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
Since the climax of this regular season, the Stanley Cup rematch in Boston, the Canucks have clearly taken the foot off the gas and hit cruise control. And while they likely don’t deserve it, they find themselves on quite a run, running up a 10-2-3 record (a nifty .767 winning percentage). At this rate, they have put themselves in easy striking distance of the top seed in the conference and, perhaps, another President’s Trophy.
But how have they done it? In this 15 game run, they’ve been out shot almost every night (10 of 15 times). And overall, they’ve had 5 less shots per game than the opposition.
Factoring out empty net and shootout goals the team has scored a paltry 38 goals in those 15 games which barely eclipses the rate of the opposition at 35.
This is due in part to their once feared power play, which is struggling mightily. Not only are they struggling to score (13% efficiency rate compared to 24% for the rest of the season), but they are struggling to even earn the opportunities (drawing just 2.5 penalties per game in this stretch compared to 4 per game for the rest of the season).
Earning power plays is often a simple function of working hard. And that, considering also the wide shot on goal differential, would seem to be the case here. They are not working hard. Only simply hard enough.
That is, only hard as they need to in respect of their sublime goaltending and the NHL’s nonsensical point allocation system for regulation game ties.
During this run, the Canuck keepers (most notably Roberto Luongo, who has started 12 of 15) have outperformed their counterparts at the other end of the rink almost every night. On a save percentage basis, they’ve outdueled the opposition netminder 11 times in 15 games. Luongo, in particular, has amassed an unbeatable .935 save percentage during this time.
But it’s also the Canucks’ sudden brilliance in overtime and, to a greater extent, the shootout that is carrying them right now. And while you can’t blame the Canucks for the gimmicky methods the NHL employs to allocate points (to both winners and losers of regulation ties), come playoff time that all goes out the window.
If the NHL kept its math like it used to, the Canucks` 10-2-3 run would instead look like 3-2-10 (barely a .500 record). So which record is a better barometer of the Canucks’ play in recent weeks? Don’t ask Gary Bettman.
And don’t ask any of the Canucks’ brass either since there’s no arguing with success. But during this recent run, only a small handful of players have played at a level that will be adequate come playoff time.
David Booth, seemingly fearless despite his recent injury, has amassed an impressive 10 points in 12 games since returning and is making his GM look good.
Fresh from his all-star outing, Alex Edler has also been a large factor in the Canucks’ recent unlikely success, notching 10 points in the 15 game run as well as emerging as a shootout threat.
At five on five play, Henrik Sedin and Cody Hodgson lead the team with 7 points in 15 games, indicating how much Hank is struggling and how much respect Cody Hodgson is not getting. Hodgson has earned this distinction despite playing 7 or 8 minutes less per night than Henrik or Ryan Kesler and with little power play time. Stated otherwise, his 5 on 5 point scoring rate is nearly double that of either of those players. And we’re not even going to mention how many shootout goals he’s scored this season.
But, most nights, he still finds himself in the dogbox of Alain Vigneault. In recent games, he’s been between AHL grinder Mike Duco and extreme agitator Maxim Lapierre. Yes, the synergies of those two combined with the thoughtful play of Hodgson are unlimited. Good lord. Oh yeah, the one-dimensional-recovering-from-a-serious eye-injury Manny Malhotra has more ice time this season than the NHL rookie-of-the-year candidate Hodgson.
It is tough to tell what Hodgson’s role is on this team in the short term. If he were to be trade deadline bait, you might think GM Mike Gillis might insist he play more to inflate his value. If he stays (which we think he will), come playoff time, it’s hard to see how he’ll respond to a checking role that is usually required for a third or fourth line spot. But not playing him more in an offensive role could hurt the Canucks’ chances. Perhaps a spot on the second line is where he really needs to be? A contemplation for another day.
In the end, we’re used to the Canucks playing poorly at this time of the season. Throughout their 41 years, the February swoon has been damn predicable. Of course, these days are different. In this era, the Canucks are simply good enough to succeed without playing to their potential. And as much as that’s a good (if not different) thing, they must be able to elevate their game when it really matters.
We can only imagine after a pedal-to-the-metal recording breaking regular season was met with Stanley Cup Final heartbreak that this team is simply saving it for later. And right now, it seems like a good strategy. As always, time will tell.
Hooligan - a bully; a cruel and brutal fellow; a tough and aggressive or violent youth
Hockey - a game played on an ice rink by two opposing teams of six skaters each who try knock a flat round puck in the opponents’ goal with curved sticks; a fast paced physical sport
It seems that the NHL can’t go a single week without another shining example of its unpunished on-ice thuggery.
Put another way, in a season that WAS featuring a possible once in a lifetime performance by its poster boy, Sidney Crosby, and now features the unprecedented brotherly brilliance of the steely Swedish identical Sedin twins, it will instead be remembered by most for brutal head injuries of all sorts.
And with the latest incident, the other shoe will still not drop. According to the lawyers and neanderthals running the NHL, it is truly “a man’s game, bitch.” A collision with a stanchion (this week’s buzz word in the ever expanding hockey lexicon) resulting in a concussion and a literal broken neck was without intent (as if the NHL overlords can read the mind of Zdano Chara) and, as such, deserving of no further punishment.
Make no mistake, hockey is indeed a fast paced physical sport. The players are paid millions to take these significant physical risks. But the frequency of the devastating player interactions is spiralling out of control. Today’s players are the equivalent of the gladiators in ancient Rome. Is this good for business? Is the fanbase really a bloodthirsty lot? Is this the risk that the players signed up for?
So at a time when we should be marveling at the skill of the game’s elite, we are letting the likes of cheap shot artists (Matt Cooke) and reckless oversized giants (yes, Zdano Chara we are looking at you and your prehistoric wing-span) rule the game.
Was the Chara incident the worst thing we’ve ever seen? Certainly not. Was it a clear act of malice? Probably not. Was it at least borderline reckless? At least. In the end, the injury suffered by the player shouldn’t really matter. What could have happened (death is certainly a possibility - Pacioretty’s violent collision with the stanchion was eerily reminiscent of the luge death suffered at last year’s Olympics) is all that should matter.
And really, when has intent mattered when it comes to NHL discipline? Every game, accidental high sticking penalties are handed out. Todd Bertuzzi served the game’s longest suspension for what amounted to an ill advised sucker punch.
And on that basis, the NHL needs to address the play with a suspension. If for no other reason than to have the appearance of doing something. What will it take for something to happen? A death? And when that happens, you can expect a massive knee jerk response. Before you know it, hitting will be banned and watching the NHL will be like watching women’s hockey.
We certainly don’t have all the ideas (though we do have many, but that is fodder for another post) to address a problem that continues to escalate. But the NHL, by its repeated inaction, is giving the appearance that there is no problem. Clearly, players are confused and concerned. And the fan base don’t pay their money to see the bottom feeders remove the game’s elite.
Standing resolutely against this public relations tsunami, the man in charge of it all, Gary Bettman, will not blink. Clearly the conundrum of bigger, faster players in suits of armour parading around unimpeded and unpunished is too much for his little mind. We can only hope that this captain goes down with his ship.
With an “independent” arbitrator having ruled in the NHL’s favour regarding the rejection of the long term contract between the New Jersey Devils and this year’s most coveted free agent Ilya Kovalchuk, the word now is that the books are still open on other similar deals (including the Canucks’ contract with Roberto Luongo).
Clearly the contracts of Kovalchuk and Luongo and Chris Pronger and Marc Savard are all very similar. But with all but Kovalchuk, the cat is already out of the proverbial bag. How can these other deals possibly be rejected now? Those teams have made other salary commitments on the basis of those particular contracts being good. What happens if they are not? Why are deals that were registered with the NHL over a year ago now suddenly circumventing the collective bargaining agreement? Do these players get thrown back in the free agent pool like Kovalchuk? So many questions and, as usual, so few answers.
We suppose that this should be no surprise in Gary Bettman’s NHL where seemingly arbitrary rulings are the norm whether it be determinations regarding player discipline or franchise relocations or now long term player contracts.
But think of the upside, if Roberto Luongo’s contract gets rejected, the Canucks can save some $ and pick up the defending Stanley Cup winning goalie for a third of the price.
So it seems that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is not too happy with the New Jersey Devils and their 17 year $102 million contract with star winger Ilya Kovalchuk.
While this contract is certainly the most flagrant attempt at pushing the envelope of the salary cap world, it is by no means the first. Frankly, we’re puzzled why the league is taking exception now, particularly with a team that has historically been one of the most fiscally prudent. Combine that with the fact that a player like Kovalchuk (presumably a star attraction that the league would like to retain) could just as easily return to his homeland and play in the KHL without having to worry about hairsplitting the likes of this.
Is is really any more unreasonable that Kovalchuk will still be playing by age 44 than it is Roberto Luongo will be stopping pucks at age 43? Who gets to play judge and jury on these determinations, anyhow? Gary Bettman? Please. The league got what it supposedly wanted with the salary cap. And not surprisingly, teams have discovered a loophole to circumvent these restrictions.
If the NHL doesn’t like it, they need to change the rule, and not offer up somewhat arbitrary pronouncements on a contract by contract basis.
A huge thumbs up to Willie Mitchell for calling out Colin Campbell, the league’s lord of supposed discipline. Barge Pole Willie’s season (and possibly career) were ended by a dirty hit from a dirty player (although an elite one, too) at the tail end of a mean-nothing regular season rout by the Canucks. Because Mitchell had the balls (but not the brains) to quickly get himself off the mat and because the NHL is reluctant to hand out big suspensions to star players, there was shamefully no response from the league. A league that looks more and more bush with every breath they take.
Here’s a guy that’s given his all to his team and his community and he might be done and the league, as is often the case, idly stands by condoning reckless behaviour. Something has got to give and one day it will and Gary Bettman’s beloved US TV ratings will bottom out one more time.