Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pre-Season not too long

It seems the vocal majority feels the NHL preseason is too long and the ticket prices are too high.  While I won't touch on the latter I do not see how anything less than eight games is fair, especially in the case of the Canucks.

Last night marked the preseason debut of the Twins, Dan Hamhuis, Lou and Mikael Samuelson.  Does this mean the past five games without them have been useless?  If the team didn't have eight (or more) preseason games then when would we get to see what we've got in our group of budding young prospects?  Without extra games to put the young guns through the paces there would be no system of evaluation.  If there were say four preseason games there would  be little to no room for rookies as vets would need to skate in all of them.

I think real fans are excited to follow the story lines that emerge through the offseason and training camp.  A true Canuck fan would be eagerly following the battle for available fourth line positions.  They would be as excited as a kid on Christmas to see if management managed to land a gem in the late first rounds in Nicklas Jensen.  They would be giddy with anticipation to see if Cody Hodgson can play up to expectation.  They would already be questioning Roberto Luongo.

Maybe I'm an anomaly but if the NHL expanded the preseason I wouldn't be too disappointed.  As it sits I hope they don't shorten it, I like what I've seen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Regulars looking ready

Salo with a big blast from the point.  Steady play from Hamhuis as always, infact, he looks a little faster (is that just me?).  Great pressure from the twins and burr with a surprising jump up or two by Andrew Alberts; the regulars look ready and the kids look alright.
I liked Hodgson and Sturm getting a chance late in the game on the Power Play.  With injuries we need to see what CoHo can do. Once we got the two man advantage after that it was nice to see CoHo back out and Samuelson looked very good dishing the puck.  Mikael is going to be a very big part of our early success.

Aaron Rome will be missed.  I was really happy with his play down the stretch last year but I'm really looking forward to seeing Tanev and Sauve stepping up in his absence.  Yet again I'm left wondering how much more depth can we have on the back end????  scary.
And then there's Luongo.  Will somebody please get him a longer stick?   How many times do we have to see pucks roll between his pads as his stick flips up?

No doubt we'll be slow out of the gates with Lou's notorious early season struggles and two-thirds of our second line out, but I'm really excited to see the kids and new additions.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Co-Ho Saga

Am I the only person who thinks Cody Hodgson needs to have two hands on the stick more often?  Perhaps then he would convert those open net tap-ins.

Anyhow, props to CoHo for crashing the net hard to pop in a goal last night.  And he showed the skill that got him drafted 10th overall in a stacked draft class when he feathered a puck in to the slot on the powerplay. 

He still looks slow...too slow to be an NHL centre.  I would really like to see the Canucks give him this whole season in the AHL to grow and develop.  It worked wonders for the likes of Ryan Kesler, Jason Spezza, etc...

I'm pleased to see the skill set is there, but with all the unfortunate setbacks CoHo has had he really needs full healthy year of pro hockey to grow those talents.  Besides, he's not performing like the best prospect even and with the lack of games for vets and the number of injured returning players it seems more beneficial to the team to keep a few veteran guys around to start the year.

Jordan Schroeder looks like a terrier.  His dogged pursuit of pucks was definitely noticed.

Hopefully Steve Pinizzotto can bounce back from this inury quickly and work with Schroder and Hodgson on a top unit with AHL Chicago.  His power move early in the game drew a powerplay.  That kind of effort will lead to goals and wins for the canucks if our PP performs as it did last year.

In my opinion Pinizzotto has looked great, perhaps even good enough to bump Vic Oreskovich from the highly contested fourth line winger job. Since he's hurt I'd say Mike Duco has probably earned the spot.  He looks awesome, and so does Lapierre.

Nolan looked slow but made a few cagey plays...that oughta keep him around a while, unless the groin is as bad as it seems.

I'm really excited by what I see in our system.  Not a lot of absolute top-tier offensive talent amongst the forwards but a lot of blossoming responsible depth players.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gillis Talking out of Both Sides of his Mouth

Don't let the title fool you, I both support and admire Mike Gillis' ability to be contradictory.  In my opinion he has pride and knows how to politic with the best and those are both necessary in the world of the NHL GM.

We all recall Gillis stating he wouldn't change his team based on the series with Boston.  We've all seen the list of offensively capable tough guys brought in this season. He's at it again!

One of the Boston Bruins' strengths was the gritt and offensive capability of their fourth line.  One of the Canucks' greatest weaknesses was the revolving door of a fourth line that never had an identity or specific use.

Last year Shawn Thornton may have been the catalyst to launch the Bruins to a cup win after falling back 0-2 in the finals.  He had 20 points in 79 games as a fourth liner to go with 122 PIMs.  Centering that fourth line was Gregory Campbell (who arguably had an even bigger impact for other off-ice reasons we won't get in to), a Florida Panthers cast-off who had an impressive 29 points in 80 games for the B's last year and 93 PIMs.  This duo dominated the Canucks and allowed B's coach Claude Julien to roll four lines, keeping his troops fresh as the injurty depleted Canucks withered.

With the addition/invite of Mike Duco (like Campbell another Panther cast-off), Steve Pinizzotto picked up from Washingson, Matt Clackson more of a pure thug and grizzly vet Owen Nolan on a non-roster invite it's obvious Mike Gillis hopes to attain the same from his own line.

Duco was a four time 20 goal scorer in major junior and reached the plateau in the AHL last season to go along with 126 PIMs. Steve Pinizzotto is coming off back-to-back 40+ point seasons in Hershey and can more than handle himself.  Add incumbent Victor Oreskovich to the mix and it's obvious that fourth line grit and conistency have been tabbed as a must-have this season.

It seems Oreskovich is penciled in to a fourth line wing position.  His strength and speed will be a huge asset on any fourth line.  It looks like Duco and Pinnizotto may be destined to platoon the other side with Max Lapiere in the middle.

Will this be enough to win one more game this seaosn? 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tony Gallagher's collumn on Cody Hodgson

I sure hope the idea is to let Cody Hodgson get a couple games in before giving him a shot with potential second line pairings rather than the painful and probable truth that Mr. Gallagher highlighted in his collumn today.

That is Cody Hodgson skating with a couple of fourth line hopefuls, on the road no less, rather than with legitimate top-six players.

I will say he looks more like a winger than a centre.  His hockey IQ is apparently top notch, but who would know at this level given the lack of opportunity to show it.  He was obviously smart enough in junior hockey to be lauded with the highest praises and be tabbed as a top ten pick in a deep 2008 draft.

The Canucks' group of forwards is so depleted by injury half of their starting centres won't make the season opener and Hodgson is sent out of the gate with Mike Duco and Vic Oreskovich?  Really?

Tony makes a good point when he questions GM Mike Gillis' tollerence of head coach Alain Vigneault's treatment of the prior's first ever draft pick.

Check out the list of players that are already or appear to be headed to various levels of NHL stardom, not just adequicy, stardom.  That list includes: Tyler Myers 12 already a rookie of the year, Colten Teubert 13 who is built like a brick shit house, Zach Boychuck 14, Erik Karlsson 15 and very much the puck moving D-man the nux covet, Joe Colborne and Jake Gardiner stalwarts of the Leafs group of solid prospects at 16 and 17, Luca Sbisa a very solid NHL d-man and Olympian, Michael Del Zotto at 20 and already two years in the big league, don't forget about the next Paul Henderson Jordan Eberle at 22, (excuse me while I vomit), Mattias Tedenby, Tyler Ennis, John Carlsson, Luke Adam, and so on and so on.

If Cody Hodgson was taken ahead of all that and more then he had (HAD HAD HAD) to have been worth it, so, what is going on?

I'm holding out hope this kid is given a chance, otherwise you may as well trade him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

man of two minds

I'm torn.

I'd love to see the Canucks bring in a local kid with a ton of potential.

I'd hate to see the Canucks waste assets on a kid with unrealistic expectations only to eventually lose him.

I'd like to see the Canucks add some youth to their top six.

I'd like to see that youth have proven themselves a little more.

Yes, Kye Turris could very well become the player he was supposed to be in the top six with the Nux high powered offense. I agree he played a limited roll on a defensive team in Phoenix and it probably didn't help, however, he really hasn't lived up to expectations.

With the immenant trading of Kyle Turris out of Phoenix it seems likely that rumors of Vancouver's interest may be valid, but, is there room? Are Turris' current contract negotiations just a ploy to get him out of the desert?

Time will tell

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Mancari Case

Mark Mancari has been among the top scorers of the AHL for half a decade.  He's a budding powerforward at 6'4", drafted in the seventh round by the Sabres in 2004 and just now left the organization via free agency for a shot with last year's cup runner up. So how does AHL supremacy translate to NHL performance?

In a crowded Canucks camp it's easy to think Mancari is forecasted to be an insurance policy and be on his way for another stellar AHL campaign.

If it's gritt the Canucks are looking for with him then he might just come out on the losing end of the last few roster spots which will be contested by the likes of tough guys Steve Pinnizoto, Mike Duco, Byron Bitz and Steve Begin.  Despite his size he's not considered a gritty player never once hitting the 100 PIM mark in a season at any level. Last season he had 8 points in 20 games being used sparingly by the Sabres, but only has 35 games under his belt in the big leagues already 26 years old. So what is he doing here in Vancouver?

I would have to say it's his points totals in last year's call-up that caught the Canucks scouting staff and not his frame.  There's a chance he may be battling Hodgson and Hansen for top six minutes while Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond rehab from injuries at the season's start.

Here's some stats on former AHL studs turned solid NHLers in recent memory and some eerie similarities.

David Desharnais: Scored 78 points in 2009-10 in the AHL then went on to record an impressive 22 in 43 games with offensively starved Montreal last season.

Tyler Ennis: His 65 points in 69 games in the AHL in 2009-10 led to an impactful 49 in 82 with the big club last season.

Mike Santorelli: Lit it up in the AHL with Milwuakee in 2009-10, like Mancari changed teams after a solid semi-pro season for an opportunity with Florida where he was among the 20 goal ranks in 2010-11.

PA Parenteau: Sported over a point per game average in the AHL in 2008-09, put up a respectable 8 points in 22 games with the Rangers the next season, then crossed the bridge to Long Island where he scorched the Atlantic conference with 53 points in 81 games and secured an NHL paydady with a multi year contract.

Artem Anisimov: This guy may have made the afformentioned Parenteau expendable at MSG playing each and every game for the Rangers over the past two seasons following a PPG campaign in the AHL. He has 64 points in 162 career NHL games and a nice Iron Man streak going.

Tim Brent: Was ripping up the AHL in 2009-10 when injuries cut his season short.  He came back and earned a roster spot with the Leafs boasting an impressive 20 points in 79 games last season and playing in all situations. He took the money and left for Carolina where he'll be given a chance to play alongside some of the games best up and coming young guns.

Then you have the Pittsburgh FOUR -

Dustin Jeffrey: 71 points in 77 AHL games in 2009-10, had 12 points in 25 games in a late season callup before an ACL injury cut his season short.  He'll be in the mix filling in for Sid the Kid to start this season.

Brett Sterling: Recorded 5 points in 7 games in a late year callup with Pitt and found a home in St. Louis this offseason after a PPG in the AHL last year.

Mark Letestu: Refined his game in the AHL from 2007 to 2010 recording 112 points over the past to seasons in the second best pro league in North America, then stepped up in a big way for the Pens last year tallying 27 points in 64 games in under centre replacing Sid, Malkin and Staal.

Chris Conner: Amassed 16 points in 60 games with injury ravished Pitt last season after 56 points in 59 games the season before in the AHL.  He's the best example of Mancari's big chance with Vancouver as Conner left Pittsburgh for Detroit this offseason.  Is there a team better known for it's under the radar pick ups than the Red Wings?  The only one close of late would have to be the Nux who have resurected the careers of Mikael Samuelson, Raffi Torres, Chris Higgins and Aaron Rome to name a few.

Strangely enough many of these guys have been late round picks who had very good junior numbers.  They've all worked hard to get in to the show and added time in the minors has paid major dividends for the parent clubs.  If there was a forward group more crowded than Buffalo's it's Vancouver, and I don't think Mancari would leave not knowing that he has a shot to be an impact player on a cup contender. Besides, Torres departure is an all too obvious opening for Mancari to be penciled in for a cheaper cap hit.

Offensive Options

Canucks VP Hockey Operations Laurence Gillman has tweeted both Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond are recovering from their respective injuries ahead of schedule.  Injuries aside these two and mikael samuelson are going to be relied upon to improve our secondary scoring, which was a no-show in the playoffs and below par in the regular season despite the teams impressive offensive and special units play. 

I'd like to say I believe Samuelson can score 30 again and Raymond will improve on the 25 he got two seasons ago rather than continue to take steps backwards. The reality is both are coming off serious injuries and it is unlikely they will, and for the team chemistry and success they really shouldn't be expected to, although it would be a nice bonus.

Once healthy these two will bump Marco Sturm and Chris Higgins back to third line duty.  Last year's third line was arguably the strength of the team.  Janik Hansen's ability to play up and down the forward lines and bring his best effort every night were an intangible blessing.  Manny Malhotra's stellar two way play and faceoff prowess are irreplacable, and a big contributor to the teams puck possession game. Perhaps the biggest hole to fill will be the physicality Raffi Torres brought.

All three exhibited very specific talents.  Now with a revamped third line of Higgins, Malhotra (hopefully) and Sturm the Canucks almost have a 2A/2B line situation.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the third line outscore the second, as forecasted that is.

The real benefit will be line matching challenges presented by the improved offensive depth. This will probably allow more opportunity for everyone to score as the Canucks drive opposing coaching staffs crazy with the veteran offenisve talent they can dole out shift after shift.  Many are calling the canucks forwards turnover and health a detraction from last years' standing, but when you forecast their forward core when healthy it is much more potent, offensively atleast.

Picture this:

Sedin            Sedin         Burrows
Raymond      Kesler       Samuelson
Higgins         Malhotra    Sturm
Oreskovich  Lapierre     Hansen

The depth upfront is so strong that the spare parts (Hodgson, Schroeder, Ebbet, Mancari, Bitz, Nolan, Duco, Pinnizoto, Fedoruk, Sweatt, Volpati, Rodin, Begin) might actually be considered a better group than some other NHL teams' offensive options.  Seriously, stack the group in brackets up against the forwards for Nashville, Ottawa, Phoenix to name a few.

The improvement offensively is best summized by the fact that Janik Hansen is potentially starting the season on the fourth line.

I can't deny that injuries may lead to a slow start, but this is a blessing in disguise as some of the fringe and depth players will get more opportunity to develop and showcase their skill while some of the veteran leaders heal up.

Hansen could seriously skate on the second line for the first quarter of the season.  Watching his progression it is totally feasible that he not relinquish that role just because Samuleson or Raymond return.  He has to be at the top of the list of forwards with the potential to surprise this season.  Joining him would be Manny Malhotra who's assist numbers should jump with more offensively gifted wingers. Of course Alex Burrows starting the year healthy means he should regain 30 goal form (even though he was on 30 goal pace in his injury stunted 2010-11 campaign).  A healthy Marco Sturm will be a great option on the second PP unit which was surprisingly weak considering the Nux finished the year on top of PP officiancy. Lapierre and Oreskovich even could benefit with some extra time in the formative parts of the Nux 2011-12 season. Heck, if they finally convert Hodgson to the winger he should be at the NHL level then he could be in the Calder trophy discussion.

Of course the big detractor for the Nux offensively might not be a forward at all but infact the loss of Christian Ehrhoff on the back end and first PP unit.  As of yet there isn't really a replacement for him but Alex Edler should be able to step up and fill the void.  I would love to see Kevin Connauton get a chance to see if he can fill that void.

Arguably, yes, every one of the Nux' forward corps could have a better year than last, even points leader Daniel Sedin, and that's a scary thought for opponents.

Anyone who thinks the Canucks window of opportunity to win is narrowed by the injuries that beset them is plain wrong.  The way I see it it has actually only begun to open.