[Every week, Clayton Imoo sits down and talks hockey with a CHB follower and fellow fan. If you're interested in being featured in "Shooting from the Hip", send us a tweet at @canuckshockey or @CanuckClay.]
Aaron Gnome is, well, a garden gnome. Made in China, he immigrated to Vancouver in a packing crate and somehow along the way developed sentient qualities. After coming here he became a huge Canuck fan and that love, combined with a garden gnome’s innate love of travel, led to AG’s first ‘road trip of a lifetime’ this past December. Aaron and six friends travelled to California where they watched the Canucks play in Anaheim and LA. To share his joy of the Canucks and travel, and because frankly his ego is much larger than he is, Aaron decided to create a twitter account before the trip – @AaronGnome29. Since returning he has continued to use the account to share his musings with his growing number of adoring fans. What makes AG unique, other than the fact that he is a talking gnome, is that he often speaks in the third person.
Aaron Gnome took some time between tweets to talk California, Aaron Rome, and some potential Canucks’ trade deadline targets.
1. What were your most memorable moments from your December trip to California? Did you ever fear for your safety?
Aaron Gnome’s trip to California was a phe-gnome-enal experience! So many memories. We took in two games, Anaheim and LA. Both were memorable and cool in their own right. At the Ducks game, there were some very friendly and knowledgeable Ducks season ticket holders sitting behind us – they do exist! The game was a little anti-climactic, with the Ducks putting up very little fight. Obviously, the Ducks players were discouraged by the fact that there was more blue and white in the stands than green and black. The postgame celebration with the countless Canucks fans in attendance was gi-gnome-ous!
The LA game was a whole different experience. Though Canucks fans dominated the nearby Yard House restaurant/bar – AG highly recommends it – the Staples Centre was full of hostile Kings fans. Props to the Kings fans for their passion. Intimidation was definitely a theme on the night. On the ice the Kings took the game to the Canucks physically, and in the stands, Bailey, the King’s mascot, beat up stuffed Sedin dolls and generally encouraged the fans to verbally berate the visitors on and off the ice. Was Aaron Gnome afraid for his safety? Aaron Gnome is not afraid of anyone or anything. He is the Tiger Williams of the Gnome world. As a side note, AG is sometimes referred to as “the Little Chuck Gnorris”. Anyway, the Canucks didn’t put on a great show for the fans in LA, but the production value in the arena was very high, the atmosphere was like a playoff game, and it was still a memorable experience.
Away from the rink there were a number of highlights. Disneyland was great, especially getting to see my gnomies on ‘It’s a Small World’. At Six flags, we had some issues with height requirements. I thought we had put that kind of discrimination behind us, but apparently California isn’t quite as progressive as Canada. And of course AG is a hit with the ladies everywhere he goes, and California was no different.
2. How excited are you that Aaron Rome has returned to the line-up? Do you still see Norris Trophy potential in Aaron Rome?
It’s great to see Big Poppy Rome in the line up again. The man is just an absolute rock back there on the blue line. (Editorial note: Aaron Gnome later explained to me that being called a rock by a garden Gnome is one of the greatest compliments a man can get.) Do I see Norris trophy potential in the big guy? Is water wet? Does Max Lapierre talk a lot? Do the Sedins have telepathic abilities? Please! The single greatest injustice this NHL season is that Aaron Rome was not picked to go to the All Star game.
3. Do you think the Canucks will be/need to be active at the trading deadline? If so, how?
The Canucks are a great hockey team. This is basically the same team that got within one game last year and they are just as capable of doing it this year. I think Cody Hodgson is slowly becoming a star and he could be a difference maker for us in the playoffs. I mean, anyone with a silent G in their name is going to be pretty special. The loss of the Hoff hurts us, but between Tanev’s coolness and Sulzer’s German-ness, I think we’re going to be fine on D. As a little guy himself, Aaron Gnome is a big fan of some of the smaller players, and I think Keith Ballard is eventually going to redeem himself to AV.
As for a trade, I would kill to see Shea Weber in a Canucks jersey, but realistically we’d have to give up too much to get him. I think we’ll end up getting a little bit of depth on D and adding some grit up front. Whether that comes through a trade, or the free agent signing of a feisty, undersized, winger with a long white beard, I’m not sure.
4. Who are some of your other favourite players? Or your biggest rivals?
Aaron Gnome has several rivals around the league. JeGnome Iginla is first on the list. The Flames may not be the Canucks’ biggest rival at the moment, but the hatred still burns. Scott Gnomez used to be a rival, but AG recently received an invitation to the party to honour the one-year anniversary of the last time Gnomez scored a goal, so “Rival” is probably a bit strong. Signome Gagne would be if he could stay healthy. Oh, and of course the natural enemy of all garden gnomes is the rat, so Brad “Nose Face” Marchand is close to Iginla at the top of the list.
Other favourite players? Other than Rome and Coho, Steamer was the man when I was growing up. I’m also a fan of Andrew Ebbett and I think Jordan Schroeder is going to be a real player one day. Basically if they’re under 6 feet tall and in the Canuck organization, Aaron Gnome is a fan. Don’t even get me started on Steve Kariya!
5. Why should people follow you on Twitter?
Well, Clay, I think that’s obvious. Everyone should be following @AaronGnome29 on Twitter because Aaron Gnome offers the best Canucks commentary from a gnome that you will find. No one else can give you hard hitting opinions, gnome-related puns, deep hockey insight and irreverent, trivial banter all from the perspective of a well travelled garden gnome.
In this episode of the CHB TV video podcast, recorded during the CHB tweetup at the Hogshack Cookhouse in historic Steveston in Richmond, BC, various CHB writers give their take on Keith Ballard, the All-Star Game and some of the Canucks’ potential trade deadline targets.
Now that every team has played their 40th game, it’s time to even the playing field once again and see what’s really been going on in the NHL.
Last time, I made special mention of a team’s special teams, goals for and goals against performance for the season.
This time, to learn a bit more about an individual team’s strengths and weaknesses, each squad was ranked in six categories*:
Teams were then ranked and put into groups of five, with those ranking 1-5 in each category designated “great,” 6-10 “good,” 11-15 “above average,” 16-20 “below average,” 21-25 “poor,” 26-30 “awful.”
(* – Stats were taken as of Thursday, January 12th, once all teams had played their 40th game.)
The Western Conference After 40 Games:
1. San Jose Sharks (53 points)
Games 21-40: 3rd in Conference (26 points)
Games 1-20: 1st in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Great / GF: Above Average / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Great
Notes: One of the most complete teams in the NHL and one of the toughest teams at 5-on-5 (tied with St. Louis for 3rd overall). Surprisingly, Michal Handzus (1 goal, 10 assists) had almost as many points as Joe Thornton (3 goals, 11 assists) in the second quarter. Martin Havlat, who found a way to hurt himself hopping the boards onto the ice, has been a bust.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (52 points)
Games 21-40: 5th in Conference (25 points)
Games 1-20: 3rd in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Above Average / GF: Great / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Good
Notes: This is a team getting it done with offense, as the penalty kill and goaltending have been inconsistent all season. Marian Hossa (20 pts in the second quarter) looks like he’s five-years younger. Secondary scoring was absent in games 21-40. Dave Bolland (3 goals), Viktor Stalberg (4 goals) and Michael Frolik (2 goals) struggled.
3. Vancouver Canucks (51 points)
Games 21-40: 1st in Conference (30 points)
Games 1-20: 11th in Conference (21 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Above Average / GF: Great / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Good
Notes: A dominant second quarter revealed the Canucks look ready again for a long playoff run. Ryan Kesler was almost a point-per-game player in December (14 points in 15 games). For all the fan criticism, Keith Ballard was +10 in the second quarter.
4. Detroit Red Wings (51 points)
Games 21-40: 4th in Conference (26 points)
Games 1-20: 5th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Great / GF: Great / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Great
Notes: Those of us waiting for the Red Wings to collapse into a rebuild will probably wait forever, as it looks like Valtteri Filppula (9 goals, 18 points in the second quarter) and Jiri Hudler (9 goals, 16 points) have finally established themselves as scoring threats. Meanwhile, Pavel Datsyuk (24 points) and Henrik Zetterberg (just 4 goals but 20 points) keep rolling. Interestingly, Nicklas Lidstrom had a pedestrian games 21-40 (2 goals, 7 points).
5. St. Louis Blues (51 points)
Games 21-40: 2nd in Conference (29 points)
Games 1-20: 9th in Conference (22 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Great / GF: Below Average / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Good
Notes: It didn’t take long for the Blues to play Hitchcock hockey did it? Sure, St. Louis still has trouble scoring, but the powerplay’s improving (9.2% in the first quarter, 18% during the second quarter). Meanwhile, the Blues goalie tandem was dynamite in games 21-40. Both Brian Elliott (7-4, 1.91 goals against, .931 save percentage) and Jaroslav Halak (6-0-3, 1.95 goals against, .929 save percentage) played like all-stars.
6. Minnesota Wild (48 points)
Games 21-40: 11th in Conference (21 points)
Games 1-20: 2nd in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Awful / GF: Awful / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Awful
Notes: It seems pretty clear that amazing start to the season was built on a house of cards – there’s a lot not working in Minnesota. After a hot start, Niklas Backstrom has been average lately (.908 save percentage in December), while the team’s goals against in the second quarter was almost a full goal higher than the first quarter (from 1.98 to 2.75).
7. Dallas Stars (47 points)
Games 21-40: 8th in Conference (23 points)
Games 1-20: 7th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Awful / GF: Above Average / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Below Average
Notes: The Stars will be one of the teams in the Western Conference fighting tooth-and-nail for a final playoff spot. After a great start, Sheldon Souray was cooling off in the second quarter prior to his injury (3 assists, -1 in 14 games). Meanwhile, Stephane Robidas was a -6 during games 21-40. In Kari Lehtonen’s absence, Richard Bachman was solid (2.56 goals against, .917 save percentage) while Andrew Raycroft was not (3.49 goals against since November 23rd).
8. Nashville Predators (46 points)
Games 21-40: 10th in Conference (22 points)
Games 1-20: 6th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Poor / GF: Above Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Awful
Notes: Another team trending downward thanks to disappointing goaltending play. Pekke Renne was rather human for games 21-40 (2.95 goals against, .904 save percentage). Rookie Craig Smith had just 1 goal in the second quarter, while Patric Hornqvist had 2.
9. Los Angeles Kings (45 points)
Games 21-40: 9th in Conference (22 points)
Games 1-20: 8th in Conference (23 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Good / GF: Awful / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Good
Notes: During the second quarter, the Kings only scored three or more goals four times. Stats like that are why coaches get fired. Simon Gagne went goalless for December (2 assist in 12 games), while Jack Johnson was -6 during games 21-40. The team desperately needs a sniper – do they have enough to put into a package for Zach Parise? Goaltender Jonathan Bernier would have to be in the mix.
10. Colorado Avalanche (43 points)
Games 21-40:6th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 12th in Conference (19 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Good / GF: Poor / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Above Average
Notes: For being a young, skating team, the Avalanche sure have a tough time scoring. Youngsters Matt Duchene (3 goals, 8 points), Paul Stastny (5 goals, 8 points) and David Jones (2 assists) all struggled in the second quarter.
11. Phoenix Coyotes (42 points)
Games 21-40: 12th in Conference (17 points)
Games 1-20: 4th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Poor / GF: Poor / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Below Average
Notes: Pretty easy to see why they fell so far in the second quarter – Mike Smith returned back to earth (13 games, 5 wins, 3.38 goals against, .894 save percentage). Key forwards Shane Doan (3 goals, -7) and Martin Hanzel (2 goals) were MIA during games 21-40.
12. Calgary Flames (41 points)
Games 21-40: 7th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 13th in Conference (17 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Below Average / GF: Awful / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Poor
Notes: It hasn’t been a great season in Calgary, but the Flames were a playoff team during the second quarter. One of the reasons was an improved powerplay, which helped the team score enough to win games. Naturally, Jarome Iginla was at the centre of this improvement (9 goals, 21 points, +7 in 20 games), although Olli Jokinen was right behind (7 goals, 19 points, +2). In the absence of Mark Giordano, Derek Smith stepped up (9 points), leading all Flames defensemen in scoring in the second quarter.
13. Edmonton Oilers (35 points)
Games 21-40: 15th in Conference (13 points)
Games 1-20: 10th in Conference (22 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Below Average / GF: Above Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Awful
Notes: Introducing the worst team in the Western Conference during the second quarter. Yes, their defense is AHL-caliber, but some blame on the Oilers’ collapse should fall on the shoulders of the team’s veterans. Shawn Horcoff (4 goals, -8) and Ales Hemsky (2 goals, -4) underperformed, while Ryan Smyth (4 goals, 12 points, +2) was only marginally better.
14. Anaheim Ducks (30 points)
Games 21-40: 14th in Conference (14 points)
Games 1-20: 14th in Conference (16 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Below Average / GF: Poor / GA: Awful / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Awful
Notes: The fabulous core of the Ducks got rolling in the second quarter. Teemu Selanne (7 goals, 20 points), Corey Perry (11 goals, 21 points), Bobby Ryan (10 goals, 16 points) and Ryan Getzlaf (3 goals, 15 points) sparked the offense. However, a lack of depth and poor goaltending (Jonas Hiller had a 3.32 goals against and .892 save percentage in games 21-40) has kept Anaheim near the bottom of the Western Conference.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets (27 points)
Games 21-40: 13th in Conference (15 points)
Games 1-20: 15th in Conference (12 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Good / GF: Awful / GA: Awful / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Above Average
Notes: At the time of this study, Columbus was one of only six teams with a team save percentage under .900 (they were at .894). For what it’s worth, league average at the time was .912. Players playing their way out of town: Antoine Vermette (3 goals, 2 assists in the second quarter); Derick Brassard (2 goals, 5 assists); and Vinny Prospel (2 goals, 10 points). Could someone explain how keeping Ryan Johansen in the NHL (2 goals, 4 assists during games 21-40) is helping him develop into a top-six NHL forward?
[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm. You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]
Photo credit: Yahoo Sports
I’m taking a break from planning my Saturday morning “Ruin the Bruins” party to offer up a few quick thoughts as the Canucks have reached the midway point of the season. It feels so strange to type the word “morning” when blogging about a hockey game, but I digress.
On this eve of the Stanley Cup Finals rematch, here are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:
1. The need for perspective. There are so many intriguing storylines heading into Saturday’s game against the Boston Bruins, notwithstanding the fact that it’s the only regular season meeting between the two Stanley Cup Finalists. Luongo or Schneider. Mason Raymond’s return to the rink where he nearly had his career ended. Daniel Sedin vs. Brad Marchand. Burrows, Bergeron, and biting.
Thursday afternoon, I tweeted: “48 hours from now we’ll either be celebrating a bit of revenge for the Canucks or wondering what it will take to beat the Bruins in Boston.” I received a couple of replies, with both of them intimating that a Canuck win had limited upside (as opposed to a Canuck loss having a larger downside) and that true revenge would be winning the Stanley Cup. While I didn’t disagree with these sentiments, I pointed out that a win is a win and we can’t do much about the Stanley Cup until June. It’s important to remember that this is game #42 of an 82 game regular season and that we shouldn’t read too much into the result of the game, whatever it may be. I don’t buy the argument that a Canuck loss will have a long-term effect on the team’s psyche… the same way I won’t get too excited if the Canucks walk out of Boston with a win. Enjoy it for what it will be: a hotly-contested battle of two of the top teams in the league.
2. Biggest surprises and disappointments. There have been numerous “midseason evaluation” posts including an excellent one by CHB writer Matt Lee already, but I thought I would chime in with a few of my observations. For me, the biggest surprises up front have been Jannik Hansen, Cody Hodgson and Chris Higgins. The collective Triple H has combined for 31 goals and 37 assists for 68 points, a welcome wave of secondary scoring behind the big four of the Sedins and Kesler and Burrows. On the flip side, Manny Malhotra is still struggling to regain his pre-injury form of last year and the jury is still out on David Booth, who was picking up his game before his knee injury.
On the back end, the play of the top four d-men (Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Sami Salo) have helped some Canuck faithful forget about Christian Ehrhoff. In particular, Hamhuis is quietly piling up the points and is on pace to match his career high of 38 points (2005-2006 season). Hamhuis and partner Bieksa (who has overcome a shaky start) have become one of the league’s premier shutdown pairs, while Edler and Salo continue to contribute at both ends of the rink. Conversely, Keith Ballard is still not playing like a $4 million defenseman, and he is still prone to making risky plays in his own end. I really like him and I want to see him succeed, but 6 points and -1 just doesn’t cut it.
3. The Canucks in the Winter Classic. On the heels of another entertaining Winter Classic and HBO 24/7 series, there’s increased chatter about the possibility of the Canucks appearing in the big game in the near future. One would think that Montreal and/or Toronto are likely to be considered ahead of our local team, but you never know. With respect to the 24/7 series, it’s hard to predict what kind of ratings a Canadian team would draw south of the border. But one thing’s for sure: the Canucks would make for some interesting TV. I would find it fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at the player’s preparation and personal lives. What is Luongo like away from the cameras? How are the twins different in how they approach the games? Who are the locker room leaders? Does Dale Weise un-follow and block people in real life? And where does Bieksa come up with his comedy gold? With respect to opponents, I think it’s a toss-up between Boston and Chicago. The former for all of the reasons listed above, the latter for the playoff history and animosity between the teams for three years running. A dark-horse would be Detroit, but their rivalry with the Canucks is one based on respect and similar playing styles as opposed to the dislike that comes with the Bruins and Blackhawks.
Amidst all these questions, it’s good to see that the Canucks have emerged from the first-half of the season at the top of the Western Conference (albeit with the other teams holding games in hand). Now please excuse me as I continue preparations for my Saturday morning viewing party. I’m curious as to how many of my friends will be drinking while watching the game. 10 AM seems a tad early, but I’m certainly not here to judge. Hmmm…