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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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.
With the business of renewing his own contract and extending that of his coach long behind him, it was expected that this summer would be a most eventful one for Canuck General Manager Mike Gillis. After a disappointing end to a season where expectations couldn’t have been higher, it was felt there might be more than just a little tweaking to the personnel of a squad whose oppourtunity to win it all is starting to close - though no one in the organization would say that out loud. And, of course, there was the little matter of Roberto Luongo; his pending trade likely to be Gillis’ defining moment in Vancouver..
And so far, little has happened.
Local product Jason Garrison was inked to a lengthy and costly contract and, on paper, does little to fill the voids left by Sami Salo and Aaron Rome. That along with the retention of the likes of perimeter player Mason Raymond and the re-acquisition of fourth liner Guillaume Desbiens has been the fruits of Mike Gillis’ so-called labour.
The unofficial word from the Canucks regarding Luongo is that they haven’t seen a decent deal yet and won’t deal him until they do. Even if that means starting the season with two number one goalies and $9 million tied up in a position where only one guy can play. But that is a stance that carries unnecesary risk. Luongo is a known commodity, whose value, independent of anything else, cannot get any higher. 33 year-old former number one goalies don’t appreciate. By waiting for a better deal, Gillis exposes himself to getting a much worse one. Gillis is effectively putting the fate of the Luongo deal in the hands of the play of young netminders in other markets (James Reimer in Toronto, Cory Crawford in Chicago and Anders Lindback in Tampa), who could rightly eradicate any need for an upgrade .
In the end, the Canucks should be happy to find a taker for Luongo’s salary and simply move on. Whatever the best offer he’s got so far represents Luongo’s market value - and not whatever hopeful notion Gillis might have. What Gillis is doing right now amounts to gambling, albeit with the house’s money. The end result could be an inferior deal and a disgruntled Luongo, who frankly deserves much better.
While this was not a bumper free agent market, some of the happenings this summer tell a tale about exactly where Vancouver rates in the hearts of those with the freedom to pick where they play.
Early on the Canucks lost the Justin Schultz sweepstakes, as the heralded young defender opted instead for the perennially last place Edmonton Oilers.
And while they were never in the running for Rick Nash, it was rather telling that the superstar winger didn’t list the back-to-back President’s Trophy winners on his short list of desired locales.
And then there is Shane Doan, who would be the perfect antidote for what has ailed the Canucks most, a physically robust forward with size, durability and skill. With news leaking that the Canucks have already offered him a decent deal, you can bet he his not coming - such story likely leaked by the Canucks to make it appear that they at least showed interest in the veteran Doan, who seems destined to inexplicably return to Phoenix.
And finally, we have the comments of one Mikael Sameulsson. You remember him. The cagey Cup winning veteran who was one of Gillis’ early signings - one that was roundly lauded at the time and meant to foreshadow the type of signings we could expect from Gillis. Samuelsson was a respected reasonably hard-nosed two-way player, who came here to win another Cup. Except he got dealt before that could happen. And after being unceremoniously shuffled off to Florida, he has triumphantly returned to the Wings as a free agent and took that opportunity to openly blast Canuck management one more time.
Mike Gillis’ claim to fame in Vancouver has been his ability to retain his core players for big discounts to market (most notably the Sedins, Luongo, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows). And while as a management group, the team has seemingly taken some bold steps to attract free agents, it has clearly not worked to any measurable extent (save Dan Hamhuis) and with his core group aging and/or ailing, it’s hard to believe that Vancouver is about to become a more popular destination to play. No matter how hard Gillis might try to convince you otherwise, the window of opportunity to win it all is closing quickly…
While the biggest move of the Canuck off-season has yet to transpire, there has been some recent activity that demands our commentary.
The most impactful move so far was yesterday’s signing of defenseman Jason Garrison. Garrison, a local product with less than three NHL seasons of experience, has struck it rich, signing a six-year deal for nearly $28 million – a lofty pay-day for a player with one notable NHL season to his credit and who was passed over at the entry draft years ago. But the 27-year-old, a late bloomer, has been a quick study at the NHL level, logging over 22 minutes per game in his first two full NHL seasons. And with 16 goals last season, he looks to be more than capable of filling the offensive void left by Sami Salo, who has begun his retirement early alongside former teammate Mattias Ohlund in Tampa Bay. And while we’ll miss Salo, at times the Canucks most complete d-man, he was clearly (and rightfully) looking for a financial home-run instead of another year in Vancouver at a market discount.
But the committment to Garrison smells like the Keith Ballard debacle all over again (a significant financial commitment to a player with some success albeit only in a low pressure hockey backwater). We can only hope that he won’t wilt under the spotlight of playing in his hometown and, most importantly, manages to avoid the doghouse of Alain Vigneault. While Garrison is a big body, he is not known for his physicality, which will put him at odds with Vigneault from the get go. The real oddity here is that Garrison now becomes the Canucks’ highest paid defender. And he won’t have the smooth skating Brian Campbell to partner with, but instead the inconsistent Alex Edler. At this price, it seems impossible that Garrison will be able to meet expectations. But Ballard can keep him company.
Outside of Garrison, there has been no other additions, but plenty of players on the way out. Joining Sami Salo on the way out-of-town are Aaron Rome, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Sami Pahlsson, Victor Oreskovich, Mike Duco and Ryan Parent.
The only real surprises here are possibly Rome, who seemed to be a favourite of Coach Vigneault and Gragnani, who was obtained at the trade deadline and forecasted in the long-term as a possible power play quarterback.
Rome, as a depth defender, was essentially redundant with Andrew Alberts still on the team. But the decision to not retain Gragnani seems bizarre, particularly since the team bent over backwards to give him ice time down the stretch so that he could remain a restricted free agent thus giving themselves first crack at retaining his services. Perhaps the signing of Garrison was anticipated, allowing the team to give up on Gragnani?
We will not at all mourn the loss of the overrated Pahlsson, but only the price paid to get him (two fourth round picks and a minor leaguer) - this deal looks like something a panicky Dave Nonis would have cooked up. And for the time being leaves the Canucks (with Ryan Kesler on the sidelines) with Manny Malhotra and Maxim Lapierre as their second and third line centres. Where have you gone, Cody Hodsgon?
Players that seem to be destined surprisingly to start the season in Vancouver include Mason Raymond, Manny Malhotra and, of course, maybe even Roberto Luongo.
Since Raymond was untradeable at the deadline, the Canucks seem prepared to give him another look, at a reduced price. The return of mister flash and dash and his perimeter puck handling are not what this team needs.
Manny Malhotra suffered through a horrible season and the Canucks are on the hook for another year at a very pricey $2.5 million, but with the loss of Ryan Kesler for at least the early portions of the season, Malhotra will get plenty of opportunity to return to his one-dimensional form.
While the signing of new number one goalie Cory Schneider to a three-year deal should have officially put the end to the Luongo era, it would not surprise us if Bobby Lou starts the season here. After all, Mike Gillis, in case you haven’t noticed, is quite determined to do things as unconventionally as possible. From our perspective, it is in everyone’s best interests to move Luongo sooner rather than later. While it’s conceivable that early season struggles by goaltending starved teams like the Leafs and Lightning could up the ante in the Luongo sweepstakes, the reverse is also true and could leave the Canucks with $9 million tied up in a position where only one guy can play. Ultimately, Roberto is a proven commodity whose value, independent of other team’s needs, will not get any higher. Further, he has been the consummate professional in his time here and should be spared any further indignity in this market.
There is still plenty of time in this off-season for Mike Gillis to upgrade his back-to-back President’s Trophy winning team and despite the log jam in net, there is still plenty of money to spend. And we expect it will be spent. Just ask Jason Garrison.
The much anticipated but typically overblown NHL trade deadline is tomorrow and with the Canucks having placed Keith Ballard and his $4 million salary on injured reserve, the speculation is that they are poised to make a big deal.
It’s easy to throw around names - Steve Ott and Dustin Brown seem to be making the rounds right now. But trade rumors are like opinions. And opinions are like ….
Suffice is to say we won’t play that game. But we will emphasize again what the Canucks need. And whom they should be prepared to part with.
It’s no surprise that Vancouver needs a physically intimidating forward that can play somewhere on the top three lines (hence the Ott and Brown rumours). But with Keith Ballard seemingly done for the year, the Canucks are now one injured defenseman (hello Sami Salo) away from having to insert one of Andrew Alberts, Aaron Rome or Chris Tanev for major minutes. And their playoff history of a depleted defense corps makes you think they might want to safely add two NHL caliber defenders. This could trump the move for a gritty tough-to-play-against forward.
It’s also worth noting that the Canucks have a couple of AHL forwards, Mark Mancari and Steve Reinprecht, who could provide forward depth come playoff time. Mancari, a 6’4” 220 pound winger, is leading the team in scoring and has some NHL experience. And Reinprecht, of course, has plenty of NHL experience and has basically been buried on the farm due to salary cap constraints, but once the playoff starts, he can be added to the roster without regard to the cap. And of course, Byron Bitz has proven in a very limited opportunity that he can contribute the requisite grit and smarts giving the Canucks something they didn’t have one month ago.
Mason Raymond has been front and centre in any and all trade rumours and we can’t disagree. While his performance in the last few games seems to indicate he’s feeling the heat and wants to stay, the skill set he provides is redundant on a team stacked with quick forwards that will consistently take the puck to the net (Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, David Booth, and Ryan Kesler). Despite his struggles this season and possible health issues, he is still young and could ooze opportunity to some.
We don’t expect either of the team’s top two young players (Cody Hodgson and Cory Schneider) to be dealt. Quite simply, they are contributing too much right now to remove from the mix. And further, Mike Gillis, in his emulation of the Detroit model, has likely noticed that they don’t ever trade away young talent.
So given all this, the Canucks really don’t have much to deal (Raymond and perhaps former first round pick Jordan Schroeder who is clearly expendable given the Canucks’ depth at centre), but they could take a decent player from a team looking to simply shred salary.
In the end, we expect the Canucks to acquire a defender that could play top four minutes along with one more depth player. It won’t meet the hype being served up by the plethora of talking heads that will be taking over sports programming tomorrow, but what else is new?
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.
Just in time for Halloween, the ghost of Dale Tallon has struck again. Since becoming general manager of the Canucks, Mike Gillis has not been a terribly active trader, but his biggest deals have been with the Florida Panthers (whose GM is ex-Canuck Dale Tallon, Vancouver’s consolation prize in their inaugural season wheel spinning that saw Buffalo wind up with superstar Gilbert Perrault).
Arriving in Vancouver are forwards David Booth, a once prized prospect, and veteran Steve Reinprecht. Heading to early retirement in Florida are both Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm.
The departure of the cagey Samuelsson is somewhat surprising especially considering his recent health struggles. And the inclusion of Sturm in the deal is even more startling; cutting bait on his only significant off-season addition only a handful of games into the season taking some considerable fortitude on the part of Gillis.
Obviously, the centre piece of the deal is Booth. In his tenure as GM in Vancouver, Gillis’ approach to player development has been mostly outside of the box, relying very little on drafted players, but instead finding players that have either fallen through the traditional recruiting cracks (like Chris Tanev) or reclamation projects (examples would include Steve Bernier, Max Lapierre, Chris Higgins and now David Booth).
Booth, who is seemingly recovered from some serious concussion issues, will likely find a spot on the wing with Ryan Kesler and will have little problem keeping up. Though like Kesler, he is more scorer than play maker. In a lot of ways, he looks to be a suitable replacement for Mason Raymond, whose health you may now conclude is likely not near optimal.
Reinprecht provides some veteran presence offsetting the loss of Samuelsson. Perhaps the biggest upside to losing Samuelsson will be the insertion of Sami Salo on the first unit power play though it shouldn’t have taken this to get that.
Conventional wisdom says that the team that gets the best player wins the trade and in this simple sense it would seem that this a favourable move for the Canucks as Booth, on paper, clearly represents that - he is a player with significant upside that could blossom playing on a talented Vancouver squad. Though, in our opinion, it would have been better to obtain a top six forward with more grit and size.
In the end, Mike Gillis, who yesterday blasted the Vancouver Province for presumed “mean spirited and malicious” editorial coverage with respect to Roberto Luongo, has temporarily distracted us from the goalie controversy by engineering potentially his biggest trade yet.
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 because Christian Ehrhoff’s contractual rights were dealt today to the New York Islanders doesn’t mean absolutely that he’ll wide up in Wang’s World (thanks Sandlak) when the season starts, but the simple fact that he reportedly turned down the same offer that Kevin Bieksa got (including a no trade clause) is mind boggling.
There is no doubt that Ehrhoff will command some bigger money on the open market, but to walk away from a Stanley Cup contender that was prepared to offer him a most reasonable contract in the context of their payroll situation tells you all you need to know about young Christian.
If you’ve been reading here much, you’ll know that we’ve credited Ehrhoff with being arguably the greatest power play quarterback in team history, but his serious defensive lapses (check out his ugly playoff plus minus) combined with this character revealing snub makes us say good riddance.
In the end, he provided Vancouver with two outstanding offensive years and we gave up little to get him. And while his power play contributions will be missed surely, this will seemingly swing the door wide open for a Sami Salo return to work the number one power play unit next year.
With the Canucks’ longest season ever finally over, the off season will seem incredibly brief. And for Mike Gillis and staff, there is literally no time to pause; they must get down to business now. On July 1, nine of the Canucks will become unrestricted free agents, meaning they are able to sign with any other team. You would think that given this season’s success, the team will want to retain a good number of them.
So for a moment, pretend you are Mike Gills; throwing aside any salary cap considerations, who would you retain? You may make more than one selection.