Matt Lee

Matt Lee has been a Canucks follower and a prototypical Canadian for years; it started on the streets by playing road hockey before and after Vancouver Canucks games and it's brought him here. After graduating from SFU with a BA in Communications and a minor in History while serving as the student newspaper's sports editor for two years, Matt is now a student at BCIT's Broadcast Journalism program in hopes of becoming a sports broadcaster.

Feb 282012
 

The Vancouver Canucks’ trade that saw Cody Hodgson and Alex Sulzer shipped to Buffalo for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani is the biggest trade since Roberto Luongo came to town in 2006. No trade since that time could have bigger long-term ramifications for this franchise.

The Canucks may have easily just traded a future captain and point per game player in Hodgson. The Sabres may have just moved the second coming of Milan Lucic in Kassian. No one knows. We’ll have to re-visit this trade in three to five years time.

But what we do know is that the decision to move Cody Hodgson is a curious one.

Truth is, the Canucks had little reason to make a big move such as this one. If the Canucks were intent on adding some grit, they could’ve done themselves and their fans a lot of good if they just paid the first-round price for Paul Gaustad or Steve Downie. They would’ve added a piece that had the potential of staying in Vancouver beyond this season and not alienated an emerging star like Cody Hodgson in the process.

Not only that, the Canucks are sitting first in the NHL standings. Was an Earth-shaking move such as this one so necessary? NHL logic dictates that most teams wouldn’t have messed with the locker room chemistry and just made minor adjustments like the team did last year with Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre.

Which leaves only this: Did Hodgson and his camp want out of Vancouver? He wasn’t going to get top-six minutes behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, and that alleged “rift” must’ve at least put a damper on things. Plus, I’ve never seen a family so ecstatic to see their son go from a legitimate Stanley Cup contender as I did with Hodgson’s family. If Hodgson wanted a trade, then so be it. But the Canucks didn’t need to rush into this trade. If the Canucks wanted or had to move Hodgson, couldn’t this deal have been consummated in the offseason if the Canucks fall short of the Stanley Cup?

This is a tough deal for fans because of their emotional investment in Hodgson since his 2008 draft. We’ve seen him go from legitimate future star to overhyped prospect to bust project to potential rookie of the year candidate. Tell me how trading Hodgson for Kassian helps this team win a Stanley Cup now. Hodgson may still be a bit of an unproven commodity, but he’s certainly shown more than Kassian has.

I understand this is a business, and I understand Mike Gillis trying to address the team needs right now. I get all that. But from where Hodgson is at now as a rookie of the year candidate, and judging by how well he was performing and how well-liked he was in the dressing room, this move still comes as a shock. Hodgson deserved to at least show he has what it takes to succeed in the postseason and win a Stanley Cup.

It’s a shame that we’ll never know.

Feb 272012
 

The Vancouver Canucks have traded centre Cody Hodgson and defenseman Alexander Sulzer to the Buffalo Sabres for right-winger Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani.

Alright, so let the depression soak in. In 3… 2… 1…

What the Canucks traded: There’s no questioning who the better player was in this deal, and that was Cody Hodgson. At every level of hockey he’s played at, Hodgson has enjoyed success. When he was drafted 10th overall in 2008, TSN’s Bob McKenzie had nothing but terrific things to say about Hodgson. The Canucks were, at the time, getting the heir apparent to a retiring Trevor Linden. Hodgson only exponentially increased the hype when his World Junior performance in 2009 saw him lead the tournament and scoring.

The back problems and alleged rift between Hodgson and the organization ensued. But time heals all wounds, and Hodgson this year was truly coming into his own. On several occasions this season, Hodgson was the best Canuck forward on the ice, scoring clutch goals and making smart passes in the offensive zone. He is well on his way to becoming the two-way leader that most people envisioned him to be, capping out at a point-per-game if he reaches his potential.

Alex Sulzer was a minor piece in the deal and an expendable one at that. He has a booming shot but rarely ever used it. His defensive shortcomings were noticeable.

What the Canucks received: In Zack Kassian, the Canucks received a player who essentially has all the makings of becoming the second coming of Milan Lucic. Kassian has been a high-scoring threat at the OHL level when he’s not on the sidelines serving a suspension. Kassian was a part of that loaded Windsor Spitfires team that steamrolled its way to the Memorial Cup in 2011, putting up 77 points in 56 regular season games. He’s also been a part of Team Canada at the world juniors in 2011.

In Gragnani, the Canucks are getting a mobile defenseman who reminds me a little bit of Christian Ehrhoff. Gragnani has all the makings of a smooth-skating puck-moving defenceman, but also has some defensive shortcomings, which are natural at his young age. Last year, Gragnani was anointed the AHL’s most outstanding defenceman and led Sabres blueliners in scoring during the playoffs. The potential for Gragnani is there and he immediately becomes their most NHL-ready defenceman.

More analysis and video coming your way shortly…

Feb 242012
 

Throughout the week, CHB will host a series of posts highlighting possible trade targets that the Vancouver Canucks could be pursuing at the trade deadline next Monday.

LW/RW Daniel Winnik, Colorado Avalanche, $950K, UFA 2012

If going into this week Daniel Winnik could be considered an under-the-radar trade deadline acquisition, TSN’s Bob McKenzie let the proverbial cat out of the bag when he announced Winnik was the most coveted role player at the trade deadline. As the good folks at another fine Canucks blog might say, Winnik has the kind of Corsi numbers which would make him a valued asset.

What he brings

Aside from not being a faceoff master as a winger, Winnik’s game isn’t a whole lot different than Manny Malhotra’s. Winnik will find himself on a first penalty-killing unit and can grind it out with the best of them. And even though the leadership core in Colorado isn’t exactly loaded with experience (outside of Milan Hejduk), Winnik wears an ‘A’ for the Avs and that counts for something.

Why he fits

Winnik takes a remarkable amount of shots — he’s currently at 146, which would put him fourth on the Canucks. If you put that kind of player on a more talented third line with Cody Hodgson and Jannik Hansen, Winnik’s offensive numbers would likely increase. And if Winnik doesn’t fit on a third line, he certainly wouldn’t look out of place on a fourth with Maxim Lapierre and Byron Bitz/Dale Weise.

What he’ll cost

The fact Bob McKenzie stated Winnik was coveted may have just increased his trade value going into the deadline. But it’s hard to tell where Greg Sherman and the Avalanche are right now; acquiring Steve Downie seems to indicate Colorado is focused on making the postseason (they have no choice but to given they have no first round pick this summer) and would rather push than try and cut their losses. If Winnik is indeed moved, it’ll be in the waning hours of the trade deadline and it won’t be for cheap; a second-round pick is probably the asking price.

Feb 232012
 

Throughout the week, CHB will host a series of posts highlighting possible trade targets that the Vancouver Canucks could be pursuing at the trade deadline next Monday.

D Bryan Allen, Carolina Hurricanes, $2.9M, UFA 2012

Can you go back? Can Bryan Allen come back? It’s been nearly six years since the Luongo-Bertuzzi trade was finalized and lost in the hype of acquiring the all-time Canucks leader in wins and shutouts was that they had lost a fairly rugged, hard-nosed blue liner in Bryan Allen, who was just starting to hit his stride as a bottom-pairing defenceman.

What he brings

If Andrew Alberts isn’t going to use his physical abilities in the top six, Bryan Allen certainly will. Too often has Alberts been given the chance to finish a check only to ease up on the opposition, and you get the sense Allen wouldn’t hesitate to do so when the game is on the line. But perhaps most notably is Allen’s ability to get in the shooting lanes and block shots. He has 130 blocked shots thus far, which would put him far and away ahead of the Canucks leader Alex Edler (98).

Why he fits

Right sided defenceman, right sided defenceman, right sided defenceman. That is far and away the biggest advantage to acquiring Bryan Allen. Let’s put it this way, if a left-side defenceman in the top four (Hamhuis or Edler) were to get injured (as it happened during the SCF), the Canucks could survive knowing Aaron Rome can step in (although that wasn’t an option after his suspension in the final). If the Canucks suffer an injury to a right-side defenceman in the top four (Bieksa or Salo, and I stress Salo especially), the Canucks are forced to use Chris Tanev in the top four. That is simply not an option. At the worst, Allen is a right-sided Aaron Rome. Also, consider that Keith Ballard is a natural left-side defenceman forced to play the right-side when healthy.

What he’ll cost

With Tuomo Ruutu and Tim Gleason re-signed and presumably off the market, the ‘Canes may use UFAs-to-be, Allen or Jaroslav Spacek, to help re-stock the cupboard. Jim Rutherford will be asking for value similar to what Niklas Grossman got (2nd and 3rd round pick). For whatever reason, defensive defenceman are at a premium at the trade deadline so fans should be prepared to pay through the nose for one.

Feb 222012
 

Throughout the week, CHB will host a series of posts highlighting possible trade targets that the Vancouver Canucks could be pursuing at the trade deadline next Monday.

The playoff picture — as it always is at this time of year — is about as clear as mud, and as it stands the Dallas Stars are very much in the hunt for one of the spots. That alone means that it’s possible none of these players will be available when next Monday comes and goes, but if GM Joe Nieuwendyk decides to throw up the red flag, the Canucks could be in the market for one or even two of these players, all of whom bring some much-needed sandpaper to the roster.

LW Brenden Morrow, $4.1M, UFA 2013

Looking at the sheer price tag alone, it’s a close-to-zero chance that the Canucks make a lucrative enough trade offer for Brenden Morrow, who makes almost as much as Keith Ballard, is on the books for one more year, and is currently injured. But like Shane Doan, Morrow’s a feisty captain who can be a difference maker in a game. Just ask Milan Michalek in 2008:

Morrow would probably fetch Mason Raymond, a prospect, and a 2nd round pick.

Any of the Stars’ defense: D Stephane Robidas ($3.3M, UFA 2014), D Sheldon Souray ($1.65 M, UFA 2012), D Mark Fistric ($1.0M, RFA 2012)

Stephane Robidas, Mark Fistric and Sheldon Souray are all unique cases that would vary in price.

Robidas, a hard-nosed defenceman, would be the priciest of the bunch, and I can’t imagine many teams will come calling for Souray. Fistric is an interesting case because of his impending RFA eligibility.

But Robidas is a serviceable right-side defenceman who could slot into the top four easily. If Dallas were willing to swap Ballard at $4.2M for Robidas at $3.3M, it’s a bad contract for a not-so-bad contract.

Fistric is a former Vancouver Giant whose game is simple: Block shots, dish out the hits, and chip the puck off the glass and out. Ugly, isn’t it? But a simple game might be the best remedy on a Vancouver squad laden with forwards who have no problem generating offense.

Both Robidas’ and Fistric’s values are similar to what the Flyers paid for ex-Stars defenceman Niklas Grossman (2nd and 3rd), so if the Canucks are willing to fork over some picks, it can happen.

C Steve Ott, $2.95M, UFA 2014

If having Maxim Lapierre wasn’t bad enough, Ott would ensure the Canucks are the most hated team in the league. But like new Colorado forward Steve Downie, Ott has a bit of a scoring touch to go with his big mouth. He’s a safe bet for 30 points a year, 100PIM and 250 hits.

Would GM Mike Gillis consider a one-for-one swap for Mason Raymond?

Feb 212012
 

Throughout the week, CHB will host a series of posts highlighting possible trade targets that the Vancouver Canucks could be pursuing at the trade deadline next Monday.

Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes

Photo credit: Yahoo!

RW Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes, $4.55M, UFA 2012

Long shot? Probably. But let’s put this in perspective. With every day that passes, the chances of the Coyotes staying in Phoenix seem to grow more faint. Seattle is investing city dollars into building a new NHL/NBA arena, and Kansas City and Quebec also seem like logical destinations. All said, the Coyotes will not be staying in Glendale, effectively removing any type of loyalty or allegiance Shane Doan may still tether to the town. So why not trade their most tradable asset who loves that city?

What he brings

Don’t let the aging veteran fool you. Doan can still play a physical game with the best of them, and the leadership intangibles he would bring would be an added bonus in a Canucks dressing room. His 35 career playoff games over a 15-year career also indicate he’s got the hunger to win a Stanley Cup before he rides off in the sunset.

Why he fits

Doan isn’t exactly a young buck anymore, but he’s still a gritty scoring winger who’d look pretty nice on a line with Ryan Kesler and David Booth.

What he’ll cost

The price to acquire Doan wouldn’t be cheap, and given how the Coyotes are still very much in the playoff picture, it might be tough to see them trading him to a team they may possibly meet in the first round of the playoffs. Phoenix would likely want Vancouver’s most tradeable asset (Mason Raymond), a decent prospect (Jordan Schroeder or Anton Rodin come to mind), and a 1st round pick this summer.

Feb 202012
 

Throughout the week, CHB will host a series of posts highlighting possible trade targets that the Vancouver Canucks could be pursuing at the trade deadline next Monday.

Travis Moen, Montreal Canadiens

Photo credit: ESPN

LW/RW Travis Moen, Montreal Canadiens, LW/RW, $1.55M, UFA 2012

Remember when the Canucks played the Ducks in the playoffs of 2007? There was a highlight in that round where Roberto Luongo had the puck wedged in his pads, not completely covered, and Travis Moen barged in front and jammed both Luongo and the puck into the net. The goal counted. Much rage ensued.

What he brings

Moen has always been a gamer when the playoffs come around. He was a key performer in Anaheim’s 2007 run and didn’t look out of place in Montreal’s 2010 run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Why he fits

His gritty, crash-and-bang style would look good on a third or fourth line with Maxim Lapierre, and you know that he won’t shy away from contact, especially from a certain Eastern team in black and gold if the opportunity presented itself.

What he’ll cost

Still on the mend with an upper-body injury, the impending UFA is probably valued at a third-round pick. But given the recent going rate for players such as Dominic Moore (second round pick), there may be a team willing to pony up a second-round pick as well.

Jan 072012
 
Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

It was about as heated as everyone anticipated; the Vancouver Canucks showed their disdain for the Boston Bruins and vice-versa. Neither team was willing to let the other off the hook so easily, but at the end of the day it was Vancouver eking out the 4-3 victory and coming away with the two points, just like they hoped.

But beyond just the brawls and powerplay prowess, it was two of Vancouver’s most tradeable assets who truly shined in this heated affair. Cody Hodgson had an assist and blasted home the eventual game-winning goal in just 11:19 of ice time, while Cory Schneider made 36 saves in the win.

Neither Hodgson or Schneider were given the chance to be difference makers during last year’s Stanley Cup Final. Hodgson played in the San Jose and Nashville series, but didn’t see a shred of the ice in the last round, while Schneider’s only playing time was when the games were well out of hand.

Isn’t it funny that when that brass ring presented itself today in Boston, both young players stepped up and seized it?

Over the course of this season, Hodgson has shown more and more improvement and you might even be able to make the argument he’s been Vancouver’s most consistent player from start to finish. That’s what the organization hoped he could be; the young spark that could rejuvenate a team still recovering from a mentally and physically-draining playoff. Ditto for Schneider, whose increased workload and sensational performances this year has turned him into one of the NHL’s most coveted goalies on the trade market.

There’s been a lot of talk about trading both players for talent that can help Vancouver win now, but with all due respect to them (I also find myself in this crowd of people at times), Hodgson and Schneider both played big roles in a victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Who’s to say that Hodgson and Schneider can’t help this team win now? The Canucks’ epic 4-3 victory over the Bruins just showed that you’re never too young to make a difference, and you’re not too inexperienced to shine on a big stage.

Jan 062012
 
Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas

Photo credit: Vancouver Province

Respect is a life and death struggle on that 85 x 200 sheet of ice. Most players are tight-lipped with the word in the locker room, but beyond just salaries and winning or losing games, respect is the richest prize in hockey.

If you know anything about the Vancouver Canucks, you know they’ll be looking to reclaim some respect on Saturday when they meet the Boston Bruins for the very first time since the B’s won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and flew out of a rioting city with hockey’s most cherished prize in tow.

Ever since that warm June evening the Canucks have, in one word, been haunted. Haunted with questions about their team personnel and character; haunted about whether or not they were good enough or tough enough to get back to and win in the Stanley Cup Final.

Tomorrow’s game may just be another ordinary regular season match on the calendar, but it goes beyond just any ordinary game. For the Canucks, it’ll be their first shot at redemption. The playoffs won’t begin again for another four months, but defeating the NHL’s most vaunted team in what should be an emotionally-charged affair would go a long way to re-assuring Vancouver and their fans that they can get the job done.

Anyone who’s anyone knows just how good the Bruins are. They’re frighteningly good, winning 23 of their last 27 games dating back to the beginning of November. Their goal differential is a league-best +69. Looking at their roster from top to bottom, they’ve got the pieces to compete for the Stanley Cup for the foreseeable future, so you can see why they can call themselves the absolute best in the league.

That said, the Canucks aren’t all that dissimilar from the Bruins. Down the middle, the club is just as deep and their blue line is just as potent. Goaltending, as chastised as it’s been in this city, is capable of much more than it’s been labeled. Really when it comes down to it, all that separates the two clubs is that one team won the Stanley Cup and the other team lost.

Tomorrow morning’s epic tilt will go a long way in earning some of that respect again. In the regular season and going into the playoffs, that’s the prize the Canucks covet the most.

Jan 052012
 
Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

41 games in the books, meaning we’re just 41 games away from the playoffs. The road back to the postseason is a slow and arduous one, but it’s vital the Vancouver Canucks machine is a finely-tuned one for when the games start to matter.

In the meantime, here’s the CHB assessment on how the Canucks stack up at the first half pole. We’d love your feedback and marks, so make sure you hit us with a comment!

Forwards

Daniel Sedin (A): He’d have to go on a goal-scoring run to get close to the career-high 41 he put up last year, but how many Canucks in history can lay claim to having back-to-back 40-goal seasons, anyway? The beat goes on for Daniel, on pace for 92 points. Perhaps the bigger injustice is that the Sedins are 17th and 21st in All-Star voting, behind the likes of Joffrey Lupul and Sidney Crosby and his 8 games played this year.

Henrik Sedin (A-): Ho hum… Another 100-point season may be in the cards for Henrik, who has once again led the offensive charge for Vancouver. His passing has once again been superb, but he’s on pace for his lowest shot count (122) since the first post-lockout year. You can’t argue with the results, but would it kill the guy to be a little more trigger happy?

Jannik Hansen (B+): He had just three points in October, but had seven in November and then exploded for 12 in December. The point progression has mostly to do with Hansen’s ability to seize an opportunity on a scoring line, but there’s no arguing the Great Dane has been physical and buried a lot more scoring chances then in years prior.

Alex Burrows (B): Burrows is on the right track again, looking to pot another 30-goal year in his pocket. There has been a steady change in Burrows’ game over the years, however; he rarely gets himself into altercations anymore, and in fact he has fewer penalty minutes (26) than both Sedins (34 and 28). His five game-winners are also a team-high.

Ryan Kesler (B): The offseason hip surgery was well-documented, and Kesler’s slow start corroborated with that. But since a five-game point streak to cap off November, putting up 14 points in 15 December games. We’ve seen glimpses of “Kesler Beast Mode”; we just want to see more of it.

Chris Higgins (B): Injury woes aside, a full year of having Higgins in tow has been a godsend. He hits, he scores, and he’s a decent skater, and at $1.9-million this year and next, the Canucks get great value. His 29 takeaways are also best on the team, which shows just how committed Higgins is to not being a defensive liability.

Mason Raymond (B): Considering the circumstances, Raymond’s earned a good grade. While he’s currently mired in a patented Raymond point slump, the speedster came back looking as though he hadn’t missed a beat, fearlessly going back into the corners to dig out loose pucks. Raymond has also shown less hesitancy to jump into the slot for a scoring chance.

David Booth (B-): The potential is there, and we saw flashes of it just before Booth went down with a sprained right knee. His three-point effort against the Flames in his 18th game as Canuck whet fans’ appetites, but when he returns to full health, fans are banking on a shorter adjustment period this time.

Cody Hodgson (B-): Hodgson averages about 12 and a half minutes of ice-time a night, which is about what you’d expect for a team that has Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler up the middle. But he’s utilized that time effectively on most occasions and he regularly plays on the second powerplay unit. With every game he gets a little more confident with the puck and isn’t that what you hope for?

Maxim Lapierre (C+): Lapierre has the team’s third-best faceoff win percentage. And while he anchors the fourth line, he plays 11 solid minutes a night, which is generally more then most fourth-line centres in the league. More notably, his 121 hits are 41 more then the next closest Canuck.

Manny Malhotra (C): There’s one statistic you care about most with Malhotra: his faceoff percentage. It’s a shade down (58.2%) from last year (61.7%), but it’s still among the NHL elite. On a team oozing with offense, Malhotra will never be counted on to score, but he’s on pace for his worst offensive output in nine years.

Andrew Ebbett (C): What’s needed to be said? Despite his limited opportunities, Ebbett has made the most of them, even scoring a couple big goals against Edmonton a couple weeks ago. He’s a depth guy who relishes any chance he gets to play for a good team, and that kind of hunger is appreciated.

Dale Weise (C): When it comes down to it, is Weise an upgrade over Tanner Glass? Virtually the same player, Weise brings the same physicality that Glass did and occasionally scores the out-of-the-blue goal. The Canucks are obviously hoping Weise can bring the same type of fire that Raffi Torres brought in last year’s playoffs.

Defense

Alex Edler (B+): On track for 58 points, Edler stemmed the summer belief that Christian Ehrhoff’s powerplay presence would be missed. Doug Lidster’s single-season record of 63 points by a defenceman would require a Herculean effort on Edler’s part, but on a team this good, he may still do it.

Kevin Bieksa (B+): For many of the Canucks, none were happier to see October in their rearview mirror than Bieksa, who had just three points and was a team-worst minus-7. Since finishing off November on a three-game point streak, Juice had 13 points and was plus-11 in December and is on track to for his first 40+ point campaign since 2009.

Dan Hamhuis (B+): Ditto for Hamhuis, who had a pretty woeful October of his own but has since picked up his play. Hamhuis has been steady defensively as usual, and has since become the face of the team’s special teams units, playing the most shorthanded minutes and the sixth-most powerplay minutes.

Sami Salo (C+): He may be the greybeard on the team, but Salo has been a rock on the blueline, still playing quality top-four minutes and still being a fixture on special teams. If Salo can somehow make it through the regular season healthy, there’s an outside chance he can reach his career-best of 37 points.

Andrew Alberts (C): Simply put, the Canucks literally need more bang for Alberts’ buck. For a bottom-pairing blueliner, Vancouver should expect a ‘take no prisoners’ approach from Alberts, who needs to provide more of a physical presence in order to stay in the lineup. He’s one of the biggest bodies on the backend, is that expecting too much?

Aaron Rome (C): A hand injury and nagging thumb injury has hampered Rome, who quite honestly has been one of the steadiest blueliners. His game is about as ugly as it gets, but his safe defensive game wins the praise of Alain Vigneault.

Keith Ballard (C-): Is it now safe to say that Ballard has been given every opportunity to shine? Ballard’s lack of success can no longer be pinned on injuries, and his hefty salary only makes his troubles harder to bear. Ballard may be third on the team in blocked shots, but that’s not enough. He needs to turn things around fast.

Goaltenders

Cory Schneider (B+): You get the sense that Schneider’s early success could pave the way for Vigneault turning to him on a more regular basis. Statistically, he’s been superior to Luongo, but the Canucks may also be doing a good job of showcasing the most coveted backup in the NHL.

Roberto Luongo (B): “Good, bad, and sometimes great” might be the best way to describe Luongo’s performance thus far. We’ve seen the best and worst of Luongo, so Canucks fans are hoping there’ll be more consistently good nights when it matters most. But the leash isn’t as long as it once was.

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