Friday, November 26, 2010

Canucks First Quarter Report Card

The Vancouver Canucks have now played 21 games and are a quarter of the way through their season. That means it's time for some letter grades...

Note that player grades are relative to expectations for the player!

Team Grades

Overall Team Grade: C+
The Canucks are 11-7-3 for 25 pts which puts them on a pace for 97.6 pts. Last year in the west, the 7th and 8th positions required 100 and 95 points respectively. Clearly the Canucks season so far hasn't quite been up to expectations.
Power Play: A
The Canucks have the best power play in the NHL at 25.6%. The only complaint with the power play is that there is a big drop off to the second unit. Despite that perception the non first unit forwards do have 5 goals which isn't too bad considering the amount of time they receive. Still you'd like the 2nd unit to be more consistent in terms of controlling the play in the offensive zone.
Penalty Kill: A
Last season the penalty kill was a huge issue, this year it is currently ranked 5th at 86.8%. They finished last season at 81.6% 18th overall. That is a huge improvement.

Player Grades

D Alex Edler: A
Alex Edler has been AV's go to guy and he's been the best overall Canuck this season. His offensive numbers are solid, while his defensive play has taken huge strides. He leads the team in ice time at almost 25 minutes a game and is out their in every critical situation.
F Daniel Sedin: A-
Daniel is tied for 5th in points (26) and is ranked 4th in goals (13). It's hard to argue with that kind of production. That said, the Sedins haven't controlled the play enough 5 on 5, so there is still (scarily enough) room for improvement.
F Henrik Sedin: B+
Like Daniel, Henrik's numbers put him up with the best of the NHL. He is tied for 5th in points (26) and leads the NHL with 24 assists. However Henrik hasn't been the same Hart Trophy player he was last season. He isn't taking the puck to the net enough and too often passes off the puck when last year he would try and score. As a result he has only 2 goals. He has become too reliant on Daniel and needs to remember that he's also capable of putting the puck in the net.
G Cory Schneider: B+
Up until the Buffalo start and Chicago debacle, Schneider had been absolutely brilliant, posting outstanding numbers.
F Ryan Kesler: B
Kesler has only 4 assists and half his points have come on the power play. Five on five the 2nd line has been a disappointment and Kesler is a part of that. On the positive side, Kesler's overall play has improved as the season has gone along and he is now playing very good hockey.
F Manny Malhotra: B
Malhotra has been a huge part of the Canucks improved penalty kill. He is ranked 2nd in faceoff pct at 62.3% and is 4th in total won faceoffs despite taking far few faceoffs than the guys in front of him. The only negative against him is that his line has been on for a few too many goals against.
D Andrew Alberts: B
I don't think anyone expected Alberts to play in every game and play 15 minutes a night - all while playing as well as he has. Sure there have been some low points, but overall Alberts has been pretty solid. The Canucks would like to dial back his minutes to the 12:00 mark, but so far he has met and maybe exceeded expectations.
D Kevin Bieksa: B-
Many will grumble at this ranking, but overall Bieksa has been pretty solid this season. You'd like higher offensive numbers and he frustrates you with his decision making, but he has been very good on the PK and is a +2 on the season.
F Alexandre Burrows: B-
Burrows has been a slight disappointment in 11 games since his return, but his struggles were expected. He appears to be on the cusp of returning to last year's form.
F Jannik Hansen: C+
Hansen needs to contribute more offensively, but he has been very good on the forecheck and has been a key contributor to the strong PK.
F Raffi Torres: C+
Torres has come pretty much exactly as advertised. He is great for a few games and is completely MIA in others. The inconsistency in offence is expected, but the Canucks need more consistency in terms of focus. Torres is capable of being a physical force far more often than he has been.
F Tanner Glass: C+
While the 4th line has been terrible Glass has had a decent start. He's managed to pop a couple goals, is on pace for nearly 20 points and has contributed to the PK as the 5th forward. If the 4th line wasn't so bad he'd deserve a higher grade. With better linemates (Bolduc, Hansen) Glass should have a better grade next quarter.
D Aaron Rome: C+
After sitting to start the season Rome has found himself playing more than expected. He has been a serviceable 3rd pairing guy, but he gets exposed when he has to play too much. So far this season he has been playing far too much at 17:04. Like Alberts the Canucks would like that down near the 12:00 mark.
F Peter Schaefer: C
Peter Schaefer's time as a Canuck is over, but he still gets a grade here. Schaefer was good on the PK when he got into the lineup, unfortunately for him he didn't make any kind of impact five on five.
F Guillaume Desbiens: C
Desbiens had a good opportunity coming out of training camp before he broke his hand in a fight. Despite the opportunity he didn't do much. I'll give him some slack because of the poor centre icemen he played with, but 4 shots on goal in 12 games shows that he hasn't been good enough on the forecheck and a -3 shows that the 4th line is "losing" too many shifts.
F Mikael Samuelsson: C-
The second line needs to be better and Samuelsson is a huge part of that. The effort has been there, but he looks like he is trying to do too much. He is over handling the puck and isn't playing with enough confidence. The numbers aren't terrible, but they need to be better.
F Mason Raymond: C-
Raymond has also struggled. It's believed he is playing with a hand injury so some of his play can be excused, but not all of it. Raymond is playing like the 08-09 Raymond, not the 09-10 Raymond. He should be better as the season progresses.
F Christian Ehrhoff: C-
While playing a tonne, Ehrhoff might be the most disappointing Canuck this season. The defensive game just hasn't been there. Too many turnovers and some weak physical play. The Brouwer goal (where he walked around Ehrhoff to the front of the net) pretty much sums up his weak play this season.
G Roberto Luongo: C-
8-7-2 2.82 .907 isn't good enough for a goalie making as much money as Roberto is. Luongo has had his moments of brilliance, but he has been inconsistent and has been outplayed by the other guy far too often.
D Dan Hamhuis: C-
Hamhuis got off to a great start, but has had his season derailed by a nagging foot injury. He should be arguably the team's best and most reliable defenseman. He's been far from bad and once healthy again he will be much better.
D Keith Ballard: D
Ballard has been a huge disappointment thus far, but things are starting to turn around. He is a much better defenseman than what we saw through the first quarter of the season. As he puts his health issues behind him and gets comfortable in Vancouver he is going to play a lot more and much better.
F Rick Rypien: D
It's not clear how much his personal issues have affected his play, but it is clear that Rypien is not good enough to be of much use right now. He failed in his opportunity to show he is capable of centering the 4th line and his poor puck skills have been a major factor in the ineffectiveness of the 4th line (can't get the puck out of the defensive zone).
F Jeff Tambellini (Incomplete)
In his first stint with the club he failed to do much as a bottom 6 forward, but when playing in a top 6 role he was much more effective. He's now back up and in a top 6 role and so far he has made the most of it. He's doing a great job at getting in a position to shoot the puck. If he keeps it up he'll find himself with a regular job on this team.
F Mario Bliznak (Incomplete)
Bliznak's called up was part of the Canucks new philosophy of giving guys some experience in the NHL to prepare them for future callups should the need arise later in the season or playoffs. Bliznak made the most of his 4 games, he has been the best 4th line centre the Canucks have iced since Bolduc went down in game 1. Needs to work on his faceoffs.
D Ryan Parent (Incomplete)
In limited action Parent was mistake prone, but showed flashes of why he was picked in the first round. The Canucks want to hang on to him and do not want to expose him to waivers. He will likely spend the rest of this season as the 8th defenseman and will only play in emergency situations. Currently the Canucks are taking advantage of the option to send him down to Manitoba for a conditioning stint.
F Joel Perrault (Incomplete)
Has only played 3 games, hasn't made much of an impact but has been good in the faceoff circle. Has a few games left before Bolduc returns and likely steals his job.
F Alexandre Bolduc (Incomplete)
Had a very good camp before spraining his ankle in the first game of the season. The 4th line has been terrible this season, the Canucks are counting on Bolduc to remedy the issue.

You can send your comments and hate mail via twitter: @TheCanuckFan

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rick Rypien Takes Another Leave of Absence

Rick Rypien is once again taking an indefinite leave of absence from the Vancouver Canucks. Two years ago Rypien was limited to only 12 games because of a similar absence due to personal reasons. It looks like fans and media will be left speculating again.

Rick Rypien certainly deserves his privacy, but you have to wonder if the speculation is more detrimental than the actual reasons behind his leave of absence. Regardless, good luck Rick.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Canucks Try to Get Back on Track

Well I sure picked a good time to miss watching my first game of the year. Yes I was fortunate enough not to be watching the HNIC debacle on Saturday night. Instead, I watched it off the PVR (without knowing the score) on Sunday before the Phoenix game... well I watched part of it anyway. You can only stomach so much of that. Does it get any worse than being completely embarrassed by your arch rival on Hockey Night in Canada?

Usually a blowout loss in the regular season doesn't really mean a whole lot. They piss you off, but they happen every now and then - no big deal. However, losing to the Blackhawks like that really raises some red flags with this club. Clearly the Hawks are "in the heads" of the Canucks, Roberto Luongo in particular looks like an AHL goalie vs Chicago. At this point Mike Gillis has to be a little concerned. The December 3rd game in Chicago is going to be a real measuring stick for the Canucks. Anyway, enough about that game...

  • After the road trip last week I asked "What's going to happen when the power play cools off a little?" Well the Canucks couldn't even generate a power play on Sunday and as a result they only scored twice. Five on five play needs to be better
  • Peter Schaeffer's time as a Canuck (and likely time as an NHLer) is over. Out of camp Schaeffer won a job because of his versatility, specifically his ability to kill penalties. Unfortunately Schaeffer didn't have any kind of impact. He couldn't find a way to earn more ice time and he was easily replaceable on the penalty kill.
  • Jeff Tambellini will be taking Schaeffer's place and will be playing with Kesler and Raymond on what should be a very quick line. Don't be surprised to see him reunited with the Sedins should the Canucks struggle offensively.
  • The bottom six will also have a different look as Samuelsson will drop down to the third line, bumping Hansen down to the 4th line. The 4th line is a lot better without Rick Rypien and I'm interested to see what they can do with Hansen's speed on the line. Tanner Glass is a guy that can contribute, but he needs players around him that can retrieve and move the puck. If he's with bad players he's going to be a bad player. Put him with some guys that can play (Hansen) and he can contribute.
  • The Canucks desperately need Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard healthy and playing up to their capabilities. Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome are serviceable guys, but neither should be playing much more than 13 minutes a night.

The Canucks begin the second quarter of their season tonight versus the division leading Avalanche (yes Colorado has taken over the division lead). Tomorrow I will post player report card ratings for the first quarter of the season...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Canucks Complete Disappointing Road Trip

The Vancouver Canucks completed their five game road trip with a 3-1 loss to Sydney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins - leaving them with only 5 points in 10 games. For most teams a .500 road trip would be considered fairly successful, but for a team that is supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender .500 is not good enough.

So what went wrong? It took them until Buffalo to actually have a good start to a game. Even though they got a quick lead in Ottawa, the first 10 minutes of each Canadian game was awful. A main reason for the slow starts was just plain old sloppy play. The entire road trip was filled with awful passes and turnovers. The Canucks were simply being too cute. Too many touch passes, too many blind passes, not enough hard work and get the puck to the net mentality.

Maybe the Canucks have been reading too many of their headlines. They seem to think they can pass the puck around at will, they seem to try for the pretty goal instead of taking their opportunity to get the puck to the net. How many times did you see the Sedins make a blind behind the back pass? How many times did you see them pass up a shot on goal in order to pass the puck? Sure it's awesome when it turns into a goal, but the over passing becomes contagious. Everyone starts to make that one extra pass - often resulting in a turnover - instead of getting the puck on net.

The Canucks success this year has been heavily reliant on their special teams. Vancouver is currently ranked 2nd on the power play at 27.1% and 6th on the penalty kill at 86.6%. That's outstanding. However five on five play is another story. Their goals for/against ratio at five on five is 0.97 which puts them at 16th in the NHL. That's not going to get you far in the playoffs. What's going to happen when the power play cools off a little?

It seems a little silly to be criticizing a team that's 2 points out of first place in the conference and which is lead by two players who are tied for 5th overall in league scoring. But this is a major hockey market who believes this team may be Vancouver's best Cup chance ever. This team is going to be under the microscope all season long. So in the spirit of looking under the microscope here are some random observations....

  • While the defense is very deep, Kevin Bieksa is the only right handed shot and that's making it tough on the guys who have to clear the puck out of the zone on their back hand. Sure Sami Salo's return would alleviate the problem, but that type of injury is tough to come back from.
  • You can debate the value or necessity of the 4th line, but one thing remains clear, the Canucks 4th line isn't very good. While Bliznak has done a pretty decent job, he is saddled with a couple wingers who are awful with the puck. Tanner Glass is a serviceable 4th liner, but Rick Rypien is an awful hockey player. Sure he can fight, but other than that he brings nothing. In 5:07 of average ice time he is a team leading -5 in only 9 games. He is incapable of getting the puck out of his zone and you just can't have that when you are on the road in the playoffs.
  • What is with Roberto Luongo? Just when you think he's getting in a groove and is recapturing his vezina nominee form, he gives up a goal like the lazy wrap around last night. That was just a pathetic attempt at getting across the crease. Unacceptable for a supposed elite goaltender.
  • Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson have to be a lot better. There's no reason why the 2nd line should be a minus on the year.
  • The guys coming off injuries have to start becoming integral parts of the team. Alex Burrows now has 8 games in, time to get it going. Keith Ballard needs to start moving up the depth chart. I'll give him this homestand, by the end he should be contributing over 18 minutes a night. I'll also give Hamhuis a pass, he's been pretty solid but he is capable of being this team's go to guy. Once his foot problem clears up he should be that guy.

The Canucks are now off for a couple days before they face the Blackhawks on Saturday. That means they finally have a chance to get a practice in. Hopefully AV can get the sloppiness out of their game.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Colin Campbell in Hot Water - Canucks in Buffalo - Lions Lose Thriller

So if you've been on a hockey related website, blog, or forum today you've probably seen the story on Colin Campbell and his emails concerning NHL officiating. If you haven't, check out TSN or the original story at (site is down today due to the attention the story is getting).

Is anyone really surprised by this? First even if you ignore the informality of the emails, the content has to be pretty alarming for the NHL. Clearly Campbell is showing some strong bias and whatever credibility he had as the NHL's disciplinarian is gone. Is anything going to happen as a result of this? Probably not. The NHL is going to keep downplaying this as much as they can and unless the NHL media really pushes this story, it will eventually go away.

It makes you wonder what juicy emails Campbell sent during the Burrows-Auger incident last year. Most in Vancouver believe the NHL (aka Colin Campbell) did not thoroughly investigate the incident. Judging by the thought process Campbell displays in his emails I'm guessing he wrote off the entire incident as a "fake artist" whining about a call.

Canucks in Buffalo

  • The Canucks are in Buffalo tonight where Cory Schneider is expected to start for the first time since November 4th. Schneider has been nearly perfect so far this season stopping 94 of 97 shots. Unfortunately the shutout has eluded him, will this be the night?
  • Once again Keith Ballard will be a healthy scratch. A lot is being made of having a $4m player sitting in the pressbox, but I think the situation is pretty simple. Ballard just isn't quite up to par physically in terms of his conditioning. Simple as that, no controversy. He'll get back in soon.
  • Follow @TheCanuckFan for tonight's live Twitter blog of the game.

Lions Lose a Thriller

Wow, what a football game yesterday. Simply amazing game, sports just doesn't get better than that. Lulay was great, too bad the defense (especially the secondary) couldn't make a stop in the second half. Regardless, great outing, good performance by both teams and in the end the Riders made one more play than BC. Things are looking up for the 2011 Grey Cup.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Ballard Healthy Scratch as Road Trip Begins in Montreal

The Canucks will start their five game eastern road trip in Montreal with Keith Ballard in the press box. With Dan Hamhuis set to return from his foot injury and Aaron Rome playing the best hockey of his career, the struggling Ballard is the odd man out.

Ballard struggled in training camp, but got off to a decent start when the regular season began. Unfortunately missing 5 games with a concussion has set Ballard back, something which he readily admits. "I haven't played well enough... I've probably played games when I should have been scratched. I'm disappointed, but there are a lot more important things than my feelings." Kudos to Ballard for dealing with the situation with class. He knows he needs to get better and the Canucks are going to do everything they can to get him back to the level of play he is capable of.

The Canucks need Ballard to get his game together, not only because of his salary and the price the Canucks paid to acquire him, but because he is a much better defenseman than he has shown so far. Both Aaron Rome and Andrew Alberts have taken their game to a new level, but as their ice time goes over the 15:00 mark the limits in their abilities start to get exposed. You can handle that in November, but come April it's another story.

Canuck Notes:

  • With 5 goals and an assist in 4 games Raffi Torres was named the NHL's first star of the week. Since being reunited with Jannik Hansen the third line has hit their stride and have played exceptionally well. Manny Malhotra is earning every dollar of his contract and is probably the best 3rd line centre in the NHL right now. The quality of the third line is a big reason why the Canucks are not only a Stanley Cup contender, but also a favourite.
  • Cody Hogdson continues to improve with 3 goals and an assist over the weekend for the Manitoba Moose. After early season struggles Hogdson is now tied with Shirokov for the team lead in scoring with 6 goals and 3 assists in 13 games.
  • While the third line has been thriving the second has not. Kesler had a great game on Saturday and Samuelsson finally got his second goal, but Raymond isn't playing up to the level he is capable. All three can be better as a unit.
  • Finally, Canucks GM Mike Gillis is now on Twitter. You can follow Gillis @GMMikeGillis. While you're at it follow @TheCanuckFan as well.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Canucks Keep Rolling After Long Layoff

After a ridiculously long layoff the Vancouver Canucks have returned to action winning back to back games to start the month of November. With their first road win last night the Canucks have now won 4 in a row as they approach their first eastern road trip next week.

Before the road trip the Canucks take on the Avalanche tomorrow and the Red Wings at home Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada... yes the Canucks are finally on HNIC again. With Luongo starting back to back games this week Cory Schneider may get the nod tomorrow in Colorado, while the rest of lineup will remain the same.

Alex Burrows Returns
After missing the first month of the season Alex Burrows made his debut last night in Edmonton and didn't look too bad. One thing to keep and eye on with Burrows is whether Vigneault is going to play him on the power play this season. AV may opt to keep him fresh for his PK duties, or he could put him out on the first unit in Kesler's place. The PP has been very successful this season, so there is no reason to change things up, but at some point the second unit is going to need a legit centre and it just makes sense for Kesler to be that guy.
Forward Lines
With Burrows returning the rest of the forward lineup has fallen into place (for the most part). The top 3 lines are exactly what the Canucks envisioned in the off-season and (barring injuries) will be the lines the Canucks ice in April. While the top 3 are set, there are issues with the 4th line which the Canucks are just going to have to live with until Bolduc and Rypien return. Being so close to the cap means the Canucks are going to stick with what they've got for the foreseeable future.
Down on the Farm
So what's been happening in Manitoba? Well first, the Manitoba Moose website is awful. Truly terrible. Anyway, the Moose have lost 3 in a row and are currently 5-5 on the year. So how are the Canuck prospects doing?
First the good news. Defensemen Kevin Connauton and Lee Sweatt are putting up some nice numbers. Connauton has 3 goals and 3 assists in 10 games while Sweatt has some eye popping numbers: 3 goals, 2 assists, +7 with 36 shots on goal. Up front Sergei Shirokov is off to a decent start with 7 pts in 10 games and Joel Perrault also has 7 pts and is a +4 in 10 games. In goal, Lack and Weiman have split the duties with Lack posting a 2-3 record with a 2.19 gaa and .917 svPct.
Now the not so good news. Cody Hogdson got off to a rough start, but seems to be coming around. Hodgson has only 4 pts and is a -5 . The good news for Hodgson is that his 4 pts have all come in the last 5 games so he appears to be getting it going. The other not so good news is that Jordan Schroeder has yet to score and has only 5 shots on goal in 10 games. Yikes, not sure what's going on there. (Again the Moose and AHL websites are seriously lacking)
Roberto Luongo
Luongo has come out of the break looking very sharp. He was of course excellent in his shutout of the Devils and looked really good again in Edmonton. The only goal I didn't like was the Randy Jones goal. It wasn't a bad goal, but Luongo has to find a way to keep those garbage goals out.