May 242011
 

[About the game from two viewpoints. Chris and Caylie watch the game and exchange their thoughts via email.]

From: Christopher Golden
To: Caylie King
Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 12:08

Hey Caylie,

So here we have ourselves a noon start. Any word on the status of Luongo’s groin?

C.

From: Caylie King
To: Christopher Golden
Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 12:15

Hi Chris,

I’m just hoping the Canucks are more awake and lively than probably the majority of us fans. If we stick to the game plan by not taking penalties and being aggressive, I predict the Canucks win, including an empty-netter.

Go Canucks Go!

Caylie

From: Christopher Golden
To: Caylie King
Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 12:36

Hey Caylie,

Yes, more 5-on-5 hockey will be good for the Canucks. Mind you, if we see penalty kill efforts like that first one…

Again, it’s still early but I’m feeling good about this game. The boys are generating chances and are aggressively forechecking – it’s just a matter of time that the Sharks blueline hiccups.

C.

From: Caylie King
To: Christopher Golden
Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 12:41

Hi Chris,

Drumroll please…… And the Oscar goes to…… Joe Thornton. He wins this award because he has consistently showed his acting abilities throughout these playoffs. Well deserved. *slow clap*

Caylie

From: Caylie King
To: Christopher Golden
Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 13:01

Hi Chris,

There are not enough explicit words in the human language that would express how I feel about that Raffi hit. That was an excellent hit and hockey play. Murray had the puck with his head down – what do the refs expect us to do?! The Canucks might as well stop hitting, stop trying to get the puck because they will spend the rest of the game on the penalty kill. Unbelievable.

Caylie

From: Christopher Golden
To: Caylie King
Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 13:15

Hey Caylie,

So you’re not happy with the call on Torres, eh? I don’t know. After seeing the replay I’m wondering if he’s not lucky to get the heave-ho for a hit to the head. The rule is so poorly written that if point of contact is the head, you get tossed.

C.

From: Caylie King
To: Christopher Golden
Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 14:57

Hi Chris,

This was the best showing of maturity the Canucks have shown all season long. After getting called for 5 penalties in a row, the Canucks didn’t give up and scored when it count. We won the special teams battle by a mile. Balls of Steel with his best game of the 2011 playoffs and big goals from Kes and Burrows. I was very impressed by the composure we showed!

Raffi Torres with a CLEAN hit on Murray and then he put Big Joe out for the rest of the game, his best game so far. Great to see him bring the intensity and use his body to destroy what came into his path.

We are 5 wins away!

Caylie

From: Christopher Golden
To: Caylie King
Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 16:21

Hey Caylie,

Last season I would’ve agreed that the Torres hit was legal, but as my post earlier in the season says, many legal hits have been made illegal when contact to head is involved.

And yes oh yes – huge step up in the maturity department from the entire Canucks team! Not only did we see ‘em kill those earlier penalties off, we saw the squad adjust to the Sharks PK and get those goals when it was our turn on the powerplay in the second!

Then there was the play of the Sedins in the 3rd. They had a couple dominant shifts to burn crucial minutes from the clock and helped setup Burr on the fourth goal. Think it’s about time people give these guys his due.

C.

PS: As I asked on Twitter, does Ballard have to declare his hips as weapons when he comes back into Canada?

May 232011
 

[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.]

I watched the Canucks’ 4-2 victory over the Sharks with a couple hundred of my closest Canucks friends at the Vancouver Canucks Tweet-Up at Guildford’s Boston Pizza. CHB’s JJ Guerrero and Chris Golden were representing, and everyone had a great time (due in large part to the Canucks’ win). I was able to bring my wife and kids out with me and they had a great time soaking in the sights and sounds. In fact, with the big screens, yummy food, and loud audio, it was a bit of sensory over-load…in a good way!

So as I reflect on game 4 and look ahead to game 5 on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena, here are a few Things That Make You Go Hmmm…:

  1. Does Keith Ballard give hip check lessons? I was happy to see Keith Ballard in the line-up, although it was due to injuries to Ehrhoff and Rome. Nevertheless, I was hopeful that Ballard would have a strong game and regain some of his confidence. Ballard’s stats weren’t overly impressive: 1 shot, minus 1 in 10:34 of ice-time. However, he had the best hit of the night as he sent Sharks forward (and Canuck d-killer) Jamie McGinn head-over-heels with a devastating hip check. I immediately flashbacked to some of Ballard’s other big hip checks from the season and again wondered why he doesn’t play more. I then wanted to find out if Ballard threw out these types of checks in Florida and Phoenix. YouTube provides more than enough evidence; he has always been a hip checking machine. Check out these bone-crunchers on Evgeni Malkin, Scott Hartnell, and the immortal Jack Skille.
  2. The Chris Tanev effect. It came as quite a surprise when defenseman Chris Tanev played in game 4 ahead of veteran Andrew Alberts, especially when coach AV initially said that Tanev would be in San Jose just for “insurance.” Well, the Canucks cashed in their insurance policy and inserted Tanev into the line-up as Ballard’s partner on the blue line. Similar to Ballard, Tanev’s stats were rather pedestrian (a bunch of zeroes in all categories in 9:13 TOI).  But more importantly, he essentially played error-free hockey and played well beyond his years, considering that this was his only the 30th professional game of his young career. With Bieksa, Ehrhoff and Salo all becoming free agents this summer, the Canucks might feel okay letting at least one of them go with players like Chris Tanev, Kevin Connauton, and Yann Sauve looking to crack the line-up.
  3. Where is Alex Edler? Since a monster performance against the Blackhawks and a decent series against Nashville, Edler has been very unnoticeable in this series against the Sharks. He has one point in the 4 games, and hasn’t laid out any of the Sharks forwards yet with hits like he dished out in the 2 previous series. Perhaps he is still feeling the effects of his mid-season back surgery, or maybe AV’s penchant of riding his top 4 D with heavy ice-time is starting to affect him. Regardless, the Canucks will need him to ramp up his play a bit if they do as expected and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game 5 Tuesday night at Rogers Arena should be a good one, with the Canucks looking to improve their dismal 2W-4L record in elimination games in this 2011 post-season. Meanwhile, the Sharks will look to stave off elimination.

And have you noticed that no one uses the term “stave off” unless they are talking about sports playoffs. I’ve never heard it used in every day conversation… yet another thing that makes me go hmmm.

Apr 292011
 

I think it said a lot about how Canucks fans anticipated this series that much of the pregame chatter still focused on the team’s round 1, game 7 win against the Chicago Blackhawks rather than round 2, game 1 against the Nashville Predators.

No, game 1 against the Preds won’t soon be talked about as an instant classic, but from the Canucks’ standpoint, it was an effective performance. What they may have lacked in emotion – at least relative to how much they played with in game 7 – they made up by dictating the pace of the game and controlling most of the play. They had numerous scoring opportunities – quality chances – and really, had it not been for Pekka Rinne, the Canucks may well have blown out the Preds.

The Hero

Chris Higgins. For the second time in these playoffs, the “consolation prize” in the Marty Reasoner sweepstakes scored the game-winning goal for the Canucks. He also scored the game-winning goal in game 1 of the first round against Chicago.

The Goat

Patric Hornqvist. A 21-goal scorer in the regular season (2nd on the team), Hornqvist was held in check for most of the game and took 3 minor penalties.

The Numbers

  • 70. The Canucks won 70% of their faceoffs in the offensive zone (19/27) – a big reason they dominated play and were able to create so many scoring opportunities.
  • 11:12. Keith Ballard played a good game. He literally bowled through Ryan Suter in the first period to create a couple of scoring chances by himself. He also had a great hip check on Jordin Tootoo in the second period even though referee Marc Joannette called him for clipping. Despite that, he only had 11:12 minutes of ice-time. Meanwhile, the top-4 of Hamhuis, Bieksa, Ehrhoff and Edler all played more than 22 minutes. With Bally’s reduced ice-time and 2 penalties, why do I have a bad feeling Andrew Alberts will be reunited with Aaron Rome for game 2?
  • 14. After leading the NHL with 3.15 goals per game in the regular season, the Canucks are averaging almost a full goal per game less – 2.12 goals per game – in their first 8 playoffs games. This ranks them 14th out of 16 playoff teams.

The Next Time

Some finish would be nice. Despite outchancing the Preds by a wide margin, Nashville was still a lucky bounce and a Mike Fisher third period breakaway from tying the game up.

Apr 222011
 

Unless there are other factors at play that we’re not aware of, I don’t see the logic of making Keith Ballard a healthy scratch in last night’s game and replacing with Aaron Rome.

No, Ballard hasn’t been great. Certainly, he hasn’t played or produced as should be expected from a $4.2 million defenseman. But then again, he hasn’t called on to play much – or do much – considering that Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo are all ahead of him on the Canucks’ depth chart.

That said, I thought Ballard had been decent in his 13 minutes of average ice-time in the first 4 games of this series. In game 4, he was the only Canucks defenseman to not be on the ice for any of the Hawks’ 7 goals. In fact, he’s the only Canucks defenseman who hasn’t been on the ice for any of the Hawks’ goals this series.

Compare that with Rome, who, in his first 7 shifts and 3:38 minutes of ice-time last night, was already on the ice for 2 Chicago goals. Not only that, but he was also responsible for the giveaway that led to Duncan Keith’s first goal.

After GM Mike Gillis’ and Laurence Gilman’s cap juggling all season, I find it hard to believe that Ballard has been relegated to the press box for the playoffs. IMHO, his play hasn’t warranted being taken out of the lineup. Or in other words, I don’t think Rome’s play has been good enough to take over Ballard’s spot in the lineup.

So what gives? Was Ballard really a healthy scratch or are the Canucks hiding some sort of ailment? If it’s the former, does he draw back in for game 6? Because if you believe AV when he says he’ll always dress the players who give him the best chance to win, there’s no reason his lineup should include Rome over Ballard.

Apr 092011
 
Sergei Shirokov

Photo credit: Bridget Samuels

If Keith Ballard manages to play hero for the Vancouver Canucks in the coming months of battle for hockey’s greatest prize, then we might have a real conclusion to whether or not one of Mike Gillis’ big moves this past off-season was worth it.  However, with Michael Grabner putting up 33 goals, the most by a rookie since Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin in ’06-07, and Mason Raymond struggling after a career year last year, it’s easy to see how some Canucks fans think the move was a bit of a flop.  This is probably compounded by the fact that Ballard consistently finds himself in the AV doghouse, sitting behind six other Canucks defensemen in terms of ice time, only ahead of Andrew Alberts if we’re talking about D-men who don’t normally play for the Manitoba Moose.  That’s a bit of an oddity considering he’s the second-highest paid defenseman after Dan Hamhuis.  However, Ballard does lead the Canucks in one category: blocked shots, and his play has significantly improved lately but with only 7 points in what is widely considered the best regular season the Vancouver Canucks have ever had, it’s hard to not think what may have been if Grabner still wore an orca on the front of his sweater.

But, of course, it isn’t that simple.  The playoffs aren’t here quite yet, Grabner wouldn’t get the same sort of ice time in Vancouver as he does in Long Island, and to Ballard’s credit, someone has to play sixth defenseman minutes and it sure isn’t going to be Alex Edler or Christian Ehrhoff.  He’s part of what is arguably the deepest defensive corp in the NHL, although I still can’t explain why on earth Aaron Rome gets more minutes. Still, whether or not the trade paid off is still up in the air.

In the meantime, the Canucks may have another similar “problem” to deal with in the near future in Sergei Shirokov.  A bit of news recently surfaced involving CSKA Moscow, a Russian squad that was previously the home team for Shirokov as well as Columbus Blue Jacket Nikita Filatov.  Neither has really made a dent in the NHL as of yet and the Russian team would like them back.  Shirokov has had some success with CSKA, tallying 40 points in 56 games, before turning down guaranteed money to make the move to North America.  He’s a restricted free agent in ’11-12.

Shirokov is somewhat similar to Grabner. Both are quick players with an offense-first skill set, although Grabner arguably has a stronger offensive game and a small size advantage.  Unfortunately for Shirokov, he’s run into a Canucks team that’s heavy on offensive talent.  The Sedins, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler will be on the team perhaps until they retire, and Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson are likely to stick around at least another year so it’s hard to see where Shirokov would fit in.  Is he going to skip over Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder, the Canucks’ previous two first round draft picks looking to break into the Canucks lineup next year? Actually, I have a hard time believing those two will make the team next year unless they make the move to wing, considering the center position on the first three lines is locked up.

So what does that mean for Shirokov?  If the Canucks re-sign him, he’s unlikely to break into the top two lines unless the Canucks deal Raymond or Samuelsson this off-season.  If he does make the Canucks lineup, it will probably be as part of the bottom-six with potential to move up much like Chris Higgins or Jeff Tambellini have this year.  However, playing in the bottom-six usually means you have to have a physical element to your game, which is something Shirokov hasn’t shown us in his limited ice time with the big club this year, throwing only a single hit in his two games.  The AHL doesn’t seem to keep stats on hits but I can only assume that he isn’t throwing bonecrushers for the Moose either.  No, Shirokov would probably only be effective playing top-six with other talented players rather than the grinders.  Just ask Tamby how he’s doing on the fourth line rather than the second.

Shirokov also has the salary cap working against him.  If he’s re-signed at the same $1.3m, that’s simply a cost the Canucks can do without considering our current 3rd line wingers make $1m and $825k and we’ll need every penny to get Ehrhoff and possibly Kevin Bieksa under contract next season.

Will Shirokov go on to score 30+ in a full rookie campaign?  He has the potential to but so far, he hasn’t shown us much beyond that.  He’s a round peg finding nothing but square holes and it’s hard to see a scenario where he’ll not only fit into the Canucks system next year but thrive under those conditions.  Personally, I think Canucks fans place a little too much value on players like Shirokov and Grabner, partly because they see the second coming of Pavel Bure whenever a quick European player with hands shows up in the system.

Whether the Grabner trade will be viewed as a success or not will probably come down to how Ballard plays in the playoffs this year, but really, the Canucks had no place for Grabs so they moved him for someone who fills one of the main concerns coming out of their second round ousting the previous year, defensive depth.  Rather than having a potential 30-goal scorer sit in their system or languishing on fourth line minutes, they got something they needed in return.

The Shirokov situation is quite similar to Grabner’s so I think it’s quite likely they’ll look at a similar solution.  He’ll most likely be qualified and moved for assets we can use elsewhere.  However, unlike last year, the Canucks seem to have no real needs apart from a fourth line upgrade over Tanner Glass and a couple cardboard cutouts of players.  They are a bit thin in terms of defensive prospects past pleasant surprise Chris Tanev but bluechippers on the blueline don’t come cheap and Shirokov won’t be enough.  He’ll have to be part of the inevitable Cory Schneider deal or packaged with picks.  No GM in the NHL is stupid enough to take an unproven player and give up any real assets.

Well, that and Florida doesn’t have anyone left we could fleece them for.

Feb 282011
 

[Every Monday, Katie Maximick takes your questions and gives her take on the Canucks in her own cantankerous style. If you have any questions about the Canucks, send it to her via Twitter (@KMaximick)]

Keith Ballard, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Happy Monday, Canucks fans.

There were some ups and downs this weekend in the world of the Canucks. The Bruins took down the Canucks on Saturday night. And then on Sunday the team delighted thousands of fans at Rogers Arena during the Superskills competition. Sunday’s antics couldn’t erase Saturday’s loss, however, and many fans are still talking about the Bruins’ size being a factor in their win.

Dave (@merlynbc) asks: Are the Canucks big enough and/or strong enough to withstand the bashing and crashing of a long playoff run?

Katie: After Saturday’s game against a much bigger Boston team, a lot of fans have been wondering the same thing. The Canucks aren’t as big as some of their past rosters have been, but this is Alain Vigneault’s vision of a Cup-winning team; it’s not about size and fighting, it’s about depth and winning. There was a lot of backlash when Getzlaf’s hit on Hamhuis wasn’t retaliated by any of the Canucks; just eight years ago that would never have been the case.

Personally I would like to see a bigger, tougher team because that’s how I like my hockey: rough and tumble, but this doesn’t mean the team doesn’t have what it takes to go deep into the playoffs. With the depth of the roster (and the help of Ballard’s delightful hipchecks) the team has just the right amount of (dare I say it) grit and talent to go deep.

Injuries, however, are a hindrance we can’t predict or avoid. Obviously they’re a different story altogether.

Matt (@m_maclean24) asks: How about your thoughts on the Canucks’ chances at the President’s Trophy, or whether or not that even means anything…

Katie: I think they have a pretty good shot at it; their best in years for sure. Some fans don’t think the Canucks should try that hard, suggesting that top place in the league, or even the Division, isn’t as much of a priority as having a healthy, rested team.

It would be awesome to get the President’s Trohpy for obvious reasons (like bragging rights) but I think Vancouver has its eyes on the bigger prize – the Stanley Cup. What’s a President’s Trophy if you can’t back up a top-notch season with a Cup?

Jason (@jasonwheelerBC) asks: Would trading the slumping Raymond upset the team chemistry too much heading into the playoffs?

Katie: I guess that would depend on who they’d bring in to replace him. From watching the Superskills on Sunday, Raymond is still a big favourite among his teammates and fans alike. If it didn’t upset the chemistry, it might upset the team. But then, there’s no crying in baseball. I mean hockey. From what Gillis said recently, I don’t think Raymond will be traded by the trade deadline, but I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Michael (@mfoxrocks) asks: Keeping with the theme of the [Oscars], which Canuck would be most likely to win an award for theatrical talent?

Katie: Alex Edler, for this.

Hope you enjoyed today’s column. Have a good week, everyone!

Feb 212011
 

With a week left before the NHL’s trade deadline, let’s take a quick snapshot of the Canucks’ salary cap situation.

First, the team sent Evan Oberg back to the Manitoba Moose this morning and recalled Cody Hodgson.

This pretty much says that Dan Hamhuis has been cleared and is good to go against the Habs tomorrow night. It also gives Hodgson an extended audition in the fourth line center spot (more on that later) and allows Tanner Glass to move back to his natural wing position.

If Keith Ballard returns on Thursday as expected, the Canucks will have 22 healthy players (13 forwards, 7 defensemen, 2 goaltenders), 2 injured players (Bieksa and Sweatt) and 2 players on LTIR (Alberts and Edler).

Right now, the Canucks are using $341,870 of their $341,989 maximum daily spending ($318,871 max daily cap plus $23,118 max daily LTIR).

When Ballard returns, the assumption is that Yann Sauve will be sent back to the Moose and the Canucks will have $3,412 in daily spending (or $634,632 in annual salary) available.

If the Canucks aren’t sold on Victor Oreskovich, they could also send him back before Monday. Minus Sauve and Oreskovich, they’ll have $6,503 in daily spending; in this case, they can add $1,209,558 in annual salary at the trade deadline. They can also place Lee Sweatt on LTIR, which would give them another $3,495 in daily spending (or take on another $650,070 in annual salary).

The Canucks can’t take on a lot in salary but it’s something. GM Mike Gillis has been adamant that he won’t tinker too much with his team. That in mind, the small amount of salary the Canucks can take on means they’re limited in the kind of players they can acquire anyway; that said, they do have enough in the kitty, barring any other roster moves, to acquire some depth players.

(All numbers via CapGeek.)

Feb 212011
 

[Every Monday, Katie Maximick takes your questions and gives her take on the Canucks in her own cantankerous style. If you have any questions about the Canucks, send it to her via Twitter (@KMaximick)]

Keith Ballard, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Welcome back, Ask Katie readers. I hope you all enjoyed the Canucks win on Saturday and your weekends, including yesterday’s Heritage Classic in Calgary. Carey Price looked like he was about to get pneumonia and perhaps did, considering the Flames scored four unanswered goals on the poor guy.

Adrian (@unambig) asks: Maybe you’re a closet Flames fan?

Katie: Maybe the Leafs will make it to the Cup final?

I digress. I actually fell asleep on the couch in the second period and woke up to find the Habs had been routed and the neighbour across the street staring into my living room window at me. Yes. Creepy.

Anyway, lots of good questions this week, so let’s get to them.

@Left_Wing_Lock asks: Long-term plans for Schneider in Van?

Katie: Unfortunately I really don’t think there are any. Everyone knows that Schneider is basically trade bait, which is part of the reason he’ll play 20-25 games by the end of this season (and he’s not doing too shabby either at 10-3-2 and .924 save percentage). He might have one more season serving as backup at the most, but this probably hinges on the team’s health and playoff success (or lack thereof) later this spring to see who management trades him for.

@howesoundbeer asks: Who’s the best shootout goalie in the NHL?

Katie: Jonathan Quick, with seven shootout wins and a .848 save percentage. Where’s Luongo in the NHL’s list of shootout goalies? 31st with .444 save percentage. Ouch.

Andrew (@andz205) asks: We know the Canucks can score, but they are still 0-6-4 when trailing after one. Is this anywhere near concerning?

Katie: A little. I’d be lying if I said this stat didn’t bother me. It’s as if the team is suddenly the exact opposite of their last two seasons as the Comeback Kids. Last year the Canucks were first in the NHL with 11 wins when trailing after two periods. So where’d the Comeback Kids go? They literally can’t come back AT ALL this season, which is a little troubling when you start to think of the playoffs. If the Canucks can’t fight back to win a game with forty minutes left on the clock, then the fans (and the team) have something to be worried about. Perhaps it’s just a fluke or bad luck that the Canucks haven’t been able to battle back (look at the injuries), but if they’re going to get past the second round of the playoffs, they need to earn their nickname back and start winning these games – no matter what.

(Editor’s note:: The 10 times the Canucks are trailing after the first period is lowest in the league. That’s probably because they lead the league in number of times scoring first at 32. One other way to look at this is they don’t have to come back if they’re already leading. Yes, there’s sunshine and rainbows in my cereal this morning. – J.J.)

Herve (@1stLineCenter) asks: What is Salo’s nickname? Who is the jokester on the team?

Katie: Besides Sami? He doesn’t have a real nickname, but I’ve heard Salo called many things by the fan base, including “Balls of Steel”, “FrankenNuck”, “Finnish MacInnis”, and “Man of Glass”.

The jokester is definitely Keith Ballard. Remember when he tried to hide in Bieksa’s hockey bag and scare him? He also teamed up with former Canuck Bryan Allen in Florida to prank and harass the rest of the Panthers – this led to Allen and Ballard getting pranked in return by finding all the furniture in their hotel room had been removed. Ballard has also untaped all of Bieksa’s sticks one day after Bieksa meticulously wrapped them. “He’s a little strange,” Bieksa said after Ballard’s failed hockey-bag prank. “He’s definitely the odd one out of the group, but he likes to have fun and he keeps guys on their toes and he’ll often make himself the butt of the joke to get a laugh for the boys.”

Now hurry back, Ballard. At the moment we need your defensive skills more than we need your pranks.

Until next time, Canucks fans, have a great week.

Feb 142011
 

Let’s pause for a minute before we call Michael Grabner the next great Canucks prospect that got away.

With his hat trick yesterday, Grabner now has 24 goals for the season, including 15 goals in his last 14 games. Today, he was named the NHL’s 1st Star of the Week.

So did the Canucks give up on him too early?

Maybe. Maybe not.

To be honest, Grabner wasn’t on the Canucks’ long-term plans. It was clear they valued Mason Raymond more than they valued the former first-round draft pick when they worked out a two-year contract extension with Raymond just hours before he was slated to go to arbitration. It was clear they valued a deeper defense more than they valued the speedy and skilled winger when they packaged him with Steve Bernier and a first-round draft pick in trade to acquire Keith Ballard.

In hindsight, I still maintain that the Canucks made the right call.

Mason Raymond may be having an off-year – an injury-plagued year – but a quick look at the standings show the Canucks still at the top of the NHL in goals. After 56 games, they lead the league with 188 total goals scored. They also lead the league with an average of 3.36 goals per game, which, believe it or not, is actually higher than their G/game average last season (3.27).

In the meantime, Ballard, at least before Milan Michalek turned him into his own personal pretzel, has provided the Canucks with some much-needed depth on defense. Not many teams can afford to play a Keith Ballard as their no. 5 defenseman, and there’s little doubt it’s helped the Canucks withstand their injuries. To date, their 128 total goals against and 2.29 goals against per game is the fewest in the NHL. Despite the amount of injuries to their defense, the Canucks are actually allowing less goals per game this season than they allowed last season (2.66 GA/game).

It’s shrewd asset management, really. As good as Grabner has played this season, the Canucks haven’t missed him as much. Instead, they turned him into another asset they needed more.

And that’s just as good.

Feb 092011
 

I don’t blame Mike Gillis for being mad about Milan Michalek’s slewfoot on Keith Ballard, the result of which being Ballard being out an estimated 3-4 weeks.

“I saw it as a play that, in my opinion, was a violation of the rules, and one that is not a highly respected play in this league, and at this level,” Gillis said. “The puck wasn’t near Keith when it happened. And I certainly disagree with that style of play.”

Asked if he would call the league about the matter, Gillis replied: “It’s up to them if they want to look at those kind of plays … I don’t look to influence them, but I didn’t think it was a fair hockey play.”

Increasingly, there has been more of these kinds of plays – ones that can’t be considered fair hockey plays – in the league.

Last season, Evgeni Malkin rammed Willie Mitchell against the boards, a play which forced Mitchell to miss the last 4 months of the regular season and the playoffs. Malkin received a 2-minute minor, but considering the dangerous nature of the play, there was talk about whether or not Malkin deserved more.

During this year’s Winter Classic, Sidney Crosby took a blindside hit to the head from Dave Steckel. Steckel wasn’t penalized on the play, Crosby suffered a concussion, and there are whispers now that Crosby may have to call it a season.

On Sunday, Matt Cooke stuck his knee out on Alexander Ovechkin. For this dangerous play, Cooke was given only a 2-minute tripping minor.

Last night, Cooke charged at Fedor Tyutin, who was going for the puck along the glass, and hit Tyutin from behind. At least this time, Cooke was called in for a disciplinary hearing.

But then again, how much faith do fans have at these hearings?

This is the league that deems James Wisniewski’s obscene gesture as egregious an offense as Niklas Hjalmarsson’s hit from behind. This is the league that deems that cross-checks to the head aren’t even suspension-worthy.

I don’t think I need to remind you of Cooke’s hearing on his hit on Marc Savard. Savard hasn’t fully recovered from that hit and the argument can be made that he should simply retire for his own health’s sake. In the meantime, Cooke got off scot-free because, apparently, he did everything by the book on that hit. Ironically, this was the one time the NHL was consistent in its application of its rules; they didn’t suspend Mike Richards for his hit on David Booth so they didn’t suspend Cooke for his hit on Savard.

The league’s nightly officiating isn’t that much better. Too often, fans don’t know what constitutes a penalty and what doesn’t. (I’d venture to say that players themselves aren’t fully sure either.) All you need to do is follow the discussion in the media, on Twitter or on message boards, and often, the discussion is about blown calls, make-up calls and inconsistent officiating.

A perfect example is the Canucks’ game against the Blackhawks last Friday. As wildly entertaining it was – the atmosphere and the game itself was playoff-like – fans weren’t talking about the game; in fact, much of the discussion revolved around a Chicago goal that probably should have counted and a Vancouver goal that probably shouldn’t have.

There are obviously many more examples than the ones I’ve listed.

By now, you’ve probably figured out that this post isn’t purely about Ballard. The incident involving him and Michalek just happens to be the latest in what seems to be an endless string of bad plays, bad calls and bad non-calls.

NHL hockey is the best game in the world, but I think it speaks to the lack of leadership at the top that its fans talk more about what’s wrong with the game than what’s right.

I mean, if us, the media and the hardcore fans who actually care for the game are getting fed up with it, then how does the NHL think they’ll sell – and grow – it to everyone else?

[update: 02/09/2011, 12:03 PM]

It looks like the NHL suspended Matt Cooke for 4 games following his hit on Fedor Tyutin.

I’d like to think that this is the league sending a message, but to be honest, I’m not that optimistic.

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