Like all members of Canuck Nation, we here at Critically Canuck have suffered a long time. We will not die happily unless the Stanley Cup makes its way to Stanley Park.
Here you'll get the straight goods on our heroes. With both feet on the bandwagon, we will, however, pull no punches. As long time season ticket holders, that's our prerogative.
Expect analytical insight with a strong sense of history. We'll ask the tough questions. And answer them. Enjoy.
Ask me anythingSubmit
Yesterday, Vancouver Canucks’ President and General Manager addressed the media in his annual post-season delivery. In the wake of a second straight embarrassing playoff exit, he had plenty to answer for. And did so in his typically uncomfortably smug and evasive style.
Unlike seasons’ past, his support of his coaching staff was not explicit - the foregone conclusion being that head coach Alain Vigneault (who was absent from the proceedings) will be replaced in the coming weeks.
Gillis made multiple references to this season being a “messed up” one, negatively impacting his plans in a number of ways. Apparently, the lockout (which was anticipated by everyone) impaired his ability to move Roberto Luongo. Further, the parity induced by a shortened season made for a cluttered trading market with too many buyers and not enough sellers.
These comments, true as they may be, are simply excuses for a job that was not done. Coming from the smug Gillis, this is as close to an admission of guilt as we’ll get.
He spoke of “resetting” the organization as he did when he started here five years ago. The fact is that “resetting” amounted to sticking with the blueprint of the previous regime, retaining the same head coach and core players. The success of the early Gillis years proved it was the right decision, but proving how much credit Gillis should get for it is another matter entirely.
With particular reference to the four game sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, Gillis referenced the notion of “luck”. After all, the Canucks were inches from a Jannik Hansen empty net goal that would have clinched game 2 and were then torpedoed by borderline penalty calls that cost them game 4. These points are duly noted but can’t hide the fact that the team failed to win a single game. Nor was there any qualification of their ride to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final on Kevin Bieksa’s lottery like stanchion assisted game winner.
There was also reference to how the game has changed and how the Canucks must adapt to that change. Gillis spoke of this new emphasis on size and toughness as if it was some scientific revelation that could only now be completely accepted and acted upon. In fact, it’s been the modus operandi for successful playoff teams more often than not for simply generations. And has been as clear as day to anyone specifically following this team since the flame out Stanley Cup loss to Boston two years ago.
As it relates to the self-induced goaltending controversy, there was finally an admission that Roberto Luongo has “likely” played his last game in this market. And optimistically, Gillis declared that there should be more options available this summer for a Luongo exit. We can only infer that Luongo will now desperately accept a trade to anywhere.
In short, the offerings of Gillis were predictable - long on excuses and short on culpability. There was, at least, an acknowledgement that some significant things need to happen. And whether or not the relative success of the Gillis era accrues entirely to him (or previous management regimes), it appears such success will allow him another opportunity to do what needs to be done.
As we begin yet another summer of our discontent, we present our annual player-by-player commentary, an invaluable reference as the post mortem begins:
Alex Edler (signed through 2019) - In scoring the go-ahead goal in game four’s short lived comeback, Edler finally delivered - but it’s not nearly enough to compensate for a brutal playoff showing and another mediocre regular season. For a team that must make changes, Edler should be a prime candidate to be moved in an off-season trade (before a no movement clause kicks in). Or if he stays, might benefit from the confidence of a different coaching staff.
Kevin Bieksa (signed through 2016) - Bieksa is really a microcosm of the entire team - undisciplined at times, oft injured, a fierce competitor when it matters most but physically under sized for the style of game that makes him most effective. Despite his ridiculous soap-box whining between games 3 and 4, arguably the Canuck with the most character and likely to stay put no matter what.
Andrew Alberts (unrestricted free agent) - While his higher paid colleagues on the Canuck blue-line are performing their playoff best purse swinging, you can always count on Alberts to throw his considerable weight around. And in a Western Conference that now places more emphasis on girth than footspeed, his value has increased, but the Canucks will have little to spend this off-season.
Mason Raymond (unrestricted free agent) - Popular misconception is that Raymond has never recovered from the devastating back injury in the Stanley Cup Final 2 seasons ago. Fact is he sucked the entire season before that. While many were impressed by his jump in game 4, it was typical Raymond - flash and dash with little result. As a free agent, he should be gone. If only it had been sooner.
Keith Ballard (signed through 2015) - The finances dictate that he can’t stay here any longer and will be bought out. Despite a ravaged blue line at many points during his three year stay here, he could never get the confidence of coach AV. And now it’s too late. A wasted resource here with blame for the player, coach and general manager. Time to move on, already.
Alex Burrows (signed through 2017) - It’s impossible to question his work ethic. It is easy to question his hands - his conversion rate of chances to goals makes us long for the days of Anson Carter. And no matter what, he can never shake the reputation bestowed upon him costing the Canucks far too many shorthanded situations. Like Edler, he’s a player that could fetch something on the trade market.
Ryan Kesler (signed through 2016) - For the 3rd period of game 2 versus San Jose, it appeared that the vintage Kesler had miraculously resurrected himself. But it didn’t last. As much as he’s often the heart and soul of this team, you sometimes wonder whether he really wants to be here. You’d think playing hockey for a living should be fun.
Roberto Luongo (signed through eternity) - Yes, Luongo was the Canucks’ best player for most of games 1 and 2. Except for the most important parts of the games when he got a little leaky. He will be gone before training camp though with only a bag of pucks in return.
Cory Schneider (signed through 2015) - In the regular season, was the MVP and is seemingly the centrepiece of the organization moving forward. But you have to wonder about the way he finished games 3 and 4 - were there lingering effects of an injury or was he collapsing under the pressure? We’ve another year to find out.
Chris Tanev (restricted free agent) - With the collective poor play of the defense during this playoff run in his absence, his continued growth will be vital next season. He’s due for a raise, like there is room for that.
Maxim Lapierre (unrestricted free agent) - Along with Kesler and Burrows, the player most responsible for the Canucks’ horrid reputation with the NHL officials. Does he provide enough value otherwise to compensate for that?
Jordan Schroeder (restricted free agent) - With Cody Hodgson now long gone, he represents the only Gillis draft pick to see measurable minutes at the NHL level and while he proved serviceable, there was little demonstrated to indicate that he’s capable of a top six forward role. He’s undersized for anything else.
Andrew Ebbett (unrestricted free agent) - It’s hard to imagine that any team with Stanley Cup aspirations would consider having a spot for a player like Ebbett. He’s a real indictment of how far the depth of the Canucks’ forward crew has slipped in recent years. There’s little to choose between him and Schroeder, except the latter’s youth.
Chris Higgins (signed through 2017) - Having bounced around the league before recently securing a long term deal here, it’s hard to imagine that he’s going anywhere. For the most part, he’s the kind of player the Canucks need more of. Here’s hoping that the security of his new contract doesn’t dull his inspiration.
Derek Roy (unrestricted free agent) - Likely to sign a contract elsewhere, becoming perhaps the worst deadline acquisition in Canuck history - and that is saying something. I suppose we should have seen this coming. When a team in dire need of size and grit adds a pint-sized play-maker instead, you get a first round sweep as a result. This move alone should require Mike Gillis to return his 2011 GM of the Year award. At least, Ryan Kesler doesn’t have to pout about playing on the wing any more.
Dan Hamhuis (signed through 2016) - The Canucks’ steadiest defensive defender had a difficult playoff. And we still don’t get why he sees any power play minutes. Despite that, he remains Mike Gillis’ most successful free agent signing. And after 5 years, that is not saying much.
Henrik Sedin (signed through 2014) - We’re at the point now where their continued playoff struggles cannot be defended. For this team to move forward with greater aspirations, they can’t be counted upon as the first line unit. It’s as simple as that.
Daniel Sedin (signed through 2014) - Yes, the boarding call was a joke. But the series was effectively over at that point with the Sedins having failed to deliver prominently in the post-season again. They can and, likely, will stay. But they need replacing as the go-to guys. Where’s that Cody Hodgson?
Zack Kassian (signed through 2014) - The time has passed for the Canucks to pooh or get off the pot as it pertains to the wild child. He clearly has a physical presence and skill set that is worth plenty. And he will clearly turn the puck over and take some boneheaded penalties. But it’s time to let the puppy off the leash. And with Alain Vigneault likely gone, it just might happen.
Tom Sestito (unrestricted free agent) - His size is a bonus, but he’s replaceable. And likely will be.
David Booth (signed through 2015) - His injury troubles have made it difficult to pass judgement on him, but the team has performed worse with him in the line-up. Either way, it’s a lot of money spent on what remains an unknown quantity. Clearly, a candidate for a buyout.
Jannik Hansen (signed through 2014) - Arguably, displays the most consistent work ethic of any player, but didn’t produce offensively at all come playoff time. On an elite team, he’s no more than a third line option.
Dale Weise (unrestricted free agent) - Weise probably has more speed and skill than he gets to demonstrate. And as a fourth line role player, he is undersized. It’s hard to figure where he fits.
Steve Pinizzotto (unrestricted free agent) - For a 28 year old guy that had never played an NHL game before this season, there was considerable buzz. But he failed to make any measurable impact.
Jason Garrison (signed through 2018) - Garrison was about the only pleasant surprise in the abbreviated playoff run. Why he didn’t get more power play time this season is a mystery known only to Coach Vigneault. With the struggles of Alex Edler and the continued injuries to Kevin Bieksa, his role on this team will become more prominent.
Cam Barker (unrestricted free agent) - Expectations were met from this depth defender, low as they were. He will likely not return.
Frank Corrado (signed through 2015) - His insertion into the line-up down the stretch and into the playoffs was a big surprise. The kid delivered in limited minutes and along with Tanev provides some reason for optimism on the blue-line.
Stay tuned as we dissect the eagerly awaited post-season sugar coating from President and General Manager Mike Gillis.
With another early playoff exit in the books, there will be the standard protestations about the coach, the general manager, the Sedins, the referees, leaky clutch goaltending, lack of secondary scoring and persistent sloppy defense. But most of all, with the Canucks crushing defeat to the San Jose Sharks, the signs of cracks in the Canuck leadership core are everywhere.
There seemed to be little respect for the opposition, a Shark team that had finished the regular season as dominantly as they had started it. The San Jose franchise, it seems, has quickly morphed from moribund underachievers to a confident veteran group now buoyed by youthful character and a commitment to sounder defensive play.
As the games of the regular season were counting down, most in Canuck nation were licking their collective chops about a match-up against the Sharks - seemingly an easier draw than the more physical and youthful Los Angeles Kings or St. Louis Blues.
How good the Sharks really are will be proven in the coming weeks, but it seems clear that the Canucks (as evidenced by their poor starts to each and every game against San Jose this series and all season, for that matter) were an ill prepared lot. To a man, this team took their opposition too lightly, an indictment of the Canuck coaching staff to be sure.
As the series progressed, the public commentary from players and coaches alike had the Canucks sounding like petulant pouters (something everyone else in the league already had them pegged for anyway).
So was it any surprise that the day after Canuck defender Kevin Bieksa openly ripped the officiating the Canucks found themselves on the receiving end of questionable calls at the most crucial times?
Make no mistake, the NHL is the most poorly officiated professional sport. And the neanderthalic old boys network that runs the game won’t be seeing the light any time soon. But there are far better ways to get your point across than publicly embarrassing guys that are simply trying to do their job.
It was a bold, desperate, but stupid play by Bieksa, one that was apparently endorsed by the Canuck organization, and one, in the short term anyway, that cost this team the series.
Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered in the end. This team was not prepared enough for what the Sharks were bringing. Nor were they determined and disciplined enough to do anything about it. Their play in the third period last night confirmed all you needed to know. At full desperation, the team finally appeared in full flight, but after nearly four games, it was simply too late.
Coach Alain Vigneault has always been one to defer to his veteran leadership group, which was clearly a mistake this time around. The consistent required urgency in their play was mostly missing. And when things didn’t go their way, the childish complaining commenced.
The loss reflects poorly on the ownership group, who, for the time being at least, don’t have to answer any more questions about exorbitantly priced playoff tickets that aren’t selling.
In the end, it would be a whole lot easier to blame this loss on shoddy goalkeeping, an ineffective penalty kill, a lack of size and grit or an aging veteran core. And while all those may apply, the bigger issue here is one of leadership, one that has arrogantly permeated from the top on down. And one that may not be simply fixed by just a coaching change.
What was once the hottest ticket in town, Vancouver Canuck playoff tickets are very much getting a ho-hum response from the ticket buying public this time around. We can think of a few reasons for this seemingly startling event.
For one, the collective fan-base is possibly drained, both emotionally and financially, from the depths of the playoff run of two seasons ago. Though it’s worth noting that last year’s tickets for the first round loss to Los Angeles sold just as briskly as usual.
It is easy to complain about the high ticket prices as the reason for the slumping sales. As an example, lower bowl seats cost a season ticket holder $125 per game per seat in the regular season. By the first round of the playoffs, the cost for the same seat rises to $168 for the first round and then relentlessly more each round, when in the event of a Stanley Cup Final, that same ticket will have tripled in cost. And what’s worse, those are the discounted season ticket holder prices. The same tickets sold to the casual fan are easily another 30% more.
In the end, these prices aren’t materially different from what was being charged two seasons ago. But in the light of a lengthy lockout, there should have been some give back on the ticket prices - instead there was further though nominal ticket price increases.
But the biggest component to the sagging sales is undoubtedly the play of the team. Yes, the Canucks have won another division title. And yes, they are certainly considered a competitive playoff team, if not a Stanley Cup contender. But since the regular season meeting with the Bruins in Boston last January, you can count the number of impressive 60 minute efforts on one hand; notably, this season, home ice victories over Chicago and Los Angeles come to mind. But other than that, the games are typically lacking in entertainment value. This could represent a team in decline or a team that is wisely saving themselves for another playoff run.
The fans, desperate as they are for a winner, are rightfully taking a collective wait-and-see approach with this team. Should the Canucks string together a number of strong playoff outings, the bandwagon will likely begin to fill up again. And if they don’t, the value of the once hottest ticket in town will erode even more…
That, of course, is the question on everyone’s mind these days, casual fan or otherwise. And at no point in Canuck history has there been such a polarized response.
As the defending two-time President’s Trophy winners and near Stanley Cup champ two years ago, this exact team, more or less, has been recently elite and on everyone’s short list to win it all.
But based on the uneven and sometimes injury plagued play of this lockout-shortened campaign (backed only by the superlative play of Cory Schneider), the Canucks, in the eyes of many, are on target for another embarrassing first round exit.
The core personnel from the 2011 team remains intact, improved by the upgrade in goal of Schneider over Roberto Luongo and the pick-up of a legitimate second line playmaker in Derek Roy.
So on that simple basis, this team should have another shot at winning it all. And that is certainly what Canuck management would be selling you.
But you should recall last regular season wasn’t as impressive as advertised. The Canucks were bailed out consistently by their elite goaltending tandem and feasted on poor divisional opponents. The power play, that had ruled the league in 2011, was beginning to show the cracks in a foundation that would crumble completely this season.
And, of course, there was the overriding issue of lack of size and playoff grit up front - an issue that first haunted them in the Cup Final loss to Boston and was a contributing factor in last year’s early playoff exit - and one that remains unaddressed.
Mike Gillis has been quoted as saying that luck is one of the biggest components of playoff success. And he’s right. This particular version of the Canucks has been most susceptible to injury - perhaps an indictment of the Canucks’ declining depth. This team, it seems, will need more than just a little luck to get back to the promised land.
So while the memories of the 2011 near miss are most fresh in our minds, it would be wise to lower our expectations for this team - a team, that on paper, looks a whole lot more like the 2007 Canucks than they do the Stanley Cup finalists of two years past.
That team, buoyed by the other worldly goaltending of Robero Luongo, featured a veteran forward group that struggled to score (thirty-six year old Trevor Linden led the team in playoff scoring) and was bounced in the second round by the eventual Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.
Some things could happen this time around. Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins and Chris Tanev could get healthy and remain so. The Sedins and Ryan Kesler could resurrect their power play magic. Zack Kassian could emerge as a consistent physical, yet disciplined force. And Derek Roy just might provide second line offensive production, as advertised.
But other things will most certainly happen. The Canucks’ overall depth will be tested by the rigors of playoff hockey. The aged forward group will struggle to score, particularly at even strength. The team, as a whole, will get pushed around by bigger younger teams like Los Angeles and St. Louis. Cory Schneider will stand on his head.
You add all that up and a reasonable conclusion is another first round loss, or, if they are a little lucky, an unsuccessful trip to the second round.
After acquiring centre Derek Roy yesterday, Canucks’ Assistant General Manager, Laurence Gilman, was quoted as saying that his team was “fertile” and would be going “all in” at this trade deadline. Specifically, he expected one or two more deals to get done.
One day later, the trade deadline has expired and nothing more has happened. The typical excuses will be forthcoming. “It was a sellers’ market”. “We don’t want to mortgage our future”. “We like our team as is”. “Ryan Kesler is coming back”. “Derek Roy is a versatile player”.
And some or all of them may apply. But we should realize that the words of the Canucks’ upper management have not been in sync with their actions for quite some time.
You will recall last season’s trade deadline. The Canucks, defending Western Conference champs, traded an emerging player, Cody Hodgson, for a player that was, and remains, an enigmatic prospect - Zack Kassian. This was hardly the action of a team that was trying to load up for a Stanley Cup run.
Further, when it became clear that Cory Schneider was an elite NHL goalie, the team opted to keep him and attempt to move Roberto Luongo. Seemingly, another decision that did not fit well with a team that was aiming to win during their window of opportunity. Seemingly, Schneider would be more valuable on the trade front than the aging Luongo and his gaudy salary.
And now, another deadline has passed with the only acquisition being Derek Roy. Roy will be a valuable component on a team that has been without a 2nd and 3rd line centre all season. He is a play-making pivot on a team that is in dire need of such. But it is hard to imagine that he will be enough to elevate the level of play to Stanley Cup contender.
Mike Gillis’ handling of the Luongo matter is fodder for another blog piece. But it appears that Gillis’ arrogance has gotten in the way of getting a deal done.
With one year to trade his prized keeper, Gillis has not been able to pull the trigger, seemingly unaware that a player’s market value is simply represented by whatever the highest bidder is prepared to pay.
You don’t need to look too far to see what other teams have done in similar circumstances. You will recall Chris Pronger’s speedy exit from Edmonton. Or Jaroslav Halak’s quick departure from Montreal when it became clear he and Carey Price similarly couldn’t occupy the same net.
By continuing to defer on the matter, Gillis is speculating enormously and, in the end, doing his franchise a disservice. But the conclusion is pretty elementary.
The Aquilinis, despite claims to the contrary, aren’t really all that concerned about a Stanley Cup win. Ongoing competitive play and a handful of playoff dates year-after-year is fine.
And from a bottom line perspective, it likely is. But the next time you hear someone from the Canuck brass declare that they are “all in”, you must know they are only bluffing.
With the panicky faithful at full froth over the Canucks’ latest struggles and the calls, from some, for the head of coach Alain Vigneault, it’s time to revisit Vigneault’s brushes with coaching death in Vancouver. Although being the most successful coach in Canuck history, the streaky performances of his teams have brought plenty of scrutiny about his coaching future through his seven years here.
A season after winning the Jack Adams NHL Coach of the Year award in his first year in Vancouver (thanks almost entirely to the play of Roberto Luongo), Vigneault faced the firing line for the first time.
His boss, Dave Nonis, had been dismissed after a disappointing 2007-08 campaign where the Vigneault coached squad lost 6 of 7 games to end the season and miss the playoffs. Shortly thereafter, the Mike Gillis era began and Gillis, in a fashion that would become typical of his style in Vancouver, didn’t follow convention and replace Vigneault with his own hire. Instead, after lengthy meetings with Vigneault, Gillis decided that AV was his man.
Two productive regular seasons later, it seemed Gills was vindicated in his decision to retain the previous regime’s head coach. But the Canucks suffered a second consecutive playoff meltdown to Chicago. Both of these playoff losses occurred after blowing early series’ leads, the net result of undisciplined play, questionable defensive posturing and volatile goaltending.
So when the slow start came the following season - a 7-1 loss on home ice to Chicago was part of a late November four game losing streak that left the Canucks with a 10-7-3 record - the trigger happy fans and media (ourselves included) thought it was finally time for a change. After all, Vigneault had been on the job for the fourth longest tenure of any active coach and had failed to get his team past the second round of the playoffs.
But Vigneault’s squad simply caught fire, burning their way to a President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup Finals. Though along the way, the Vigneault bandwagon was almost empty after nearly blowing a 3-0 first round lead against Chicago.
And after last season’s disappointing first round exit, Vigneault was briefly the hot topic once more - his playoff game elimination record had now dipped to a miserable 8 wins and 12 losses. For a few days, the status of both Vigneault and Gillis (who was now looking for a contract renewal) was up in the air. But Gillis got his renewal and Vigneault got to keep his job.
The mostly uninspired play of recent weeks again has Vigneault’s future in this market up for question. Uncharacteristically, we will withhold comment on that for now. But despite his long history of success, at some point, Gillis will be faced with the same decision that every general manager faces - to save himself, he must sacrifice his coach.
It has been over a year and a half since winger David Booth arrived in Vancouver from Florida. At the time, Booth was proclaimed as a budding power forward, one who had already netted 30 goals in a season. At 27 years of age, he was expected to be entering his prime and would be a valuable component of the team’s high octane offense.
So what kind of contribution has Booth brought so far to the Canucks?
Last season, he managed 16 goals (and 13 assists) in 56 games - a reasonable result in light of the games played. At times, he exhibited world class speed and a determination to drive to the net.
But since then, (including 5 post-season games last season), he’s got a paltry two assists in twelve games. And while he has been slowly recovering from injury this season, it’s becoming clear that the Canucks perform just fine with him out of the line-up.
In fact, in his time in Vancouver, he’s suited up for 68 games with the Canucks and missed another 32 due to injury. In those 32 games without Booth, Vancouver dominated the opposition with a winning percentage over .700.
With Booth in the line-up, they’ve been good, too, winning at nearly a .625 clip. But surely not dominating. And for a player that came with such expectations (not to mention price tag - Booth’s annual salary cap hit is $4.25 million), you’d have expected some measurable benefit to having him in the line-up.
But it simply hasn’t happened.
There are some reasons for that. Booth hasn’t seen the top line minutes to which he was accustomed in Florida - exceeding 15 minutes in ice time per night only roughly half the time in Vancouver. And he has battled some injury problems both this season and last.
But the fact that the team has performed better without him tells us that the skill set that Booth brings is redundant on a team that features a good number of fleet footed wingers.
More flatly stated, guys like Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen are better at doing what Booth might be able to do. And they do it for a combined salary that is less than what Booth gets.
Booth shares much in common with Keith Ballard - another ex-Panther who has struggled to meet expectations and carries a burdensome salary.
Between the two players, the Canucks have nearly $8.5 million invested per season. And this season they have a combined two assists to show for it. Neither player seems to have earned the consistent confidence of the coaching staff.
Throwing in the salary of back-up Roberto Luongo, and the Canucks have nearly $14 million of annual salary cap invested in players that aren’t consistently making a difference. With salary cap levels to drop next season, something will have to give.
In effect, Booth has been and will likely continue to be a fringe player on this team and while that might be a compliment to the quality of the team’s depth, it is a luxury that will not last much longer.
Ryan Kesler is hurt. Again. Zack Kassian is back in the doghouse. And, the infinitely spinning goalie carousel does just that.
Kesler, whose performance had faded after an initial promising return from his latest round of injury woes, has broken a bone in his foot. The injury occurred last week in Dallas, explaining the former all-star center’s struggles in the past few games.
What has to be quite disturbing to all is that Kesler has morphed into the injury riddled Sami Salo. It is not like he’s had a chronic problem ailing him the last couple of seasons, instead suffering all manner of seemingly unrelated injuries - hips, wrist, shoulder and now foot.
It is becoming clear that the feisty straw that stirs the drink may never appear in the line-up consistently enough to have the required impact. It is impossible to imagine this Canuck team maintaining any kind of extended success without a healthy Kesler.
Earlier this season, with both Kesler and David Booth out of the line-up, Zack Kassian saw some first line minutes and played well enough to deserve more of them. But instead, he has found himself in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse once again. Things bottomed out last night as the robust winger saw only six minutes of ice time.
Contrast that to Buffalo’s treatment of Cody Hodgson, the player controversially dealt in exchange for Kassian last season. This season, Hodgson has played over 20 minutes most nights and never less than 17 in a single game.
It is really hard to tell exactly what the plan is for Kassian, notably a year younger than the man he will be forever compared to. But he certainly looked comfortable and effective playing top line minutes earlier this season, bringing his unique combination of skill and sandpaper as advertised.
Now he is back to patrolling the fourth line - a lose/lose proposition if there ever was one. Is it any coincidence that the Canucks’ poorest play this season has corresponded with the times when Kassian’s ice-time has been reduced? If there is an upside to the Kesler injury, it would be the chance for Kassian to get more minutes again.
Based on Cory Schneider’s post game comments last night, he is clearly bristling from something. Whether he’s unhappy with his recent inconsistent play or the ongoing melodrama of who’s the number one keeper in this market is not clear. But it’s not an optimal situation obviously.
We’ve been adamant, ever since it appeared that this market couldn’t accommodate both of these elite keepers, that Luongo should be moved sooner rather than later.
We reiterate that 33 year-old netminders don’t appreciate. The Canucks have gambled on this matter, waiting until situations force the hands of other teams into desperate positions. The opposite, unfortunately, is now true.
Chicago seemingly can’t lose with their current goaltending tandem. The Leafs are off to their best start in a decade. The cash strapped Florida Panthers have wisely opted to play their prized prospect between the pipes. And the Oilers are happy to ride Devan Dubnyk, their goalie of the future who is finally delivering consistently.
So where there was once a number of potential suitors for Luongo, it’s hard to find more than one now, the perpetually goaltending challenged Flyers being the only logical destination.
As the injuries mount and the Canucks struggle, the luxury of two elite starting goaltenders is becoming stupidly extravagant. Worse yet, the Canucks may no longer be bargaining from a position of strength.
Further, the commitment to the development of the Canucks’ two cornerstone players of the future, Kassian and Schneider, ought to be consistent. Kassian seems to possess a demeanour and skill set that should be of value each and every night. And Schneider, as the proclaimed number one goalie during the off-season, should get the same chance his predecessor did to get his game on track.
One thing is for sure, should the Canucks continue to struggle in the coming weeks, the pressure on Mike Gillis may finally reach a tipping point, forcing the organizational flip-flopping to end.
While Manny Malhotra’s career seems to have tragically ended, we should be careful not to overstate his on-ice value to this club.
The tragic eye injury that has derailed his career occurred nearly two years ago. In the end, only Malhotra’s first season in Vancouver was a healthy and valuable one.
During that season, the face-off whiz centered the Canucks’ most dependable third line in years and led the top penalty killing unit in the league.
But since the injury, the only real value Malhotra has been able to provide is in the face-off dot. And while his superiority there cannot be denied, it’s relative value can be.
Winning face-offs, particularly short-handed in the defensive zone, is critical. But the relative performance in the dot by a genius like Malhotra (whose career face-off rate in Vancouver has been 61%) versus the next available guy might be ten percentage points, at best.
So in your typical game, Manny might take seven such face-offs. Thus in any one game, he’d win less than one more defensive zone face-off than the next guy. That’s not much to stake your career on. And it’s certainly not worth $2.5 million per year.
Make no mistake, the news of Malhotra’s demise is a sad one - a valued team leader and community ambassador has been cut down in his prime. But on the ice, the Manny of lore has been gone for quite some time.
His absence from the line-up given his condition hasn’t and won’t be noticeable. And his intangible value to the franchise can easily be retained should he have the opportunity and will to stay with the club in some capacity.