Monday, January 30, 2012

Your Guide to the Canucks at the 2012 Trade Deadline

With just under a month to go before the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline things are starting to heat up.  The Blackhawks, long rumored to be searching for a depth d-man, ended up trading prospect blue-liner Brian Connelly to the Flames for some veteran help up the middle in the form of Brendan Morrison. This is a smart move by Hawks' GM Stan Bowman, as the market is expected to be high, and rising.  Expect serious buyer's to be making their major moves in the next week or two and avoid the rush. 

We're hearing that this year's big Oiler sell-off, Ales Hemsky, could get even more return than last year's Dustin Penner for Colten Teubert ++, so, what do the Canucks need and what are we hearing?

The Perry for Schneider, Raymond and Ballard murmurings are insane.  The Ducks still have Jonas Hiller under contract, and not even that pathetic excuse for a blueline needs an injection of Keith Ballard.  Raymond is an RFA at year's end.  How does that add up to the ransom for last year's Richard Trophy winner?  Even crazier are the rumors that the Canucks have interest in Jeff Carter. Puh-lease.  We don't need a centre, and even if he made the transition to wing, he's still signed for longer than Luongo, and those are contracts Mike Gillis is a big fan of.

The Canucks could use an upgrade over Mason Raymond on the third line, another option with some jam on the fourth if Byron Bitz isn't available or up to speed, and, maybe even a d-man.  This team is built to be a line-matching nightmare, which will be important as they are virtually guaranteed home ice for a round or two with the watered-down North West crown a sure thing.  And, if Lou should falter again they'll need Cory Schneider, so, that means that the Canucks need to make roster changes without sacrificing Hodgson, Hansen or Schneider.  Adding a Carter or Perry, or any other big-time top six forward would take this team and transform it in to a Brian Burke-style Top Six/Bottom Six team, and I'm not sure that identity change is in the cards for this group.  With that in mind here's a list of Seller's and their merchandise.

Carolina: Last in the East at 18-24-9, they are just a good run of games away from competing for a playoff spot, but it's incredibly unlikely.  Until recently defenseman Tim Gleason was rumored to be coveted by a long list of teams, but he has been extended for four years today.  Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek are UFA's at season's end, and are likely available, but not necessarily an upgrade to any team in the market for depth d-men, and demand is high.  Up front, it's likely Tuomo Ruutu, in the last year of a deal that sees him earn 4.4 mil per season, will be moved.  Another player to watch is Chad Larose.  He's locked up for next year at 1.9 million, and has been through a playoff run or two with the Canes.  Anthony Stewart is also tied up through next year, and is a surprise plus-3 with 12 points this season.  He could be a welcomed big body on the fourth line. Ditto for Andreas Nodl who has underperformed in Carolina this year, but has the experience of a Cup run with the Flyers two season's back.

Buffalo: A shocking disappointment this season, the Sabres are rumored to be wanting more size.  While Zack Kassian is looking NHL ready, it seems apparent the Sabres realize they need to bet bigger and meaner to compete in the tough North East.  They've been rumored to covet Ryan Getzlaf, and I don't see anyone of particular interest to them on the Canucks roster, however, Brad Boyes is a UFA at season's end, and this former 40 goal man has a hefty price tag Buffalo would love to unload down the stretch run.  He could be a cost effective plan-B for Mike Gillis, and acquired for virtually nothing.  Paul Gaustad is a UFA this summer, and would look amazing on the fourth line with Lapierre and Malhotra.

New York Islanders: The Islanders are slowly pulling it together, thanks to the strong play of John Tavares and Matt Moulson.  One name that has been bantied about in trade talk is PA Parenteau, who is a UFA at seasons end, and makes a meager 1.25 million.  The AHL veteran turned top-six guy could be available and would make the third line very dynamic.  The Canucks were rumored to be interested in Josh Bailey last season, but they would more so be looking for an experienced forward with some, in other words, not Bailey.  Frans Nielsen is a UFA come summer, but he's a less expensive version of Janik Hansen, and along with Kyle Okposo, likely part of long term plans on Long Island.

Montreal: The Habs have been rumored to have labelled Hal Gill expendable, and he would be a welcome addition to the third D-pairing, but the asking price for a veteran like Gill might price him out of Vancouver's market.  Travis Moen is a pending UFA, and the gritty winger is on pace for a career high total in goals at the NHL, AHL and major junior level.

Toronto: Schenn is in play, for sure.  I tend to think he'd already be a Flyer if JVRD hadn't gone and gotten himself concussed.  The Leafs are looking for a top-six upgrade, and have an unbelievable stable of young d-men to use to acquire that forward.  Knowing Brian Burke, the Leafs likely also covet size and toughness.  Mikhail Grabovski, a pending UFA, was rumored to be moved, but his recent successful streak just landed him NHL 1st Star of the Week honours, and the Buds will need him for secondary scoring, so he's likely off the table.  However, Nik Kulemin has underachieved, and he might be worth the gamble for Gillis.  Even with his lack of performance this season and experience, he has got to be considered an upgrade on Raymond.  One with astronomical potential.

New Jersey:  The Devils are in the thick of the playoff race, but they are faced with the unenviable task of deciding what to do with disgruntled forward Zack Parise.  The Devils unceremoniously gassed his friend and mentor Jamie Langenbrunner, then, brought in another bonified superstar in Ilya Kovalchuk.  Parise no longer sees himself in New Jersey, a fact that is well known throughout the league, and he is unrestricted at season's end.  They cannot resign him, and even though it could cost them a playoff appearance, they need to get something in return for him.  Parise could net an incredible group of players and prospects in the current trade market.  The Devils top-scoring defenseman is 18-year-old rookie Adam Larsson.  They desperately need a transition game; would they swap bad contracts with the Nux: Ballard for Volchenkov?

Winnipeg: Rumors of a potential move to the top-six d-men in Winnipeg have been carried over from Atlanta.  Bogosian got locked up and is emerging as the top pairing d-man he was billed to be.  Byfuglien is inked long term, but Johnny Oduya is a pending UFA and would be a cheap depth addition to the Canuck's blueline.  It's unlikey that Tobias Enstrom would be available, though, worth a pick, prospect and Mason Raymond if he were available.

Dallas: Nik Grossman has been rumored to be on the block.  The pending UFA is a rugged defender with a friendly cap number, and though Dallas is in tenth and very much a playoff threat, this team needs to do all it can with the assets it does have.  They could use some scoring, would they take Raymond and a pick for him?

Phoenix: Like the Stars, Phoenix is in the tightly contested race for the all-valuable eighth spot in the West, but veterans Shane Doan and Ray Whitney are unrestricted at seasons end, so, should February see them slip in the standings will they cash one in?  Michael Roszival is a pending UFA and might be a good depth D addition.  Ditto for aging Adrian Aucoin.  The Desert Dogs could afford to lose one of these veteran blueliners and stay in the playoff hunt.

Anaheim:  Perry. Getzlaf. Ryan.  Forget it!  Even if available the Canucks will not shake up the nature of the team that extremely, and Anaheim will be buyers come deadline day as they ride this hotstreak through to the end of the year and in to the playoffs!  The Nux were rumored to want George Parros, but that is unlikely.  Last year's top-scoring d-man, Lubomir Visnovksy, has underachieved, even by Anaheim's standards this season, with just 17 points in 45 games.  Cam Fowler has made Visnovsky expendable, and now might be the best time for the Ducks to cash in on him.  With one more year at a friendly cap hit of 3-mil, he could make the second unit powerplay incredibly dangerous.

Edmonton:  Ales Hemsky is this year's Dustin Penner...well, hopefully not for anyone who is hoping he's the missing peice in their top-six.  It's not Hemsky the Canucks may be calling Steve Tambellini about, rather Andy Sutton.  The oft-suspended d-man is a monster; everything Andrew Alberts should be.  His toughness would be a great asset down the stretch, and this pending UFA could fetch a very fair price in this market for d-men.  Could the Canucks get over the past with Ben Eager and see the obvious benefit of having him as an option for game changing shifts any time he gets a chance?

Columbus: Carter is 100% available, and despite rumors that there are no takers for him he could be moved by deadline day.  Scott Howson would be insane to move Rick Nash, and though the power forward is saying the right things in the media when asked the tough questions, he has got to be getting sick of the the Blue Jacket's inneptitude.  Husselius, Prospal, Mackenzie and Pahlsson are all pending UFAs. 

Here's my top-ten list of likely candidates to join the Canucks at deadline day, based on the team make-up and Mike Gillis' track record.

10. Hal Gill - If the asking price isn't too high, his experience and reach would look great on bottom pair
9.  Vinny Prospal - Cup Rings and playmaking ability mean Howson will get a call from MG fosho
8.  Andy Sutton - His mean streak and size are a welcome addition to the back-end. Sayanara Alberts
7.  Paul Gaustad - Dale Wiese has been a great pick up, but lacks the muscle of Gaustad
6.  Brad Boyes - Sniper would fit well with Hansen and Hodgson, worth the gamble.
5.  Anton Volchenkov - Jersey is so desperate for a puck mover they might swap bad contracts for Ballard
4.  Lubomir Visnovksy - One year remaining at a fair price, and now expendable in the OC
3.  Zack Parise - Worth the price as a pure rental; would instantly make Canucks the Cup favourite
2.  Tuomo Ruutu - If Parise doesn't pan out Ruutu is a great option
1.  Travis Moen - If market is as high as it might be for talent, Moen could be the difference and a great bargain, which we all know Mike Gillis loves.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Rumor Chasing during the All Star Break

I would like to be first to point out that Daniel Alfredsson is going to be a stud in Ottawa's front office some day.  He played his cards to their full advantage and assembled, in my opinion, a far superior All Star team.  When you get the past two Art Ross winners in the 9th and 13th rounds respectably, and, take Alex Edler with the last defenseman pick you are a smart cookie.  Ok, obviously Chara wasn't going to take them, so he was able to load up on other talent too while Lupul and Z were forced to take the dregs of the Leafs, Habs and Bruins organization.  Giroux and Stamkos.  The Twins.  This team is built for All Star success.  Might get swept by the Sens in a seven game playoff, but they should avhieve their goal.

If you haven't been living under a rock for the past three months you are well aware of Anaheim GM Terry Murray's SELL SELL SELL comments during this disappointing season.  Don't look now.  The Ducks are on fire, beating some quality teams, and losing only once in regulation in the New Year.  The Ducks are only 12 points out of a playoff spot, with a couple games in hand on the competition: Dallas, Calgary, Phoenix, Colorado and Minnesota, and when you look at that group you can't help but like the Ducks chances.  Murray achieved his goal, lighting a fire under this group, and he brought in the right guy to help, Bruce Boudreau, he had a similiar turn around when we was brought in mid-season by the Caps.

I don't think the Ducks can afford to melt down for a year or two.  They have a solid fan base and they deserve a win-at-all-costs attitude, especially with the recent righting of the Ducks ship.  I don't think anyone is for sale anymore.  Maybe Visnovsky and Hiller.  Visnovksy is easily replaced by Cam Fowler, and Hiller's spotiness, if you could find a taker, isn't really a risk to replace, but the core and the veterans need to be retained, and complimented as the Ducks move from fire-sale to big-time buyers.  If you've been reading Perry to the Canucks, consider this: Where does he fit in?

We've seen AV critique Ryan Kesler for not using his teammates enough already, so, why bring in a premiere goal scorer to play on his wing?  You certainly couldn't use Kesler as part of a package to bring Perry in.  Sure, we've got CoHo waiting in the wings, but this is a team built on depth scoring.  If they're going to add another top six forward, it's going to have to come at the expense of Mason Raymond, Chris Tanev and some draft picks.  The Canucks don't have the depth forwards to sustain losing CoHo to add a Cory Perry to the top-six.  The Nux need to be a team that has three scoring lines, and without that we don't have the supporting cast to convert mid-season to a Top Six/Bottom Six team.  There isn't a team in the league with a third line centre near the offensive capability of Cody Hodgson, and that's only achieved in this small window of time in which he's restricted.

That said, there are also big rumors linking the Preds, Wings, Buds and Blue Jackets to Raymond, who could easily be moved.  Any of those teams has an upgrade over Raymond to flip to us.  The Preds have jumped in to the waiver-market to acquire Brendan Yip from the Avs, this makes any number of their underachieving young forwards available, so, would they give up Jordin Tootoo who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next year?  He would be the physical edge that many feel this team desperately needs.  Patric Hornqvist is a net pressence that will be highly valuable come playoff time, and though he has a pretty high cap number for what he is, the Nux should be able to make it work.

How 'bout the Wings?  They've been rumored to be in on Alex Semin.  He would be the perfect Mo-Town reclamation projects, but are the Caps willing to let him go now that they're in a playoff dog-fight, and if they are, at what price?  Raymond would be a great fit with Helm, Abdelkader and that young fast depth forward corps, or, either of them could be headed west as a physical upgrade on Raymond in Vancouver.  Val Filpula is having a career year, and looks to be part of future plans in Detroit, but Jiri Hudler is a UFA next year, and would be a nice fit on the Nux new HHH-Line: Hansen-Hodgson-Hudler.  Dan Cleary is underachieving, but to take his cap hit off their hands the Wings might send a prospect or pick with him as part of a bigger deal.

To me, the Leafs don't make much sense.  What does Mason Raymond bring that any of their young forward group doesn't already offer.  But it sounds more and more like Mikail Grabovski is going to be available, and he is a UFA at the end of this season.  Given his history in Vancouver it's doubtful he'd end up here, but, Nik Kulemin, who is restricted at the end of this season, has only a 2.2 million cap number and has been a shadow of last year's 30-goal self.  His skill set is undeniable, and he may find chemistry with the Nux young stars. Clarke MacArthur has one more year left at 3.25 million and has underachieved, but a change of scenery could do him good.

The Blue Jackets are probably the least likely of those mentioned to make a move.  Raymond is a restricted free agent after this season, so the Jackets foreseeably would have no trouble resigning him, but his value is less to a team not in the playoff hunt.  The Canucks have been rumored to be interested in disgruntled Jackets' forward Derrick Brassard for a long while now, and he could be a great fit with CoHo and Hansen. Of course veteran Vinny Prospal would be an excellent addition.  One team not mentioned that I could see being on on MayRay is the Dallas Stars, still very much in the playoff hunt and who have been long-rumored to be shopping veteran powerforward Brenden Morrow.  Radek Dvorak and Adam Burrish are both UFAs next year, and could fit in with the Nux bottom 6.

It seems that change is immenent in Vancouver, but are the Canucks willing to gamble on creating a second first line, or will they just look for a better fit on the third line than Mason Raymond?  Time will tell.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kesler/AV and The curious case of Mason Raymond

I almost skirted the entire issue as I was out of town during the AV/Kesler feud, but since I spent so much time in commute listening to sports talk radio I was inundated with opinions on what happened, and so I have finally formulated my own.

First off, as much as many media members defend the way in which AVs comments were repeated to Kesler, both the tone and timing were not appropriate, and it is a classic case of manipulation to get a story.  I understand the team needs to be open with the fan base at large in a market where even the casual fan knows the game, but to constantly beat that drum in order to gain support for the "journalist" that prompted this whole issue isn't fooling the same informed fan-base.  We appreciate the hard work the Vancouver media put in to keeping us abreast of all things Canuck, but if I were a media member I wouldn't be towing the company line on this one, I'd be embarassed of the schoolyard tactics of somebody trying to make a name for themselves.

Kesler could've brushed it off, you could argue he didn't respond correctly, but what do you expect from an intense and emotional player who is not playing up to his own lofty standards, let alone the standards he established amongst the fans and franchise last season.  I don't even buy the idea that AV was lobbed up an easy opportunity to send a message.  Again, people are reading way too much in to it.  He was asked a question, and he gave a legitimate and pedestrian answer, he never called anybody out, and his words were warped by someone who probably lost their laminate. To me the worst part is the supposed rift between the player and the coach that some people are taking from this.

Sure, Kess is in a slump, but the reaction from the media and fanbase as to his play is incredibly unfair.  I don't think last year was a career year. I personally feel Kess will score 40 goals again, and probably take home at least one more Selke Trophy, but coming off major surgery that followed an exhausting playoff run and playing with different linemates every game is not exactly the best situation for success.  Despite all of these challenges his points-per-game is down only .15% from last season, and there is still a lot of hockey left to play.  If this situation has left you concerned about the state of the lockerroom or questioning Ryan Kesler, you need to give your head a shake.

Which leads me to my next point - how does Raymond burst out of the gates after injury, and then slowly reestablish the frustrating waste of ice-time he displayed last year?  It's no wonder why CoHo is finally getting some ice; Higgins is still drained from his infection, Booth is working his way back in to the line up and Raymond is playing his way out of it.  If this team really wanted more toughness they should turf Raymond and keep Duco in the mix; as we've seen before, just having Dale Wiese is not enough. Wiese does a fine job, but he's on his own, and that's not going to cut it down the stretch. If the philosophy of the team was to truly play the best players regardless of salary then Raymond would get the Ballard treatment too.

I have defended Raymond in the past but he isn't bringing enough to the table.  If the Nux don't get an upgrade in the top six to replace him then they should bench him and put Dale Wiese on a second line with Kesler and Higgins.  The trio of Janik Hansen, CoHo and Booth have found some chemistry, and having three lines that can score could be the difference this season.  If they don't promote from within and give Wiese a shot then they need to acquire a Ryan Clowe, Scott Hartnell, Curtis Glencross or to a lesser extent, Travis Moen to bring some gritt to the top-six.

Raymond would be a welcome addition to a lot of other teams top-six forwards.  He has blazing speed, a great shot and is a terrific penalty killer, but the play often dies on his stick, and it's frustrating.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wolf in Sheeps Clothing


It seems like Mark Recchi and his Boston Bruin teammates were the largest proponent of the Hate-on Vancouver movement, but with recent developments is the tide beginning to turn?

Last Saturday's game was yet another very entertaining Canuck affair.  While this team and it's star players might not get the positive attention they deserve, for those in the larger hockey East who pay attention to what's going on on the left coast there's been some very exciting hockey played in the Pacific North West.  Vancouver has a slew of rivalries brewing, like conference rivals Detroit, San Jose and Chicago, but the mother of all grudges is with the boys from Beantown...too bad we only see them once in a blue moon.

Both teams are the class of their respective conferences right now, and it's very possible they'll renue acquaintances in a rematch of last year's cup final, and if Saturday's tilt was any indicator of the lack of love lost between these two sides then it could be even more heated than round one.

Shawn Thornton, considered to be the spark that woke the Bruins up when he entered the series in game three, is among the most effective pugilists in the league, but do not underestimate his ability to be an affective all around player.  He scored double-digits goals and is a very adequate skater, but he's still a goon, and in this instalment of the Nux/Bruins his temper became the Achilles Heal of the Bears, not the catalyst.  He was lured in to a brawl which gave the Canucks powerplay time, cost them their star power-forward Milan Lucic just about three minutes in to the contest, and eventually the game.

In that melee Nux forward Dale Weise had an epic slug-fest with Bruin forward Nathan Horton, and upon leaving the box after a loud tyrade Thornton tried to fight Weise all in the first period.  His reputation as a veteran game changer has to be called in to question for those antics.  Lucic has been a lightning rod for attention all season for his cheap-shot on Vezina calibre goalie Ryan Miller.  Perhaps the most contreversial of the Bruins, Brad Marchand, had been flying below the radar before his submarine hit on Sami Salo, which resulted in a concussion for the oft-injured Finn.  This dragged Bruin coach Claude Julien and GM Peter Chiarelli in to the fray, and their comments were less than flattering.  After being suspended Marchand addressed the media refering to himself as a small player just trying to defend himself against Salo, one of the classiest men in the league, and tried to warp Alain Vigneault's words in to a threat. Lets not forget that former disgraced league disciplinarian Colin Campbell's son Gregory is a Bruin.  Marchand's suspension was appropriate, but there are many who feel the Bruins have been getting off scott-free for their thuggery.

It all seems like the Bruins might just have gone a step too far.  Maybe Recchi should've retired his opinions too.  The attitude, performance and actions of the Bruins are going to turn them from parade-master to public enemy number one.  It doesn't help that Andrew Ebbet and Sami Salo have been added to the long list of players to be severely injured against the Bruins, the sum-total of the punishment for literally bludgeoning their way to the top of the East: This one long past due suspension to Marchand.

If you doubt me, why don't you ask the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens or Calgary Flames what they think of Boston?  These are big, influential markets with a strong distaste for all things Bruin.  Looks like the shoe is on the other foot now. : DO NOT MISS the new PODCAST!  CLICK THE LINK, Foo!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Tough Enough?

The immement clashing of the Bruins and the Canucks in a rematch of last years' seven-game final series has clearly brought back memmories of the bitter feud.  Mark Recchi feels the need to reiterate the fact that he hates the Canucks.  The Bruins have warmed up for this battle by routing two other teams, a la Game 3.  And we are all forced to hear the resonating cry that the Bruins literally bullied their way to the cup win last year.

Blogs, newspapers, the air waves and every media outlet within driving distance of Vancouver is a resounding gong of discontent with the Canucks level of toughness.  Everybody remembers Mike Gillis' defense of the Canucks' structure and style.  We all remember how he claimed he wouldn't tailor the roster to suit a matchup against any other team, and he's a man of his word.  If anything, this year's rendition of the Vancouver Canucks is even softer than last.  Somehow, the hockey-mad market of Vancouver has got it in their minds that they need to become tougher to win the cup, but does that make any sense?

Sure, it worked for the Bruins and Ducks in recent years, but the Wings, Pens and Hawks weren't exactly the second coming of the Broad Street Bullies.  If the Canucks are going to win then they have to play their game, and it's a puck-possession, skill battle, and they've improved their depth of skill.  Janik Hansen is the second leading scorer on the team, no longer just a third line checker.  They've brought in David Booth, who to his credit finishes a lot more checks than most people realize.  Cody Hodgson has matured in to a top six forward, despite his third line (barely) minutes.  The third line, formerly anchored by the defensive-specialist Manny Malhotra, Hansen and the one they called 'Tico', Raffi Torres.  In its place is the patient puck wizard Hodgson, his new found chemistry with the Honey Badger, Janik Hansen, and when Booth is healthy, it's likely he'll round out the trio. 

This has pushed Malhotra back to the fourth line, and Dale Weise, who has been playing up and down the roster will likely join him and Max Lapierre.  Aaron Volpatti stole Victor Orescovich's job on the fourth line, and he's now injured while Orescovich toils in the minors.  The Canucks are far better positioned to get deeper at what they already excel at than to sacrifice offensive depth for the sakeof adding a few plugs.

Besides, the reality is that the Canucks don't need to get tougher to win one more playoff game this year, they just need to be more durable, and with the depth they've added they're definitely on track to do so.