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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Yesterday’s announcement of the firing of Canuck coach Alain Vigneault was certainly inevitable, though, in the minds of many, not deserved. Canuck President and General Manager Mike Gillis was sacrificing his coach to save himself many said. It is Gillis, who deserves the scrutiny many will say. And not Vigneault, the media friendly long-term coach, who has easily amassed the best coaching record in franchise history.
And certainly Gillis’ body of work requires plenty of critical appraisal at this point. And that will most certainly come. If it already hasn’t. It was obvious from Gillis’ demeanour yesterday that he is clearly feeling the heat.
But the time for a coaching change in Vancouver had long passed. Despite Vigneault’s gaudy record as Canuck boss, his day was done. Witness the following.
Since the Stanley Cup loss to Boston two years ago, the number of sixty minute efforts expended by his squad could be counted on one hand. The President’s Trophy and divisional titles in that span were buoyed by a weak schedule and strong goaltending. We won’t go so far to say his team had tuned him out, but they had become a mostly complacent crew, fully exposed in their consecutive first round playoff exits to lower seeded opponents.
Inconsistent Player Development
During his time here, Vigneault displayed an inability to consistently nurture young talent. In the salary cap constrained world, getting contributions from young players with small salaries is paramount.
To his credit, Vigneault developed the likes of Ryan Kesler, Jannik Hansen and Chris Tanev. But more strikingly, players like Cody Hodgson and Zack Kassian could never find their way out of his doghouse. The rift with Hodgson, in fact, began when Coach Vigneault accused the rookie of faking what turned out to be a serious back injury.
Clearly, young players who were committed to defense first (like Tanev and Hansen) would be in the good books of Vigneault, while those with creative offensive instincts (Hodgson and Kassian) would be forever shackled. At yesterday’s press conference, Gillis acknowledged the importance of getting contributions from younger players going forward, a passive indictment of Vigneault’s record in that regard.
Repeated Playoff Failures
Many will remember Coach Vigneault as the man who coached the Canucks to within a game of the Stanley Cup. History will show, however, that his teams notoriously under achieved in the playoffs.
His Canuck teams played in twelve playoff series (with home ice advantage in ten of them), winning six times. More recently, they have lost ten of their last 11 playoff games despite being the favourite. And most tellingly, their playoff elimination game record during his seven years at the helm featured only eight wins in 21 attempts - a glaring signal that his team could not play their best when it mattered most.
Hired to be Fired
Finally, and most importantly, coaching changes work. The history of sport does not feature stories of immeasurable patience in your coaching staff being rewarded with championships. It simply does not happen. In fact, the opposite is typically true. Of the last ten Stanley Cup champions, the average tenure of the head coach has been two seasons. Three times in that period, the winner has featured a coach in his first season with the club.
So after seven seasons, Coach Vigneault winds up where all coaches eventually do. He had tremendous opportunity here, one that was left mostly unfulfilled. And on that basis, while amassing the best record in franchise history, will not be remembered as the greatest Canuck coach ever. By no means is he solely responsible for this organizational failure, but he is certainly the most easily accountable at this moment in time.
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.
That, of course, is the question on everyone’s mind these days, casual fan or otherwise. And at no point in Canuck history has there been such a polarized response.
As the defending two-time President’s Trophy winners and near Stanley Cup champ two years ago, this exact team, more or less, has been recently elite and on everyone’s short list to win it all.
But based on the uneven and sometimes injury plagued play of this lockout-shortened campaign (backed only by the superlative play of Cory Schneider), the Canucks, in the eyes of many, are on target for another embarrassing first round exit.
The core personnel from the 2011 team remains intact, improved by the upgrade in goal of Schneider over Roberto Luongo and the pick-up of a legitimate second line playmaker in Derek Roy.
So on that simple basis, this team should have another shot at winning it all. And that is certainly what Canuck management would be selling you.
But you should recall last regular season wasn’t as impressive as advertised. The Canucks were bailed out consistently by their elite goaltending tandem and feasted on poor divisional opponents. The power play, that had ruled the league in 2011, was beginning to show the cracks in a foundation that would crumble completely this season.
And, of course, there was the overriding issue of lack of size and playoff grit up front - an issue that first haunted them in the Cup Final loss to Boston and was a contributing factor in last year’s early playoff exit - and one that remains unaddressed.
Mike Gillis has been quoted as saying that luck is one of the biggest components of playoff success. And he’s right. This particular version of the Canucks has been most susceptible to injury - perhaps an indictment of the Canucks’ declining depth. This team, it seems, will need more than just a little luck to get back to the promised land.
So while the memories of the 2011 near miss are most fresh in our minds, it would be wise to lower our expectations for this team - a team, that on paper, looks a whole lot more like the 2007 Canucks than they do the Stanley Cup finalists of two years past.
That team, buoyed by the other worldly goaltending of Robero Luongo, featured a veteran forward group that struggled to score (thirty-six year old Trevor Linden led the team in playoff scoring) and was bounced in the second round by the eventual Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.
Some things could happen this time around. Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins and Chris Tanev could get healthy and remain so. The Sedins and Ryan Kesler could resurrect their power play magic. Zack Kassian could emerge as a consistent physical, yet disciplined force. And Derek Roy just might provide second line offensive production, as advertised.
But other things will most certainly happen. The Canucks’ overall depth will be tested by the rigors of playoff hockey. The aged forward group will struggle to score, particularly at even strength. The team, as a whole, will get pushed around by bigger younger teams like Los Angeles and St. Louis. Cory Schneider will stand on his head.
You add all that up and a reasonable conclusion is another first round loss, or, if they are a little lucky, an unsuccessful trip to the second round.
When Keith Ballard arrived in Vancouver nearly three years ago, the price tag seemed high (a first round pick along with two former first rounders, Michael Grabner and Steve Bernier) and his lengthy remaining contract seemed gaudy. So justifiably, he was expected to be a top four defender; a young man, who five years into his career, had averaged over 20 minutes of ice team per game each and every season.
But through a combination of injuries and nerves, he could never get the confidence of the coaching staff in Vancouver. And it seemed that the volatile defender and his rich contract were to become an albatross in the new post-lockout world.
But fully into his third season in Vancouver, it appears he has finally found his game, or at least, the confidence of his coaches. You will note that Ballard was on the ice for the overtime winning goal last game - an opportunity Alain Vigneault never would have entrusted him with in seasons past.
So while he has yet to produce a single point this season, he is combining with young Chris Tanev to form the Canucks’ most dependable defensive pairing. In his first two seasons here, he was lucky to play 15 minutes per night, and rarely in 9 consecutive games as he has thus far. So far this season, he’s getting well over 17 minutes per outing. And circumstances dictate he should be getting even more.
The Canucks’ power play is struggling mightily this season. Once the most feared team in the league with the man-advantage, this season’s results have been middling, at best, with the points having been manned exclusively by Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Garrison and Kevin Bieksa.
Given the struggles of everyone, except Edler, to contribute with the man advantage, giving the smooth skating Ballard a chance only seems to make sense.
In fact, before he came to Vancouver, he saw considerable power play minutes throughout his first five years in the league. You’d think his quick skating and adventurous play would be an asset to a power play that has become predictable and now ineffective.
We like what we’ve seen this season from Ballard, the default doghouse resident of the Alain Vigneault era. But we’d like to see more of it. Here’s hoping he’ll get the chance…
Six games into their regular season, the Canucks performance to date has been missing the high points. And while a half-dozen games isn’t much, in this shortened season, it’s the same as the ten game mark in a full slate.
In that sense, the season so far is business as usual for this team ever since Alain Vigneault took over. In fact, in the initial ten game increments of those now nearly seven seasons, they’ve never won more than 5 of 10.
Yes, in the stretch of their most significant continued success in franchise history, this team has always been slow out of the gate.
But there a few differences this time around. This season is shorter and thus the impact of a slow start is amplified. Further, this team is older. And in the context of the late starting regular season and now accelerated schedule, this combo could be lethal.
How did the Canucks, now with nine of their regulars over 30 years of age, do the last time they were this old? They missed the playoffs (2007-08).
With an even .500 record this far, there have been some notable under-achievers - particularly the collective play of their top four defencemen. Noted free agent acquisition, Jason Garrison, was brought in to boost the power play, but has yet to register a single point. While Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis have been volatile.
Goal scoring, a problem that reared its head dramatically at the end of last season, continues to be mediocre. The once high-octane offense is scoring at a rate that is one goal less per game than the first place Chicago Black Hawks.
Many pundits had predicted that shootouts would be more prominent in this condensed season. And for the Canucks, that has certainly been the case. And as per usual, in the Alain Vigneault regime, the Canucks have struggled to compete. Whether this will be enough motivation for Coach Vigneault to actually practice the shootout remains to be seen.
The upside though is that the team is getting significant contributions from young players (most notably Zack Kassian and Chris Tanev who both started the season in game shape after playing big minutes on the farm club) so by the time the more experienced players round into form, there should be a notable increase in performance.
And Mason Raymond has found top gear for the time being and remembered where the front of the net is.
Further, this version of the Canucks seems more suited for the rough going with Kassian along with Aaron Volpatti engaging in a number of fisticuffs. There has been a demonstration that this team is less likely to be intimidated.
And, whenever Roberto Luongo finally gets dealt, this team should get just a little bit younger and more offensively skilled. Though with every passing day, it is just as likely that the stubborn Mike Gillis has missed the high water mark for his star keeper’s value.
You will note that we’ve not mentioned the return of Ryan Kesler and David Booth. That’s for good reason. We doubt Kesler will return this season and, if he does, he will be a shadow of his former self. As for David Booth, the Canucks were better with him out of the line-up last season than there were with him in it.
On Friday, the hated Hawks pay a visit to Rogers Arena for a game that will be yet another measuring stick for this year’s squad. The early season encounter between the two typically results in the Canucks getting their lunch fed to them, the wake-up call that finally turns their season around.
If the Canucks have truly begun the Schneider era (even though the incumbent Roberto Luongo is still hanging around), he must be given a demonstrable show of support in a second straight start despite his poor play in last night’s embarrassing opening night defeat.
To do otherwise would put the franchise and this never-ending melodrama right back to square one.
And even if the original plan (before Schneider’s egg-laying) was to start Luongo tonight against the Oilers to keep the young keeper away from back-to-back starts, it’s not like Schneider should be tired after leaving the game 26 minutes in.
This never-ending goalie controversy is beyond old, but let’s attempt to turn the tide and give Schneider another start.
Why the Canucks underpaid for Alex Edler
Before the opening night disaster, the biggest news around Canuck nation was the extension of defender Alex Edler for six years at an annual cap hit of $5 million.
Edler, of course, has proven that he can be equal parts Scott Stevens, ruthless bodychecker, and Bambi, awkwardly scrambling on the ice as if for the first time. His volatility clearly adds risk to any long term deal.
But, by NHL defensemen standards, where players are typically slow to mature, Edler is still very young.
And on that basis, this deal makes sense. The offensive numbers that he has put up so far give him a good chance to be the Canucks all-time leader amongst defenders. And his size, mobility and occasional nastiness could make him the best all around defender ever to lace them up in this market.
Ultimately, at $5 million per season and NHL inflation (the early post-lockout returns indicate that the spending spree continues unabated), it shouldn’t take much stability on Edler’s part to make this money well spent.
Why the Canucks defense is overrated
Many NHL pundits would have you believe that the Canucks defensive corps is among the league’s best. And from a very simple head count notion, that may be correct - there is no shortage of NHL ready plugs to fill the holes.
But the likes of recent pick-ups Cam Barker, who was disastrous on a defenseless Oiler team last season, and Jim Vandermeer, who has most recently spent more ice time as a fourth line forward, hardly even add insurance.
Ultimately, there is always the issue of quality over quantity and that is where the Canucks’ defense will continue to suffer.
Kevin Bieksa has the nasty disposition you want in every defender, but he is undersized for his role and maddeningly (perhaps stupidly) inconsistent.
Dan Hamhuis is a defensive rock (despite being on the ice for 5 goals against last night), but has little offensive upside.
The aforementioned Edler is still searching for consistency and the ability to play to the benefit of his size and strength.
Rounding out the top four is Jason Garrison, a purse swinging big man with a great shot.
Keith Ballard, arguably the Canucks’ most offensively dynamic defender, won’t get himself out of the bottom pairing as long as Alain Vigneault is around.
The remarkably steady Chris Tanev should get more ice this season, but hardly brings a full skill set.
After that are the supposed depth guys. But the point is simple, this franchise continues (42 years in) without a single elite defender.
In the end, the forward crew of this version of the Canucks will struggle to score. The team will need a tremendous contribution from its defense at both ends of the ice. We’re skeptical that this crew can fulfill that responsibility.
Despite their two consecutive President’s Trophies and a lengthy delayed start to the season that should be of great benefit to some key banged up players, the Vancouver Canucks start the season with more questions than many teams. So with the lockout finally over, we’re back to providing you with answers.
When will Ryan Kesler return?
With the Canucks’ second line centre duties falling to the likes of noted plumber Maxim Lapierre in Kesler’s absence, this is rightly question number one.
Given his early return from injury last season, Kesler has been adamant that he will only return when 100%. When that might be is anyone’s guess however.
Recent comments from Kesler’s agent implied that he is months away - though that response came during the lockout when there was every reason to overstate his client’s plight to maintain his injured status (and thus continue on the payroll) throughout the lockout.
At any rate, there has been a consistent divergence of opinion between Kesler’s camp and the Canucks about his return date so you’ll have to wait patiently. But really the question ought to be…
Will Ryan Kesler ever be the same?
Let’s not forget that Kesler, plagued by chronic injuries, finished the last two post-seasons as a mere shadow of the player that dominated for much of the 2010-11 regular season and playoff.
Make no mistake, Kesler’s brilliant two-way play is predicated on his speed, physical robustness and devastating shot. It’s quite reasonable to assume that the toll of these repeated injuries will begin to surface whenever he does make a return to the ice.
Flatly stated, we’re betting that Kesler will settle into a decent two-way checking role, scoring 50 points per season for the remainder of his career. Not bad, but for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, it won’t be enough.
What to do with Bobby Lou?
Believe it or not, some are thinking that retaining Luongo for this season to serve in tandem with Cory Schneider might be a good idea. In an ideal world, faced with a sprint-to-the-finish shortened season (and no salary cap), this might be a nice luxury to have. But when you’re faced with the prospect of opening your season with no number two (nor number three, really) centre, Luongo must be sold to the highest acceptable bidder as soon as possible.
As a 33 year-old former number one goalie, how can his market value possibly rise when holding Cory Schneider’s jockstrap? If Roberto starts the season here, we will be surprised and disappointed.
Can a contribution be expected from young players this season?
Seemingly, there are a number of young players (Zack Kassian, Jordan Schroeder, Chris Tanev, Kevin Connauton) that will be given a chance to make the roster, but faced with little or no exhibition play and a shortened season, there’s little margin of error for experimenting with unproven talent - something coach Alain Vigneault has been typically wary of anyway.
In his season to date with the AHL Chicago Wolves, Kassian has proven to be just as enigmatic as before. He’s put up some decent offensive numbers (20 points in 28 games), led his team in penalty minutes, been suspended by the league and benched by his coach. For those keeping score at home, Cody Hodgson, who would have finally been satiated in Kesler’s absence, scored 19 points in 19 AHL games before fracturing his wrist.
Schroeder should get a look at centre ice with Kesler out unless a centre comes back in return for Luongo. It’s hard to get excited about his chances though with the more experienced Andrew Ebbett providing the exact same skill set.
The cool headed Tanev will likely get plenty of big minutes this year while Connauton, still in need of honing his defensive play, will not.
In case you are wondering, 2011 first round pick Nicklas Jensen is staying in Sweden. It is possible that the Canucks (now into the 5th year of the Mike Gillis era) will not ice a single Gillis draft pick this season, leaving Cody Hodgson (and the forgettable Yann Sauve) as the only Gillis picks to play at the NHL level.
Can breakout seasons be expected from Jannik Hansen, David Booth or Mason Raymond?
With no young help on the way and with the Sedins aging and Kesler injured, it is imperative that these three players must collectively improve.
You will remember that coming out of the last NHL lockout, there were improvements to the game to reduce clutching and grabbing thereby increasing scoring and entertainment value. When the game resumed, the pick-up was noticeable. This time around, the lockout was consumed with carving up league revenue, not a second was spent on how to improve the game.
We’re not sure that bodes well for these types of players (Hansen, Booth and Raymond), who all must improve their contributions if this team expects to manufacture offense on the second and third lines.
By the end of last season, as the hooking and holding seemed to be working its way back into the game, the output of this trio of speedy wingers had plummeted. In 15 combined playoff games, they managed a collective one goal and two assists. Of the three, we like Hansen’s chances the best - his progress has been steady and his determination ever present. Booth, on the other hand, will likely be earning himself a compliance buy-out before too long.
Welcome back! Enjoy the Canucks’ return to action. Or your boycott. Whatever. We’ll still be here.
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?
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…
In light of the Canucks’ disastrous trip to Boston, we expect some significant line-up tweaks from the occasionally esteemed Coach Vigneault.
During the last Canucks’ meltdown (the first round near suicide swoon against Chicago), we threw out some ideas for roster changes (see our April 23rd posting where we recommended reuniting Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows and starting Cory Schneider) that ended up working out brilliantly. So once again, it’s time to play Armchair Alain Vigneault:
While we’re tempted to throw out the “start Cory Schneider” plea again, although things are similar, they are also different this time around. Until the last two games, Roberto was being lauded as a Conn Smythe trophy candidate. He did out goaltend Tim Thomas in two straight games not that long ago. The only reason to start Schneider at this point would be as a wake-up call for the rest of the team. We’d say that card doesn’t need to be played. Yet.
We would, however, reunite Kesler and Burrows again (on the hope that they restrict their play to between the whistles).
The most dominant Canuck forwards in the four games of the final have essentially been every member of the third line. That line needs to see more ice time or perhaps broken up with its ingredients spread evenly through the top three lines. In particular, Jannik Hansen riding shotgun with the twins might invigorate the suddenly stone cold Sedins.
Given the poor play of both Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts in the last game, perhaps it’s time to insert Chris Tanev in either of their places. While the Canucks might miss the physicality that both Ballard and Alberts can bring, the cool headed play of Tanev might be a better option for a defense that looks more than a little discombobulated right now.
And before the current edition of the Canucks get too lost in this nosedive, it might be worth reminding them of the ‘94 version, who after a game one overtime win, lost three straight, getting outscored 12-4 in the process, before rallying to trounce the Rangers in games five and six.
We would toy with the idea of inserting a skillful Cody Hodgson into the line-up and finding him some quality ice time on the wing, with Mason Raymond rightfully demoted to the fourth line until he can recalibrate his compass to discover where the front of the net might be. If Boston can get some contribution from its number one prospect, why can’t we?
Sami Salo is certainly struggling with his mobility, but he has proven that he can still shoot the puck, and given the struggles of the power play, it is time for him to see some first unit minutes at the expense of either Christian Ehrhoff or Alex Edler.
The best thing about playing Armchair Alain Vigneault is that the more crap you throw at the wall, the more likely some of it will stick and the more likely you’ll look just as brilliant lucky as Coach Vigneault Enjoy your white knuckle ride tonight.