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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It is hard to imagine a more perfect weekend for the local hockey club. The current franchise icons had their contracts extended, their only hall of fame player had his number finally and rightfully enshrined and the hometown heroes dispatched the previously high riding Maple Leafs in easy, but dramatic fashion.
With the news of the Sedin contract extension surfacing on Friday, it was easy to feel a little sorry for Pavel Bure, whose long-deferred moment of respect was at risk of being overshadowed.
But this kind of news could not be surpressed and will put to rest a matter that was only weeks away from becoming a significant distraction for the club.
In the end, a four year commitment to these players is not surprising nor exorbitantly expensive. And it is consistent with Mike Gillis’ organizational modus operandi.
Ultimately, it is a move that will ensure the Canucks are competitive for quite some time. Though with the Sedins’ confirmed inability to consistently score in the post-season, a salary commitment of this size will likely impair the club’s championship aspirations lest the long anticipated emergence of some youthful scoring ever happens.
As for Bure, we’ve blogged endlessly that his moment of recognition from the club was long overdue. Simply put, he was the most exciting player, not only in franchise history, but of the entire post-Gretzky generation. He singlehandedly put the Canuck franchise on the sporting map and catapulted them into the global business they’ve become. Whatever version of his demise in this market you accept, he’d done more than enough to merit the ultimate recognition he received last night.
The 4pm local start time certainly ensured that the rest of the nation got a reminder about how great he was - and though few will admit it, he represents the greatest player to lace them up for a Canadian team since Gretzky left Edmonton. Like Don Cherry (or Ron McLean) would ever tell you that.
Some interesting revelations from last night’s ceremony:
Pat Quinn has dramatically aged. He has in recent years lost his trademark girth, but now appears frail and gaunt. We hope he is well.
The grumbling boo-littered reception for Mike Gillis was shocking. He’s gotten a mostly free pass from the media in this town, but clearly the fan-base has become impatient. Anyway, at that moment, as the ultimate architect of the ceremony, deserved a better response.
Pavel was remarkably well spoken, humble and thankful. It’s a shame that his introversion and shyness were mistaken for indifference, or worse, to this insecure market all those years ago.
Any reference to the ceremony cannot be complete without reference to Pavel’s wife, whose choice of attire was a welcome distraction for many, icing on the proverbial cake.
As for the game, the choice of opponent represented the site of Bure’s greatest post-season accomplishment, notwithstanding his trademark first round game seven double overtime winner. In the ‘94 five game semi-final dismissal of the Leafs, Bure was easily the Canucks’ best player, scoring often and in his typical thrilling fashion against arguably the greatest Leaf team since 1967.
And this time, the Leafs rolled into town as one of the league’s supposed heavyweights so says the frenzied media in the centre of the universe - a young quick team with significant size and two supposed number one goalies.
But the Canucks, as they have for many, many years, dominated the Leafs. If not for some lucky saves from the nervy James Reimer, it could have been a 7-0 blowout.
In the end, the Canucks looked inspired, as they have most nights of the John Tortorella era. And despite an ineffective power play, were full value for the 4-0 win.
The Leafs looked flat and frustrated, a failing that will be chalked up by their friendly media to the travel no doubt. Or more likely a second period incident that resulted in a significant injury to Leaf centre David Bolland and a goal for malingned Canuck winger Zack Kassian
As Zack Kassian steered the hated David Bolland into the boards, he severely cut his leg in the process with Kassian then scoring while Bolland was agonizing and out of the play.
As with most incidents in the NHL these days, one’s perspective is defined by what team they back. Kassian will argue he was simply finishing his check. Leaf fans will accuse him of an intentional kick to the unprotected back of Bolland’s leg.
It seems clear that Kassian appears to steer Bolland into the boards using his left leg while finishing his check - not necessarily “dirty”, but clearly, in hindsight, dangerous. He’s a repeat offender. And it’s against the Leafs on HNIC. This guy seems to have the luck of Todd Bertuzzi. If he only had the game.
No matter, with their only hall-of-famer officially celebrated, their iconic franchise leading scorers again contractually committed and another nationally televised beat-down of the hated Maple Leafs in the books, all is good. For now.
If you believe the rumour mill, the Canucks are serious about a pursuit of Ducks’ forward Corey Perry. In a previous post, we had mentioned that the Canucks need a physically imposing forward that can play. And in the 6’3”, 215 lb Perry that is what the Canucks would get. And more. The guy happens to be the reigning MVP and goal scoring champ.
Further, as we stated, the time is now for the Canucks. And they will likely need to overpay to get what they need. But precisely how much should the Canucks be prepared to overpay to get the rugged winger?
A lot would depend on whether or not the 26 year old Perry would have any interest in staying in Vancouver beyond the end of next season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
It is likely that any package of players headed to Anaheim would have to include either Cody Hodgson or Cory Schneider. And in all likelihood, both.
And that’s where things get really interesting. Hodgson, despite limited ice time, has been the Canucks best forward since Christmas (perhaps an indictment of the slumping Sedins and an inconsistent Ryan Kelser more than anything). What’s more, is that he seems to have a knack for scoring clutch goals. An attribute that was missing from the Canucks attack for pretty much the entire Stanley Cup Final. And ultimately, you can never have enough clutch sniping.
And Schneider, of course, has proven that he is an elite keeper and, seemingly, based on a very limited sample size, a more consistent clutch time performer than the combustible Roberto Luongo.
The point is that both of these players, who were nothing really more than top prospects at the end of last season, are contributing significantly right now to the team’s success. And on that basis, trading either one at this point could be disastrous not simply in the long run, but possibly the short run, too.
Though as one of our loyal readers pointed out, would you rather have 10 years of Hodgson or 4 years of Perry? Tough to say. With Hodgson’s current rate of ascension, we might want to stick with Cody.
Ultimately, Gillis’ confidence in his two most prized young assets will have to be weighed against whatever is coming back. But the recent significant contributions of both Hodgson and Schneider makes you think that the Canucks might be better off taking whatever they can get for draft picks, an AHL prospect, Mason Raymond and Keith Ballard. Even if that doesn’t fetch them Corey Perry…
The lexicon of sport is riddled with mantras that are so oft repeated, they sometimes sound hollow. And as the battles intensify, the calls of our “best players need to be our best players”, “we’ve got to leave it all out there”, and “you gotta be good to be lucky” can be heard everywhere.
And last night, the Canucks proved that every damn one of them is true.
On a night where they entered play with three chances to punch their ticket to a Stanley Cup Final, the Canucks could have been guilty of “counting their chickens before they hatch” as they had in their last two series’ game five encounters.
Indeed, Don Cherry, who rarely has more than a back-handed compliment for the Canucks (more on that in a future post), commented that the Canucks were “ripe for the picking” after the first period of last night’s game, despite holding a 1-0 lead.
But on this night, the Canucks’ best player was one Roberto Luongo, who began the series, despite a game one victory, in the doghouse of many once more for giftwrapping a Joe Thornton series’ opening marker.
And when your $10 million keeper (as he is typically, and inflammatorily, referred to in this market) is your best player, it might not matter how well the finally present-and-accounted-for Sharks play.
And the Canucks’ second best players on this night were the Sedins, who displayed their most dominant five on five performance of this playoff. And while that wasn’t enough on its own to guarantee victory, it was plenty to take some pressure off labouring leader Ryan Kesler.
Kesler, of course, “left nothing out there” despite seemingly suffering an early lower body injury - one that would have kept him (or perhaps Joe Thornton) off the ice in most instances. And, of course, it was Kesler who found his way to the front of the net in typical fashion to deflect in the late game-tying goal.
Which brings us to “Lady Luck”. Shark fans are lamenting another seemingly premature exit, this time wallowing in their collective misfortune as opposed to a final game no show by the usual suspects. After all, the face-off that set up the tying goal shouldn’t have happened. There should have been no icing since Dan Boyle’s clearing attempt hit Daniel Sedin on the way out.
But suffice is to say, blown icing calls don’t result in goals all by themselves. Joe Thornton lost a draw (or rather Henrik Sedin won it). The Canucks managed a quick point shot and Kesler, undefended in his offce, tipped home the tying goal. So the Canucks were indeed good to be lucky. Or at least, the Sharks weren’t good enough to avoid this misfortune.
Of course, the overtime winner was about the most bizarre goal you will ever see, with literally none of the 19,000 fans in the building nor the millions viewing at home having any idea how it found its way into the net. Yes, it seemed only Kevin Bieksa and possibly Patrick Marleau had any idea what was happening. So you can imagine how that little one-on-one battle might end.
In the case of Bieksa, who is playing at a level right now that is uncharted by any Canuck defenseman before him, we shall henceforth refer to him as “The Amazing Bieksa”. Yes, his powers now seem to extend to almost the supernatural - able to suspend the attention of both teams, and millions of viewers long enough to barely dribble a pathetic point shot past an unsuspecting goalie, whose run of good fortune has seemingly ended.
So yes, the Canucks were lucky last night. But the luck only means something because they were good enough to have rightfully earned a three games to one series lead to begin with.
And now you will likely hear lots of commentary about how this team is a “team of destiny”. After all, Bieksa’s double overtime winner came 17 years to the day that Greg Adams’ memorable gave 5 double OT winner had identically vaulted the Canucks to the final. And while it might work out that way, it is only because this team is good enough to determine its own destiny.
In a game where the Canucks outshot, outchanced and outhit their opposition, the final 3-2 result was a just one.
And while Sharks’ fans will be bitterly complaining about a phantom Dany Heatley elbowing penalty that gave the Canucks the chance for the game-winning tally, the biggest factor in the Sharks having the lead for most of the night was another gift, this one not provided by the officials, but Roberto Luongo.
For perhaps the first time all play-offs, the Canucks displayed the type of game that made them the best regular season team.
Often rolling four lines and having their defense engaged in the attack (even when protecting a late game lead), the Canucks combined a resilient performance from Roberto Luongo (after said first period gaffe) with a most opportunistic power play to give the weary Sharks just what they should have expected.
Game One showed the Canucks with little rust after a lengthy layoff and established clearly (like there was any doubt) that this will not be another round of paint drying, instead providing the faithful plenty of edge of your seat excitement.
Perhaps the biggest story in the game was the dominant performance from the Sedins, whom coach Alain Vigneault rode harder as the game progressed, putting aside any notions, for today anyway, that certain brother(s) may be playing hurt.
When Luongo’s first period tape-to-tape pass wound up on Joe Thornton’s stick and in the net, you could feel the life being sucked out of the building. But Lou was able to park that brain fart, as were his mates.
What pleased us most about this game was how the Canucks played after finally getting the lead mid-way through the third period. Against Chicago and Nashville, they were often guilty of attempting to baby their leads, collapsing into rope-a-dope fashion, with an often predictable result. Not this time. Whether consciously attempting to bury the more tired Sharks or now being more relaxed and confident in their approach, the result was what we’d all become accustomed to throughout the season.
This is the edge that the Canucks must maintain througout to eke out the final seven wins to complete the job. And while we expect the Sharks to put up more resistance next game, these repeated third period collapses (three in the last four games) can’t be good for their collective psyche.
In a regular season that can’t end soon enough for Canuck fans (so that they can finally start playing for real), Ryan Kesler has been the team’s near unanimous MVP thus far. And that’s a very good thing.
After a break-out offensive season last year, many (ourselves included) thought that Kesler may have peaked with a career season that saw him notch 25 goals and 75 points. But Wednesday’s hat trick performance against Columbus seems to indicate the best is yet to come.
When Kesler first entered the league, it was clear that he had speed to burn and a consistent work ethic that would keep him in the league for a long time. But more often than not, his head and hands looked like they would never catch up to his feet. His vision and play-making abilities appeared limited and his hands cast in granite. Flash, dash, but no finish.
But his first career hat trick showed how his offensive game has rounded into remarkable form. Each goal was a showcase for his now impressive sniping abilities - his speed and anticipation providing the chances that were easily finished with either deft moves or quick accurate releases.
After this latest offensive explosion, Kesler is on pace for a 40 goal season. And while his assist totals are down substantially from the prior year, much of that can be attributed to underachieving (relative to the prior campaign) efforts from his wingers, Mason Raymond (due to injury) and Mikael Samuelsson (who is still waiting for a Team Sweden snub to elevate his game to the next level).
But what really matters is the simple fact that Kesler has been easily the Canucks’ most consistent player this season. He is undoubtedly leading by example. Despite Henrik Sedin having been assigned the official leadership mantle, Kesler has demonstrated that he is now the de facto leader of this team.
The local media has covered in great detail Kesler’s maturation. He no longer leads the league in number of f-bombs dropped per game (that clearly falls with Capitals coach Bruce “F*ckin’” Boudreau). Clearly, he has stopped chirping and complaining and has focused his efforts on what happens during the play, and not after it.
And that is mission critical, not just for him, but for his entire team.
You will recall last playoff season when the Canucks suffered another second round burnout. When the Sedins and Roberto Luongo were unable to elevate their games. When Kesler and Alex Burrows were missing in action to the insane extent that they were being out ice-timed by wee Kyle Wellwood, everyone’s favourite whipping boy. And when the team as a whole failed to play with the required composure and discipline, their season was done.
All teams need determined and disciplined play to succeed in the long run. Someone within this leadership group needs to step forward and lead by example, night after night. And right now, that someone is Ryan Kesler…
Of course, we mean this in a mostly tongue in cheek fashion, but with Jeff Tambellini’s demotion today to Winnipeg despite scoring twice in his limited time with the Sedins you have to wonder.
The first winger to achieve decent chemistry back when the twins were just fuzzy faced boys was Trent Klatt. After said success, Klatt had a personal chauffeur, Brian Burke, drive him to the airport as he chased more money and respect in LA only to have his career end one year later.
After Klatt, came Magnus Arvedson. Coming from Ottawa as a two way winger capable of 15 to 20 goals per season, Arvedson was supposed to be a perfect fit to join his Swedish brethren, but it never worked and he (while ending his NHL career that season) was replaced quickly by Jason King. King came from nowhere (we mean Newfoundland) and after scoring early and often with the Sedins was back in the AHL before the season was over and has since played a grand total of 4 NHL games.
And, of course, no one can forget everyone’s favourite Sedin brother, Anson Carter, who racked up an incredible season only to think that he was solely responsible for it chasing better money out of town and in less than one season was out of the NHL.
After Carter, the winger to get the most Sedin ice time was one Markus Naslund. During his mostly two years with twins he racked up paltry goal and assist totals compared to what he had done in the previous 5 seasons. And, of course, the supposed Canuck icon left town shortly thereafer for one final mediocre season in New York.
The next chosen child was Steve Bernier, who arrived in town as a still highly prized prospect. The big man with the right hand shot that would so easily pull an “Anson Carter” did not. In fact, the experiment was short lived. And after 2 seasons here, mostly as a third liner, he was shipped to hockey purgatory in Florida.
And you might remember Sergei Shirokov, last season’s training camp darling who began the season as the designated right hand power play shooter with the Sedins. 6 games and no points later, he, too, was off to Winnipeg and hasn’t been seen since.
But what about Alex Burrows? With the Sedins at his side, he’s evolved from grinding winger to sniping sister right? Yes, but after being an ironman since his arrival here 5 seasons ago he has now had to battle through a shoulder problem, making his return tonight while Tambellini makes his way to the Moose.
Let’s hope that Burrows is the exception to what has been a mostly miserable rule.