Mar 072014
 
220px-Ryan_Kesler_2009_training_camp

There are no reasons. HAHAHA!

……………..

I’M KIDDING, of course. Chin up, kids. Sure, we’re all a bit shell-shocked at the events that have (or have not) transpired over the past two days but let’s take a deep breath and try to find a silver lining. I’m not going to talk about potential deals. I’m not going to talk about draft picks. I’m not going to talk about prospects, hearsay, speculation, fairy dust. I’m going to talk about what Ryan Kesler, personally, brings to a team with oh so many holes in it. Let me remind you that, without Kesler, this season would be toast. Tag on toe. But as slim as it seems, with him in the lineup, the Canucks still have a chance to make the big dance. I don’t know about you, but I will be clinging to the hope of playoffs until game 82 (or whenever they are mathematically eliminated). Kesler gives the Canucks a shot at least for the last few weeks of this season and if the time comes to move him later on, I look to the NHL entry draft. But that’s all in the distant future.

Kesler is here now and there are a number of reasons to be happy about this, despite what the critics may say. It should come as flattering and a testament to how good a player he is, that so much talk this deadline surrounded Kes. He’s here to stay (at least for now) and here are 5 reasons why that is a good thing for the Canucks.

5) His Penalty-Killing: Kesler established himself as a defensive forward long before he broke out as an offensive threat. A Selke award winner and one of the best two-way forwards in the league, his strengths lie on both sides of the puck. This shorthanded goal took place only a week ago proving this guy is still making an impact despite the recent drama.

4) His One-Timer: It’s no secret the Canucks have struggled mightily on the powerplay the last couple years. We’ve seen small measures of success when Kesler is near the point or in the slot tapping his stick for a one-timer. Here he absolutely destroys a puck top corner against San Jose in last year’s playoffs.

3) His Hitting: When Kesler gets angry he likes to through his big frame around, and with his speed and size, he can do some pretty good damage. Playoff time is where you really see Kesler let loose. Case and point: Niklas Hjalmarsson pasted into the glass, 5 feet in the air.

2) His Wrist-Shot: One of the reasons Kesler scored 41 goals in 2010-2011 was that no one knew about his wrist shot. He was able to walk across the blue-line and surprise goalies from far out with a blistering wrister. Now they know better, but he still puts away 20+ goals every year with this bad boy.

1) His Tenacity: This guy plays with an edge. The biggest reason why Kesler was such a sought after commodity was that he plays with some playoff-attitude night in and night out. He sticks up for his team and doesn’t shy away from the gritty aspects of the game.

Mar 062014
 
Ryan Kesler remains a Canuck as the trade deadline has come and gone. Time to accept the team we've got and move past the trade rumours.  (Photo Credit vansunsportsblogs.com)

Ryan Kesler remains a Canuck as the trade deadline has come and gone. Time to accept the team we’ve got and move past the trade drama.
(Photo Credit vansunsportsblogs.com)

The NHL trade deadline has come and gone, but you can’t say Canucks fans are clearer about the direction this team is going. Sure trade clouds are no longer looming over the dressing room, and the team you see now is the team you’ll see for the remainder of the season, but can you really see any better what bodes ahead for this group?

Maybe the players can revert their attention back to playing hockey. Maybe they’ll actually string together a few wins and inch back up the standings. Maybe they can start scoring more than a goal a game. Or a goal a game. Or maybe they’ll just slowly fade into the sunset and wait until Canucks brass – whoever they are at that point – to make changes.

It’s Lack’s Team Now

It’s hard to believe that Roberto Luongo now dons the jersey of the Florida Panthers. Only 4 days ago, over 50,000 Canucks fans were chanting “We Want Lu”. But if you think about it, Lu’s last game as a Vancouver Canuck was almost a month ago before the Olympics when the Canucks faced the Leafs in Toronto.

Regardless, this is Eddie Lack’s team now, and Jacob Markstrom will serve as his backup. How long until the inevitable Lack/Markstrom goalie controversy starts?

Every Point Matters

Tonight’s opponents, the Dallas Stars, currently hold the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But of course with 20 games left in the season, their hold on that spot is anything but final. The Canucks, the Winnipeg Jets and the Phoenix Coyotes are all within 2 points. It’s cliche to say, but every game, every point counts from here on out, especially if the Canucks have any ambition to make the postseason. It won’t help them though that they’ve gone 1-9-1 in the past 11 games. And neither will not having Daniel Sedin, who is out indefinitely with a leg injury, in the lineup and replacing him with Darren Archibald.

The Newbies

The always charming Tim Thomas was traded to the Dallas Stars yesterday, but the Canucks will likely face Kari Lehtonen, who’s started 50+ games so far this season.

The Canucks are welcoming some new faces of their own. Besides Markstrom, 6’4″ center Shawn Matthias will be playing his first game with the team, wearing Sergio Momesso’s old no. 27. If it makes anyone feel any better, Matthias bringing over a point-streak with 5 points in his last 2 games. For those wondering, the Canucks have 5 goals in their last 313 minutes of game time.

The Injured

Besides Dank, Mike Santorelli, Andrew Alberts and Yannick Weber remain out of the lineup.

The Stars had been without Rich Peverley for the last 2 games because of an injury he sustained Monday night, but he may play tonight.

Mar 052014
 

Rebuild? Reset? Retool?

Buckle up, Canucks fans.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Mar 052014
 

endroad

After eight memorable and exciting seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, goaltender Roberto Luongo was traded to the Florida Panthers on March 4, 2014.

Thus, Marie Hui and I wanted to bid Bobby Lu a proper farewell.  Inspired by Boyz II Men, we proudly present our version of their smash hit “End of the Road”.

Make sure you get to bridge of the song at the 3:11 mark…you won’t be disappointed.

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 042014
 

 

Eddie Lack and Roberto Luongo after the 2nd period

Eddie Lack and Roberto Luongo after the 2nd period

Much has been made of Roberto Luongo’s plight here in Vancouver in recent years.  Starting with the Stanley Cup Finals in June 2011, it’s been two and a half years of turmoil, tension, and drama.

The Luongo saga took yet another fascinating turn this past weekend when Eddie Lack was named the starter for Sunday’s Heritage Classic game at BC Place versus the Ottawa Senators.

Lack played the first game coming out of the Olympic break, shutting out the St. Louis Blues 1-0 on Wednesday night.  Made sense given that Luongo returned to Vancouver from Sochi just a couple of days prior.

Lack was also given the next start, a tight 2-1 shoot-out loss to the Minnesota Wild.  Although Lack played very well, the loss – albeit a close one – opened the door for a Luongo start on Sunday.

As word broke on Saturday that Luongo would not be starting, Twitter erupted with people arguing both sides.

For what it’s worth, I tweeted:  “Backup goalie is supposed to play well (which Lack has) and ensure no significant drop off. Lack has done his job, let Lu do his tomorrow.”

Many people cited Lack’s strong play of late as giving the Canucks the best chance to win.  And I get that we’re in a dog fight to make the playoffs.

I said it before the game and I’ve said it since: the Canucks needed to look at the “bigger picture” here.  The bigger picture to me says that Luongo was not treated fairly last year (losing his job to Schneider before watching Schneider – and not him – get traded) and was deserving of the Heritage Classic start.  This doesn’t have anything to do with emotions; Luongo’s last start was a solid shutout victory in the Olympics.

And just as there was no drop-off going from Luongo to Lack, there certainly was no drop-off going from Lack to Luongo.  Luongo needed to start.  Truthfully, I would be saying the same thing if the Canucks had won the game, or even if Lack had pitched another shutout.

So there I was on Sunday afternoon with my son Sean, soaking in the sights and sounds of the world’s largest indoor hockey game.   I was able to snap some pretty good pictures (see them all here) including one of poor Roberto Luongo sitting on his own at the end of the bench.

Lonely Luongo

Lonely Luongo

After Ottawa took a 3-2 lead in the second period, an audible “We Want Lu!” chant broke out in the stadium.  It was quite a surreal moment, magnified by the fact that there were 35,000 more fans than usual watching the game live and millions watching on TV across the country.  It was a tense and awkward few seconds.

It reminded me of the feeling that I got watching the first game of the lockout-shortened 2013 season.  In the home opener on January 19, 2013, Cory Schneider got the start as the newly-anointed starting Canucks goalie.  The Canucks lost that game 7-3 to the visiting Anaheim Ducks, and Schneider was pulled early in the second period after allowing 5 goals on only 14 shots, including goals on 3 straight shots.

I vividly remember the mood in the crowd that evening:  the fans were desperate for hockey and excited to see the Canucks back in action.  But as each shot got past Schneider, the mood in the building became more and more tense, culminating in a tense buzz as Luongo skated out to replace Schneider (start at the 2:23 mark in the video below).

The same sort of tense buzz I felt at the Heritage Classic this past weekend.  And as you’ll hear my friend Mike exclaim in my Clay’s Canucks Commentary at the 2:53 mark:

“THIS IS MESSED UP!”

Indeed.

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.

Mar 032014
 

Losers of 9 of 10, the Canucks went across the street to BC Place, hoping to get back on the winning track against the Ottawa Senators in the 2014 Heritage Classic.

It started off great. There was a lively atmosphere, and even an early 2-0 lead for the good guys, but as has been the refrain the last couple of months, the Canucks blew the lead and ended up on the wrong end of a 4-2 final score.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Mar 032014
 

476186525_slide
(Photo credit: nhl.com)

  • First off, can we talk about Eddie Lack getting the start over Roberto Luongo? Complete lack of respect. Yes, Lack has done well lately, but Luongo is your starting goaltender. He’s shown nothing but class and grace while the team botched their goaltending situation the last couple of years, and he definitely should have played in net today. Honestly, when will Lu get a chance to play in a game like the Heritage Classic again?
  • The game started off great for the Canucks. They took a 2-0 lead in the first 11:27 of the game, and for a while it looked like they were ready to blow the closed roof out of BC Place. Jason Garrison opened the scoring with a power play goal their first power play goal in 4 games – hey, at least the Canucks bumped one slump – and then Zack Kassian followed it up with his 11th goal of the season.
  • Speaking of which, Alex Burrows still hasn’t bumped his scoring slump. For those keeping track, he’s nearing 10 months since he last scored a goal. Just sayin’.
  • But of course, the Canucks blew a 2-0 lead, allowing the Senators to score twice in a span of 1:47 to tie up the game later in the first period. Classic Canucks blowing leads.
  • After the first period, things just went downhill for the Canucks. Cody Ceci put the Senators up 3-2 in the second period, and the Canucks didn’t have many chances to get even. And then of course Colin Greening sealed the deal with an empty-net goal with a minute and a half still remaining in the game. Anyone else thought it was too early to pull Lack for the extra attacker? Another bad decision by Torts?
  • Injury report: After one Sedin (Hank) returned from an injury, the other one went down to one. Daniel was hit into the boards by Marc Methot and remained down on the ice for a few minutes before slowly skating off the ice. He went straight for the Canucks dressing room and return for the rest of the game.
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