Jan 082014
 
scrum

There’s just something about the Vancouver Canucks. Everyone seems to want a piece of them. Sure they are a consistently solid team with (somewhat) mouthy players like Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Burrows, but does that merit, what seems to be, a league-wide hatred? If you ask the players they’d tell you they like being hated – it means they are doing their job. But there are certain players which go above beyond the casual disdain. Players that seem to thrive on making the Canucks miserable whenever they get a chance.

These players are sprinkled throughout the league and may only visit Rogers Arena once or twice a year but Canucks Nation does not forget. We proudly and stubbornly maintain our air of loathing for years if we have to. For these are the players Facebook groups are made of. Players that cause Canucks fans everywhere to put down their beers and join in a very heated and very unanimous bashing.

This list could probably become a graduate thesis, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to the five most disliked players by Canucks fans in the league today. Hate away:

5) Dave Bolland- This one dates back a few years to Bolland’s antagonizing of the Sedin twins. A central part of the on ice rivalry, Bolland took it too far when he publicly insulted the veteran brothers  on Chicago radio.

4) Dustin Brown- A player who doesn’t seem to respect the “code” involving star players, Brown always seems to gravitate towards the Sedins often plastering them with high hits and vicious checks.

3) Tim Thomas- Just uttering the alliteration of this goalie’s name can get you glares among Canuck fans. Stemming back to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, there is no love lost for the Bruins’ former goaltender. Here he forgets about the puck and absolutely nails Henrik Sedin (no call of course).

2) Joe Thornton- A thorn in the Canucks side, Joe has had some legendary battles with our boys. With the San Jose sharks being somewhat of a foil to the Vancouver Canucks, there’s no wonder Jumbo Joe is a big part of this rivalry. Whether it’s scoring a big goal, or putting his hand in Henrik Sedin’s face during a meeting with the ref, Joey knows how to get under the Canucks skin.

1) Brad Marchand- Was there ever any doubt? Public enemy number one has to go to Brad Marchand. Cheap hits, sarcastic gestures and an overall rat-likeness has garnered Marchand the position of most-loathed in the city of Vancouver. Here he cleanly hits tough-guy Sami Salo. Notice my use of italics….

May 022013
 

Photo credit: Jeff Vinnick via NHL.com

After an abbreviated season, the Vancouver Canucks opened up the postseason with a 3-1 loss to the visiting San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night. Looking back at the game and looking ahead to the next one, there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

Searching for the Right Line Combinations

The Canucks forwards simply did not create enough shots or scoring opportunities. This continues a trend of low-scoring games as the Canucks have not scored more than 3 goals in a game since their 4-2 win over Nashville on April 15. I must admit that I was a tad befuddled when I learned the line combinations on Monday for last night’s game.

We know that Burrows with the Sedins is pretty much a given (for now) and that the fourth line will consist of any combo of Ebbett, Weise, Sestito, Pinizzotto, and sometimes Lapierre. The Canucks started game one with a second line of Kesler between Higgins and Kassian, and a third line of Roy between Raymond and Hansen. While Roy and Kesler were likely separated to spread the Canucks’ centres over three lines to counter Thornton, Couture, and Pavelski, I was surprised that Higgins was placed on Kesler’s wing and not Roy’s. In the few games that they played together, Higgins and Roy looked like a dangerous combo. Instead, they found themselves on different lines to start the series.

We all know that coach Alain Vigneault has no problem with juggling his lines. I’d like to see Roy between Hansen and Higgins leaving Kesler to centre Raymond and Kassian. Who knows – if AV is confident in Lapierre, we might see Kesler and Roy reunited on a second line to give the Canucks more scoring potential. Moving Lapierre up would likely mean Kassian moving down to the fourth line… a position he found himself in by the end of game one.

Home Ice Disadvantage

With the Canucks loss, they have now lost 5 straight playoff games at home – a stretch dating back to game 7 on June 15, 2011 against the Boston Bruins. Obviously, a lot has to do with the quality of opposition, but for whatever reason Rogers Arena is not a difficult place for opposing teams to win in during the playoffs.

The Canucks’ regular season home record was decent at 15-6-3 while San Jose’s road record was a pathetic 8-14-2. By contrast, San Jose’s regular season home record was a sparkling 17-2-5. Thus, you can see just how important it will be for the Canucks to triumph in game two and tie the series up. If they lose, they won’t be able to beat this strong San Jose team 4 times out of 5 (with 3 of the games in San Jose).

Canucks fans need to get a lot louder and a little more rowdy (much to the chagrin of Rogers Arena employees). After all, isn’t this what we live for?

Every Game is a Pivotal Game

Get ready to hear about how much game two is a “pivotal” game. Captain Obvious here would like to point out that going to San Jose tied one game apiece is a lot better than going in down two games.

Then, game three will become pivotal as it will either create an almost insurmountable deficit at 3 games to 0, or one team will at least take a stronghold in the series. Game one was intuitively pivotal as both teams wanted to get off to a good start.

The point being that every single game in the playoffs is a pivotal game. Now the Canucks need to start playing like it.

May 012013
 

On paper, the Vancouver Canucks probably couldn’t have drawn a better match-up in these first round of the NHL playoffs than the San Jose Sharks.

Or maybe put it another way, at least they don’t have to play a 7-game series against a bigger, more physical St. Louis Blues team.

The Canucks and the Sharks resemble each other in many ways. Both teams have veteran-laden rosters that have experienced a lot of regular season success. But also, save for an extended run or two, both teams have a history of crashing and burning in the postseason.

Since the 2004 lockout, the Canucks have put together 5-100 point seasons and have won 6 playoff rounds. Ditto the Sharks, but they won 1 more playoff round (7) than the Canucks. Of course, both teams met in the Western Conference Finals in 2011. And of course, following that, both teams also flamed out in the first round of the playoffs last year.

With an aging core, a lot of pundits predict that whichever team loses this series will be forced to undergo major changes in the offseason. But then again, with a decreasing salary cap, maybe both will be forced to make changes anyway.

Why the Canucks will win

Except for Chris Tanev, who is expected back sometime in the middle of this round, and David Booth, the Canucks are finally healthy, and what a healthy roster can do to improve how this team looks can’t be understated.

Now, coach Alain Vigneault can roll out 3 potentially potent scoring lines consisting of Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, Higgins-Kesler-Kassian, Raymond-Roy-Hansen. Or, if he wants to load up the top-6, he can roll out Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, Higgins-Roy-Kesler, and roll out a checking line of Raymond-Lapierre-Hansen. Either of these combinations match up well against the Sharks.

On defense, the group of Hamhuis, Garrison, Bieksa and Edler, is deeper than the group of Boyle, Vlasic, Stuart and Irwin.

We’ve seen what a healthy Canucks lineup can do, evidenced by a complete effort against the Chicago Blackhawks just last week. The only question is whether or not they will be motivated enough to do so for the next 2 months.

Why the Sharks will win

Antti Niemi may very well hold the key to a Sharks series victory. He’s been great this year, finishing the regular season with 2.16 GAA and a 0.924 save percentage. Particularly against the Canucks, he was lights out, stopping 82 of 87 shots (0.943 save percentage) in 3 San Jose wins; for those counting at home, that’s 5 goals allowed in 3 games.

Now, this is not an indictment on Cory Schneider because, statistically, Schneider was a shade better (2.11 GAA and a 0.927 save percentage). However, Niemi has much more playoff experience than Schneider does. Schneider has only appeared in 8 playoff games. The last team with a relatively inexperienced goaltender to win the Cup was the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010… with Niemi in net, who at the time had 42 NHL games under his belt and was appearing in the postseason for the first time.

If Niemi shuts the door on the Canucks’ 20th-ranked offense, the Canucks will have to rely on Schneider and hope he’s equally up to the task.

[Update]

Scratch that. It looks like Roberto Luongo is starting tonight.

Quickies

Feb 022012
 

With the NHL Trade deadline a little less than a month from now, speculation is heating up.

Actually, that is a bit of an understatement. Speculation isn’t just heating up, it’s already reached a good rolling boil. We’ve entered the silly season of trade rumours people, where Ryan Getzlaf could be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, you know, just ‘cuz.

It’s not just fans or the media that can get swept up in the euphoria that is the trade talk. General Managers can too. With that in mind, here are the four worst trade decisions that could be made by a General Manager in the NHL today.

 4. Trade Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets

Granted, Carter has had a difficult first season in Columbus. He’s looked lethargic when he’s been healthy (which hasn’t been nearly as much as the team had hoped).  

Carter remains a one-shot scorer though and a first-line centre talent. He’s the type of player you rarely find on the trade market (the last first line centre to be traded was Joe Thornton back in 2005-06).  

In Carter, Rick Nash and Ryan Johansen, there is a good offensive core in place in Columbus. God knows there are other teams trying to build around less up front (cough Phoenix, Florida, Winnipeg to name three cough cough).

Now it could be that the Blue Jackets just want to save themselves some money and get Carter’s $5.27 million off the books. This is incredibly short-sighted thinking. The Blue Jackets need wins to generate revenues. They need talent on the roster to produce wins. Eventually, that talent gets paid, and scoring talent of Carter’s ilk can get a lot more expensive than $5.27 million a season.

Moving Carter doesn’t get the Blue Jackets anywhere closer to wins in the short-term, and is not guaranteed to save them much money in the long-term.

In short – it would be a trade that doesn’t make much sense.  

3. Trade Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres

At one point, it could be argued he was the best goalie in the game, but these days Ryan Miller is pretty, pretty, pretty average . His performance and outspokenness has made him a lightning rod in Buffalo where pre-season optimism has turned into a season-long nightmare.

A great goaltender gives an NHL team a chance to win every night, and turns poor or mediocre teams in all other areas into playoff participants. Miller was once great – there’s no question he could be great again. The smart move in Buffalo would be to consider goaltending “secure” (Jhonas Enroth is a talented youngster who’s earned more time in the crease) and address other needs.

You know, like the Swiss Cheese defense of Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr that would have trouble defending against a minor bantam team some nights.  

2. Trade PK Subban from the Montreal Canadiens

PK Subban isn’t your typical NHL player – he’s colourful, opinionated and openly confident – and this has frequently contradicted with the conservative, conformist culture established by the Canadiens in the era of Bob Gainey, Jacques Martin and Pierre Gauthier.

There are few NHL defencemen that offer the same combination of physical gifts, offensive instincts and passion for the big moment as Subban does. He will be an NHL star, and will one day find himself in Norris consideration.

You can count the number of Stanley Cups won by teams without a strong offensive defenseman on one hand. Trading Subban would be akin to the Canadiens admitting they don’t have any plans to truly compete for a Stanley Cup in the near future.  

1. Trade Brendan Morrow from the Dallas Stars

For all the hulabaloo about trading Jarome Iginla from Calgary, the potential trade of Brendan Morrow from Dallas would be the bigger mistake.

Uncertain Stars ownership has wrecked havoc on the franchise’s off-ice fortunes. Now, with new owner Tom Gaglardi in the mix, the team needs to re-establish its relationship with the Dallas community.

Morrow is an obvious, important player around which to build this new relationship. He’s one of the few remaining links to the championship-calibre teams Dallas iced in the late 90s and early 2000s. Moreover, he is the type of character leader that can shape and inspire not only a locker room, but a fan base.

With one of the lowest payrolls in the league, the Stars don’t need to jettison salary. They should move other pieces before moving their captain.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • According to John Shannon on Prime Time Sports last week, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are best of friends. Does anyone else smell another Teemu Selanne-Paul Kariya-esque situation developing for these two future UFAs?
  • The Sidney Crosby “fracture-no fracture-concussions-no concussion” story sounds more and more like the Eric Lindros situation in Philadelphia every day. There’s no reason to think relationships are poisoned between Crosby and the Penguins, but this certainly makes one wonder how the next contract negotiations between the team and its star player will go in 2013.
  • Let’s all give Alex Radulov the benefit of the doubt here – we all see the bug on his coach’s neck, right? (Editor’s note: Note that the coach behind Radulov was not his head coach, but the goalie coach.)
  • Given that the Winter Classic is also a huge event for league sponsors, the NHL All-Star Game should move to the start of the season. This would give the Winter Classic even more prominence mid-season, and would create a special “kick-off” event for the NHL to start its year. I’d even be in favour of returning to a Stanley Cup champions versus NHL All-Stars format in a neutral site (say Europe).
  • Does Mikhail Grabovski look like a $5 million player? Because that’s what the UFA market is likely to pay him. This is also why it would be of no surprise to see the Leafs either trade their second-line centre at the deadline, or walk away from him on July 1st. He is too inconsistent to be paid like a top-four player.
  • Speaking of the Maple Leafs, the more you watch Nazem Kadri play, the more it seems his best work at the NHL level will come playing for a team other than Toronto. Kadri needs consistent top-six ice time to grow his game, and he won’t get that playing for a team competing for a playoff spot right now.
  • The New York Rangers pass around a fedora to the team’s best player post-game. The St. Louis Blues? A weiner hat. Classic.
  • Sorry Blackhawks fans, but Brendan Morrison isn’t the answer to your second-line centre dilemma. He adds some nice depth as a complimentary, offensive player, but a regular contribution in a top-six role is asking far too much.
  • Finally, I cannot recommend Behind the Moves enough for anyone who loves the business of hockey. Here’s a nice review from over at dobberhockey.
Dec 292011
 

I’ll admit I found it funny to see Joe Thornton try and taunt (troll?) Henrik Sedin by repeatedly putting his fingers in Hank’s face.

To be honest, I don’t know if it was more an indication of his lack of respect for Hank and the official – this incident occurred while both captains were conferring with the referee – or if he was simply channeling his inner douchebag-iness.

Maybe both.

The thing is, Max Lapierre took a lot of heat during last season’s Stanley Cup Finals for putting his finger in Patrice Bergeron’s face.

I wonder if the media will similarly call out Thornton for doing the same thing. Or, you know, do a montage of it on Hockey Night In Canada.

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