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Monday, February 27, 2012
After the 2012 Trade Deadline the Vancouver Canucks are a different team, whether they are a better team is a question of some debate.
The look and flexibility of this team has been significantly altered. Gone is Cody Hodgson's offensive production from the 3rd line and 2nd unit power play, in it's place is a more a more traditional checking line, a young power forward and a defenseman who can help the power play and transition game, but has some question marks in his own end.
Most, if not all Canuck fans were stunned when Bob MacKenzie said Cody Hodgson was no longer a Canuck. Arguably the team's top prospect, Hodgson had come into his own this season and had produced several clutch goals. Hodgson's future is very bright and no one was really expecting to see Hodgson dealt at the deadline. There were always questions about how he fit in the Canucks long term plans, but in the short term the Canucks had to be happy with the secondary scoring he was providing.
So what led the Canucks to deal Hodgson?
It's obvious that the Gillis wanted to get tougher and when the price for Steve Ott became too much - Dallas rightly asked a lot - Gillis had to look at other avenues. The first domino was the acquisition of Sami Pahlsson. Immediately there became a log jam up front, my initial reactions on twitter...
11:14am Pahlsson acquisition gives #Canucks upgrade on Malhotra at centre. Lots of interchangeable parts from the 2nd line down.
11:18am Hodgson likely to see games up on 2nd line and down on 4th line, depending on the type of checking line AV wants. #Canucks
11:22am and of course Hodgson will continue to centre the 3rd line. Point is #Canucks have lots of flexibility up front.
I'll be honest at this point the thought of trading Hodgson hadn't popped into my mind at all. I figured the Canucks would give him a shot on the 2nd line wing, but I assumed that by the time push comes to shove in the playoffs Hodgson would likely be seeing 4th line ice time and 2nd unit PP duty while Lapierre and/or Pahlsson took over 3rd line ice time on a defensively reliable unit.
Obviously Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault were well aware of this scenario. People have bitched and complained about Hodgson's ice time all season, but the bottom line is Alain Vigneault expects players to be strong in their own end. If you are any kind of a liability defensively, you're going to have a hard time finding the ice. Can you really argue with that philosophy? Clearly Vigneault is a very successful coach. People are free to nitpick with who "his guys" are or should be, but you can't argue with the end result.
So, getting back to Hodgson, he was never going to play ahead of Kesler or Henrik at centre ice. That leaves third line ice and power play time. While Hodgson produced very well for his ice-time, his defensive game is no where near as mature. You saw that on display in the Detroit game where, after scoring a big goal, Hodgson could not handle Abdelkader in his own end and Detroit immediately responded with a goal of their own. Those are things you're going to get with a young centre iceman. The question is can you afford that when you are trying to win the Stanley Cup?
Today the Canucks answered that question.
Canucks Get Tougher
A lot has been made of the Canucks toughness, probably too much, but you can't deny the Canucks need for more size and grit was significant. When the game gets tight and it's hard to get the puck to the middle, it becomes really hard to score goals when your power play goes into a funk or run of bad luck. We saw that against Boston. And it's not just Boston the Canucks need to worry about. First they need to get out of their own conference against some big physical teams like St. Louis, San Jose and Nashville. Then in the East you have the team's trying to emulate the Cup Champions. Remember the past few meetings vs the Rangers? Shutout because the Canucks struggled to get pucks to the middle of the ice (also known as playing on the perimeter).
So how much is Zack Kassian going to help in this department?
That really depends on how the Canucks plan on using Kassian, so far we haven't heard much on this other than they think he is ready to contribute now. So does that mean he starts on the 4th line, or is he going to get a legitimate shot on Kesler's wing and the opportunity to park himself in front of the net on the power play?
Most out west don't know all that much about Kassian so we're left to rely on statistics, media and other fan opinions. The most important thing to keep in mind with Kassian is that this is his first professional season. At just 21 Kassian is nearly a point a game in the AHL where it's not exactly easy to score. He obviously hasn't lit it up in the NHL, but he's managed to hold his own. On a better team with stronger linemates, Kassian may be able to produce more offensively. The future is bright for Kassian, but is it now?
The Forgotten Piece
Marc-Andre Gragnani seems to be the forgotten piece of this trade. He's not just a throw in. Gragnani has struggled defensively in Buffalo, but he was very good in the playoffs last year. At 24, he's just entering the age of when defensemen start to really come in to their own. Gragnani has outstanding AHL numbers which obviously show he has offensive skill. Playing on the 3rd pairing he has the potential to improve his NHL numbers, especially when you consider that AV likes to "hide" his weakest pairing by throwing them out with the Sedin twins. He will also get a chance on the power play where the second unit will need to find a way to replace Hodgson's production.
He's not the top 4-5 guy the Canucks could have really used, but I wouldn't be surprised if he finds himself as a regular in the lineup.
Final Thoughts for Today
The weirdest thing about this trade is that it doesn't really hinge on Zack Kassian. It's really about the new identity and style of the third and fourth lines and whether the Canucks ultimately win the Stanley Cup this year. Oddly, the performances of Sami Pahlsson and even Gragnani may be more important than what the Canucks get out of Kassian this year.
So is this a good trade or a bad trade? It's definitely a ballsy trade. Ultimately the Canucks are deeper and more balanced then they were Monday morning and they're likely a stronger playoff team. Will they miss the odd Hodgson goal, maybe, but there will be opportunities for others to step up and perhaps a free'd up Kesler will negate Hodgson's lost production.
Bottom line, overall I think the Canucks are a stronger team after the trades. It's tough to see a player like Hodgson leave, but ultimately it's about giving yourself the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. Mike Gillis went out and made his bold move, hopefully it will be remembered as the one that led to the Stanley Cup.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
While watching the Lions game yesterday I hear a TSN Tradecentre alert go off on my phone. I wonder "Hmmm which mediocre player was traded for a mid-round pick today." Needless to say it was a little shocking to see that the Canucks had traded away Mikael Samuelsson. Even more surprising was the player they received in return.
The Canucks sent Samuelsson and Marco Sturm to Florida (yes Florida again) in exchange for F David Booth, F Steven Reinprecht and Vancouver's 3rd round pick in 2013.
It's obvious the Canucks felt they were lacking a speed element on the wing. Samuelsson was off to a very shaky start following off-season surgery and Marco Sturm was completely ineffective. Neither player had settled into the lineup and with Mason Raymond still on the shelf for the foreseeable future Gillis obviously felt the need to make a move.
Booth is only 26, but brings a hefty contract ($4.25m through 2014-15) and some concussion concerns. He has yet to regain his 2009 form which saw him score 31 goals and add 29 assists in 72 games. While he returned to play all 82 games last season there has to be some concern over the risks of another concussion. There are also reports from Florida observers that Booth no longer plays as physical as he did prior to his concussions. Last season's -31 is also troublesome, but then again Florida had only two plus forwards last season. Playing almost 19 minutes a night on a team who's 5on5 goals for/against ratio was 6th worst in the NHL isn't going to help your plus minus. Playing with Steve Bernier also doesn't help.
Those concerns aside, Vancouver fans have to be pretty excited with the acquisition of Booth. Guys in their mid 20's who have scored 30 goals aren't easy to come by. Booth has great wheels and a quick heavy shot. A lot of people consider him to be similar to Raymond. Booth is however bigger and more physical while Raymond is much better defensively. Booth has also shown that he can finish and play in the dirty areas.
Check out some highlights of Booth on NHL.com
Playing with Kesler
While Kesler and Booth have a history together, you have to wonder how they will mesh on the same line. Kesler isn't exactly a great puck distributor and is often a shoot first guy. That could have a lot to do with his past linemates not exactly being top quality players, but there has also been a lack of chemistry between Kesler and Hodgson. Booth is a guy who likes to shoot the puck a lot (he was 12th overall in shots on goal last year) so it will be interesting to see how two "shooters" play together.
It will also be interesting to see whether Chris Higgins will remain on the 2nd unit or whether Hodgson will continue to play on the right wing. Hodgson has struggled since the return of Kesler, but it's only been three games. I don't see Hodgson being demoted to Chicago, mainly because he has single handedly improved the effectiveness of the 2nd unit power play. I'd like to see him stay on the 2nd line a little longer and if that doesn't work out he could centre the third line. Manny Malhotra hasn't been very good and you have to think his days as the number 3 centre could be coming to an end. Max Lapierre has been great and Hodgson has demonstrated he's capable of holding his own at this level. If the 4th line had not shown so much chemistry Lapierre would already be the 3rd line centre. However it shakes down the Canucks have a lot of flexibility up front.
Samuelsson and Sturm
This trade has to be pretty disappointing for Samuelsson. He's going from a contender to a team in a perpetual rebuild. Chances are he will be moved to a contender at the deadline, until then he'll have to enjoy the Florida sunshine. His leadership may be missed in the dressing room, but you have to give up something to get something.
Somehow Mike Gillis got out of his $2.5m mistake by trading away Sturm. Sturm was clearly a step behind the play and didn't show many signs that he can still play at this level.
This is an awful hockey trade by Florida, but it obviously helps their bottom line. Who knows maybe they can parlay Samuelsson and Sturm into some usefull assets at the trade deadline, but if you're a Florida fan you have to be pretty disappointed that you moved a 26 year old forward and didn't receive a young asset in return. You would think there are other NHL team's out there who would have taken a chance on Booth while offering up something of more use in the long term.
The other component to the trade is Steven Reinprecht, or more accurately his $2.05m salary. At 35 Reinprecht's NHL days may be behind him, but he is only 2 years removed from a 38 point season with Florida. He's unlikely to be recalled during the season (the Canucks would not want to add a million to their cap hit should he be claimed on re-entry waivers) but he could provide some injury insurance should the Canucks need a 4th line centre in the playoffs.
It's not often you see a significant trade in October, but Mike Gillis saw an opportunity to acquire a top 6 forward without giving up a part of the core. The Canucks got younger and faster and saved a little cap room in the process. Booth carries some risks, but there's a lot of upside to this trade. The Canucks are a better team today. What's not to like?
Thursday, October 06, 2011
The Canucks open the season tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7:00 CBC). Here's your opening night lineup...
- Sedin Sedin Burrows
- Sturm Hogdson Samuelsson
- Higgins Malhotra Hansen
- Volpatti Lapierre Weise
- Hamhuis Bieksa
- Edler Salo
- Ballard Tanev
It was reported today that Mike Gillis expects Ryan Kesler to return in 5 to 6 games, or roughly two weeks. The return of Kesler will force some interesting lineup decisions, especially where it concerns Cody Hogdson. Hogdson now has a smaller than expected window to show what he can do when the games are for real. Barring some kind of injury up front Hogdson will have to force his way into the lineup - I don't see the Canucks keeping him around if he isn't in the top 9.
Hogdson has his work cut out for him, but he's not the only one with question marks. On the wings newcomer Marco Sturm will get a good opportunity on the 2nd line, as will Mikael Samuelsson, but both will be expected to produce. If they don't Higgins, Hansen and even Hodgson will be ready for their chance to play on the 2nd line. At centre, the top two positions are obviously set, but Manny Malhotra doesn't have "3rd line centre" written in his contract. It wouldn't be a surprise if Maxim Lapierre ends up supplanting Malhotra on the 3rd line. There is also the possibility of Hodgson sticking as the third line centre and Malhotra moving to the wing, The Canucks will have plenty of internal competition this season.
With so many versatile forwards vying for ice time Alain Vigneault will be doing a lot of line juggling as he evaluates what he has in the 2011-2012 version of your Vancouver Canucks. A month from now tonight's lineup may be a distant memory.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Well it's been a long time since my last post. Quite frankly, after such a crushing disappointment I needed to take the summer off from all things Canuck. I was going to do a review of last season and "what went wrong", but really whats the point. We all know what went wrong. The Canucks power play floundered, Tim Thomas was amazing and Luongo wasn't good enough (again). Sure you can throw in the fact that the Bruins "pushed them around", but really, the Canucks lost because they couldn't score. That's what it came down to. Anyway it's time to move on, the 2011 pre-season is under way and the Canucks are starting back at the bottom of the mountain. Do they have what it takes to get back to the summit?
It was a quiet off-season for Mike Gillis. As expected the Canucks lost Christian Ehrhoff to free agency along with Tanner Glass and Raffi Torres. Ehrhoff will certainly be missed, but the Canucks had no interest in matching Buffalo's contract. Instead the Canucks will hope to replace Ehrhoff's production with a healthy (for now) Sami Salo, a better season from Keith Ballard and a more experienced Chris Tanev. The Canucks lost some grit in Glass and Torres, but both players will be easily replaced. Glass was a solid 4th liner, but when the pace picked up in the playoffs he wasn't able to keep up. Torres was effective at times and provided a physical presence with the odd goal. The Canucks are auditioning several players who can keep up with the NHL pace while playing a physical game and any offence Torres provided will easily be replaced by a full season of Chris Higgins.
The big addition to this year's roster is of course Marco Sturm. Many were surprised at the signing, Sturm after all has battled injuries and doesn't exactly address the perceived lack of grit/toughness that most thought the Canucks needed to address. That said, a healthy Sturm provides Vancouver with some impressive depth in their top 9 forward group. So far, Sturm has looked bigger and faster than expected and should be an excellent fit.
While Sturm is obviously a lock to make the roster, there are numerous players vying for some openings in the forward group. Injuries to Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond mean that there are two jobs available on the second line and questions surrounding Malhotra's readiness also create some interesting possibilities in the bottom 6.
- Cody Hodgson
- With Kesler out the door is wide open for Cody Hodgson to make the team. After two pre-season games it's pretty clear that he is ready to make the most of the opportunity the Canucks are giving him. (Yes the Canucks are giving him an excellent opportunity, despite what a few whiners in the media seem to think.) Hodgson has looked great in his first two appearances. He's made a Sedin like improvement in his skating ability. There was one play in Edmonton where the Oilers were rushing up ice and Hodgson was racing back on the backcheck - amazingly Hodgson kept pace with the young Oilers. In addition to his improved skating, Hodgson has also improved his strength and his shot. It's pretty clear that Hodgson is ready to be an NHL regular, there will be some growing pains, but physically he's ready.
- Owen Nolan
- What does Owen Nolan have left in the tank? After the first pre-season game I would have said not much. He looked slow and sluggish. However he had a much better showing in his second game. Sure he scored a goal, but more importantly he skated much better and was much more assertive and involved in the play. Still, the deck is stacked against him. With Burrows, Samuelsson and Hansen on the right side and numerous right handed shooting wingers vying for a job (see below) the chances of Nolan snagging a job are pretty slim.
- 4th Line Wingers
- The Canucks have a very interesting group of wingers who are battling for the two slots available on the 4th line. It's clear the Canucks are looking for a combination of grit, toughness and speed. With the exception of Todd Fedoruk several players fit those criteria: Steve Pinizzotto, Mark Mancari, Victor Oreskovich, Mike Duco and Aaron Volpatti.
- Add Nolan and Fedoruk to the mix and you have 7 players fighting for 2 jobs. The battle for the right wing spot appears to be the most competitive as you have 4 right handed shooters. So far Pinizzotta and Mancari have been very impressive, both have shown an ability to skate and make plays. Incumbent Oreskovich has been quiet so far and will need to show a lot more if he wants to avoid starting the season in Chicago. On the left side Mike Duco had a strong game in Edmonton, with his ability to contribute on the PK he appears to be the leading candidate to take over Tanner Glass's role. Aaron Volpatti will really have to step up if he hopes to jump a head of Duco. And of course there is always the possibility of one of the right handed wingers playing the left side.
- Jordan Schroeder
- Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of camp so far is Jordan Schroeder and the strides he has taken in his game. It's highly unlikely that the Canucks would keep both Hogdson and Schroeder, but Schroeder has definitely shown that he is a lot closer to the NHL than he was last season. His competitiveness in the defensive zone has improved dramatically. He will in all likely hood start the season in Chicago where he will be expected to be a top player. If he stays healthy he'll receive a callup at some point.
This weekend's two home games will be the last chance for several players to make an impression. The 4th line battle is particularly interesting, Expect some cuts on Monday. Hard to believe that the regular season is less than two weeks away...