J.J. Guerrero

Founder and Executive Editor of Canucks Hockey Blog. Proud Canadian, hardcore Canucks fan. I would like nothing more than watching the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. Against the Leafs.

Mar 102014
 

Michael Grabner, New York Islanders

Photo credit: http://islanders.nhl.com

How big were the Vancouver Canucks’ recent losses to the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes? Well, consider that with 16 games left in the regular season, the Canucks currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, and wouldn’t you know it, the teams directly in front of them – the teams they’re chasing for the wild card playoff spots – are the Wild, Stars and Coyotes.

Strength of Schedule

If the Canucks have any aspirations to make the playoffs, now is the time to string together a few wins. Including tonight’s opponents, the New York Islanders, 6 of their next 7 games are against teams that aren’t in playoff positions, and 5 of those teams have a worse record than they do.

  • New York Islanders (24-33-9, 14th in East)
  • Winnipeg Jets (30-28-7, 11th in West)
  • Washington Capitals (30-25-10, 10th in East)
  • Florida Panthers (24-33-7, 15th in East)
  • Tampa Bay Lightning (34-24-6, 5th in East)
  • Nashville Predators (26-28-10, 12th in West)
  • Buffalo Sabres (19-37-8, 16th in East)

Mixed Messages

Last week, I wrote about the Canucks and their season ticket renewals. With anger rising amongst the faithful, overall interest in the team dwindling, and the trade deadline presenting somewhat of an opportunity to retool the roster, fans wanted to see some sign of life or some sign of direction from the team before committing large amounts of their own money for next season. The Canucks responded by trading their best goalie ever for a goaltending prospect and a third line center, hanging on to Ryan Kesler and Alex Edler, two sought-after players from the roster, not addressing any immediate scoring needs, and losing 4 games in a row, including the 3 games with playoff implications that I mentioned earlier.

Needless to say, they didn’t exactly instill a lot of confidence moving forward.

The thing is, the Canucks were supposed to send renewal letters to season ticket holders last week on March 3rd; they haven’t yet, and Elliotte Friedman from CBC reported on Saturday that the Canucks have held off from sending them out. Of course, I don’t blame the Canucks for holding off because how do you sell the product as it is right now? The team isn’t winning and the entertainment value is poor. Now, whether it’s an emotional response to how far this team has sunk in a couple of years, or perhaps a financial reality that ticket prices have peaked to the point that even the most diehard of fans can no longer justify the value of Canucks tickets, but I’ve heard a lot – and I really do mean A LOT – of season ticket holders who’ve expressed they aren’t renewing next year or are leaning towards not renewing. While the Canucks seem to still be tiptoeing between a playoff push and a rebuild, fans, on the other hand, are speaking more clearly – with their wallets.

Market Correction

Speaking of which, if there’s any positive at all to this, it’s that single-game ticket prices seem to be back within reach for a lot of fans. I spoke with a scalper before Saturday’s game, and they expressed how single-game prices are at its lowest in several seasons.

For those of you who want to watch the game live, scour the secondary ticket market. Heck, you may get in to tonight’s game for as low as $25.

Is Sebastian Collberg that good?

GM Mike Gillis is receiving a lot of criticism in this market recently (deservedly so), but let’s also consider what Islanders’ GM Garth Snow managed to pull off this season.

Earlier this season, Snow acquired 0.42 goals/game scorer Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres, and in exchange, gave up 0.36 goals/game scorer Matt Moulson, a 2014 or 2015 1st round draft pick and a 2015 2nd round draft pick. Then last Wednesday, Snow traded Vanek and a conditional 5th round draft pick to the Montreal Canadiens for prospect Sebastian Collberg and a conditional 2nd round draft pick, the condition at both ends being that the Habs make the playoffs.

The Habs are in a playoff spot right now, but are far from assured of making it. (They’re 6 points up but have played 1 or 2 more games than the teams chasing them.) If the Habs don’t make the playoffs, Snow essentially would have traded 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson, a 1st round draft pick and a 2nd round draft pick for Sebastian Collberg. Is Collberg that good? I’ll let you decide.

Mar 052014
 

Rebuild? Reset? Retool?

Buckle up, Canucks fans.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Mar 042014
 

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: CBC

J.J.: Two memories stand out: The first was the moment Luongo was acquired by the Canucks. The second was Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins. Both stood out because of the pure ecstacy I felt when it happend.

I still remember thinking my buddy was playing a joke on me when he called me to say that Luongo was a Canuck. With all due respect to Dan Cloutier and the others, for the first time in a long time, the team had a legitimate superstar goaltender. I still remember thinking the Canucks, with the likes of Markus Naslund and the Sedins up front, Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo in the back end, would finally won the Cup.

I was at Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Bruins. After Max Lapierre scored near the end of the third period – the only goal of the game – and Lu posted his second 1-0 shutout of the Finals – only the second time in NHL history someone had accomplished this feat.

Matt: Of all the Roberto Luongo moments it’s difficult to find just one which stands out above the rest. You could make a case for many: How about his very first playoff game as a Canuck, when he turned aside 72 shots (a playoff record!) against the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the first rounds? Or how about the cajones it took for Bobby Lou when he painted a ‘C’ on his mask when he was named team captain?

For me, one of the best moments is when which few seldom remember. It was the first time Roberto tossed his stick over the glass to a young fan after he was named a game’s first star. Love him or hate him, Luongo inspired dozens of young fans with a simple gesture like that. And that’s something that none of his critics can ever take from him.

Clay: It was a great birthday present (albeit one day late) when Luongo was acquired by the Canucks on June 23, 2006. Luongo has had a stellar career in Vancouver (with six strong seasons and an Olympic gold medal) and he single-handedly ended the use of the term “goalie graveyard” in this city. Whereas some may remember him for playoff meltdowns, I prefer to remember him as the winning goalie for two of the most exciting hockey games ever played in this city (2010 Winter Olympic gold medal game and Game 7 vs. the Blackhawks in April 2011).

Victoria: My favorite Luongo moment was when he took over Martin Brodeur and won an Olympic gold medal for Canada. It isn’t exactly a Canucks-related moment, but the Olympics made me realize how proud I was to say he was a Canuck. “That’s my goalie!” I told all my friends around the world. And you know what? He’ll always be my goalie. I know it’s the right time for him to go, but I also know that he always gave the Canucks his all – I’ll always respect him for that. Good luck, Bobby Luuuuu!

Lizz: My all-time favorite Luongo memory was the Christmas I surprised my little brother by getting his favorite jersey autographed by his favorite goalie so I let him help me pick our favourite LUOOOOO moment.

We settled on the 2011 Chicago series.

Personally, I was partial to a game 2 save he made against Brian Campbell, where he needed every inch of his ridiculously large size 13 feet to stop the puck.

But we eventually agreed on the game 7 OT stop on Patrick Sharp, because without it, my boy Alex Burrows would have never had the chance to slay the dragon.

Caylie: What’s most disappointing for me this season isn’t the lockout, but instead is the departure of Roberto Luongo. Luo has meant a great deal to this city. I know the drama and trade speculation of the last few months overshadowed a lot of the bright moments we witnessed during his tenure, but I’ll always remember his Vezina nominations, the Stanley Cup run, his 47-win season, and becoming the franchise leader in wins.

Ed: Younger fans might not remember the absolute misery the Canucks had in goal after Kirk McLean stood between the pipes. With a cast that included Garth Snow, Kevin Weekes, Martin Brochu and Alfie Michaud, among others, I’m not kidding when I say that my favorite goalie during that era was Bob Essensa. Roberto Luongo was the franchise’s first superstar goaltender. Make your case for Captain Kirk or even King Richard Brodeur, but in Luongo, despite all the haters, for the first time the Canucks could make a case for having the best goalie in the league. He’s the best we’ve ever had and it’s too bad he got treated and run out-of-town by some like he’s Felix Potvin.

Chris: Much like Ed, it pains me to see Roberto being shown the “Un-Welcome to the City of Vancouver” sign. I’ve always looked upon Roberto as the Canucks version of Grant Fuhr. I understood that he was never going to be the guy we saw suit up in the 2006/07 season – a goaltender with a chip on his shoulder that carried a mediocre hockey team. Whether it was his stellar play against Dallas in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs (I was at Game 1. You know.. THAT Game 1) or his more recent forays in to social media, that’s the Luongo I’ll choose to remember.

Mar 042014
 

Roberto Luongo exits the ice at Rogers Arena.

It didn’t seem like it at times because of the flak he’s received over the years here, but Roberto Luongo’s work in Vancouver was appreciated. Just look back to this weekend, when Canucks fans so obviously wanted Lu to start the Heritage Classic.

The fact is, Luongo shattered the long standing perception of Vancouver as a goalie graveyard. All you need to do is look at the list of Canucks’ goalies in the 10 years prior to his arrival – Corey Hirsch, Arturs Irbe, Garth Snow, Sean Burke, Kevin Weekes, Felix Potvin and Bob Essensa, among many, many others – and it’s easy to see just how much he’s stabilized the Canucks’ goaltending position.

His accomplishments here are undeniable.

He won 252 regular season wins (1st in franchise history) and posted 38 regular season shutouts (1st in franchise history) in a Canucks jersey.

He holds the Canucks’ single season records for games played (76), wins (47), shutouts (9) and longest shutout streak (242:36 minutes).

Lu won 32 games in the playoffs, 2nd only to Kirk McLean, though his playoff GAA (2.53) and save percentage (0.916) are better than Captain Kirk’s. Like McLean, he won 15 games in one playoff season and took the Canucks to within one game of winning the Stanley Cup. Never mind the team in front of him was decimated by injuries in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins and couldn’t score – the Canucks scored just 8 goals in 7 SCF games – he posted 2 shutouts – only the 2nd goaltender in NHL history to post 2 1-0 shutouts in the Final – and carried them on his shoulders.

He was nominated twice for the Vezina, once in 2009 and again in 2011, and if the Canucks had gone on to win the Cup in 2011, chances are, he likely would have won the Conn Smythe.

During the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, he took over an embattled Martin Brodeur in net and won a gold medal for Canada. He again represented Team Canada in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, where he shut out Team Norway in his lone start.

Not bad for a goalie who supposedly can’t win when it matters the most.

The truth is, expectations from Lu were always sky-high. Often, they were even unreasonable. Maybe it’s because he was able to keep his old, weak Florida Panthers teams competitive for so many years. Or maybe it’s because, he took Canucks teams, some of which couldn’t shoot a puck into a soccer net if they wanted to, from missing the postseason and into the second round of the playoffs, and then from there to the team’s return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 17 years.

But despite Lu’s obvious success, too many fans eventually turned on him and openly called for the new, sexy redhead or the outgoing Swede with the great sense of humor in net to take over. For his part, Lu was nothing but a consummate professional and teammate, even to the end.

As Luongo leaves Vancouver, he also leaves behind the most successful goaltending era in Canucks history. Some may not agree with this sentiment, but I think most do. And when you think about it, the last thing he heard from Canucks fans was on Sunday at the Heritage Classic when 50,000+ fans were chanting, “We want Lu.”

And to that we add, thank you, Lu.

Mar 032014
 
Source: Getty Images via NHL

Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini and GM Mike Gillis.
Source: Getty Images via NHL

This week could be the most important week for the Vancouver Canucks organization in a long, long time.

First, let’s set the background.

The Canucks can’t win. They’ve lost 9 of their last 10 games, and have only won 6 games (6-14-4) since Christmas.

They can’t score. They’ve managed to score 3 goals in a game just 4 times since the calendar turned to 2014, and their 2.33 goals per game average this season is their lowest since 1999, when their roster included illustrious players like Peter Zezel, Harry York, Bill Muckalt and Darby Hendrickson.

The Sedins are having their worst seasons, well, ever. As so are Alex Burrows and Alex Edler.

Off the ice, it’s not much better. Ryan Kesler wants out. GM Mike Gillis is on the hot seat, if not with the owners, then certainly with the fans. Interest in the team is down. Tickets sales are down. Corporate sales are down.

But perhaps the cherry on top?

The Canucks somehow managed to bungle what should have been a great celebration of hockey – the Heritage Classic at BC Place – and instead turn the focus once again to the obviously strained relationship between the team and Roberto Luongo.

When word got out on Saturday night that the Canucks were starting rookie goaltender Eddie Lack at the Heritage Classic, reaction from Canucks fans was swift. And it was mostly negative. In fact, while goaltending controversies usually tend to divide Canucks fans, the decision to sit Luongo for this unique event instead united them. Perhaps it’s the existence of social media, but even in the dark years of the Mike Keenan/Mark Messier era, I don’t remember so much anger directed at the team – and management – as was directed at them yesterday.

The scene at BC Place this afternoon was surreal. Lack, who had played his guts out all year, was getting booed, not for his play, but rather because he wasn’t Luongo. Luongo, who most had written off last year, sat on the bench, unhappy, angry and refusing to speak with the media after the game.

If there was ever a perfect prelude to the week the Canucks are supposed to start sending season ticket renewals (and selling playoff ticket packages), everything that’s transpired in the last week – together with the lack of on-ice success the last couple of months – were definitely not it.

These should be interesting times for this organization. It’s no secret that Canucks fans are fickle, and in fact, the appetite for all things Canucks has dwindled in the last couple of seasons. All you have to do is look around the arena and see the empty seats, or see the suites which no longer have corporate sponsors attached to them (for example, the Best Buy Club is now just Club 500 and the River Rock Club is now just The Club), or view the frequent ads for ticket promotions not seen in several seasons.

Certainly, the Canucks will have their work cut out for them as they start reaching out to season ticket holders. In 2011, at the peak of their success with this current core, the season ticket renewal rate was at close to 99%. They even managed to build a long wait list for new season ticket holders. But in the last couple of seasons, that renewal rate has decreased. At the season ticket renewal event in 2012, a Canucks account rep stated the renewal rate was around 97%; this season after the lockout, the same rep stated it was at around 95%. Already for next season, the organization is expecting an even lower renewal rate – I’ve heard rumors it could be as low as 85%. The wait list has helped in the meantime; however, they’ve already exhausted most of it.

Which brings us back to this week.

The NHL’s trade deadline is this Wednesday, March 5th, and with core players such as Kesler, Luongo, and perhaps even Edler in play, the Canucks have a prime opportunity to reshape their roster and re-inject some hope for the people who invest big dollars in them.

The question is how GM Mike Gillis goes about accomplishing that.

Ideally, any trades for Kesler, Luongo and Edler – all still very good players, regardless of what Twitter says – should net the Canucks some good, young players, which should speed up the rebuilding process. Kesler alone is attracting a lot of interest, and if Gillis plays his cards right, he could net the Canucks at least one, maybe two, young, top-6 forwards and some high draft picks. Imagine adding the likes of Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Scott Laughton, Brandon Sutter, Derrick Pouliot and/or Beau Bennett to a youth core that already includes Eddie Lack, Zack Kassian, Chris Tanev, Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce and Frankie Corrado.

That’s not a bad group to start a rebuild. But do they inspire enough confidence in their season ticket holders and corporate sponsors? I mean, nothing says “give me your money now” than we’ll be good in a couple of years.

The other side of the coin is the need for this organization to make the playoffs. A couple of years ago, it was estimated that each playoff home game brings in roughly $2-$3 million in revenue. Even assuming the team makes it and flames out in the first round, that’s still a lot of money – almost enough to buy out David Booth in the off-season – especially for an owner who already has a lot of money tied up in developing his office towers around the arena.

So do they start the rebuild now – and start selling hope now? Or do they make another push, with this most of this current core intact, and hope to catch lightning in a bottle? For those who do invest thousands of their hard-earned dollars on the team, what would they rather see?

It’s obvious the Canucks, not too long removed from the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy wins, have gone stale. It’s obvious fans are mad – a lot of them already speaking with their wallets – and want change.

This week, the team has an opportunity to respond. It will be interesting to see how they do.

Feb 272014
 

Welcome back from the Olympic break, Canucks fans.

How about we break that 7-game losing streak, eh?

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Feb 052014
 

Raphael Diaz scores his first goal as a Vancouver Canuck.

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Another game, another loss, and a lot more questions left unanswered.

  • Last night’s game was probably the most uneventful Canucks vs. Bruins game in a long time. But I suppose when one team is not only mired in a deep slump, but also missing a good chunk of their regular roster due to injury, and the ones who did dress seemed unwilling to engage, the temperature cooled down considerably.
  • Henrik Sedin is hurt. That much is obvious. He can’t take face-offs and he can’t take a hit. And after every shift, when he skates back to the bench, he has that pained look on his face, kinda like those poor puppies in the SPCA commercials. I know Hank is tough – you can’t play 679 consecutive games in this league without being tough. I understand he’s the captain, and he wants to lead his team, which is severely undermanned right now. This is all admirable, but at this juncture of the season, why the hell are the Canucks risking a longer-term injury?
  • The Canucks’ injury list includes Chris Higgins, Brad Richardson, Mike Santorelli, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa and Chris Tanev. If you include Hank, which, really, the Canucks should, that’s four top-9 forwards and three top-6 d-men (even arguably top-4 d-men) – or half of the top part of the lineup – out of the lineup. As good friend of the blog, Gina from Canucks Corner tweeted last night, injuries aren’t an excuse, but they are a factor. In this age of parity, there aren’t many teams in the league that can withstand that many injuries.
  • Which leads me to today’s $64,000 question – what should be considered as realistic expectations for this Canucks team right now?
  • When I worked the Vancouver Grizzlies games at then GM Place a while ago, I used to remark how Bryant “Big Country” Reeves almost always played better after he was hit early in the game. It was as if a Shaq or Greg Ostertag elbow to the face served as some sort of wake-up call for the big fella. Last night, I thought David Booth was one of the better Canucks. (Giveaway that led to the Daniel Paille breakaway goal aside.) After Johnny Boychuk nailed him with a nice hit along the boards, he was noticeably more physical and had a little something-something going with Boychuk the rest of the game. Maybe, like Big Country, Booth just needed a wake-up call.
  • Raphael Diaz had a pretty solid Canucks debut. He led all Canucks skaters with 25:26 minutes of ice-time and he scored the team’s lone goal to boot. According to Extra Skater, he finished with a 65.0 CF%, which, in layman’s terms mean that, generally, good things happened for the Canucks when Diaz was on the ice.
  • Considering their depleted lineup, the Canucks were okay for the most part last night. But after their loss in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, getting up for the normally heated and emotional games against the Bruins was never a problem for them. Their problem was getting up for the games that followed.
Jan 192014
 

Coach John Tortorella of the Vancouver Canucks is upset at coach Bob Hartley of the Calgary Flames.

Photo credit: cbc.ca

Some highlights and some lowlights about last night’s 3-2 shootout win against the Calgary Flames.

  • Before we get into anything else, how good did it feel to see the Canucks snap a 3-game losing streak, in the shootout, and with Roberto Luongo back in net? For all the talk about moral victories all week, it sure was nice to see them notch an actual win.
  • John Tortorella will have an in-person hearing with Colin Campbell tomorrow in New York. He’ll likely be suspended, deservedly so, for trying to get to Flames coach, Bob Hartley, in the Flames’ dressing room during the first intermission. Yes, Hartley was a dick for sending his goon line to start the game, but Torts already let him hear about it at the bench. There’s absolutely no reason for him to confront him again in the dressing room.
  • Hartley said in his post-game presser that he didn’t intend to start a fight when he put Brian McGrattan, Kevin Westgarth and Blair Jones in his starting lineup because, after all, that line got him a goal in their last game against the Winnipeg Jets. So hey, why not ride the hot hand, right? However, including that goal against the Jets, that line has combined for 3 goals all season so pardon me while I call bullshit on Hartley’s intentions.
  • If Westgarth was so intent on not starting a fight, then why didn’t he even bother with the puck while taking the opening faceoff, and instead went straight to fight Kevin Bieksa?
  • Many Canucks haters respected members of the media have pointed out the fact the Canucks had last change so Torts could have averted this whole situation by sending out his more skilled players in response. However, given that opposing teams have taken runs at the Sedins, Luongo and David Booth in recent games, do you blame him for not sending them out?
  • Surely someone has a clip or a gif of Flames captain, Mark Giordano, grabbing Zack Kassian’s stick, holding it against his belly, and then flopping down to the ice like a kid flops down on a slip-and-slide.
  • With Mike Santorelli and Jordan Schroeder already out, and assuming Hank has to sit because of his broken finger and rib injury, is anyone else looking forward to a lineup with Ryan Kesler, Brad Richardson, Zac Dalpe and Kellan Lain down the middle?
Jan 062014
 

Vancouver Olympics Ice Hockey

Photo credit: Sportsnet

Tomorrow, Hockey Canada will unveil their roster for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. In advance of their announcement, scheduled for 8:00 AM PST, we at CHB got together and put together our own version of Team Canada.

Goaltenders

Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks), Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens) and Mike Smith (Phoenix Coyotes)

Our thought process: Because Luongo backstopped the gold medal-winning team in 2010 and Price is among the NHL’s leaders in most goaltending categories, we agreed pretty quickly on these two guys.

However, there was considerable debate on who should be the third goalie. Josh Harding, who wasn’t invited to the Team Canada orientation camp in the summer, currently leads the league in GAA (1.65) and is 4th in save percentage (0.933), and received some consideration. Ditto Marc-Andre Fleury, who not only currently leads the league in wins (24) but has also won a Stanley Cup and was a member of the 2010 team, and Corey Crawford, who won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks last season. In the end though, we decided on Mike Smith, who has performed consistently well, especially in the last 3 seasons, and whose puck-handling ability may come in handy on the larger international ice surface.

Defensemen

Jay Bouwmeester (St. Louis Blues), Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings), Dan Hamhuis (Vancouver Canucks), Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks), Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues), Brent Seabrook (Chicago Blackhawks), PK Subban (Montreal Canadiens) and Shea Weber (Nashville Predators)

Our thought process: We quickly locked in Keith, Weber, Doughty and Pietrangelo. (Thanks, Bob Mckenzie.) Shortly after that, we locked in Jay Bouwmeester, who’s on pace for a career year with 27 points in 41 games so far, and P.K. Subban, who ranks 3rd among all NHL defensemen in points (33 points).

Like most other armchair Team Canada GMs, we had far more difficulty determining the last couple of spots in the back end. We considered Kris Letang, but ultimately thought he’s been injured too often recently, and plus, we didn’t think Hockey Canada would take both Subban and Letang.

Next, we considered the composition of the group so far. With only 2 lefties and 4 righties, we thought at least one of the remaining two spots should go to a left-handed defenseman; we could see HC going with 3 lefties and 5 righties, but not 2 lefties and 6 righties. That in mind, we looked at Dan Hamhuis and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Vlasic has had a good season, but then again, so has Hamhuis. Homers that we are, we chose Hamhuis.

For the last spot on d, we looked at Vlasic and Brent Seabrook. Like Subban, Seabrook is on pace towards a career year. Including the lockout-shortened season last season, he’s averaged around 30 points a season; this season, he already has 31 points in 44 games. Plus, we factored in his obvious familiarity with Keith.

Forwards

Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins), Jeff Carter (Los Angeles Kings), Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins), Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks), Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers), Chris Kunitz (Pittsburgh Penguins), Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks), Patrick Sharp (Chicago Blackhawks), Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning), Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning), John Tavares (New York Islanders), Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks)

Our thought process: With the composition of the 2006 team still in mind, we looked for speed (lots of speed) and youth up front. (Remember that Team Canada, following up on their gold medal win in 2002, fielded a bigger, slower and older veteran-laden team in 2006 – a formula that didn’t translate well to the larger ice surface in Torino.) Unsurprisingly, there was immediate consensus on the four guys lining up the middle: Crosby, Toews, Getzlaf and Bergeron. Perry, Tavares and Stamkos (assuming he’ll be fully-recovered from his injury) were no-brainers as well. To this group, we decided to include 22-year old Matt Duchene, who has 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) in 38 games, and 26-year old Claude Giroux, who has 12 goals in his last 27 games. And to complement Crosby, we added Chris Kunitz, who, thanks to Crosby, ranks 4th among Canadian forwards so far in scoring this season (47 points in 44 games) and was ranked 5th last season (52 points in 48 games).

With the top 10 forwards already locked in, we then looked for flexible, multi-purpose players for the next couple of spots. This meant eliminating guys like Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand (for reasons other than being Bruins), and Rick Nash (who’s had a subpar year anyway), Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle from consideration. We talked about Patrick Sharp (5th among Canadian forwards in scoring) and Jeff Carter, both of whom can play multiple forward positions and can play on the PP and PK. Ditto 2010 veteran, Eric Staal, but is currently on the shelf with a lower body injury. Mike Richards probably should’ve been a bigger part of this discussion, but he’s slowed down considerably recently (1 point in last 11 games). Same with Andrew Ladd, who’s having a solid year, but is well off his pace last season. In the end, we settled with Sharp and Carter.

For the last couple of forward spots, we amazingly reached a quick consensus to add Martin St. Louis (who doesn’t love this guy?), but with a lot of good players still on the board, agonized over the last player. We put Staal back on the board, and looked at him, Joe Thornton, Jamie Benn and Logan Couture. Thornton is tied for 3rd in NHL scoring, but we’re not certain he unseats Toews or Getzlaf for the second or third line center spot. He perhaps could play on the 4th line with Bergeron on the wing, but Jumbo Joe’s game isn’t suited for that role. One of Benn and Couture seemed like a better fit here – Benn has 36 points in 41 games, while Couture 35 points in 43 games – and in the end, we decided to add Couture.

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