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.