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.
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With last week’s stunning acquisition of young hulking winger Zack Kassian in exchange for prized rookie Cody Hodgson, the Canucks are about to add another chapter to a long running story in Vancouver: the quest for the perfect power forward.
This story has its beginning, of course, with Cam Neely, who would become the prototype for the very term. Except the Canucks didn’t know it. And gave him away for Barry Pederson, a playmaking centre who had been a BC junior hockey star and twice a 100 point scorer for the Boston Bruins. Though at the time of the 1986 trade, he had the use of roughly one arm and was a shadow of his former self - though still good enough to lead the pitiful Canucks in scoring. Meanwhile, Neely became the NHL’s definitive power forward and hockey hall of famer despite a career that was tragically cut short by injury.
Since that devastating and memorable loss, Vancouver has had more misses than hits to replace what Neely was never able to provide in Vancouver, but did so effectively in Boston.
Indeed, since the 1983 draft that produced Neely, the Canucks have burned six first round picks on big men up front. There was one hit, Trevor Linden. And several misses - Rob Murphy, Shawn Antoski, Alek Stojanov and the most lamentable Libor Polasek. And there was Jim Sandlak, who seemed to have the game, but just not the gumption on most nights.
The Canucks, since the Neely disaster, have actually had better success trading away big men than keeping them. Linden became Todd Bertuzzi - who, while a Canuck, was the best power forward in the game. Bertuzzi, the power gone from his game after the Steve Moore incident, became Roberto Luongo. Stojanov, of course, became Markus Naslund. And even Sandlak was good enough for Murray Craven, a key player on the 1994 Final team.
And when the Canucks weren’t drafting big men, they were passing on some they rightly should have nabbed. And while second-guessing draft picks is a ridiculously simple and unfair game, there are a few instances that are notable in their sheer idiocy. Two picks after the Canucks selected J.J. Daigneault, who approached the 1984 draft table on crutches, Calgary selected Gary Roberts. And of course, failing to nab local boy Milan Lucic, who was playing in their own backyard for the WHL Vancouver Giants, before the Bruins got him in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft is a slight that will not be forgotten by many.
In Canuck lore, the broad shoulders of Trevor Linden almost carried the team to its first Stanley Cup. And the dominant play of Todd Bertuzzi helped return the Canucks to an elite team before a tragic ending. And, of course, the loss to Boston in last year’s Final has been blamed, by many, on a lack of toughness on the top lines.
So while the quest for the perfect big man continues with the acquisition of Kassian, none of this legacy should matter. We doubt he’s a Canuck historian. But it will likely matter to the rabid fan base, who have too much misery in memory.
When news of the trade first broke, it seemed to catch most by surprise - even the supposed hockey insiders - which causes one to worry if the Canucks had done their best to auction Hodgson to the highest bidder. But it would seem given the Canucks’ now apparent long running drama with the Hodgson camp, that they likely had this deal in the works for quite some time and had their sights particularly set upon Kassian. So while this trade may be evaluated on the longer term performances of both players, the trade of a blue chip asset in Hodgson only increases the pressure on Kassian to contribute now.
And so it goes. Another big man in Vancouver. With pressure to fulfill a prophecy often promised, but rarely fulfilled.
The cursed one, Alek Stojanov. Foreshadowing things to come, he’s wearing Jim Sandlak’s #25. It’s a good thing Zack Kassian has taken #9.
With critics of this week’s trade of Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian comparing it to the legendary Markus Naslund for Alek Stojanov fleecing (but only in reverse), it seems only fitting for us to revisit that trade in this week’s wayback feature.
In 1996, the Canucks, still under the heavy weight of expectation that the ‘94 Cup run had brought, were struggling through a second straight mediocre campaign under the direction of Rick Ley, General Manager Pat Quinn’s bestest buddy and mostly ineffectual head coach.
At the time of the March 20, 1996 deal, they had lost six straight and were sliding fast out of playoff contention. Stojanov, a first round pick (seventh overall in 1991), was struggling through his first full season, having potted a single assist in 58 games. At that point, he had only shown a propensity to drop the gloves (14 times), and not that successfully.
Naslund, meanwhile, was into his third NHL season (after being a 16th overall selection in the same draft as Stojanov), and was showing flashes of the brilliance that would dominate the rest of his career. Though like Cody Hodgson, his skill set was somewhat redundant on a team with the likes of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Petr Nedved and Tomas Sandstrom - each at the peak of their powers.
Like today’s Canucks, the Penguins were playoff bound and looking for some forward grit. And the moribund Canucks were simply looking to shake things up.
In the end, Stojanov, who couldn’t keep his shoulders in their sockets, couldn’t stay healthy long enough to make any impact with the Penguins and was quickly out of the NHL (and hockey of any kind by 2001).
Naslund struggled upon arrival in Vancouver netting only 3 points in the final 10 games of the ‘96 season (a hat trick in a blow-out win over Calgary). The Canucks would make the playoffs that year, though only after Pat Quinn relieved the lackluster Ley from his duties. But it was not enough and Vancouver was bounced in the first round by the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche.
Naslund would continue to be in and out of the doghouse in Vancouver until, remarkably, Mike Keenan managed to press the right buttons to bolster Naslund’s shaky confidence. And after a pairing with Todd Bertuzzi, Naslund hit his stride as the best left winger in the game for a few seasons, finally finishing as the franchise’s leading scorer.
In terms of circumstances (though in reverse), this week’s Hodgson for Kassian deal is eerily similar to the legendary Naslund for Stojanov robbery. But like that trade, this one will take some time to measure. We’ve little doubt that Cody Hodgson, assuming he can stay healthy, will put up career numbers that are just as good as Naslund’s. He may also have the leadership ability that Naslund didn’t. So in that sense, there will be tremendous pressure on Zack Kassian to perform. At this early date, he appears to have more skating and play making ability than Stojanov had. We can only hope he doesn’t have Stojanov’s shoulders…
Today we’ll be starting what we hope will be a weekly feature around here (at least during the regular season and playoffs), our “Figures and Facts”.
FIGURE - Fourth line centre Alexandre Bolduc has separated his shoulder for the third time in two seasons. Remarkably, he separated his shoulder this time while taking a face-off.
FACT - Bolduc, at this rate, is making Sami Salo and Rick Rypien look like ironmen. He must be related to another chronic Canuck shoulder separator, Alek Stojanov. There will be no trading Bolduc for the next Markus Naslund, however.
FIGURE - The Canucks have been shut-out in two of their last three games.
FACT - The ride on the bandwagon is getting a little bumpy despite the Canucks still clinging to their first overall status. But what do you expect, after 40 years of more teasing than tantalizing, this is the conditioned response when the going gets tough.
FIGURE - Lifted from today’s Vancouver Province, seven of the Canucks top nine forwards have gone at least 9 games without a goal.
FACT - A cause for panic for some, the Canucks, for the most part, have continued to win despite the lack of scoring from anyone not not named Daniel or Ryan. One thing is certain, it won’t go on for another 9 games (or one).
FIGURE - Cory Scheider’s save percentage in his first 10 starts (of which he lost none in regulation) was a very impressive .925. In his last two starts (both regulation losses) it was a still impressive .917.
FACT - Goal support has more to do with a goalie’s win-loss record than anything else (over 4 goals per game in his first 10 and zero in his last two).
FIGURE - With Bolduc sidelined again, the Canucks are back to having three NHL centres on their active roster.
FACT - This should be Cody Hodgson’s time.
FIGURE - Two defensemen have been injured in the last two games, making a total of three defenders (including the ubiquitous Sami Salo) unavailable for play.
FACT - The hysteria about how to accomodate Salo’s impending (?) return can abate for just a little while.