My apologies for not posting anything in the last couple of days. Work and home life got a bit crazy.
Regardless, allow me to share some quick thoughts on the Canucks this week.
Is it just me or does the Canucks’ rise to the top of the NHL standings feel somewhat surreal?
Recently, it’s almost as if the Canucks can’t do anything wrong. Even during their worst stretch of the season early in January when they lost 6 of 8 games, they managed 8 points and maintained their first place standing in the Western Conference. Despite being decimated by injuries on the back end, they’ve put together a 4-game winning streak.
As a Canucks fan, I’ve learnt to expect the worst so it wasn’t a surprise when the number of injured defensemen rose to four. What has been a pleasant surprise is how this team hasn’t skipped a beat despite the injuries.
It’s interesting to watch the succession plan – and depth – this team has on defense, especially in the last couple of weeks. When Aaron Rome was injured, Andrew Alberts stepped up. When Alberts went down, Chris Tanev stepped in. With Alex Edler was lost for the remainder of the regular season, Keith Ballard stepped seamlessly into the top-4 and Lee Sweatt, in his first taste of NHL action, scored his 1st NHL goal and has 2 points in 3 games.
Oh, and that Sami Salo guy is close to coming back.
I can’t imagine anyone with a more vested interested in Cody Hodgson’s play than GM Mike Gillis. After a tough past couple of seasons, there’s no doubt everyone in Canucks Nation – from Canucks management to the coaching staff to the players to the fans – wants him to succeed. But for GMMG, Cody represents more than a highly-touted prospect. He represents the first Canucks draft pick in the Mike Gillis era to play an NHL game.
When GMMG first came on-board, he made it clear that he wanted to build up the Canucks’ scouting and development team. True to his word, the Canucks now have one of the largest scouting and development budgets in the league.
But for everything GMMG has done and the Canucks have accomplished this season, a lot of his critics still point to the fact that the various core players of this team were drafted by its previous GMs. (Never mind the fact that these same core players only just matured under Gillis’ watch, but I digress.)
One of the stories from Cody’s draft year is how Mike Gillis, on Dave Gagner’s recommendation, overrode the Canucks scouting staff’s recommendation to draft Kyle Beach and select Cody instead. Despite Cody making the NHL before Beach, it’s obviously too early for us to judge this move. But if his first 2 games are any indication, he’s going to be just fine.
And deep down inside, I’m sure GMMG is smiling just a little bit.
One more thing about the prospects.
Every team preaches the mantra that it’s important to build through the draft. In order to be successful in the salary cap world, every team needs players on entry-level contracts or low cap hits to outperform their contracts.
The problem is, the 2006 and 2007 drafts have yielded no quality prospects for the Canucks, except for Michael Grabner, who is now on Long Island, and Sergei Shirokov. And to be honest, I still have doubts about Shirokov being a full-time NHL regular. Meanwhile, the 2008, 2009 and 2010 draft picks are probably (or hopefully) a couple of years away from putting in any meaningful contributions.
Despite that, you have to admit that the Canucks have done a good job of bridging the gap. On Tuesday, they had five rookies in the lineup – Cory Schneider, Aaron Volpatti, Chris Tanev, Lee Sweatt and Hodgson. Schneider, of course, was a Dave Nonis draft pick, but Volpatti, Tanev and Sweatt were all free agent signings by Mike Gillis. Add his relative success in his other free agent signings (i.e. Jeff Tambellini, Tanner Glass, etc.) and the Canucks have been able to plug holes in the lineup and give the rest of the prospects time to develop in Manitoba.