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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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.
In this week’s feature we take a peek back in the career of star winger Alex Burrows, who today will be converting to centre ice to fill the big boots of Ryan Kesler.
Ten years ago, the pesky winger was toiling away in his first pro season as a 21 year old rookie with the Greenville Grrrowl of the East Coast Hockey League. Yes, Greenville, South Carolina, noted hockey hotbed that quickly burned through their ECHL franchise, one that had started with so much promise. But we digress - Burrows, undrafted and still years away from being on the radar of any NHL team, showed plenty of tenacity, but not the puck skill, that would later turn him into an NHL star.
During his season in Greenville, one he wouldn’t finish before getting shipped to Baton Rouge, the feisty francophone exceeded the 200 PIM mark in a brief 53 game stint.
Number of teammates that outscored him that season - ten. Number of teammates on the Grrrowl that season that made their way to the NHL? One, goalkeeper Michael Garnett, who played part of one season for the Atlanta Thrashers, barely an NHL franchise themselves.
Yes, Burrows has received plenty of press about his improbable rise from the depths of hockey purgatory. And as this forgettable season in Greenville shows, so he should.
When you’re the defending Western Conference champion and repeat President’s Trophy winner and you lose to the eighth seed in five games in the first round, you’ve got plenty of explaining to do. And in a market that loves to make mountains out of molehills, we’ve got an extended summer to pick apart this Canuck corpse.
There will be the obvious excuses like the Duncan Keith elbow late in the regular season that forced Daniel Sedin to the sidelines for the first three games of the playoffs. Though really, this is an adversity an elite team should be able to overcome. And in the end, it’s the first significant injury to a front line player in many a post season for a franchise that has been remarkably fortunate in that regard.
And what about the Sedins? To win, you need your best players to be your best players or so the adage goes. Except the Sedins were the Canucks’ best players in this series, looking more inspired than they ever have, seemingly aware that the rest of the team had checked out.
The magnet for most criticism in this market usually falls on the combustible Roberto Luongo. But this time around, he was the team’s best player in game 1 before getting relieved by Cory Schneider after a game 2 performance where he was sold out by his teammates, busy practicing their fire drill. So even Bobby Blue gets a free pass this time around though it may not be enough to save him his job in this market.
And, of course, there will be mention of the dreaded hangover from last season. But really, we’re not buying that. It’s not like the Canucks went pedal to the metal during the regular season. In fact, despite their President’s Trophy win, there were not many 60 minute efforts this season (unless you count the goaltenders). Elite teams do return to the Stanley Cup Final. It does happen. Look at Pittsburgh or Detroit in recent years.
And the uneducated will reference the President’s Trophy curse - after all, three of the last four winners have been bounced in the first round. But that is simply loser talk. There is no curse. Bottom seeded teams don’t win the Cup. Ever. Top seeded teams usually do. There is never a guarantee, but winning in the playoffs correlates near perfectly with winning in the regular season. It’s fact.
In the end, what cost this team the series was ridiculously poor defensive coverage (witness the Kings’ first goal last night) and an inability to score either at even strength or with the man advantage. And remarkably, these were not recent developments, but problems that had plagued the team for good portions of this regular season (and late in last season’s playoff drive). They were masked by superior goaltending, from both Luongo and Schneider, and an incredibly easy divisional schedule.
But come playoff time, these are deficits that will cost you your season in short order. And they certainly did.
There is no doubt that the moves made during the season by general manager Mike Gillis seemed to water down the offense without any measurable increase in size and toughness.
David Booth has speed to burn and a willingness to drive to the net (i.e., he’s no Mason Raymond), but rarely completes a pass and, more importantly, has little idea what to do when he doesn’t have the puck. While speed is the essence of the modern NHL, hockey smarts are close behind and Booth’s hockey IQ is borderline retarded. Meanwhile, the cagey Mikael Samuelsson has four points in five games for a Florida team that is on the verge of advancing to the next round. The curse of Dale Tallon continues.
Certainly, the jury on the Cody Hodgson trade is still out, but the decision for a Cup contending team to trade away a contributing asset for one that simply may have potential was, and remains, mind boggling. Hodgson was the Canucks’ most efficient five-on-five scorer and held down the second unit power play, while Zack Kassian could only play his way to the press box.
It is becoming clear that Ryan Kesler’s brilliant performance versus Nashville last playoff was simply an aberration. Over the last two playoffs, excluding the Nashville series, he has tallied two goals and eleven assists in twenty four games - remarkably poor production from your second line centre and the biggest single reason why this team struggled so mightily to score.
Up front, the Canucks’ top wingers are players with a remarkably similar skill set - speedy forwards with reasonable grit and the occasional scoring touch, but none are physically intimidating and there is a serious lack of play making ability. Indeed, the playoff performances from the likes of Alex Burrows, David Booth, Jannik Hansen and Mason Raymond featured plenty of flash and dash, but no pucks in the net.
Overall, the Canucks’ defense had a pretty miserable season. Ironically, the best of the bunch, Dan Hamhuis, wore the goat horns on the Kings’ winner last night (and for all you homers calling for a penalty on that play, give your head a shake).
Kevin Bieksa was predictably boneheaded at points this season (and post season), while Alex Edler suffered a serious case of the playoff yips. By the post-season, Sami Salo looked every bit of his 37 years. And Keith Ballard’s concussed head is still spinning and his game still reeling after inexplicably rocketing up the depth chart at playoff time.
If we’re looking for one person for which to aim the blame at, we’re looking at Mike Gillis. In short, he seemed to overrate the depth of his defense and his moves to bolster the team’s size and toughness up front seemed to cause an identity crisis for his team down the stretch. Gone was the team with the high tempo attacking style and in its place was a squad that was prone to running around in their own end while struggling to simply muster long distance scoring chances on an elite goalie. The intent was to become a team that was comfortable winning 1-0 or 2-1 games. They got the 1-0 and 2-1 games, but they didn’t win. And the players who were to add a physical presence up front (notably Byron Bitz and Zack Kassian) rarely saw the ice.
We’ve often been critical of Alain Vigneault around here and you’d think he should get some of the blame this time around, too. And he should, but other than the bizarre decision to play David Booth, for the first time all season, with the Sedins come playoff time, it’s hard to find specific fault with any of his coaching moves. Though there is no question that his teams often lack killer instinct and desperate play for desperate times. When the playoffs opened with two losses at home, the Canucks clearly weren’t as ready to play as were the Kings. And when they ended, the same was true (witness last night’s third period and overtime). Alain Vigneault’s elimination game record is now a poor eight wins versus twelve losses.
So there you go, plenty to ruminate on as we begin yet another summer of discontent. Stay tuned for more.
After the end of last regular season, we pondered the significance of the Canucks’ President Trophy winning performance. Despite the myths about a supposed trophy curse, the fact remains that the top seeded team is always the most likely to win the Stanley Cup.
Teams seeded either 1st or 2nd in their respective conferences have won 22 of the last 31 Stanley Cups. And in that time, not a single team seeded less than 5th in their conference has won it all. So on that simple basis, the Canucks could once again be considered the Stanley Cup favourite.
But make no mistake, this season is much different than the historic performance that preceded it. In fact, the Canucks’ performance this season is likely the poorest of any league regular season champ since the league expanded to 21 teams back in 1979.
A good barometer of a team’s relative dominance is their goal differential. And this year’s Canucks had the lowest (51) of any President’s Trophy winner ever and are one of only three regular season champion teams to post a differential of less than 60 in the modern era (post 1979). Throw in the fact that the Canucks got to play a hefty portion of their schedule against divisional opponents, none of which qualified for the post-season, and you’ve got a result that is more than a little inflated.
In a campaign that rarely featured a 60 minute effort but was frequently rescued by stellar goaltending, the Canucks have had some trouble holding the attention of their rabid fan base, many of whom haven’t recovered from last season’s heartbreak.
While last year’s squad entered the playoffs with little concerns, this year’s team has raised some interesting questions that will be answered one way or another in the weeks to come.
Has Ryan Kesler (along with many of his mates) simply been sandbagging this season, saving himself for what he knows is coming or, after significant multiple hip injuries, has he simply lost a step, one he won’t get back? At this point, we could be easily convinced of either - this is clearly the point on which this playoff run will most turn.
Will Daniel Sedin return soon and will he be able to contribute? In some respects, it has been nice having Daniel out. It has elevated the play of his brother, who once again realizes there are actually four passing options and not just one. Further, the Canucks have looked more inspired since his loss. With today’s news that Daniel will not return until at least the mid point of this series, the Canucks will need to continue finding ways to win low scoring affairs.
How long before Roberto Luongo’s choke chain gets yanked, leading to the inevitable playoff transition to Cory Schneider? Like it or not, deserved or not, Roberto Luongo will not be allowed the usual amount of playoff rope to hang himself. His play will need to be almost perfect to avoid losing the reigns to Schneider, whose performance this season was among the league’s best. Goaltending shouldn’t be an issue with this year’s playoff performance - it’s simply a matter of whom it will come from.
This year’s Canuck version has sacrificed some scoring for additional playoff depth and toughness. With Daniel Sedin hurt, Cody Hodgson traded and Ryan Kesler and David Booth struggling, the Canucks’ are lacking significant five-on-five scoring. Will the contributions of Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins be enough?
In the long run, the answer is a resounding NO. It might not even be enough to oust the low scoring Kings (who have actually outscored the Canucks in the last half of the season).
We must not forget, too, that we are in the middle of another dead puck era with a peak in parity. And in the western conference, particularly, there are no less than six squads who could seemingly contend for Cup.
Ultimately, the perch among this year’s post is not nearly as lofty. So while the Canucks could very well wind up in another Cup Final, it’s not near as safe a bet as last year.
In what was likely, from a ratings perspective, the marquee match-up of the regular season for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, “Canada’s Team” (the perennially beleaguered Toronto Maple Leafs) received another beat down from Canada’s best, who according to a CBC players’ poll are also the NHL’s “most overrated”, team.
And the result should have been no surprise to anyone despite the Leafs supposedly being a threat for a playoff spot this year and with the Canucks, while still consistently winning, not having dominated a team for 60 minutes in nearly two months.
These days, a Saturday night beat down of the Leafs, still looking for their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since the league expanded beyond six teams, is a sure bet. Toronto has not beaten Vancouver in nearly nine years (the same season they last made the playoffs), either home or away. And in recent years, the Leafs can’t even keep the score close. Perhaps it’s the ghost of Mats Sundin. You see since the Canucks beat the Leafs with Sundin scoring the shootout winner for Vancouver, they have won all six meetings by a combined score of 28-13.
For a Canucks’ fan, it just doesn’t get any better. Of course, the CBC broadcast the game at 4pm PDT to accommodate all the Leaf Lovers in the centre of the universe, most of whom had likely turned the game off in the second period. And Ron MacLean’s whipping boy, Alex Burrows, once again delivered the most appropriate response to MacLean’s unforgivable hatchet job of two seasons ago with a lovely two goal performance. And to top things off, Don Cherry was trumpeting the Canucks’ toughness during Coach’s Corner.
But the CBC, and the rest of the country, will seemingly never have enough love for the Canucks despite their long run as the best team in Canada. We saw this story before with the last consistently successful Canadian team, the Ottawa Senators, who, despite playing in the nation’s capital, were roundly ignored by the CBC in favour of the Leafs and Montreal Canadiens and garnered little following outside the capital region.
But the facts are that the Canucks are the last Canadian team be in a Stanley Cup Final, not to mention the last Canadian team to appear in two Finals. They are the best regular season Canadian team of this century. And since the end of the 70’s, have outperformed the mostly hapless Maple Leafs 22 times in 31 seasons.
And despite being one win away from a Stanley Cup and on the verge of a possible second straight President`s Trophy, the Canucks have now been anointed as the most overrated team in the NHL (in a poll conducted by the CBC, of course).
So it seems, for the time being, the Leafs will continue as the national disgrace while Vancouver, outside the fanaticism of Canuck Nation, will get no respect.
With the all-star break on the horizon and most of the Canucks earning a deserved week off, it seems a good time to weigh in on the season to date on a player-by-player basis:
Roberto Luongo - What better place to start than with the “franchise” goalie? After his predictable sluggish start, he has rounded into predictable dominant form. Particularly, after the Boston slight, he’s often been the best Canuck on the ice. Of course, nothing matters until playoff time, when Roberto becomes a box of chocolates.
Cory Schneider - Schneider continues to demonstrate that he’s not only an NHL caliber starting goalie, but likely the best goalie in this market. On that basis, he provides the Canucks with a serious insurance policy come playoff time should the jittery Luongo misplace his groove. Mike Gillis will not and should not deal him at the trading deadline.
Henrik Sedin - There’s nothing of note here. Move along. Seriously, other than a two week slump starting with the Boston game, Henrik has done what we’ve come to expect, but under appreciate. Last night’s game against Edmonton seemed to indicate that the slump is about to end.
Ryan Kesler - The first half indicated, if we didn’t already know, just how stubborn and belligerent Kesler can be. While teammates like David Booth took their sweet time to recover from injuries, even Kesler has admitted that he came back a little too soon to start the season. Which leaves us to wonder why? Here’s a guy in the prime of his career, who has suffered two very significant injuries already and does not seem able to withstand the physical pounding he exposes himself to during a long season and playoff run. Someone (and, apparently, it’s not likely to be Alain Vigneault) needs to convince this kid that winning the war is more important than simply surviving it.
Cody Hodgson - Quite likely the biggest story this season has been Hodgson’s emergence. Not since 1992, when the Canucks had Petr Nedved (scoring 36 even strength goals) anchoring the third line, has the team had this kind of three line scoring depth. In many respects, it presents an interesting dilemma for the Canucks come playoff time where the third line is typically relied upon for grittier defensive play - clearly not the forte of Hodgson’s game. Last season, the Canucks moved away from a third line anchored by Kyle Wellwood to one featuring face off whiz Manny Malhotra and punishing Raffi Torres. Now they have moved back the other way. At any rate, we’d like to see Hodgson get more ice time down the stretch taking some of the burden off of Henrik and Kesler, who both have had difficulty enduring a long playoff grind. This would also force Hodgson to play against other teams’ top pairings and shutdown lines, a further test of his mettle.
Maxim Lapierre - With Hodsgon’s emergence, both Lapierre and Malhotra are getting a little less ice time than they would like, but it’s not hampered Lapierre’s play. He brings his pestiness every night making life more than annoying for the opposition. He’s shown a decent scoring touch when the opportunities have presented themselves. Leads the forwards in hits despite limited ice time with more than double anyone else not named Dale Weise.
Manny Malhotra - A few weeks ago, Sports Illustrated released the results of a poll of NHL players conducted to determine the “most overrated” player. Both Kesler and Luongo appeared very high on the list. This may sound like sacrilege to some, but we’d like to add Malhotra’s name to the list. Yes, he wins face-offs. And is a decent skater. But before or after the near crippling eye injury, he brings nothing else. Before arriving in Vancouver, he bounced from team to team and was mostly known as an underachieving former first round draft pick. But in Vancouver, he has a near cult following. We don’t get it. At any rate, he’s been eclipsed by both Hodgson and, to a lesser extent, Lapierre on the depth chart. So perhaps all is well after all…
Andrew Ebbett - The Canucks’ off season acquisition of the skilled and small Ebbett seemed curious. In the end, he was exactly as advertised skill wise but couldn’t survive the Boston rematch and is now lost for the season. And with the emergence of Hodgson has likely played his last game in a Canuck uniform.
Daniel Sedin - Predictably, see Henrik’s comment. Whether they ever deliver a Cup or not, we likely won’t fully appreciate their brilliance until they are long gone.
Alex Burrows - On a pure effort basis, likely the most consistent Canuck this season. Try + Twins = 35 goals. For almost anyone. So says Anson Carter.
Chris Higgins - If not for a recurring mysterious infection, he might have been the Canucks’ best player in the first half. Nine of his ten goals are at even strength. Take that, Ryan Kesler. And kudos to Mike Gillis for acquiring Higgins for near nothing and re-signing him for little money.
Mason Raymond - Raymond has proven that he’s fully recovered from the near career ending cheap shot he suffered in last year’s Stanley Cup Final. What he has not proven is that he’ll ever return to the 25 goal form of two seasons ago. In the mix of remarkably similar forwards (Burrows, Hansen, Booth and himself), he should represent the most likely trade bait.
Jannik Hansen - Yes, you did hear it here first. We predicted that Hansen would score 20 goals in the NHL back when he was scoring 9 goals per season. We further predicted that if he had Alex Burrows quality ice time, he’d score the same as Burrows. He has 13 goals already this season (12 at even strength - take that, Ryan Kesler), playing mostly on the emerging third line. We did not predict, however, that the corners would become a no-fly zone. “The Honey Badger” has been noticeably cowardly this year. That’s what scoring will do to you.
David Booth - After a sketchy start, he’s shown some reasonably consistent flashes and has bounced back well from an injury (considering he nursed it for a few extra weeks, we shouldn’t be surprised). We still don’t think he’s a “power forward”. The Canucks instead are seemingly overloaded with forwards who can skate and score, but none that will physically punish the opposition.
Aaron Volpatti - We liked what we saw until he got what many Canuck fourth line players of the past couple of seasons seem to get, a busted up shoulder.
Dale Weise - Weise stole the fourth line “enforcer” job from Victor Oreskovich because he’s actually prepared to drop the mitts (Shawn Thornton excepted) and he can skate. With Weise and Lapierre, the Canucks have a fourth line that can keep the pace and consistently annoy the opposition.
Kevin Bieksa - Bieksa has been typically streaky. Along with the rest of the defense, you get the feeling that this year’s crew is saving something for later.
Alexander Edler - Now at age 25, it seems the inconsistent Edler is not going to be Niklas Lidstrom nor Scott Stevens. Oh well, at least he’s not Michel Petit.
Dan Hamhuis - His play is consistently understated, easily the leader in plus minus amongst Canuck defenders. We’re not exactly sure what he’s doing on the power play though.
Keith Ballard - Someone needs to explain how the fastest player on the Canucks has a paltry seven points this season (and hasn’t scored since the opening game of the season). Granted, he still doesn’t get much respect (and hence ice time) from Coach Vigneault, this seems incredibly paradoxical. Ballard has finally realized that the fastest way out of the Vigneault dog box is to drop the gloves, exactly what your fastest player should be doing.
Sami Salo - Salo tells you all you need to know about the Vancouver defense. Despite being the oldest (by seven years) and brittlest, he represents their best all round defender. Critics of the Canucks have pointed to the lack of a true number one defenseman. And they are correct. And it is often what separates good teams from Stanley Cup champions.
Andrew Alberts - He represents an essential depth defenseman, a guy you can roll out when the going gets tough and park on the bench when the tempo is too fast. After a horrible beginning in Vancouver, he’s rightfully found a home here.
Aaron Rome - Rome, with his early season scoring outburst, has likely had his Jeff Cowan like 15 minutes of fame. But he’s another essential depth defenseman whose play has been surprisingly versatile.
Alexander Sulzer - He’s posted an amazing plus 6 rating in only 12 games and has actually drawn in ahead of a healthy Keith Ballard on a few occasions. It’s likely too small of a sample size to draw any reasonable conclusion, but so far looks like a decent Mike Gillis pick-up.
For the Canucks, things have played out in a predictable fashion - a slow start after the playoff hangover, followed by stretches of dominance, and a general tendency to get up for the stronger teams while laying back against doormats - hardly a troubling development given what happened last season.
The Canucks have two clear areas for improvement though neither are easily accomplished. We’ve touched on both the lack of physically imposing players up front and the lack of a true number one shutdown defenseman with the former being more easily remedied. With an abundance of skillful and fleet forwards, there is ample trade bait. And the fact remains, whether Mike Gillis bothers to accept it or not, that the playoffs are a different game entirely - power play chances are not nearly as easy to come by and the war is often won by physically wearing down your opponent. The Canucks will likely have to overpay for what they need to better ensure a chance at the ultimate prize. But the time is now to pay that price.
Just because October is over, the Canucks show no signs of shaking their Stanley Cup hangover from last season. And really, who can blame them? In the bigger games of their season, the Canucks have been able to elevate their play. And when they trail to a lousy team (like last night’s tilt with Anaheim), they can still just about rally to salvage a point.
Last season, there was an urgency that permeated the team to never waver from “the process”. This urgency resulted in the franchise’s best ever regular season and a brush with the Stanley Cup.
You certainly get the sense from this year’s team that the urgency is gone, or at least, is reserved for only the most crucial situations. And with the Canucks trailing the division leading (and over achieving) Edmonton Oilers by only three points, there is no time for panic yet.
Though that’s not to say we shouldn’t be offering up some of our fine commentary.
In the “we told you so” department, we have maintained that Jannik Hansen could score like Alex Burrows if given the same chance. And while it’s early yet, young Jannik (ater struggling mightily to start the season) has scored two even strength goals and is plus three after two games replacing Burrows on the top unit. Burrows, for the record, had three even strength goals in 15 games with the Sedins this season.
And in the “we told you so, again” department, Keith Ballard still sucks. He has one lousy point in 17 games of action (the highlight reel goal marker early in the season on a brilliant play by Henrik Sedin). And he’s -11. And while the rest of the defense crew, save Sami Salo and Alex Edler, have suffered mightily, this was supposed to be Keith Ballard’s shot at redemption.
If Dale Tallon’s judgement is this bang on, David Booth looks to be in for a tortuous ride in this town, too. Though it is way too early to pass judgement. Booth is quick enough and seems to have more tolerance for the middle of the ice than the soon-to-healthy speedster Mason Raymond, but his defensive play is shockingly bad. In his last 46 games, he has compiled a -36 rating (including -7 in his brief 9 games here). That is unfathomably poor. Like we said earlier, Ryan Kesler can kiss his Selke award good bye.
And what about Bobby Lou? Who cares about Bobby Lou? Seriously, there is nothing he can do this regular season that will make anybody happy. If he plays 75 games, wins 50 games, posts 10 shutouts and stops 95% of his shots, we’ll all be wondering the same thing. What about the playoffs? So in that sense, the only story here is why he and Schneider aren’t, at the very least, splitting duties until we get there. There’s nothing to be gained for anyone by any other scenario.
In the glass is half full mode, there is the fourth line. Like Canucks’ management, we stressed the need for a fourth unit that had some consistent chemistry as opposed to the revolving door of AHL level talent we saw last season. And in the trio of Maxim Lapierre, Aaron Volpatti and Dale Weise, they’ve found just that. Make no mistake, this trio will not score much and doesn’t feature a legitimate heayweight (that is clearly not part of the Mike Gillis Detroit Red Wing blueprint), but they’ve looked like a momentum changing line on many nights.
And there is Cody Hodgson, who is hardly the boy wonder some might have dreamed of, but has shown good smarts and play making skills. It is not clear what will happen to Hodgson’s ice time when Mason Raymond returns given the organization’s man crush love of Manny Malhotra. Based on the extended recovery time from last season’s injury, we’re prepared to cut Manny some slack on his very poor season, but the continued development of the prize prospect should be more important than getting the face-off whiz into game shape.
In the end, given the competition in their division, the Canucks’ mediocrity can likely continue into December before it’s time to start contemplating the need for significant change.
On the eve of the Canucks’ forty first NHL season, it will be nearly impossible to top the performance of the 40th anniversary edition. That team put up not only the greatest regular season performance in franchise history, but arguably one of the best regular seasons of any team anywhere.
Don’t believe us? Well, it’s been a very long time since a team led the league in points, goals scored and fewest goals allowed. Try the New York Islanders’ dynasty of the early 1980’s. And combine that with special team play that was easily the envy of the league, another Sedin scoring title, a best defensive forward award for Ryan Kesler, and executive of the year honours for Mike Gillis and it’s hard to imagine building on that regular season success.
But really, will the faithful care? At this point, regular season winning has become old hat. Nothing but a Stanley Cup win will suffice. And nor should it. Windows of opportunity to win it all are not ever present. Opportunity is knocking. And in that regard, what are the Canucks’ chances this year?
Our previous post highlighted the possible issues that prevented this team from winning it all last season. And in our opinion, nothing has been done to address those issues. Yet. But there is plenty of time.
Given the Canucks lack of real competition in their own division, another division title is all but assured and with it will bring at least a third overall conference seeding. We think that’s a given.
Other things we expect to happen this season:
The Sedins will have another remarkable season. Consider for a moment that Henrik won a scoring title despite missing his brother for a good portion of the season two seasons ago. And consider that Daniel won the title last season despite missing Alex Burrows from their line for the opening ten games of the season (after which it took him another ten games to notch his second goal of the season). A healthy first unit to start the season could easily catapult the Sedins to the top of the charts once again.
Keith Ballard will not find his form. Again. At least, not in this environment. He may play capably with limited minutes, but don’t expect him to play to a level commensurate with his $4 million plus price tag. Whether Mike Gillis will have the gumption to do anything about it remains to be seen.
Cody Hodgson will play capably, but will not set the world on fire. That is, don’t pick him in your hockey pool.
Chris Tanev will continue his steady play and while not having the offensive upside, his cool head will earn him valuable minutes.
Sami Salo will be injured by ChristmasHalloween Thanksgiving.
And, more importantly, things we’d like to see happen this season:
Given Roberto Luongo’s late playoff meltdown and admitted exhaustion by the end of it all (not to mention his iffy big game reputation), we’d like to see Cory Schneider pick up more of the regular season starts this season - getting between 30 and 40 starts himself. Come playoff time, the starting position shouldn’t be simply handed to Luongo, but awarded to whichever goalie is playing the best at the time.
Here at Critically Canuck, we’ve never held Coach Vigneault in the highest of esteem. He’s an adequate bench boss, but, in our opinion, might very well be all that is holding this team back from a Stanley Cup. Now into the second year of his three year contract extension, his leash should be short. And yanked repeatedly.
The Canucks seem determined to start this season with the same revolving door mentality they adopted last season with respect to the fourth line. Chemistry on that unit is as important as on any other. We’d like to see that situation stabilized sooner rather than later.
While everyone likes to talk about stockpiling defensive depth for another long playoff run, we’d like to see more emphasis placed on finding a physical top six forward to take some of the toll off of Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows, who seem to consistently wear out over the course of an extended post season. And we know that’s easier said than done. We’d just like to know that someone is actually trying. And when Marco Sturm moves in when Raffi Torres moves out, we are left to wonder if anyone is…
So there you have it. We predict another successful regular season is seemingly in store, but without some attention to our wish list, we’re not planning that parade route yet…
Just to prove that we are still alive, we’re offering our thumbs up on the Canucks’ re-signing Jannik Hansen. And while a cap hit of $1.35 million for a guy that’s never scored more than 9 goals might not seem like a bargain, retaining the hard working Dane for another three years is a prudent move.
Say what you will about his hands, Hansen never stops working and hitting - qualities that the Canucks needed more of in their failed Cup run this past season.
And we have said it before and will say it again, Hansen will score twenty goals in a season before his run in Vancouver is done. And when you’re done rolling your eyes, compare the career trajectories of Jannik and Alex Burrows to date - they are near identical. When Hansen sees the quality of ice time that Burrows has, the results will follow.
You heard it here first. Again.
Next up - our take on the Craig MacTavish hire and the drafting record of Executive of the Year, Mike Gillis.
So what kind of Canucks’ blog goes two days between posts with a Stanley Cup hanging in the balance? Well, this one. And for that we apologize. But these are almost unprecedented times, and Friday’s game left us a little speechless. And our weekend at Hockey Night in Canada’s “Play-On 4 on 4” street hockey tourney had us distracted, mentally and mostly physically.
For Friday’s tilt, we moved from our usual vantage point in the lower bowl of Rogers Arena and took up residence in the newly minted 400 level standing room only section. And damn it, it was the place to be. Away from the pretentious narcissistic masses in the lower bowl, we got to sit with the real fans. And while we were too far away from Tanner Glass’ swing-and-a-miss to have a Nathan Lafayette flashback, the Maxim Lapierre winner was literally on our doorstep.
And now we sit on the threshold of the ultimate prize. And just like 17 years ago, we’re a little numb. In game 5, we expected the Canucks to match their game 1 and 2 performances and they did not disappoint.
Of course, the shellacking they received in both games in Boston has most pundits expecting a return to Vancouver for a do-or-die game 7.
We are saying nay. The Canucks played two fantastic 1st periods in Boston before things came off the rails for various reasons. We expect that another cross continent voyage will have taken a larger toll on the Bruins - who have completed as many such trips in the last ten days as they might in an entire season. And of course, there is the benefit of an extra day of rest for the Canucks’ walking wounded.
To put things in further perspective, consider that the Canucks are one win away from finishing this series despite going 1 for 25 on the power play and despite not getting a goal from a centre not named Maxim Lapierre. Before this series ends, that will change. And when it does, it will likely signal the end of the Bruins.
The Canucks depth at defense, seemingly tested in games 3 and 4 in Boston, appeared to be in stable form by game 5 with defensive pairing combinations that should be more reliable tonight.
And let’s not forget that the Bruins and their fans carry around plenty of baggage from past playoff failures. As much as the city of Beantown has been a tough place to play for the Canucks, it’s about to get a whole lot tougher for the Bruins if they should trail early in their own rink in this potentially decisive match.
Weather reports out of Boston (which ordinarily shouldn’t matter for a game being played indoors) indicate a much cooler day today than the balmy conditions of last week that led to horrible ice conditions. This is great news for the more speedy Canucks.
In the mainstream media outside of the Vancouver market, the Canucks are seen as anything but media darlings - whether it’s been Alex Burrows and fingergate, the struggles of “Thelma & Louise” (in case you missed it, esteemed hockey prognosticator Mike Milbury’s branding of the Sedins), the Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton or Roberto Luongo’s overblown supposed criticism of Tim Thomas. Indeed, outside of Canuck Nation, they are not feeling the love.
We expect they will rally around that on the road in a city that has never ever been an easy place for them to win. Not much has gone according to plan this series except the overall outcome and we expect that to continue tonight with the Canucks ending the winning streak of the home teams.
So while you may consider this little exercise as some homeristic wishful thinking, we’re sure you’ll have no problem when we say “we told you so”…