Anaheim rookie Devante Smith-Pelly, but he has shown how much the team misses his physical play.  Hopefully the ridiculous suspension he meted out to him in last year's Stanley Cup Final series earns him a pass from new league disciplinarian Brendan Shannahan.

The biggest negative of the 3-3-0 road trip was the decision to play "datfugginaluongo," as he was so often refered to, in back-to-back nights.  The benefit would be to get his confidence up, only it's once again shattered. Worse off the obvious negative was the message that playing Lou in back-to-back nights sends to Cory Schneider, and, Canuck fans at large.

I do grasp what AV was trying to accomplish, but a quick positive/negative examination of the scenario quickly quashes the logical man from ever coming to this decision.  Unless Schneider was injured that was a bonehead move, no two ways about it, and the tolerance for winnable games being flushed down the perverbial crapper as the Canucks' coaching staff try to massage Luongo's ego is at an all time low, just like AVs popularity rating.  There cannot be another instance of Luongo favouritism until his play, not his pay, dictate that he is the number one guy.

The best part about the radio was not having to see another early night for Luongo, rather enjoy listening to the rest of the team play their hearts out to try to mount a four goal comeback in the final period of the last game of a long six game road trip.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Trade Thoughts: Too Many Swordsmen

The news of Mason Raymond's imminent return does little to disuade my belief that Canucks GM Mike Gillis is still looking at improving his top-six forwards.

Raymond is a great penalty killer, and despite an off-year last season he has a skill set that we've seen produce a 25 goal campaign and there is no reason ot believe he can't re-establish that level of production or more.  But can he do that coming off a horrific back injury?  Probably not.  They will likely ease Raymond back in to regular duty in the bottom-six forwards and give him as much PK time as they feel he can handle.

It seems like a crowded house with Raymond returning but is it?  We saw the Nux break out in a big way against the hated Hawks, but five of their six goals were scored on the powerplay and nobody doubts their ability to create offense in an odd-man situation, it's 5-on5 that the Canucks need help with.

This leads me to today's trade topic, the Buffal Sabres.  Terry Pegula rode in to Buffalo like a White Knight and promptly bought up some of the leagues most sought after free agents.  The new bodies in Buffalo have pushed out some of last year's mainstays, namely Tyler Ennis and Brad Boyes.

Ennis posted 49 points as a rookie, playing in all 82 regular season games last year, but is scoreless to start the season. He's an RFA after this season and fellow diminutive yougnster Nate Gerbe seems to have eaten his lunch. Luke Adam is this year's super-rookie in Buffalo starting at a point-per-game pace.  Putting even further pressure on Ennis is the crop of young stars still coming down the pipe in Buffalo, a list that includes the likes of Marcus Foligno, Corey Tropp, Paul Szezchura and Zack Kassian.

Boyes' production has suffered greatly in Buffalo. The former 40 goal man has posted only 6 points in 14 games behind a long list of gifted forwards.  He's a UFA at the end of the season and is likely to be moved as a rental with the progression of young stars and need to find more ice for other veteran forwards like Ville Leino, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford.

Ennis makes more sense in Vancouver as he is a shifty playmaker that would probabl excel feeding pucks to David Booth and Ryan Kesler, but Boyes will go cheap, much less than what a 40 goal calibre forward usually would around the trade deadline and Gillis probably feels he has enough long term contracts in the top six as it stands so adding a UFA gives him flexibility.

Boyes for a 2nd rounder?  I don't see him fitting in in Buffalo much longer and his goal scoring prowess could certainly pick up the Nux even strength play.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Taylor or Tyler?

Taylor Hall got his name called to the draft day podium first but Tyler Seguin laughed last and longest, celebrating a Stanley Cup victory with an original six franchise while Taylor iced the sprained ankle that likely cost him the Calder Trophy.  So who wins?

A month in to their sophomore season the Taylor Vs. Tyler debate still rages.

Seguin's Bruins have stumbled out of the blocks in a Stanley Cup hangover haze but thanks to a stellar start from Seguin they're back on track. The second year pivot has 15 points through 13 games which leads the Big Bad Bruins in scoring.

Hall's Oilers shot out of the gates at 8-3-2, taking a firm hold on the Northwest Division lead and employing a classic Tom Renney defensive system. Hall has only 9 points in 12 games for the low scoring Oil, whose impressive 22 goals against in 13 games is by far the lowest in the league. Hall finds himself taking a backseat to the Oil's most recent first overall pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

It's early in their careers but you have to wonder who ended up with the better player, Boston or Edmonton?

Hall is an explosive winger who was the consensus first overall pick for 2010 while leading his Windsor Spitfires to their first of back-to-back Memorial Cup Championships. Seguin, a well-rounded centre stormed almost out of nowhere to tie Hall for the OHL lead in scoring in their draft year and eventually userp the Central Scouting ranking of first overall.

For now it looks like the Bruins came out on top using one of the first round picks they obtained from the Maple Leafs in the Phil Kessel deal to draft the top rated player in the 2010 draft second overall.

You can't blame the Oilers for taking the long-favoured Hall with the first overall pick.  The Bruins were almost in a more favourable position since either player was a slam dunk - all they had to do was call the name that wasn't yet on the board. The Oiler's were hamstrung, no one in their right mind could not take a two-time Memorial Cup MVP first overall; maybe that's why they tried to acquire the second overall pick that year from the Bruins in a deal that was rumored to include Jordan Eberle.

The debate is far from over.

Down on the Farm: Sebastian Erixon

Under Mike Gillis the Canucks have made a commitment to both professional and amateur scouting that has yielded the talents of Alexander Sulzer, Kellan Tochkin and Eddie Lack, to name a few, all without making a trade or using a draft pick. The ability to identify overlooked talent and acquire it without losing any assets is vastly important in the salary cap system.
Following the lost season the NHL re-emerged with a few key rule changes that have produced a faster, more fluid game. With a crack down on obstruction smaller players with high skill level began to flourish on the open ice. The abolition of the two-line pass put further emphasis on the break-out. Teams began to see the puck-moving benefits of defenseman once thought too small to clear the crease; something they could no longer do without being penalized anyway. Ever since the likes of John-Michael Liles, Brian Rafalski and Brian Campbell have excelled and NHL talent scouts have looked high and low for the next diminutive defenseman.
Sebastian Erixon went undrafted despite starring on the 2009 World Junior Challenge silver medal winning Swedish team, a group which featured star goaltender Jacob Markstrom and four soon-to-be NHL defenseman: Tim Erixon, David Runblad, Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson. The Swede’s allowed just three goals in four round robin games and lost the final game to host-team Canada in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa.
After the WJC Erixon returned to Sweden to finish his first full season with Timra of the Elitserien, the same team his father Staffan had starred for in the early 80’s. Sebastian would total seven points in both his first and second seasons with Timra but broke out in a big way last year scoring 20 to lead his team in points by a defenseman. It didn’t take long for Canucks Associate Head Scout Thomas Gradin to take notice and soon Sebastian signed with the Canucks.
“It was a big year for me, leading d-men on our team.” Sebastian says of his break-out 2010-11 season. “Then the Canucks told me they had a contract and I signed, so, it was a fun year.”
The younger Erixon is considered small by NHL standards (listed at 5’10” on but uses a high hockey IQ to his advantage.
“I think I can carry the puck pretty good and make a good first pass.” He answers when asked to describe his game. “I see the ice pretty good.”
Sebastian’s coach with the AHL Chicago Wolves agrees. In his first year as head coach with the Canuck’s farm team Mac-T has been impressed by the young Swedish blue liner heaping praises on him in an interview with Gordon McIntyre of The Province saying: “He’s got incredible composure out there. Even walk by him in the room and he’s totally at ease. I don’t think he rushes anything.”

The level of admiration between player and coach is mutual says Sebastian.

He had a long career and he knows what to do.  He’s a good coach.”
MacTavish will be charged with the duty of transitioning Erixon to the North American game but he isn’t the only one with helpful advice. Sebastian can rely on the years of experience his father Staffan accrued as a pro hockey player in Sweden.
“He knows what I need to do.” Sebastian says of his father.
Former Timra teammate Anton Lander is in his rookie season with Canucks division rival Edmonton and the two have stayed in touch this season.
“We know each other from when we were little kids.” Sebastian says. “He says it’s pretty tough.
He says The Speed is a little bit higher; you need to make the right choice all the time.”
Sebastian can also draw on the experiences of defense partner Adam Polasek, a young Czech blue liner who, like Sebastian, is in his first year with the Wolves. Polasek played two years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and is very comfortable on the smaller ice surfaces of North America.
“He’s a good d-man, good with the puck and makes it easy for me.” He says of Polasek.
Playing in the pre-season Young Stars tournament in Penticton and attending his first NHL training camp helped introduce Erixon to pro hockey in Canada. He’s now played eight games in the second best professional league in North America in a major American city.
“I feel more and more comfortable.” He says. “The first game was pretty tough.”

Shooting Stars

Of all the surprise success stories in this young NHL season the Dallas Stars could be considered the unlikeliest.
I know. I know. How could the Stars, not too far removed from cup-contender status be considered a bigger surprise than the Senators in full rebuild or the Baby Oilers?
Consider this: Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk spent the offseason handcuffed by ownership issues in Big D while the two superpowers of the Pacific Division stepped it up in a big way.  San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson added a top-pairing d-man in Brent Burns as well as forward Martin Havlat in separate deals with the Wild.  In Los Angeles Dean Lombardi did the near impossible landing a top line centre; that makes the Kings one of a select few teas to boast a pair of capable first unit centremen.  Nieuwendyk dipped in to the free agent market to land Michael Ryder, Vern Fiddler and Radek Dvorak.
It looked like Dallas had already written off 2011-12 at last year’s trade deadline when they shipped budding power forward James Neal to Pittsburgh for Alex Goligoski.  Goligoski, considered an underrated power play quarterback, didn’t seem like a fair return for a scoring threat of Neal’s caliber and the optix weren’t good.  They were even worse when the Stars felt they had to reach out to former 20-goal D-Man Sheldon Souray who spent last season in the AHL.
Fast forward to present day and the Stars are not only sitting in first place in the Pacific but in the Western Conference, Souray and Goligoski combining for 18 points through 13 games.
Incumbent blueliners Stephane Robidas, Nicklas Grossman and Trevor Daley bring a rugged brand of hockey to the Stars’ D-corps, but despite the new-found defensive depth the Stars are allowing the  most shots against per game.
When Ondrej Pavelec made former second overall draft pick Kari Lehtonen expendable in Atlanta Nieuwendyk scooped the oft injured puck-stop for an overdue prospect and a pick.  Lehtonen did little to shake his reputation for being brittle in his first year in the Lone Star State but then logged 69 starts for the Stars last year and has started 11 of 13 games this season posting a sparkling .936 SV% and losing just one of his starts thus far.
Up front the consensus most underrated player in the league, Loui Eriksson, and Wunderkind Jamie Benn are tied for the team lead in scoring with 15 points. Eriksson and Benn are joined by a host of players previously considered to be good second line forwards: Ribiero, Ryder, Morrow, Dvorak, all of whom are experiencing varying levels of success this seaon. But it’s not the bigger names that are making the difference in Dallas but the depth forwards like Steve Ott, Adam Burrish and Fiddler who are providing great secondary scoring as well as plenty of sandpaper.
The scary thing is that when Morrow, Ribiero and Ryder hit their stride this team could really take off.  Nieuwendyk and Co. are looking like geniuses for trusting the core they had assembled while picking up undervalued talent like Souray, Lehtonen, Goligoski and Ryder.  It’s not quite Money-Puck but the Stars have done an awful lot with an underrated group so far this season and I don’t see them fading out.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Trade thoughts

An NHL GM is always open to ways of improving their team.  A roster may look set or a cap-crunch too restraining for any movement but then a miraculous trade is pulled off.  Last year we saw the return of the player for player trades made by teams who could mutually improve their rosters in the now, like the Colorado/St.Louis swap last season.

So who has what the Canucks need right now in ample supply, and what do we have to offer?

I could see Lou Lamoriello inquiring about either of our goalies and Keith Ballard when the playoffs get out of reach for NJ and he realizes that not even the captain's C is enough to keep Zach Parise in the swamp.

How would that break down?

Ideally the Canucks could rid themselves of two bad contracts in Ballard and Luongo in return for Parise, Johan Hedberg and Anton Volchenkov.  I know, it's a pipe dream, not even Mike Gillis is that good, right?  Well, hold that thought.  Volchenkov for Ballard is a saw-off.  The Canucks could use Volchenkov's shot blocking and physical play and New Jersey desperately need someone on the back end who can carry the puck. Luongo's lengthy deal might actually be a good thing as Jersey might actually appreciated having a player commited long term, and Lou might waive his NTC to go to a team that's not too far from playoff contention and situated in the Eastern time zone.  Hedberg needs to be moved to offset the crease shuffling on both sides, and his professionalism and work ethic would be nice for Cory Schneider to work with.  Martin Brodeur is a UFA next season and is looking like he may have held on too long.  They have to be looking for a succession plan in net in NJ.

Parise and Volchenkov for Ballard and Lou might sound lopsided to Canuck fans but consider that there's a risk Parise walks at season's end as a UFA, and if you think you're disappointed in Ballard's performance check the NJ message boards for their thoughts on Volchenkov.

Lamoriello's hands might be tied right now because of Jersey's financial issues but this looks like one of a couple places Gillis might be able to offload Luongo and there's no way both Canuck goalies can stay past this season.

Booth and the Twins?

Alex Burrows looked great on a line with Chris Higgins and Ryan Kesler in last night's loss in St.Louis.  It was a real kick in the teeth for Canucks fans to finally see some chemistry forming on a line that doesn't feature a Sedin only to have it taken away when Burrows left the game with back spasms resulting from a collision with Blues' power forward Chris Stewart.  After the innitial sting of losing a heart and soul player like Burr wore off I realized this might be a blessing in disguise.  Jannik Hansen didn't perform well in Burrows usual spot on the wing with the twins.  The lineup shuffle had demoted David Booth to third line duty, but with Hansen continuing to underperform AV might be forced to play the 4.25 million dollar man on the top line with the Twins in Sunday's grudge-match with the Hawks and it might just be the fit they've been looking for.

Booth has 20 hits this year, good for fourth amongst Canucks forwards.  His speed and forecheck bare a resemblence to Burr's, and he is expected to play top-six minutes.  It isn't ever going to work out with Ryan Kesler on the second line, and when Burr is back and healthy he should experience continued success with Kess and Higgins.  Without Burr getting injured it's questionable whether AV would have ever played Booth with the twins but now is his chance, he's got nothing to lose and no better option.

Booth's offensive statistics since joining the Canucks aren't great.  He has no goals and is a minus-3 in six games.  He's well aware of the pressures that come with playing in a Canadian hockey market, so much so that he even engaged in fist-to-cuffs with veteran tough guy Scott Nichol last night, respectably scoring the take down.  It's in the Canucks best interests to find him some chemistry and fast before his grace period with the rabid Canuck fanbase is up.  The tolerance of Canuck supporters for high priced talent eating up valuable cap space and not fitting in with the team make-up is all but worn thin after the Keith Ballard acquisition.  It's time the Canucks invested some money in a good fit and Booth has the potential to rejoin the 30 goal ranks if they can find a place to play him.  He isn't going to live up to the price tag fighting fourth liners and playing third line minutes.

The Metamorphosis


"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature."
-The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

After an uneasy offseason the Canucks have awoke (or not) to find themselves transformed into a gigantic Rocky 6-like disappointment.  What has changed?  Slow starts aside this team doesn't even look like a shadow of its old self.  The team, its fans and management, all seemed to think the losses of Raffi Torres and Christian Ehrhoff wouldn't affect the on-ice performance, after all they had Chris Tanev, now in the AHL and injured, and Cody Hodg-slug to replace them.  The only problem is Ehrhoff was the lynch-pin of the Canucks greatest asset, their powerplay, and Tico set the pace physically.

I feel the Canucks are at a crossroads: Do they try to recreate last year's team identity with new parts or do they carve out a new one?

Unfortunately for AV and Co. I don't feel today's league with its parity and loser-points allows for a team to work its way through an identity change at this stage of the season, that's what the pre-season is for.  I truly feel the coaching staff and management need to reflect on what made the Canucks a dominant force last season and recreate it with new personnel.

So what made the Canucks so good last season that is missing now?

1 - Energy Line: The Sutter brothers introduced us to the idea of an "Energy Line", usually the third unit, which featured speed and physicality.  Traditionally the Energy Line plays a chip-n-chase style forcing opposition d-men to retrieve pucks tactically placed in the corners as offensive wingers strike with speed.  The biggest benefit was not felt by this line but by others who capitalized on the mistakes the opposition make in their own end knowing they need to rush the play to avoid a crushing hit.  How do they address this?  Promote Aaron Volpatti (the new Raffi Torres?) and Max Lapierre to third line duty. They are one-two in hitting amongst Canuck forwards.  Give diminutive Andrew Ebbet a look on this line.  His play-making ability will maintain a level of scoring threat on a line that will play about 15 minutes a game.

2 - Mobility on D:  The Canucks d-corps were lauded in last year's playoffs for stymying the opposition forecheck by moving pucks quickly out of their own zone.  Keith Ballard was relegated to the press box despite the expectations that his pay scale and the package of prospects given up to acquire him suggested.  For the team to play their best they need to play the best options, and right now that doesn't include Kevin Bieksa.  If this team is to recapture the magic of last season then they need that level of puck movement that is sorely missing with the departure of Christian Ehrhoff.  Lucky for them they have great pro scouting and acquired Alex Sulzer in the offseason.  He might be the best passer on the backend and he was the only Canuck d-man to finish with a plus rating last night despite playing just 15 minutes.  The team can't afford to let Bieksa work through this rough patch playing 20+ minutes, he's too much of a liability right now.  Bump Kevin back to third pairing with whomever they settle on back there. Sulzer can pair with Hamhuis while Bieksa rebounds, the spot beside Alex Edler vacated by injured Sami Salo can be filled temporarily by Keith Ballard, not that he has earned it.

3 - Great Goaltending:  The Canucks duo of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider won the Jennings trophy for lowest GAA last season.  Lou was a Vezina candidate and Schneider a blossoming rookie.  This year the tables are turned.  Lou isn't getting it done and Schneider is looking like the better goalie.  Like Bieksa, Lou can't be afforded the luxury of working through this slow start.  Cory Schneider needs to continue to get more starts.

Last year the secondary scoring took a big hit.  Mason Raymond had an off year and Mikael Samuelson failed to reach the 20 goal mark.  Raymond is out with injury and Samuelson was part of the trade that brough in David Booth, this leaves Cody Hodgson to find a place on the second line, but when Burr and Raymond are healthy again there won't be room for him in the top six and he needs to be playing meaningful minutes, if not in the NHL then in Chicago with the Wolves.  He can't be expected to develop in to a top six player bouncing around positions and lines with the Canucks.

If the Canucks don't learn from the past they won't get a chance to repeat it.  The Northwest is a lot tougher than most hockey pundits felt it would be and the Nux don't have the flexibility to play .500 hockey through November.  If I were AV my line-up card for Sunday's game in Chicago would be as follows:

Sedin       Sedin        Booth
Higgins    Kesler       Hodgson
Volpatti   Lapierre     Ebbett
Weise      Malhotra    Hansen

Hamhuis      Sulzer
Edler           Ballard
Bieksa         Alberts



Friday, November 4, 2011

Who you callin' Back-Up?

Never has the plight of the "back-up" goalie been more apparent than in Vancouver this season.  Roberto Luongo, the former Captain, is one year in to a retirement contract while up-and-comer Cory Schneider is in the final year of his RFA deal.  Despite the contradiction in contract status it's Schneider who is playing a better game right now sporting a respectable .917 SV% vs. Luongo's .883.

Even if the lines between the starter and "back-up" are blurred by performance I don't think it's fair to label one goalie the #1 and the other a "back-up".

In baseball a five man starting rotation may have an Ace, but that doesn't make the other four back-up pitchers.  Just like the Ace of a pitching rotation doesn't start every game neither does the starting goaltender. 

So what is Roberto Luongo when he doesn't start?  He's been tabbed the starting goalie but he's barely taken half the starts so far this season.  I don't see why you have to hang a label on either of the goalies.  The guy between the pipes at the beginning of a given game is the starting goalie regardless of his paycheque or stats.

I'd like to see the label back-up removed from the hockey vernacular entirely.  If we can rid the game of terms such as "New NHL" and "Monster" then we can certainly help achieve equality for goaltenders.

1-on-1 with NHL Ref Kelly Sutherland

*******Catch the interview HERE:***************

Kelly Sutherland’s NHL dream started at a young age, following his father Stan to rinks around the lower mainland as the elder Sutherland officiated minor hockey games. At 18 Kelly traded his gloves and stick for whistles and stripes and never looked back.

As a rookie referee Kelly was thrust in to the heat of an age old BCHL rivalry. It was truly baptism by fire as he became the ringmaster of a late season affair in Chilliwack between the Chiefs, coached by former NHLer Eddie Beers and his hometown team the Merritt Centennials.
“It just happened to be I was this young guy showing up and it was late in the year and there were no other referees.” Sutherland sets the stage for the story of his BCHL debut. “They were expecting some real problems that night because those teams had been in a few serious brawls. When I showed up everyone was wondering, ‘Who’s this new guy?’  I remember one of the linesmen telling them ‘Oh no he’s some guy from the OHL they brought in because they’re expecting real problems.’” You can still hear the relief in his voice when he concludes, “That game went on without a hitch, I don’t even think we had a fight.”
“That was actually my favourite building to work. Even to this day there are very few arenas that I remember ever coming up through in the minors or anything that have that character, and it was just a great environment. It was real intimidating to go in there, the fans were crazy, just a real fun enjoyable place to work.  If you couldn’t get up for a game there you had some real problems.”
“When you had them on your assignments that was one where you were really looking forward to it.”
Kelly split time in his first season between the BCHL and WHL and quite quickly ended up joining the pro ranks coming up through the AHL and now defunct IHL.
“There were times we were doing 20 games a month.” Says Kelly of life in the minors.
Kelly’s time on the greyhounds of the semi-pro circuit wasn’t long, he was first invited to NHL training camp at just 24, and in 1999 he found himself officiating the World Junior Championship in Sweden.
“We had an experience in Surrey with the bigger ice.  I was prepared when I went over there.” Kelly says of his international experience. “On the bigger ice surface there’s a lot less contact.”
Soon after calling the WJC Kelly got the call to the show. In 2000 he earned a full time contract with the NHL. As was the case in junior his NHL debut was both spur of the moment and memorable being forced in to relief action in a game in Buffalo after linesman Scott Driscoll was injured. As Kelly was about to step on to the ice to lines for the first time in years on the biggest stage in the world a fan mistook him for veteran NHL official Kerry Fraser and screamed at him, “Fraser, you suck!”
Kelly has now been officiating in the NHL for over a decade. He was recently voted by NHL players to be the best in the business. Head of Officiating Terry Gregson is also in his corner as Kelly has been chosen to work each of the last two Stanley Cup Finals.
“There’s really nothing like the playoffs.  It’s just a great adrenaline rush.” Kelly exclaims. “The pressure is obviously higher.  That’s kind of what drives you, the high pressure, and being involved in the big game.”
“Most nights you’re the only game on so everybody in the hockey world is watching you and that pressure is really what drives me.”
Kelly reflects fondly on his days in the BCHL watching stars like Paul Kariya hone their skills all the while he too was learning his craft.
“As you moved up to the pros and to the NHL those are still some of the toughest games; it was tough but that’s what you wanted to learn, that’s what you wanted to experience as you moved up in your career.”
“It’d go crazy in a flash on you. That’s probably my fondest memories of the league.”
“Junior hockey is such a great training ground. Any night anything could happen”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I love it when a plan comes together

Sports talk with NHL ref Kelly Sutherland, Lions' Lineman Jesse Newman and our Nux analyst B-Dub of Q101 -

The other day Tony Gallagher of the Province was addressing the issue of 'new blood' on the Canucks. He argued the team needed to start integrating some of the young talent in the AHL to the big club while the core veterans were still there to help bring them up. He also voiced an opinion that the fans wanted to see the fruits of the farm system in action. 

I didn't know how to feel. I truly believe the game is changing faster than we realize. More and more teams are rounding out their rosters with young talent. We're already seeing veteran players tossed on the scrap heap when they would typically be considered decent second options in the free agent market. Along with being younger, cheaper options the kids coming up are also better options. I don't think the adjustment is what it used to be when there was a much stronger physical aspect to breaking in to the NHL. I typically would agree with him but after a day or two of thought I realized that there is clearly a plan in place.

The Canucks have done well to stockpile young defense prospects, a la Nashville Predators. It's crowded on the blue line with the big club and we've seen young NHL ready players like Chris Tanev sent to the minors because their contracts allow them to avoid the dangers of the waiver wire, while guys like Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome would have to clear before being reassigned. The team may well feel that Tanev and Yann Sauve are better options than the veteran bottom-pairing players but just can't afford to lose them for nothing and can't risk shipping out veteran defense with the team's penchant for injuries.

The answer became clear when you look at the structure of the Nux contracts. Sami Salo and Aaron Rome are UFA's next year and Andrew Alberts the year after that. Alexander Sulzer is a UFA next year too but he ain't going nowhere so if you realized his omission in the previous sentence this is why. I kind of see Sulzer emerging as the new Aaron Rome; a veteran guy that realizes he might have to take the odd night off as the team breaks in the colts. As it stands Sebastian Erixon and Adam Polasek get to have a full year in the AHL to aclimatize to life in pro hockey and are probably two years away still. Tanev, Sauve and Connauton are going to be fighting for the two spots made available by Salo and Rome.

Next year the D should look like:

Hamhuis    Bieksa
Edler         Connauton
Tanev       Ballard
Sulzer       Sauve

That's still a pretty crowded house.  The way Keith Ballard is playing I wouldn't be surprised to see him moved or exiled to the AHL himself so that younger players aren't stuck in the press box too much. I'm not even considering a Shea Weber trade - I don't see it happening.

The system of succession is in place and I'm happy with the pace and the personnel.  The Canucks have quietly drafted or signed a few very solid young d-men. Sure, I'm tempted to want to see what the kids can do in the NHL but for now they make a good insurance policy, if and when the injury bug hits.

***** You may as well enrich your sports knowledge and your overall well being by clicking the link and checking out this week's installment of the Josh Statham Radio Program *****