Sep 072011
 

I was going to start a series of posts previewing the 2011/2012 Vancouver Canucks today. But in light of this morning’s tragedy in Russia, in which a plane crashed shortly after takeoff, killing members of the KHL team, Lokomotiv, I thought I’d start the series with a look at one of the victims, former Canuck, Pavol Demitra.

What we remember:

Perhaps one of our most lasting memories of Demitra in Vancouver wasn’t his play as a Canuck, but rather his performance at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He represented 9th-ranked Slovakia, which upset Team Sweden in the quarterfinals and came within 20 minutes of a bronze medal finish.

Demo led all scorers in the tournament with 10 points, including a short-handed goal and 2 assists in the second period of the bronze medal game. The night before, with Slovakia down 3-2 and only 10 seconds left in the semifinal game against Team Canada, he had this grand opportunity:

He was named a tournament All-Star, and, invigorated after the Olympics, he returned to play some of his best hockey with the Canucks. In what would prove to be his final games in the NHL, he recorded 12 points (2 goals – 10 assists) in the Canucks’ final 17 regular season games and 6 points (2 goals – 4 assists) in 11 playoff games.

What we expect:

When Mike Gillis took over as Canucks GM, one of his first moves was to sign his former client to a 2-year/$8 million contract. At the time, the Canucks badly needed some secondary scoring. The Sedins were simply point-per-game players, not Art Ross winners, Ryan Kesler was a 20-goal scorer on the 3rd line, and there was no guarantee that UFA Markus Naslund would return. Demitra, at least in his first year as a Canuck, would provide just what the team needed. In 2008/2009, he scored 20 goals and 53 points in 69 games, good for 4th in team scoring that year.

Reality check:

Age and injuries ultimately caught up to Demo. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious shoulder injury during the 2009 playoffs, which then caused him to miss a large part of the 2009/2010 season. Demo was obviously far removed from his seasons of scoring 35+ goals and 75+ points, but if Gillis’ intent in signing him (and Mats Sundin for that matter) was to afford the likes of Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond with another year of development, then it’s hard to critique the move.

He said it:

“When I played with Minnesota and L.A., we played many games in Vancouver and I always loved the atmosphere and everything else about the fans and the city. That was the biggest reason. Another big reason was Mike. We are very close friends and I always like to play hockey for a guy like that.”

- Pavol Demitra after signing with the Canucks in July 2008

RIP Demo. You will be missed. And RIP to everyone who were killed on that flight. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, your families and your loved ones.

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