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 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.

Dec 142013
 

Late in the third period with the Canucks leading by 3 goals and the game well out of hand, the Edmonton Oilers finally remembered that they wanted to exact some revenge on Zack Kassian for breaking Sam Gagner’s jaw back in September. (Well, they didn’t actually. David Perron had to remind them.) Anyway, a scrum ensued with the Kassquatch in the middle of things with Perron and Oilers enforcer, Luke Gazdic.

As with every other scrum, much talking and taunting were involved. But Kassian drew some heat for apparently taunting Gagner’s injury, and have pointed to video evidence as proof of his douchiness.

Now, is it just me or did it seem that Kassian was taunting Gazdic, not Gagner? I mean, Kass was looking at Gazdic when he said whatever he said and made the motion with his hands by his neck. And it seems a stretch to suggest that Kass was directing this to Gagner, who at the time wasn’t part of the scrum, sitting on the bench behind a bunch of Oilers on the ice. Like, was all this fury after the game because Kassian was making fun of Gazdic’s neck beard?

I dunno. You be the judge.

Nov 132013
 

Brad Richardson , Christopher Tanev, Jason Garrison, Mike Santorelli

Photo credit: canada.com

With 20 games now in the bag in the Vancouver Canucks’ 2013/2014 season, here are some good, some bad, and some surprises and disappointments.

It’s Torts’ team now.

It wasn’t a surprise when GM Mike Gillis decided at the end of last season to fire long-time Canucks coach, Alain Vigneault. It was, however, perhaps a bit more surprising when the guy he tapped to succeed AV’s gum-chewing, hands-off approach with a gruff, known taskmaster in John Tortorella. By the end of last season, much was made about the complacency that developed, maybe in part because of AV’s player-friendly approach, and Torts’ coaching style was as far-removed from this as possible.

He is, indeed, more vocal behind the bench – and off it, I suppose. He’s more hands-on, and we’ve seen him make in-game adjustments. He relies heavily on stars like the Sedins and Ryan Kesler, all of whom sit in the top 5 among forwards in average ice-time. He’s shown he’s willing to give more ice-time to players who are going, or sit those who aren’t. He’s not afraid to play anyone in any situation, except maybe the 4th line.

But despite this, the doom and gloom that a lot of us predicted hasn’t materialized. And in fact, we can argue that Torts has even had the desired effect on this team. For the most part, gone is the complacency and casual play. On most nights in this early season, the Canucks forecheck hard and battle hard along the boards. Regardless of the score, they play an aggressive style and keep their foot on the pedal, which has helped them overcome deficits – only 4 teams have more wins than the Canucks when trailing after the first period, and only 1 team has more wins than them when trailing after the second period.

At the Canucks’ Summer Summit, Tortorella said he wanted the Canucks to be aggressive and to be tough to play against. And 20 games in, we’re beginning to see this. It’s Torts’ team now, and it looks like the Canucks are buying what he’s selling.

The Sedins are still stars.

A few years ago, before they signed their current contracts, numerous armchair GMs wanted the Sedins gone. Believe it or not, back then, a fair number of Canucks fans were willing to trade them for a bag of pucks and then use the cap money they save to sign Olli Jokinen and Marian Gaborik. It’s unthinkable now, especially after a couple of Art Ross trophies, a Lester Pearson trophy, and some modest (by this franchise’s standards) playoff success.

Or so you’d think.

This summer, there were once again rumblings from the bandwagon that the Canucks were better off to let the Sedins walk through free agency. Or trade them to a true Cup contender and kickstart a rebuild. But once again, at least through the first quarter of the season, they’re proving their doubters wrong. With 20 points (3 goals and 17 assists), Henrik Sedin sits 13th overall in NHL scoring, just 3 points back of league leader, Sidney Crosby. He’s recorded at least a point all but 4 of the 20 games he’s played. (Though 3 of those 4 games were the Canucks’ last 3 games.) Daniel isn’t far behind either. With 17 points (7 goals and 10 assists), he sits 24th overall in NHL scoring. Even at 33 years old, they’ve both taken on more responsibility, now taking a regular shift on the penalty-kill and already logging more PK time through 20 games as they have in the last 2 seasons combined.

As a famous person once said, they get knocked down, but they get up again, and they’re never gonna keep them down.

The newbies have fit in nicely.

There are some of us who probably still have the memory of signing or acquiring the likes of Marco Sturm, Samuel Pahlsson and Cam Barker fresh in our minds so it was somewhat acceptable when we looked cynically at Mike Gillis’ reset this off-season, which included signing Mike Santorelli and Brad Richardson, and picking up Ryan Stanton from waivers.

But with 3 guys who were pencilled in the Canucks’ top-9 – Jannik Hansen, Jordan Schroeder and David Booth – spending significant time out of the lineup due to injuries, the newbies have actually done quite well in their place. Santorelli, who hails from Burnaby, sits 4th in team scoring – behind just the Sedins and Kesler – with 12 points (5 goals and 7 assists). Richardson sits 6th with 5 goals, including 2 shorties, and 10 points in just 13:33 minutes of average ice-time per game (8th among Canucks forwards). And Stanton has been dependable in his 14 minutes per game in a third pairing role. Plus, Stanton has also contributed 7 points (3rd among Canucks defensemen). Santorelli, Richardson and Stanton have been pleasant surprises early this season.

The powerplay has been powerless.

There was a stretch midway through last season during which the Canucks scored 2 powerplay goals in 52 powerplay opportunities – a whopping 3.8% success rate – in 20 games. They finished the 2012/2013 season with a 15.8% success rate (22nd in the NHL), which was 4 percentage points lower than their success rate in 2011/2012 (19.8%, 4th in the NHL), which was almost 5 percentage points lower than their success rate in 2010/2011 (24.3%, 1st in the NHL).

In response, out went Newell Brown and the drop pass. Well, at least out went Newell Brown. And in comes Jason Garrison to the first PP unit. Wait, never mind, scratch that.

Despite changes in their roster and behind the bench, the Canucks’ powerplay hasn’t changed much. Okay, it has. It’s even worse now than it was last season, sputtering at a woeful 9.7% (28th in the NHL, ahead only of the Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers), and having only scored 6 powerplay goals in 20 games this season.

At least the PK is okay.

With a penalty-killing rate of 89.4%, the Canucks currently have the best PK in the NHL. Not only that, they’ve also scored 3 shorthanded goals, which is tied for 2nd in the NHL. Add to this that they’ve been shorthanded longer than all but 7 teams, and you have to admit, the PK has been one of their bright spots.

Luongo’s been good, but he needs to be better.

By Roberto Luongo’s usual October standards, he actually had a good start to the season and currently sits in the top 10 in wins among all NHL goaltenders. But behind the 9 wins in 16 games – only 6 goalies have more wins than he does – are some pretty average numbers. His 0.911 overall save percentage ranks him just 26th among all NHL goaltenders. His 2.41 GAA ranks him 21st. He has a 0.910 save percentage on even-strength (51st), and a 0.914 save percentage when the Canucks are shorthanded (23rd). Lu’s been good. But if the Canucks have any hope in getting out of the tough, tough, tough Pacific Division, they need him to be better.

Oct 312013
 

An Original Six team, games against the Detroit Red Wings are usually entertaining and exciting. With the Wings now in the Eastern Conference, they only get to visit Rogers Arena once a year so, needless to say, Canucks fans were looking forward to last night’s affair.

Did it live up to it’s billing?

Oh, come on. It wasn’t that bad, was it?

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Oct 252013
 

No forwards? No problem.

Already playing with just 11 forwards against the New Jersey Devils, the Vancouver Canucks lost David Booth and Dale Weise to unknown injuries in the first period. With only 9 healthy forwards – and Andrew Alberts – left up front, Hank and Dank Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Mike Santorelli and Chris Higgins all logged 21+ minutes of ice-time.

By the end of the game, it was obvious the Canucks didn’t have a lot of gas left in the tank. But Roberto Luongo came to the rescue, stopping all 17 shots he faced in the third period, when the Canucks were drastically outplayed, plus all 3 Devils’ shootout attempts.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

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