Sunday, October 23, 2011

Canucks Trade Samuelsson and Sturm to Florida for David Booth

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.

David Booth

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

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.

Steven Reinprecht

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

2011-2012 Opening Night Lineup

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


  • Luongo
  • Schneider

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

A New Season

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.

Pre-Season Auditions

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...

Monday, June 13, 2011

One Win Away

This is it. For just the second time ever the Vancouver Canucks are playing to win the Stanley Cup. "Surreal" is the only word I can think of to describe what's going on in Canuck Nation. The Dream can be fulfilled tonight!

Throw all the numbers out the window. This is one hockey game and the Stanley Cup is on the line!

Pre Game Thoughts...

  • The obvious key to the game is scoring first, but perhaps more importantly the Canucks can't let the game get away from them by trying to be the team to score first. They played with fire in game 5 and got away with it. They can't allow numerous odd man rushes, Boston is bound to take advantage at some point.
  • Unlike games 3 and 4, the Canucks got something out of the 2nd line. They will need the same tonight.
  • Luongo was back on his game, but can he bring that game to Boston? If his team plays well in front of him, expect Luongo to deliver.
  • The Canucks need to score on the power play and they need to stay out of the penalty box. Blatantly obvious, yet so critical.
  • On the road the Canucks D is going to have a much bigger challenge. They've been awful in Boston, but the Cup is on the line. Time for the game of your life.

One hockey game.

One win.

Bring it home!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Two Wins Away

The Vancouver Canucks have been great in third periods all season long and game two of the Stanley Cup finals was no different. After a weak 2nd period the Canucks took over in the third and tied the game on a Daniel Sedin goal. Vancouver fans barely had time to sit down for the overtime as Alex Burrows ended it 11 seconds in on a great individual effort. Just like that Vancouver is just two wins away from the Stanley Cup!

The Keys to the Stanley Cup

The X Factor: Officiating
Unlike game one the zebra's finally let 'em play and called one of the better games we've seen for a while. The only bad call was Kevin Bieksa's delay of game where it was obvious on replay that the puck hit the glass before exiting play. Both teams got away from the post whistle scrums that were so common in game one and both teams were much more disciplined overall. The result of all that was fewer powerplay opportunities for both teams.
When they did get a chance the Canucks' powerplay struggled, but they managed to score late in their first opportunity as Burrows quickly shot the puck on net, fooling Tim Thomas who may have been expecting the puck to come off the backhand of Higgins stick. Boston took over play in the 2nd and looked confident and sharp on their second period opportunity which resulted in a Mark Recchi deflection finding the back of the net.
The prevailing theory heading into the series was that Boston would not be able to win the special teams battle. So far that hasn't been the case and that's a big reason why Boston almost escaped Vancouver with a split.
Battle of the Vezina Finalists
Roberto Luongo was once again razor sharp. He nearly stoned Lucic in the second, but the puck just managed to slide under his pad and he had no chance on the Mark Recchi deflection (although you could argue that he was a little deep in his net). His rebound control was once again stellar and he did an excellent job playing the puck out of his net. Tim Thomas on the other hand was good, but also over aggressive. He was often far outside his crease, getting caught up with players. His over aggressiveness resulted in both the tying goal by Daniel Sedin and the stunning OT winner by Burrows. So far the edge in this series goes to Luongo.
The Canucks Defense
The Bruins failed to get a forecheck going in game one, but they found one in the second period of game two. With Dan Hamhuis out of the lineup the Canucks' defense was much slower and was not nearly as good going back to retrieve pucks in their own end. Aaron Rome was forced to play more minutes than he should and while Andrew Alberts played well, the lack of footspeed really worked in Boston's favour. If I was Boston, I would find away to get more speed up front. David Krejci has been dangerous in both games, but with no speed on his wings his line hasn't been as effective as it could be. With last change in Boston the Bruins should be able to exploit Alberts and Rome a little more.
The Battle for the Conn Smythe
With Ryan Kesler quieting down offensively and Henrik Sedin pointless in the finals, another name may be emerging in the Conn Smythe race - Alex Burrows. Another game winner or two and he has to be considered. That said, Roberto Luongo has to be the front runner right now. His 2.16 GAA and .928 SvPct are absolutely stellar. Heading into the series I said that the Canucks needed just one of Henrik or Kesler to have a great series, turns out they may not need either of them to be great.

The biggest story of game two was of course the miraculous return of Manny Malhotra. Malhotra did exactly what you'd expect. He was outstanding in the faceoff circle, helped out on the PK, gave AV some confidence in the 4th line and inspired the home town crowd. The only negative aspect to his return was that Vigneault may have played the 4th line a little too much in the 2nd period. They got caught out against the Krejci line and as a result of their ice time the Sedins were limited to under 11 minutes through two periods. Henrik had just 6 shifts and 3:36 of ice time in the 2nd - that's simply not enough.

Finally, this is one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a hockey game:

2 Wins Baby!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Three Wins Away

It took until the final seconds of the third period, but the Vancouver Canucks finally beat Tim Thomas. Raffi Torres scored the winner on a great passing play by Ryan Kesler and Jannik Hansen. The Canucks are now just three wins away from the Stanley Cup!

The Keys to the Stanley Cup

Let's take a look at the four keys to the Stanley Cup...

The X Factor: Officiating
One of the biggest questions heading into game one was how were the officials going to call things? The answer: pretty tight. Both teams had six powerplays during the first two periods including 5 on 3 advantages, but neither team scored. The Bruins PP looked dangerous at times, but failed to really get any great chances. Their performance on a lengthy 5 on 3 was extremely tentative and a key turning point in the game. The Canucks on the other hand failed to show any urgency on their power plays. They hung on to the puck too long, didn't move around much and failed to get shots on goal. Expect the Canucks PP to be better in game two, but will they get many opportunities?
Also expect Vancouver to get away from the scrums after the whistle. The Canucks played into Boston's game plan in game one. Alex Burrows in particular got away from what the Canucks have done all year. The Canucks need to return their focus to the play between the whistles.
Battle of the Vezina Finalists
Both Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo were outstanding in game 1. Thomas came up with some huge saves early and was spectacular throughout. Roberto on the other hand didn't need to be spectacular because he was absolutely air tight - there were no rebounds or second chances. As the game went on it became clear that the Canucks were trying to get Thomas to move side to side as much as possible. Eventually it paid off on the Torres goal. Expect that to be the game plan in game 2 and beyond.
The Canucks Defense
As expected the Canucks defense core was excellent at retrieving pucks in their own end, negating the Bruins forecheck almost entirely. As a result Lucic and Horton were basically non-factors 5 on 5 and it was the speedier Boston forwards like Marchand who were the most dangerous. Without Dan Hamhuis the Canucks are going to have a little more trouble in their own end. The ability of Ehrhoff and Edler to go back, protect the puck, then move it to a supporting player was crucial in game one. Can Ballard or Alberts be as effective in game 2? At times both have struggled in that department this year.
The Battle for the Conn Smythe
Heading into the series it was Henrik vs Kesler. Now a new name has emerged, Roberto Luongo. Luongo's numbers since game 6 of round 1 are absolutely stellar. If he continues to play like he did in game 1 he will add a Conn Smythe & Stanley Cup to his Olympic Gold Medal and no one will ever be able to question his ability to win when it counts.

Game Two goes tonight. The Canucks will almost certainly be without Dan Hamhuis, but it's looking like Manny Malhotra will make his amazing return to the lineup. Malhotra skated today and is a "game time decision". Considering how much the 4th line played in game 1 I would say Malhotra is a go. Just having him sit on the bench all night would be a bigger contribution than Alexander Bolduc's 1:39 from game 1.

3 Wins Baby!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Stanley Cup Finals - Bruins Vs Canucks

It's been 17 years. Hard to believe really. Back in 1994 I would never have imagined that the Canucks would not return to the Stanley Cup finals until 2011. Since game seven in 1994 - counting the regular season and playoffs - the Vancouver Canucks have won 654 games. Now all we need is four wins. 4 Wins.

This time around the Canucks are heavily favoured, most predicting the series to be over in 5. After 3 series Vancouver is as healthy as you could've possibly hoped. Unlike the past few years the defense core is intact and with the exception of Mikael Samuelson no key players are seriously injured. Despite being ruled out for game one, there is even a chance that Manny Malhotra could play in the this series. It's always said that to win the Stanley Cup you have to have a lot of luck along the way. The Canucks have enjoyed their fair share, let's hope it continues.

While the Canucks are favoured don't expect this series to be easy. Boston is going to pose a lot of the same problems that Nashville did. They're going to clog up the neutral zone and wait for mistakes. There's going to be a lot of tight checking and then there's Tim Thomas between the pipes. The Canucks have the edge in talent and depth, but there's a reason they play the games.

The Keys to the Stanley Cup

  1. The X-factor in this series is going to be the officiating. Are the Canucks going to get power play opportunities, or will the game be called like it sometimes was in the Nashville series or game 7 of the East Finals? The Canucks power play is lethal, while Boston's has been next to useless. If there are only 2 or 3 powerplays a game Boston has a much better chance.
  2. Luongo vs Thomas. Two Vezina finalists will be facing off for a much bigger prize. Thomas has been both brilliant and brutal this postseason. Luongo has been very solid and often great. Both have given up some weak ones and both have stood on their head. The key in this series will be making the big save at the key moment.
  3. The Canucks Defense. There are many reasons why the Canucks are in the Stanley Cup finals, but the biggest is the mobility and skill level on the blueline. When Vancouver has won it's because they have taken away the forecheck of their opposition. They've been excellent at standing up and forcing the opposition to dump the puck in - and when the puck is dumped in they get to it first. This is the biggest obstacle Boston has to overcome. Can Horton and Lucic get in on the forecheck quick enough to turn the puck over?
  4. The Battle for the Conn Smythe. Kesler or Henrik? That's been the debate during this long layoff. The Canucks just need one of them to have a great series.

To all Canucks fans. Enjoy this. You never know when this will come along again. Thanks for reading, commenting, tweeting and emailing over the years. This is as much a personal journal as it is a fan blog. While I don't know how much time I'll have for blogging during the Cup finals you can follow me on Twitter for my thoughts on the games.

4 Wins Baby!

We are all Canucks!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vancouver Canucks Round 2 Playoff Schedule

The Vancouver Canucks vs the Nashville Predators round 2 playoff schedule is as follows:

  1. Thursday, April 28 at Vancouver, 6:00 p.m.
  2. Saturday, April 30 at Vancouver, 6:00 p.m.
  3. Tuesday, May 3 at Nashville, 6:00 p.m.
  4. Thursday, May 5 at Nashville, 5:30 p.m.
  5. *Saturday, May 7 at Vancouver, 5:00 p.m.
  6. *Monday, May 9 at Nashville, TBD
  7. *Wednesday, May 11 at Vancouver, TBD

All Times Pacific. * If Necessary

Monday, April 25, 2011

Deserving of a Better Fate?

The Vancouver Canucks played their best game of the series, but it wasn't enough to finish off the Chicago Blackhawks. Alain Vigneault shook things up by juggling his lines and starting Corey Schneider in goal. Despite outplaying the Blackhawks in the second half of the game, Vancouver couldn't get the one goal they needed. For Canuck fans it was just another heartbreaking loss. On to the game notes...

  • Before the game the twitter world was abuzz with the late news that Corey Schneider would start (for a while there "Corey Schneider" was trending worldwide). Schneider played very well between the pipes, unfortunately he was a disaster when he left the crease. Two poor plays handling the puck led to two goals against and in the end a loss. Without those two goals Chicago probably isn't in the game. Schneider left the game after cramping up following a failed save attempt on Frolik's penalty shot.
  • That meant Roberto Luongo would get his chance at redemption. While he played admirably in a tough situation - facing little action for most of the 3rd - the winning goal was yet another misplay for Luongo. Sure there was a lot of traffic, but you've got to find a way to stop that puck without completely removing your ability to stop the rebound. Once again Luongo failed to get it done.
  • While Alain Vigneault's line juggling payed off, his decision to dress Raffi Torres and Andrew Alberts backfired. Torres took yet another offensive zone penalty, this time a goaltender interference call. Fortunately it did not lead to a goal this time, but Torres wouldn't see the ice for the remainder of the game and may not ever see it again as a Vancouver Canuck. Andrew Alberts played well in his first game since February 14th. Unfortunately, when Sami Salo went down early, it left Vancouver with a predicament on defense. Alberts of course couldn't handle Marion Hossa in overtime which resulted in the winning goal. The decision to start Alberts over Ballard may have cost Vancouver the series.
  • In a game which the Canucks dominated most of the second half it's hard to believe that the Canucks only drew two power plays (Chicago had 4 plus a penalty shot). John Scott absolutely leveled Burrows in front of the net after play was whistled dead - no call. On one of the Canucks rare power plays Kesler got absolutely leveled from behind, taking away Sedin's passing target - no call. Then there was Henrik's stick being chopped in two, an automatic penalty for most of the season - no call. And of course there was Bickell's hit on Bieksa, a carbon copy of the Torres hit on Seabrook. Game three it was a penalty, game 6 - no call. Then you have the worst call of the night... I can live with the officials putting their whistles away, but the decision to scrape the ice half way through OT after the Canucks had Chicago's 4th line stuck on the ice following an icing... unbelievably absurd. 100% the wrong call, don't care how the NHL decides to defend it. And just for the record here the power plays in this series are now 27-16 in favour of Chicago.
  • While the Canucks aren't getting any help in the power play department, part of it is their own fault. When 4 of your top 6 forwards have reputations for embellishing your not going to get the benefit of the doubt. Henrik Sedin flopping like he was shot at the end of the second isn't going to help him get a call later in the game.
  • A lot of Canucks had their best game of the series. Chris Higgins finally showed up, winning more puck battles in the first period than he had in the entire series up to that point. Max Lapierre was huge during the third and overtime. Burrows finally got going offensively, despite missing a wide open net. Bieksa was a beast on defense and the Sedins played by far their best game.
  • Unfortunately Ryan Kesler still has not scored. If the Canucks are going to win game 7 they need a goal from #17.
  • Speaking of the Burrows missed opportunity, the ice at the United Center was terrible. Puck was bouncing all night long.
  • Finally, the Canucks need to find a way to get more point shots through. Chicago blocked 31 shots, the most important was a poor attempt by Hamhuis which would result in Chicago's first goal.

So the big question over the next day is who starts in goal? Tough call. Schneider played well, but not well enough. On the other hand Luongo has never beat Chicago when it matters. Flip a coin? In the end I think you have to go with Luongo, if for no other reason than you can't have another situation where Schneider is forced to leave the game early or fails to make a save due to his cramping issues.

Vancouver has one more chance. It's hard to believe that it's come down to this, but as a Canuck fan are you really surprised? A win could propel them on to the Stanley Cup. A loss and it's hard to fathom the repercussions...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Test of Faith

Canucks fans have experienced many moments of pain and disappointed over the last 40 years. My first real experience was in 1989 Vs the Calgary Flames. Mike Vernon's overtime glove save on Stan Smyl and the series clinching goal off the skate of Joel Otto are still fresh wounds 22 years later.

A couple first round series wins over the Winnipeg Jets in the early 90's gave me hope that all you had to do was get into the dance and anything was possible. 1994 confirmed that. A tough first round series led to a relatively easy run to the cup finals. Before the advent of espn classic, my most vivid memories of game 7 were Jyrki Lumme taking a 1st period cross checking penalty (despite not having a stick in his hands) leading to a Ranger goal and Nathan Lafayette hitting the cross bar late in the third.

After '94 it really did seem like all you needed to do was just make the playoffs and anything could happen. Then came the dark ages of the whale and Orca Bay. The Stanley cup was a distant dream. Harold Druken's goal Vs Los Angeles in 2001 felt like one of the greatest moments in Canuck history. Sad really, but finally returning to the playoffs for the first time in five years really was one of the greatest moments in franchise history. After all, if you just make the playoffs anything can happen right?

Of course nothing did. The Canucks would be swept by the Avalanche in '01 and would lose 4 straight to Detroit - after taking a 2-0 series lead - in '02. Both opponents would of course go on to win the Stanley Cup.

Then came 2003. Despite losing the division title on the last day of the season, the Canucks managed to get by the St Louis Blues and found themselves up 3-1 against the Minnesota Wild. For the first time in almost a decade there was a clear path to the Stanley Cup.

Then it happened. The most epic and heartbreaking collapse a Canuck fan could imagine.

Now, after almost a decade of lockouts, missed playoffs and early playoff exits the Canucks have their best team ever and hold a commanding 3-0 series lead over their nemesis. Surely this is the year right?

Game 4: 7-2. Game 5... I don't know how to put it in to words. Perhaps one of my frustrated, beer induced tweets sums it up best:

This is just beyond bizarre. Can we just send this franchise to another city and start fresh with the Coyotes or Thrashers?

Heading into this series if you told Canucks fans' they'd be healthy and up 3-2 heading to game 6... The vast majority would be pretty happy. Yet no Canuck fan on the planet is happy right now. Most are probably questioning why they are stuck rooting for a franchise that continually breaks their heart.

It was once unfathomable that something could eclipse the heartbreak of the Wild series. Yet somehow the Vancouver Canucks are on the verge of doing just that - the most heartbreaking and epic collapse imaginable. As a fan it's hard to keep the faith, but what else can we do? We've gotta believe.

This IS the year.

Let's go boys!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Canucks Finally Win a Game 2 Vs Chicago

It got interesting late, but the Vancouver Canucks managed to hang on to a 4-3 lead and win game #2 for the first time in the past three series against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks had another dominant opening period, once again scoring first while hitting the Hawks hard and often. The Canucks never lost the lead and responded every time Chicago scored or gained momentum. The Canucks' stars were better than the Blackhawks' stars and the Canucks dominated the special teams game. Without a few Luongo miscues this game may not have been close. On to the game notes...

  • Roberto Luongo was brilliant in game one, but for whatever reason he wasn't nearly as sharp in game two. All three goals on their own merits weren't terrible - they can all be explained away - but their totality showed a lack of focus or sharpness from Luongo. The first could have been played better by every Canuck involved in the play, but 9 times out of 10 Luongo either blocks that pass or is ready to push off and make the save; The second came off a routine D to D pass that jumped over Edler's stick. Stalberg quickly shot through Edler and Luongo didn't pick the puck up in time. In game one he makes that save; The third was simply a poor rebound; In the past these types of goals have snowballed, let's hope Luongo can put game two behind him.
  • Chicago had only two powerplays, but the Vancouver penalty kill was dominant nonetheless. Chicago failed to register a shot on goal while the Canucks had a few shorthanded chances. Alex Burrows was tremendous, both in his own end and applying pressure up ice.
  • Chicago got a good push from their secondary players, but their big four struggled. Toews and Kane both played over 20 minutes, but had just two shots between them. Brent Seabrook struggled while Duncan Keith played nearly half the game and was a -2. The Canucks have done a great job shutting down the big 4, while Quenneville - playing from behind all series - has been forced to play them at every opportunity. We'll see how much of an effect last change will be when the series hits Chicago.
  • Their are a few clich├ęs which always come to fruition during the playoffs. One of those is "never give up a goal in the first or last minute of a period." Chicago did both in the second period of game two.
  • Average shift time for Canucks skaters ranged from Ballard's low of 31 seconds to Dan Hamhuis' high of 47 seconds.
  • The Canucks actually lossed the faceoff battle in game two, winning only 20 out of 50 draws. Most concerning is that Vancouver's right handed centres (Kesler and Lapierre) were a combined 4 for 12 in the defensive zone. Canucks will need to be better in Chicago where they don't have the advantage of last change.
  • Mikael Samuellsson missed the game with what the Canucks call "the flu"... cough, cough, bullshit. It's obvious to everyone that Samuellsson is still battling through an injury or two. Either that or Torres' "food poisoning" is actually the flu and it's spreading around the team.
  • If Samuellsson can't go in game three Cody Hogdson may keep his spot in the lineup when Torres returns. Hogdson played pretty well in 10:22 picking up an assist and a couple shots on goal. Unfortunately he was also on the ice for two Chicago goals. It will be interesting to see how he handles his defensive duties in the pressure packed atmosphere of the United Center. Without last change his ice time will be limited, especially if it's a tight game.
  • Finally what can you say about Alex Edler. Just returning from back surgery and it looks like he didn't miss a game. 22:12, a goal, 2 shots, 2 blocked shots and 4 hits, including a gamesetter against Kane early in the first. He was also huge during the final minutes as the Hawks were pushing to tie. Best all around defenseman to ever play in a Vancouver uniform and he's only 24.
  • Despite Luongo's struggles, Vancouver once again showed that they are the better team this year. It's going to be tougher in Chicago, and the series certainly isn't over, but Vancouver looks like a team on a mission. It's hard to imagine a scenario where this team loses 4 of 5. Game three goes Sunday at 5:00 (CBC) in Chicago.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Canucks Take Game One 2-0

The Vancouver Canucks opened their 2011 Stanley Cup drive with an impressive 2-0 victory over the Blackhawks. The Canucks took it to Chicago early, dominating in the hit department while adding a couple goals. The Hawks got it together in the 2nd period, but Roberto Luongo was outstanding, posting his second career playoff shutout. On to the game notes...

  • The big story of game one was obviously Roberto Luongo. His huge save off Brian Campbell late in the second was both an amazing stop and a key save at a critical time. The Blackhawks had played a strong period, but in the end had nothing to show for it. It's a totally different 3rd if Chicago gets within one.
  • Luongo was outstanding, but he was also pretty lucky. Chicago hit a lot of posts and misfired on several chances. Sure, the Canucks also had their share of posts and close calls, but Vancouver needs to tighten up the defensive coverage. Eventually some of those bounces aren't going to go their way.
  • Much has been made about the Canucks' physical play and their whopping hit total of 47 (almost half of which came in the first period). While it's nice to rack up the hits and punish your opponent, the Canucks may have been a little too aggressive. There were a few occasions where they got caught out of position after going for the big hit. There were also a few missed open ice hits that could have resulted in penalties or suspensions had they connected. Not saying they shouldn't be physical, just that they need to make sure they're on the right side of that fine line.
  • Despite their aggressive approach the Canucks did a great job of staying out of the penalty box and when they did take a penalty the PK was outstanding.
  • It's clear that this is no where near the same Chicago team as the one that won the Stanley Cup last year. Beyond Toews, Kane, Seabrook and Keith there's just not a whole lot there. The only way Chicago can win is if those 4 guys dominate. They all played well in game one, but it wasn't enough. If the Canucks can keep Toews and Kane off the scoresheet this series will be over quickly... if they don't Chicago is still very capable of winning the series.
  • Unlike Chicago the Canucks are oozing depth. The depth on the blueline is arguably unprecedented in the salary cap era and Vancouver has all 4 forward lines contributing (a lot like the Hawks last year).

It's only game one, but as a Canuck fan you have to be pretty happy with your team's performance . Sure they were a little too reliant on Luongo and they got some lucky breaks, but you have to be good to be lucky. The Canucks took it to Chicago early and forced them to play from behind all night. Perhaps the most encouraging thing to take from game one is that Vancouver can be a lot better. It's early, but the Stanley Cup dream is alive and well.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Canucks Clinch Presidents' Trophy

For the first time in their 40 year history the Vancouver Canucks have won the Presidents' Trophy!

Sure it doesn't mean a whole lot, but it is a nice accomplishment. What's more impressive is the way they accomplished the feat. They've scored the most goals while allowing the fewest. They have the NHL's best power play and the best penalty kill. They could boast the league's top 2 scorers and will have multiple nominees for the NHL awards. They went 10-2 in March, playing against teams fighting for their playoff lives, when they themselves had little to play for. It's been an incredible season, but all the accolades will mean nothing without playoff success.

They know it, the fans know it. It's Stanley Cup or bust.

They could get bounced in the first round, but there's something that tells me this team is something special. Sure they have the scoring and the depth, but it's the intangibles that are going to make the difference this year. The way they go about their business is something we've never seen in Vancouver. This team has one goal and everyone is buying into the process that will achieve it. Under the leadership of the Sedins this team is on a mission.

The fragility of the Markus Naslund era has been purged.

This team knows it can win and more importantly, knows how to win. They're getting stellar goaltending. Despite numerous injuries the defense core has been great all year. Everyone has been contributing up front and when the Canucks need to step up, the Sedins lead the way. From top to bottom this is the best team Vancouver has ever seen.

Only four more games until we get to see this team in playoff action. I can't wait...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Canucks Sweep Five Game Road Trip

After their worst homestand of the season the Vancouver Canucks set off to California to begin a five game road trip. They would face five teams who were battling for their playoff lives in the tight Western Conference. The end result was the franchise's first 5 game road trip sweep since 1992.

With 12 regular season games remaining the Canucks have an 8 point lead over Philadelphia (14 games remaining) in the race for the President's Trophy. Their lead over Detroit (13 games remaining) in the Western Conference is 9 points. If the Canucks were to finish out their final 12 games playing .500 hockey Detroit would need to go 10-2-1 and Philadelphia would need to go 10-4-0 to catch the Canucks.

Can the playoffs please start tomorrow?

There is no doubt that this is the best team in franchise history. From top to bottom the team has never been this deep. That depth was on full display during the road trip as they got key contributions from everyone. The display of depth was capped off in Calgary where not a single player played fewer than 11 minutes. Yes, Alain Vigneault now has a 4th line he has confidence in.

Finally, there's a story that isn't getting much attention around the NHL... there's a strong possibility that the Sedin's could finish 1-2 in the NHL scoring race. After 40 mediocre years the Canucks have their best chance at a Stanley Cup and could conceivably take home back-to-back Hart and Art Ross Trophies. Dare to dream?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Canucks Acquire F Chris Higgins and F Maxim Lapierre

It ran right down to the wire, but the Canucks managed to pull off a couple trades to add to their forward depth. A couple of ex-Canadiens are on their way to Vancouver:

To Vancouver:
F Chris Higgins
To Florida:
D Evan Oberg, 3rd Round Pick (2011)
To Vancouver:
F Maxim Lapierre, F MacGregor Sharp
To Anaheim
F Joel Perrault, 3rd Round Pick (2013)

Chris Higgins

Chris Higgins is an interesting and unexpected acquisition. Higgins had 23 points in 48 games this season with the Panthers. He's a solid two way player who can provide some offense and contribute to the penalty kill. He has decent size, but isn't a physical player. The flip side to that is he doesn't take many penalties (only 5 this year). He's a guy that can play in the top 9, help out on the pk and possibly the struggling second power play unit.

The knock on Higgins is that he can be inconsistent. A former 3 time 20 goal scorer, Higgins has bounced around since leaving Montreal in '09. The Canucks are hoping that Higgins will respond to the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.

Maxim Lapierre

Maxim Lapierre is the type of agitating 4th line centre the Canucks needed to add. At 6'2 207, Lapierre brings size, speed and a willingness to throw his weight around (has 163 hits this year). He's a right handed shot who's solid in the faceoff circle (51.4% over the last 4 years).

Lapierre was a big part of the Canadiens drive to the Eastern Conference finals last season, so he knows what the playoffs are all about in a big Canadian market. The concern with Lapierre is in the discipline department, to which Gillis responded by saying he "will learn to comply with what we need." Lapierre has a history with Alain Vigneault going back to their days in the QMJHL, obviously that was a significant factor in the trade.

The additions of Higgins and Lapierre mean that Cody Hogdson and Victor Oreskovich are heading back down to Manitoba. Jeff Tambellini must be breathing a sigh of relief. With the addition of Higgins, Tambellini's skillset has become redundant - especially considering how he has played in the last few months. If Tambellini was exempt from waivers he would likely be heading to Manitoba and Oreskovich - who has played well - would be sticking around.

So what does this mean for the Canucks lineup? Lapierre obviously fits in as the 4th line centre and should be there tomorrow vs Columbus. The big question is where does Higgins (who is out for 7-10+ days with a thumb injury) fit?

There are a few possibilities. The first is that he starts out on the new 4th line with Glass and Lapierre and also gets some special teams time. While he may debut there the Canucks would not have traded Oberg and a 3rd for someone to play 4th line right wing. That means he is likely to get an opportunity to play in the top 9 and also on the second pp unit.

So where in the top 9 would Higgins fit? The most likely scenario is that he gets an opportunity to replace the struggling Mason Raymond on the second line. That creates a trickle down effect on the wing. Who gets bumped to the 4th line? It could be any one of Raymond, Torres or Hansen.

The likely scenario is that we will see a little line juggling based on who's going on a particular night. We are likely to see a variety of line combinations with several interchangeable wingers. Higgins, Raymond, Torres and Hansen could all bounce around from the 2nd unit to the 4th.

Overall Canuck fans have to be pretty satisfied with the deadline moves. They added their gritty, agitating forward while filling the 4th line centre hole. They also added a player who is capable of contributing offensively and on the penalty kill. Gillis did all this without surrendering any 2nd round picks or top prospects. Evan Oberg had been passed on the depth chart by the likes of Tanev and Sauve, while the Canucks feel they can replace their third round picks in the college free agent market.

Not only do they now have tremendous depth on the NHL roster, they also have a good pool of players to callup from Manitoba should the they suffer any injuries in the playoffs.

Can the playoffs please start tomorrow?

Trade Deadline Day

The NHL trade deadline is at noon pacific today and the Vancouver Canucks are hoping to add the final piece(s) for their Stanley Cup drive.

GM Mike Gillis is going to try and add a 4th line centre, but could very well walk away from today with nothing should the asking prices be too high.

Check back later for analysis of any Canucks moves. You can also follow the Vancouver Canucks Hockey Blog on Twitter

Friday, February 25, 2011

One Game Until Trade Deadline

The Vancouver Canucks have one more game, Saturday vs the Bruins, to evaluate their roster before Monday's NHL trade deadline. Usually at this time of year there is a wide range of opinions on what the Canucks need and what they're going to do. This year things are a little different. The Canucks have the best record in the NHL with few holes in their lineup - this has led to a general consensus on what the Canucks should do at the deadline.

The Bottom Six

Nearly everyone agrees that the Canucks should make an addition to their bottom six. The fourth line right wing has been a revolving door all season with no one stepping up to take the job. The fourth line centre position hasn't been much better.

The big question this week was if Cody Hogdson and Victor Oreskovich were the answer to those problems. On Hogdson the answer we received was that whether or not he is capable of doing the job, the coach does not have any confidence in him during a close game. It's clear that if the Canucks want a 4th line that they can have confidence in at anytime, Hogdson is not the answer at centre ice. As for the right wing, it's safe to say that Oreskovich opened some eyes with his performance against the Blues. Oreskovich has often looked unsure, but this was the game where he finally demonstrated that he was "getting it". In limited action he showed that he can get the puck out of his zone, he has the ability to carry the puck and make a play with it, and he can get in and hit people without getting caught out of position.

So where does that leave GM Mike Gillis? It's clear that he needs to explore every option at the centre ice position. If one of the top 3 centres goes down there's not much depth. They need someone who can step up and be dependable on one of the top 3 lines. Could Hogdson be that guy? Maybe, but this is Vancouver's best ever chance at a Stanley Cup, now is not the time to depend on maybes. As for the wing, if an upgrade comes along Gillis would take it for the right price, but as of right now they could live with Oreskovich on the 4th line.

The Salary Cap, Toughness and Mason Raymond

The other big question surrounding the Canucks is how much cap space do they actually have? With all due respect to, a great resource, no one outside of Canucks management and the NHL cap offices really knows how much cap space the Canucks have. (Teams wouldn't hire capologists if they could just logon to Capgeek). With that said, it's a safe guess that the Canucks cap room is well south of $2m and probably around $1m give or take $500k.

If the Canucks want to do more than add depth on the bottom 6 they are going to have to move some salary out. Samuelsson, Malhotra and Torres were specifically acquired to help the team win in the playoffs, they're not going anywhere. There's only one non-core player on the roster who has a salary that would make a significant difference. With a cap hit of $2.55m that guy is Mason Raymond. If the Canucks want to make any kind of significant move Mason Raymond would have to be involved.

Are the Canucks actively looking to move Raymond? Probably not. But as mentioned before, the Canucks chances of winning a Stanley Cup are better then they have ever been. If the opportunity is there to make a significant move, Gillis would absolutely be willing to move Raymond.

So what could that move be? Well, if there's one weakness in the Canucks game it's the lack of sandpaper and grit in their top 6. If the Canucks could find a big gritty left winger - who makes less than $3m - they would likely jump at the opportunity to upgrade on Raymond. Mason Raymond is also very marketable. His cap hit is manageable, he has a good skill set and is only 25.

The Dream Trade

I'll close with my dream trade. It's highly unlikely, but the pieces fit:

To Atlanta: Mason Raymond + pick(s)/prospect(s) : To Vancouver Andrew Ladd

It would be interesting to see Ladd on Kesler's wing given their past, but Ladd is the exact type of forward the Canucks could use in their top 6. Would Atlanta do it? Who knows. Ladd is a restricted free agent set to double his salary. With their ownership situation they may not want to pay Ladd that much. Raymond is someone who can play in their top 6 now and he is under contract at a reasonable level for next year, before hitting restricted free agency. The question then becomes what would be needed in addition to Raymond. That would likely be at least a 1st round pick or Hogdson and maybe something else. Would Gillis pay that price? I guess we'll find out by Monday...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Canucks Third Quarter Report Card

With 21 games remaining in the regular season the Vancouver Canucks have finished the third quarter of their season, so it's time for the next round of letter grades. In case you missed them, here are the first quarter and second quarter report cards.

Last quarter's grades are represented in brackets (second quarter,first quarter). Remember grades are based on player expectations, so Raffi Torres' grade is not equivalent to Raymond's as there are different expectations for both players.

Team Grades

Overall Team Grade: B (A+,C+)
The Canucks were 11-6-3 during the third quarter of their season and considering the injuries on defense their record was pretty good.
Power Play: A (A,A)
The Canucks have had the best powerplay in the league for nearly the entire season and have shown no sign of cooling off.
Penalty Kill: A (A,A)
Like the powerplay the penalty kill has been remarkably consistent. They finished the second quarter at 85.5% (4th overall) and finished the third quarter at 85.7% (still 4th).

Player Grades

Alex Edler: A (A, A)
Edler's great season was cut short in January, but up until that point he had 7 points in 8 third quarter games and had a whopping 27 shots on goal. The only blemish was -3 night in Minnesota.
Daniel Sedin: A- (A,A-)
While he endured an 8 game goalless drought, Daniel was only a minus 3 times during the third quarter and managed to reach the top of the NHL scoring race by recording a point in 15 of 20 games.
Kevin Bieksa: A- (A-,B-)
Up until his injury Bieksa was arguably the Canucks most reliable defenseman. While the offense hasn't been there his play in his own end has been outstanding.
Chris Tanev: A- (NG,NG)
Tanev has received rave reviews for someone at his age and experience level. He's made his share of mistakes, but his overall poise and decision making have been outstanding.
Christian Ehrhoff: B+ (B+,C-)
With the injuries on defense Ehrhoff was asked to do a lot and he responded well. While he has his moments that make you shake your head, he continues to produce points and play big minutes.
Dan Hamhuis: B+ (B,C-)
Hamhuis is the type of player where you may not notice his contribution until he isn't in the lineup. Hamhuis is great in his own end and gets the puck up to the forwards efficiently.
Alex Burrows: B+ (B+,B-)
Burrows went on a 10 game scoring streak which included 8 goals, unfortunately the five games on each side of that streak were pretty quiet preventing him from receiving his first A of the season.
Henrik Sedin: B (A,B+)
Henrik's production was under a point a game during the third quarter. For the first time this season Henrik was merely good, not great.
Ryan Kesler: B (A+,B)
Like Henrik, Kesler wasn't quite as good in the third quarter. Kesler continues to be the key element of the powerplay, but his five on five play can be better. A few too many minus nights and he recently endured a 5 game stretch where he was under 50% in the faceoff circle.
Mikael Samuelsson: B (C+,C-)
The real Mikeal Samuelsson showed up in February with 15 points in 11 games. Unfortunately he began the quarter with only 3 points in 9 January games including a 6 game pointless streak.
Jannik Hansen: B (B+,C+)
Despite being saddled with linemates who had some awful stretches of hockey, Hansen has been one of the Canucks most consistent players and even added a little offense in February.
Tanner Glass: B (B,C+)
The offense has been non-existent, but Glass has been reliable in his role. He's done a good job avoiding penalties and has done a serviceable job when asked to play at centre.
Keith Ballard: B (B-,D)
Ballard finally appeared to settle into his new team and has slowly gained the confidence of AV. The offense hasn't been there yet, but he has started to play like the way he did in Phoenix.
Cody Hogdson: B (NG,NG)
Hogdson has 2 points in 6 games and has been decent in his limited action. If the Canucks can't add anyone at the deadline he has a good chance to stick around for the remainder of the year.
Andrew Alberts: B- (A-,B)
Due to injuries Alberts played only 5 full games during the third quarter.
Aaron Rome: C (C,C+)
With all the injuries Rome finally got a chance to play more during the third quarter. He didn't make the most of the opportunity. He's a serviceable depth defenseman, but doesn't move the puck very well. He was simply dreadful last night vs Montreal.
Aaron Volpatti: C (Inc,NG)
Volpatti had his opportunity but failed to do much with it. Didn't fight, too slow to get in on the forecheck and wasn't great in his own end. Zero shots on goal in 7 games speaks for itself.
Manny Malhotra: C- (B,B)
While he continues to win faceoffs, 19 game scoreless streaks aren't acceptable for a player at his salary level. The good news is that Malhotra has stepped up his game since being embarrassed by Jonathan Toews in early February.
Raffi Torres: C- (B, C+)
It's expected that Torres will be inconsistent, but for most of 2011 he's been invisible. He finally ended a 23 game goalless streak the other night, so we'll see if he can maintain that momentum in the final quarter of the season.
Mason Raymond: D (B-,C-)
In 2011 Raymond has 3 goals. That's 3 goals in 25 games. That's simply not acceptable at his salary level and role on the team.
Jeff Tambellini: D (B, Inc)
Two assists in 2011, that's all you really need to know about Tambellini. The Canucks want to keep him around for depth, but if they find an upgrade they won't be afraid of losing him on the waiver wire.
Sami Salo: Incomplete (NG,NG)
Salo returned sooner than expected and has looked to be at about 80% of his normal self. Should get a more prominent role as the season progresses.
Alex Bolduc: Incomplete (C+, Inc)
The Canucks were hoping he was the answer to the 4th line centre problem, but his second shoulder separation kept him out of action. May get another opportunity should the Canucks fail to add anyone at the deadline
Lee Sweatt: Incomplete (NG, NG)
In three games before being injured Sweatt scored a big goal and played fairly well. Good depth on the farm.

Inc = Incomplete, NG = No Grade

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Add Bieksa to the List - Oberg Recalled

This is just getting ridiculous. After taking a shot off the foot Kevin Bieksa is now the latest Canuck defenseman to hit the injured list. Bieksa is out with a foot fracture of some kind, no details have been released and he will be re-evaluated when the team returns to Vancouver. Evan Oberg has been recalled from Manitoba and will suit up tonight in Nashville. Yes the Canucks will be playing with 3 rookie defensemen who have 15 career NHL games between them.

The good news is that Keith Ballard is ahead of schedule and could play next week, while Dan Hamhuis has begun light work outs and everyone else is targeted to return for the playoffs. The Canucks have not placed Hamhuis or Ballard on LTIR, so they have no cap space to add a player via trade. That means no Ian White and his $3m salary (who broke that ridiculous rumour?).

The Canucks have a 9 point cushion on 2nd place Detroit and a 15 point lead in the division. There's no reason to panic, the team can weather the storm. The experience being gained by the rookie blueliners could actually be a blessing in disguise should they be called upon during the playoffs. And hey, watching rookies makes these games a lot more interesting than they otherwise would be...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another Day Another Defenseman Down

Andrew Alberts is the latest victim of the annual springtime injury train. Alberts is out with a broken wrist, no word yet on how long he will be out - the general diagnosis for a broken wrist is at least 6-8 weeks. Alberts joins Hamhuis, Ballard, Edler and Sweatt on the injured list. That leaves the Canucks with Ehrhoff, Bieksa, Salo and Rome as the only veteran defensemen. Yann Sauve has received the call, joining fellow rookie Chris Tanev.

The Canucks have weathered the storm so far, but the loss of so many defensemen is starting to take its toll. With Sami Salo no where near the top of his game the Canucks struggled to move the puck in St. Louis. So far Kevin Bieksa has handled the extra duties well, but Christian Ehrhoff is struggling a bit since losing his defense partner. The trickle down effect also has Aaron Rome playing way too much and Chris Tanev playing with less talented partners.

This adversity is a good test for a team that has a comfortable lead atop the Western Conference standings. This team is damn good and even on their off nights they're still tough to beat. Take away Luongo's gaffe and St. Louis could easily have lost a game in which the Canucks were not very good.

Catching Up on a Few Things...

  • There has been much talk of late about the Canucks team toughness, or lack thereof. Last week the Canucks were pushed around by Chris Neal and the Senators while the Ducks also took it to them physically. The Canucks won't admit their concern, but after the Anahaim game they immediately dispatched Volpatti to the farm after he failed to bring any kind of physical presence to the 4th line. Obviously they recognized a change needed to be made. Oreskovich brings some much needed size to the 4th line, but more importantly he has the speed to actually get in on the forecheck and hit people.
  • You have to wonder if Jeff Tambellini is going to stick around for the rest of the season. He hasn't scored in 2011 and has seen his ice-time plummet when he does find his way into the lineup. The Canucks have started to use him on the PK a little, but even then if he isn't scoring or generating chances he isn't contributing much. With the need for more grit in the bottom six Tambellini's days could be numbered.
  • The Canucks philosophy on grit and toughness seems to be the attitude of "we'll make them pay on the power play". Well that works in December, but when the games and officials tighten up in the last third of the season and into the playoffs, it doesn't work quite as well.
  • Cody Hogdson was dispatched to Manitoba for "more playing time", but it's pretty obvious he was sent down for cap reasons. The Canucks are better with a natural centre on the 4th line and Hodgson had played reasonably well. Unfortunately for him, his $1.6m cap hit became a problem once the injuries on defense hit.
  • Former Canuck Michael Grabner was named the NHL first star after an 8 goal week. One of the reasons I write this blog is that it's fun to look back on what I thought about a particular move.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Rookies Impressing

The Vancouver Canucks continue to roll along, they now lead the Western Conference by 7 points, and lately they've been rolling with several rookies in the lineup. In the past few weeks Sergei Shirokov, Lee Sweatt and Cody Hogdson have all scored their first career goals (earlier in the year Bolduc, Volpatti & Bliznak had theirs) and Chris Tanev has caught everyone's attention with his great play.

In the salary cap era you need young cheap players to fill holes in your lineup. Canuck rookies have been delivering. Thanks to Lee Sweatt and Chris Tanev the team hasn't missed a beat with Edler, Rome and Alberts missing from the lineup. This week Cody Hogdson has given the 4th line a boost, showing he may be closer to an every day NHL job than most people would have thought. And let's not forget Cory Schneider who has played superbly and has allowed Luongo to stay fresh.

Chris Tanev
Chris Tanev has been impressive, really impressive. He has shown great poise, intelligence and vision. His first pass is excellent and he routinely makes the right decision with the puck. Their is no panic in his game and he is always thinking. The Canucks haven't seen a rookie defenseman this poised since Alex Edler's rookie year. Tanev is making a strong case to stick with the team the rest of the way, but will most likely return to Manitoba if/when Salo joins the team.
Lee Sweatt
While Tanev's received most of the attention Lee Sweatt has quietly gone about his business. In only three games he has amassed some impressive statistics (1g 1a +4 4 shots), but more importantly he hasn't been "noticeable" in the defensive end and for a young defenseman not being noticed can be a good thing. Sweatt is looking like a pretty serviceable depth option. When injuries hit in the playoffs it's nice to have guys like this.
Cody Hogdson
Cody Hogdson picked up his first career NHL goal and it was a fairly impressive one. The biggest thing that stands out with Hogdson is that he is finally physically ready to play against men. In past pre-season action Hodgson could not skate well enough and didn't have the size or strength to battle with NHL players. It's only two games, but his skating is noticeably improved and he hasn't been physically pushed around or controlled by the opposition. Now that he is physically ready his talent can emerge, as it did on his goal.

The strong play of the rookies has opened up some options for Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault. While it's unlikely he will move one of his fringe veteran defensemen, the option is now open should a deal present itself. Up front Hogdson at centre gives the Canucks the ability to legitimately roll four lines. On any given night the 3rd and 4th lines can swap roles. Need a checking line for the night? You've got the Torres Malhotra Hansen line. Want a little more offense from the third line? Maybe you go with a Tambellini/Torres Hogdson Hansen line, with Malhotra dropping down to play with Glass on a 4th line checking unit. It remains to be seen whether Hogdson can stick for the rest of the season, the NHL schedule is a lot more rigorous than the AHL, but he has shown that he can contribute should he be needed.

Whether the rookies are all still here in two weeks or not, one thing is certain. The Canucks have a lot of young depth to call upon during an extended playoff drive.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Alex Edler Out, Cody Hodgson Recalled

The Vancouver Canucks got some bad news before the all-star break, Alex Edler's back injury will require surgery. He is listed as out indefinitely. The surgery is scheduled for today so we may receive a little more information, but right now the prognosis is that he will miss the rest of the regular season. His readiness for the playoffs is still in question.

This is obviously a a huge blow to the team. Alex Edler has been the team's best defenseman and for parts of the season he has been their best player. That said, the injury also has a silver lining. The Canucks no longer have to worry about fitting Sami Salo under the salary cap. Salo has been practicing for about 5 weeks, but there's still no indication of when, or if, he will return to the lineup. Many were suspecting that the Canucks' plan was to keep Salo on injured reserve for as long as possible - perhaps even longer than needed - in order to maximize their salary cap relief. That debate should be settled soon as the Canucks will want Salo in the lineup ASAP.

The cap relief provided by Edler's injury has already had an impact as the team has recalled Cody Hodgson from the Manitoba Moose. Hodgson and his $1.66m contract would not be here if not for the cap relief provided by Edler's absence. This move is a little surprising as Hodgson has only played 4 games (with 0 pts) since returning from a broken orbital bone. The Canucks must be confident that his health and conditioning are where they need to be.

Cody is expected to debut as the team's 4th line centre, a position which has been a problem since Alex Bolduc went down with a shoulder injury. He's also likely to centre the struggling second power play unit. It remains to be seen whether this is a permanent promotion. Mike Gillis is on record as saying that once Cody is recalled it will be for good. My guess is that the Canucks saw an opportunity to get Hodgson acclimated to the NHL in a low pressure situation. If he excels he'll stick around, if he doesn't there's no harm in returning him to Manitoba. There's also the trade deadline factor. With several underachieving forwards there is the possibility that Hodgson steals someone's job and that someone is moved at the deadline.

Canuck fans should get their first look at Cody Hogdson tomorrow in Dallas.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Little Adversity

You knew it was coming. After the best stretch of hockey in franchise history the Canucks find themselves in a slump. Vancouver has played a lot of hockey in January and it's starting to catch up with them. They surprised everyone by going 4-0-1 during a stretch of 5 games in 7 nights at the beginning of the month, but their game began to slide as they headed out east.

Injuries have begun to take their toll. In 3 of the last 5 games the Canucks have lost a defenseman early, forcing them to play with 5 blueliners. Christian Ehrhoff has played more than 24 minutes a night in 7 of the last 8 games (including 33 minutes against Calgary). Before that stretch the last time he played over 24 minutes was December 1st. Ryan Kesler is obviously battling through a hand injury and I'm sure there are many others fighting some sort of ailment.

Then you have the group of interchangeable forwards who have contributed next to nothing in January. Mikeal Samuellson has one point since Boxing day. Mayson Raymond has 1 goal and 2 assists. Raffi Torres has 3 assists and has been a minus in 4 straight games. Manny Malhotra and Jeff Tambellini have been pointless. Hansen has 3 points, Glass 1 assist. Add it all up and no one outside of the Sedins, Kesler and the defense is scoring.

The All-Star break couldn't come at a better time.

Mike Gillis has one month and 15 games to evaluate his team before the NHL trade deadline. Two weeks ago there was no need to consider any kind of move, the team looked ready for the playoffs. Now there are some pretty significant question marks. Can you go into the playoffs with a 2nd power play unit that can't score? When the secondary scoring dries up are you getting enough out of those players? Half the forwards are listed under 200lbs, is the team big enough for the playoffs? Who's going to centre the 4th line?

Of course, a lot of the current issues could be resolved with two simple things. A little rest and a little practice time. There hasn't been much time for either lately.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Canucks Second Quarter Report Card

The Canucks have reached the half way point in their 2010-2011 season, that means it's time for the second round of letter grades. In case you missed them, check out the first quarter report card.

Last quarter's grades are represented in brackets. Remember grades are based on player expectations, so Andrew Alberts' high grade does not mean he's been as good as Alex Edler, it just means he has exceeded expectations.

Team Grades

Overall Team Grade: A+ (C+)
The Canucks were an outstanding 16-1-3 for 35 pts during their second quarter, propelling themselves to the top of the NHL standings. At the quarter poll they were on pace for 97.6 points - they are now on pace for a 120 point season.
Power Play: A (A)
Vancouver had the best power play in the NHL through the first quarter of the season and they remained in the top spot through the second quarter. The power play currently sits at 25%. 30 of the 41 power play goals have been scored by the first unit.
Penalty Kill: A (A)
The Canucks PK slipped a tiny bit during the second quarter (down 1.3%), but it still sits at 85.5% good enough for 4th overall in the NHL.

Player Grades

Ryan Kesler: A+ (B)
After a slow start to the season Kesler began playing the best hockey of his career. He is now on pace for 46g 34a 80pts +34 and a Selke trophy. His improved wrist shot has made him dangerous whenever he has the puck in the offensive zone and he has provided the net presence on the league's best power play. Kesler has done this while maintaining his usual high standard of defensive play.
Daniel Sedin: A (A-)
Daniel has been held off the score sheet only 6 times this season. He is tied for 3rd overall in both goals and points, and is on pace for 50 goals and 58 assists.
Henrik Sedin: A (B+)
Last quarter Henrik had only 2 goals and was guilty of passing up too many scoring opportunities. He answered critics by scoring 7 times in December while maintaining his league leading assist pace. Henrik is tied with his brother for 3rd place in points and is on pace for an eye-popping 90 assists.
Alexander Edler: A (A)
Alex Edler continues to be the team's best defenseman and is on pace for a career high of 50 points. Edler has been getting the job done at both ends of the rink, he has had a shot on goal in all but 4 games this year and was a minus only 3 times during the second quarter.
Roberto Luongo: A (C-)
Luongo got off to another slow start, but since the start of December he is 10-1-2 and has seen his GAA drop to 2.33 and SvPct rise to .921. That's good for a half goal a game improvement over the first quarter of the season.
Kevin Bieksa: A- (B-)
Like several Canucks, Bieksa may be playing the best hockey of his career. He has climbed from a +2 after 21 games, to a +16 after 41. He has 11 points in his last 19 games. The mental mistakes have been much rarer and he is playing with a nasty physical edge.
Andrew Alberts: A- (B)
Alberts may be the front runner for the Canucks most improved player award. The difference between the guy who was acquired last spring, and the guy manning the blueline now, is like night and day. You can really see the improvement in his defensive play by the type of penalties he has taken. If you take out the "physical" penalties like roughing, fighting, boarding and compare the 1st quarter of the season to the second here is what you get: (1st/2nd) Hooking (1/0), Interference (4/1), Delay of Game (1/0), High Sticking (2/0), Holding (1/0), Tripping (0/1). Basically in the 2nd quarter Alberts took only two penalties related to defensive positioning: 1 tripping and 1 interference.
Christian Ehrhoff: B+ (C-)
Ehrhoff picked up his game in December, doubling his goal total of the first two months of the season while improving his play in his own end.
Alexandre Burrows: B+ (B-)
After returning from injury Burrows got off to a slow start and has yet to completely recapture the form he showed while scoring 35 goals last year. That said, Burrows is playing well and has fit right back in with the Sedins. The goals may be down, but he does have 16 points in his last 19 games.
Jannik Hansen: B+ (C+)
While he will never be a goal scorer, Hansen has established himself as one of the hardest working forwards on the team. As a result he's been in the lineup every night and has managed to see action on all 4 lines. In December, Hansen added 7 points while continuing his strong play on the PK and forecheck. Hansen also leads all Canuck forwards with 88 hits, that's 22 more than the next guy.
Cory Schneider: B+ (B+)
Schneider has yet to lose this season and has given the organization the confidence to give Luongo a night off whenever they need to. He's had some rough moments, but overall his numbers are great and he's made the big save when his team has needed it.
Dan Hamhuis: B (C-)
Hamhuis struggled earlier in the year, but since he has recovered from a foot injury he has been very good. Every now and then he makes a bad giveaway, but other than that Hamhuis has been great defensively. He's not the biggest or most physical defenseman, but he has an excellent stick which is particularly effective on the PK.
Manny Malhotra: B (B)
Malhotra has been exactly as advertised. He's provided some much needed size down the middle and has been absolutely dominating in the faceoff circle at 63.4%. He is a major component of the great PK. The only negative against Malhotra is that his line has been a minus on a few too many nights.
Tanner Glass: B (C+)
Glass saw his ice time gradually increase during the 2nd quarter of the season. Despite a decrease in offensive production Glass has made a solid contribution. He's been very good on the PK and is usually the best player on his line.
Jeff Tambellini B (Incomplete)
Tambellini has had an up and down season. He has had two stretches of great play and two stretches of mediocre play. Overall he has been a great addition to the lineup and is on pace for a 20 goal season, but he needs to be more consistent.
Raffi Torres: B (C+)
Torres has been exactly as advertised this season. He's on pace for around 20 goals and 40 points. Some nights he's very noticeable other nights he's invisible. Some nights he throws his weight around, other nights he doesn't. He's been a little more consistent of late, hopefully that continues for the remainder of the season.
Mason Raymond: B- (C-)
Despite being hampered by a hand injury Raymond is still on pace for almost 20 goals and 50 assists. Not quite what the Canucks wanted, but he has played better of late and looks to be on track. Raymond should be better in the second half.
Keith Ballard: B- (D)
Ballard was a huge disappointment to begin the year, but he has slowly and steadily improved. He's not at the level the Canucks want, especially offensively, and it's still questionable whether he will live up to his paycheck and the price the Canucks paid to get him. If Salo came back today Ballard would likely be the guy moving to the pressbox. That has a lot to do with the play of Bieksa and Alberts, but it also says a lot about Ballard's level of play. The good news is that he has gotten steadily better and there's no reason why he can't continue to improve.
Alexandre Bolduc C+ (Incomplete)
Bolduc has given AV the ability to play the 4th line on a regular basis, but he has also been inconsistent. The 4th line has contributed some offense, but has also been on the ice for too many goals against. Bolduc's been solid in the faceoff circle, but also saw himself in the pressbox after losing a draw that cost Luongo a shutout in the final seconds. There's a lot to like about Bolduc's game, but he's still showing his inexperience.
Mikael Samuelsson C+ (C-)
Samuelsson has been the most disappointing Canuck this season. While no one was expecting another 30 goal season, 8 goals at the half way mark is not enough. That said, he is still 5th on the team with 24 points so all is not lost.
Aaron Rome: C (C+)
With a healthy defense Rome has seen limited action and when he has played he has struggled. The last time he played regularly he was a minus in 3 straight games heading into Christmas. He can play better, but he's not likely to see many opportunities unless there are injuries.
Aaron Volpatti: Incomplete
Volpatti has only played 8 games and has played reasonably well. He's not the answer on the 4th line, but he has shown he can fill in.
Jonas Andersson: Incomplete
Andersson had a quick 4 game callup and like Volpatti he was alright. He doesn't provide anything physically, but he is a little quicker and better with the puck than your average 4th line grinder. Decent option as injury insurance.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Team On A Mission


What a run. The Vancouver Canucks sit atop the NHL standings with a 26-8-5 (57pts) record in 39 games. Heading into the season the 2010-11 version of the Canucks had the potential to be one of the best teams in franchise history. That potential has been realized, Vancouver has never seen a team quite like this one.

From top to bottom, there has never been a Canuck team as strong as this. It all starts down the middle with Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra. During this run Kesler has been amazing at both ends of the rink, Henrik is on pace for another 100pt season and Malhotra has dominated the faceoff circle while anchoring a solid 3rd line. Throw in a deep supporting cast of wingers and you have a group of lines that can play in any situation against any matchup.

While there may not be an elite #1 defenseman on the backend, the group as a whole is tremendously deep. Alex Edler has quietly become one of the best young defensemen in the game. His partner Christian Ehrhoff has provided offense while improving his defensive play. Kevin Bieksa is playing the best hockey of his career. The new guys have settled in nicely and Andrew Alberts has to get the team's most improved player award.

In goal, the Canucks finally have a backup they have confidence in. Cory Schneider has yet to lose in regulation and has allowed the Canucks to rest Luongo during one of the busiest points of the schedule. The fresh and rested Luongo appears to be at the top of his game.

Statistics aside, there is something about this team that is different than teams past. This is a team on a mission. Everyone has bought into the game plan, the attitude of the team is very business like. Play sixty minutes every night. Play hard, play with discipline. This team knows what they need to do to win and everyone has bought in to the process. As evidence of this all you have to do is look at the game in San Jose on Tuesday night. Playing their third game in 4 nights, during an unfriendly travel schedule, the Canucks went into San Jose and came out with a victory against one of the best teams in the league. It was a physical playoff type game, a game which the Canucks could have easily made excuses for. Instead they stepped up and won in a building they have had a lot of trouble in.

Right now the biggest problem the Canucks have is how they're going to get Sami Salo back in under the salary cap. That's a good problem to have.