Mar 112010
 

With most teams in the NHL you can point to one player on the team who is the face of the franchise. The Capitals belong to Ovechkin, the Penguins belong to Malkin, the Islanders are Tavares’ and the Kings are Kopitar’s. The list goes on but the point is most teams have one face, one super star that either makes or breaks the team based on how they play. With that concept in mind, these Canucks once were Luongos. The face of the 2006-07 franchise-record-49-Win Canucks, was Luongo. He won his first career playoff series single-handedly, and lost his second career playoff series single-handedly.

Since then this team has evolved around a core group of players that are a combination of to tier forwards, rock solid blue liners, a passionate goalie and a desire to win. That being said, this season has exemplified one thing in particular: The Canucks don’t have one leader, they play as a team. This year’s Canucks define exactly what a team should be and that’s been the story all year. I can remember just how many times over the years I’ve said, “We need secondary scoring, the top lines are in a slump”, and the Canucks haven’t had the depth or talent to pull it off.

When you look at this year’s team, secondary scoring was at one point the only reason we didn’t tank. Through the Canucks injury problems all year, through the slumps, and the highs and lows, there has always been someone to step in and take over. In one particular game it was Ryan Johnson and Tanner Glass against the Avalanche resulting in Johnson’s first multi-point game of his career, in another it was Mason Raymond who decided to go on a streak. When the Sedins came back and the Canucks needed to turn things around Burrows took over, but post Olympics it’s been Kesler who’s carried the team. With the Sedins in a pre-Olympic slump as a result of a snubbing Samuelsson has stepped his game up. What’s even more impressive is that Samuelsson has stepped his game up during the Canucks most critical point in the season.

Between Henrik’s offensive outburst, Burrows’ nose for the net, Samuelsson’s response to the snub, Raymond’s breakout year and Kesler’s ascent to the next tier of forwards, it’s no surprise that this team doesn’t have one singular face. This team has learned to find a way to win. What’s more important, and most important is they’ve found a way to win without having to rely on Luongo to perform near miracles on an almost nightly basis. The Canucks chemistry is at an all time high and with the number of players having career years what makes this year’s edition of the Vancouver Canucks unique is their ability to step up individually and carry this team when it needs someone to take the reigns. The most perfect example was Samuelsson and his second period hat trick against the Avalanche, but in the streaks various different Canucks players have thrown together it’s clear that when there is a hole in the offense or defense someone steps up.

On a blue line that has struggled from the get go and had to give more responsibility to the likes of everyone’s favourite Canuck Shane O’Brien, Christian Ehrhoff has come in and stepped up. The German Olympian who is having an outstanding year on the blue line has scored key goals for the Canucks on several occasions this season. Heck, even O’Brien has buttoned down and become a responsible defenceman. While he might have the odd defensive breakdown, he’s strayed from racking up the penalty minutes and he’s stepped up to the increased responsibility as the Canucks infirmary tries to spit players out as fast as they come in.

This year’s Canucks are not defined by one player but by many. They’re not defined by one success story, and the story around this year’s team has not been about individuals. It’s been about a team that’s had to come together over the adversity of injury, the obstacle of the NHL’s longest road trip, and the sportsmanship of a game which saw players go from teammates to rivals and back to teammates in the span of two weeks. This year’s Canucks are defined by their city, their fans, and their desire to win. This year’s Canucks are defined by a coach that’s on the verge of being a miracle worker, and players that buy into the team picture. This year’s Canucks are defined by players that step up when they have to, not when they’re called out to. This year’s Canucks define what it means to be a team.

Feb 212010
 

At first I was worried that the 7 Canucks participating in the 2010 Olympics were going to come back to the regular season fatigued and unrested, but now that you look at the games and the roles each player representing their country has, it looks like the Olympics are catering to their individual needs in a funny kind of way.

Luongo

The one thing Luongo needed was rest. It’s clear at this point that Brodeur is going to take the games the rest of the way and after Luongo got his chance in front of the home town crowd and put up a shutout, riding the pine is perfect. He’s going to get the two weeks rest he needs while still getting in practices and staying game ready. That’s exactly what we need if we want him to be ready for when the break’s over. If Luongo’s ready to go it saves us having to struggle through the first few games as “he finds his game”

Henrik and Daniel

Henrik and Daniel after being hotter than hot lost their groove and fell into a rut. Now back in Vancouver representing Sweden they seem to have found their cycle game again. If they can work out their kinks in this two weeks they’re going to be in the right place game-wise when the Canucks road trip resumes.

Demitra

Demitra is getting better with each game. After slowly finding his game just before the Olympic break that unfortunate situation with his mother in law proved to be an obstacle in his return. However he’s proving now that his goal and shootout winner before the Olympics are just the start of Pavol returning healthy. He’s continued his game with an assist and a massive shootout winner to help his under dog Slovaks beat a Russian team touted to be unstoppable. This games is only helping Demitra become better for his return to the Canucks lineup post Olympics.

Ehrhoff, Salo, Kesler

Ehrhoff, Salo and Kesler have been a few of the things on the Canucks that have actually been working despite an interesting start to the NHL’s longest road trip ever. The Olympics doesnt help them get their game back, but keeps them in game shape for when they return and need to try and finish this road trip above .500 in a fight for the Northwest. Kesler’s playing for the US the same way he does for the Canucks, like a man possessed. It’s a true testament to his character and game. Ehrhoff and Salo staying in game shape is the best thing we can ask for as they’re two intricate parts of a powerplay we desperately need to kickstart on the second half of this road trip.

All in all the Olympics are turning out to be just-what-the-doctor-ordered for the Canucks versus this draining tournament that was going to affect the Canucks in the long term and result in a bunch of superstars fatiguing down the stretch when it mattered most. Funny how things work out.

Feb 082010
 

Don’t all our Olympians look ADORABLE? They have a slightly nerdy vibe going on like they have apples behind their backs for Steve Yzerman and promises to clean Brian Burke’s chalkboard after practice. They even split up the twins *Gasp*

Dec 182009
 

This team is not big, it’s not tough. It’s turned into a skilled team that needs to out skate and out work it’s opponents to win versus out thugging them. We don’t have a lot of grit but the grit we have does the job, which is why I can’t for the life of me figure out why Kesler’s game as of late has changed. If anyone’s noticed Kesler lately his play’s turned from skilled play-maker into skilled pest play-maker. He’s getting in places he’s not supposed to, and he’s even trying to start fights.

The Canucks have a boat load of players that can drop the gloves and the third and fourth line are all gritty enough to take a swing at the other player. We’ve seen Hansen, Hordichuk, Glass, Johnson and Rypien drop the mitts and chuck knuckles, so I’ve been having a hard time trying to come up with a reason for Kesler being the target. If you notice night in and night out he gets run more than any of our other top six forwards and as a result he’s getting his face in places that we don’t need him to.

He’s a top play-maker, and he’s a vital part of our offence which at times (as we all know) sputters, but lately I’ve seen a shift in his play which can only be described as Burrows-esque. He’s getting heated and fiesty and it’s a side of Kesler we haven’t really seen, but also a side I don’t think we need to see. The more he perpetuates the badass image he’s portraying right now, the more he’s going to get run. It’s like he’s saying “I’m rugged and strong and I’m ready to show it”.

In the last handful of games there have been at least a couple of times he’s taken extra long to get up from a hit and I don’t see any other top six forwards take the beating he does. He’s crucial to the penalty kill, our second line, and our offense would struggle if we lost him because we certainly don’t have an abundance of secondary scoring. I just see the path he’s going on leading to injury. When the team has so many other players that can run their trap and take the heat for it and get into those dirty places, Kesler doesn’t need to play Sean Avery. If he does it’s going to come back to hurt him and to hurt this team.

Kesler’s a top play-maker, he’s a recognized player in the league and he doesn’t need to create a reputation. He’s established his reputation as a skilled offensive and defensively responsible forward. Adding a dose of pest to his game in my mind only lowers him to a level he’s far above. I’m just trying to figure out where this came from because it’s a totally different dimension of Kesler. It has its pros in short doses, but night in and night out is just a recipe for disaster.

Sep 072009
 

It’s good to hear that the Canucks are now setting their sights on signing Ryan Kesler to a contract extension (Jason Botchford, Vancouver Province; Elliott Pap, Vancouver Sun).

“Our intention was to begin speaking with [Kesler's agent Kurt Overhardt] once we got some other business taken care of,” Canucks GM Mike Gillis said. “And now we have that business taken care of.”

It was only a few months ago when Kesler talked about players signing less than market value contracts and give themselves a better chance at winning the Stanley Cup.

“That’s what we need everybody to do,” Kesler told The Province last March. “If we’re going to win the Cup, we need guys to take pay cuts. The way the salary cap is now, you really can’t get what you’re worth now if you want to win. Everybody in this locker-room knows that and for us to be a great team going forward, we’re going to have to take a pay cut.”

To varying extents, you could argue that Alex Burrows, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and Roberto Luongo have all done that, and now, it’s Kesler’s turn to walk the talk.

With 59 points – including 32 points in his final 32 games last season – and a Selke trophy nomination, it’s obvious that he outperformed his $1.75 million contract. The question is whether or not his point-a-game pace was a fluke or is more indicative of his future potential.

In 2007, the Edmonton Oilers signed Dustin Penner to a 5-year/$21.25 million contract ($4.25 mil/year) after Penner scored 29 goals and 45 points; he’s averaged 20 goals and 42 points since.

On the other hand, the Philadelphia Flyers signed Jeff Carter to a 3-year/$15 million contract ($5 mil/year) after Carter scored 29 goals and 55 points in the 2007/2008 season; he’s since followed it up with 46 goals last season.

This past off-season, notable comparables include David Booth (31G-29A-60P, 6-year/$25.5 million, $4.25 mil/year), Travis Zajac (20G-42A-62P, 4-year, $15.55 million, $3.887 mil/year), and Ryan Clowe (22G-30A-52P, 4-year/$15 million, $3.75 mil/year).

As a 25-goal, 60-point guy, Kesler deserves a contract worth at least $4 million per year. (At least that’s what the RFA market currently dictates.) Will he play well enough to actually earn it? And if he does, is he willing to take a bit less like he’s preached in the past?

Jun 302009
 

Ryan Kesler continues to get recognition for his breakout season. Fresh from his first Selke nomination as the NHL’s best defensive forward, he was named today to Team USA’s orientation camp roster.

Among the forwards, Kesler joins guys like Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel – not a bad group to be associated with. The rest of the roster is here.

Incidentally, David Backes was named to the roster as well. Maybe Kes will get a chance to say “hi” to Kelly in person.

May 152009
 

- Cody Hodgson made his Moose debut tonight and scored his first pro point as the Moose took game one against the Aeros 2-1. That’s so exciting! If Canucks fans get what they’re hoping for, Cody won’t spend much time at all with the Moose, but it’s nice to see he’s fitting in so well. It sounds like Cory Scheider was great as well because the baby Canucks were outshot 32-18. It’s going to be good news for Gillis if guys like Cody, Cory, and Michael Grabner can step in for the big team next season. Game summary here

- The Canucks website is putting out specials about the mum’s trip and the players that brought their mummies and they are absolutely charming. So far we’ve learned that Willie Mitchell was in the shower when the Devils drafted him and asked his Grandma to take a message, Ryan Kesler was the only 8 year old that knew what backchecking was, Alex Burrows’ mummy asked him to speak to her class of students, and Mason Raymond knows how ride a horse and played hockey with his dog.

- Darcy Hordichuk wrote his last blog of the season and it is pretty delightful. It’s been fun learning a bit more about him behind the scenes and he really seemed to love playing in Vancouver this past year.

- Richard and J.J are doing a great job of covering the Canucks UFAs and the whole discussion over keeping Lui or not, so I figured I would do a little research about some of the baby draft picks the Canucks could possibly pick in June. I went to the draft last year and it was a total blast. These little babies in suits make me cooo. You just want them to do well. We’ve got to pass this off season somehow, so look for that in the next few days.

- My most favourite Swede and hockey boyfriend Matty Ohlund is really sounding like he’s leaving Vancouver. It makes me a sad panda but I guess all good things have to come to end eventually. He’s a classy gent and he understands and I’m sure he’ll be fab wherever he goes. But anyways, darlings, this means I’m going to be out a favourite player next season. Any thoughts on what Canuck I should line up for next season? I might do a series of posts on that later in the off season. It’s going to be jumping around here don’t you worry!

May 052009
 
May 012009
 

The 10 day break was long and hard for fans and for the players. So much so that Bieksa and Kesler even got into it a little bit in practice. But that’s a good thing. It showed they still had their edge.

First game against the Blackhawks was everything people expected and then some. A rollercoaster of emotion GM Place went from being louder than a jet engine, to being so quiet you could hear mice scurrying around in the rafters. The Canucks didn’t show an abundance of rust, and they didn’t show an a lot of over confidence either. They played 45 minutes in a 60 minute game and one could argue came out on the lucky end of the draw.

In the first period the Canucks rust showed, they were unable to keep pucks in at the blue line, they were messing up routine plays. At the start of the third they let their over confidence show a little, and who better than the Canucks to show you how to blow a 3 goal lead. Hordichuck’s penalty was a bad one, a costly one, and a big turning point in the game.

While the Canucks did surrender 3 unanswered to blow that huge usually-safe-when-other-teams-have-it lead the reassuring thing was that none of the goals Luongo let in were bad. Luongo after letting in only 5 goals in the four games against St. Louis can now say he’s had his bad game. He looked solid despite the lack of game time in the last week and a half and the whole team looked like they used game one as a get-back-in-the-groove-of-things game. They escaped with the win and I’ve never seen Sami Salo so excited in my entire life.

In Game 2 the Canucks are going for a franchise record 6th straight playoff win, they’ve currently tied their franchise record of 5 playoff wins in a row which they accomplished twice during their ’94 cup run, and their 9th win a row including their last three games of the regular season. In that time Luongo is 8-0 with 3 shutouts.

The Canucks and Blackhawks both looked timid in the first game. The Canucks were getting back into things, the Blackhawks were still tired from round one and were struggling to find their game during the first two periods, and both teams were feeling out the refs. I have a feeling Game 2 is going to be faster, fiestier, and even better than the first game. The rust covered confidence the Canucks had in the first game is out the window. They found their legs towards the end of the game and as the game progressed you could tell they were falling into sync with each stride they took. What better matchup to headline Canada’s favourite Saturday past time, Hockey Night in Canada, than showcasing what is now “Canada’s Team”, the Canucks, as they are the last remaining Canadian team in the hunt for Stanley. Canucks and Blackhawks game 2 is going to see a lot more hitting and energy.

Oh yeah, and that Khabibulin guy, still hasn’t beaten us since 1998.

Apr 292009
 

It’s almost over. Canucks fans were in an unprecedented situation where they had time to watch the other series while their players were on a 10 day break thanks to a first round sweep of the Blues. After a thrilling first round which saw upsets and stunners, everything from the President Trophy winner getting ousted by the 8 seed in the west, to the Hurricanes stunning the Devils in the last minute of the third period. If the second round is anything like the first we’re in for a treat.

The series is going to come down to the usual keys: goaltending, special teams, defense – but the most important factors are going to be home ice, wear and tear, and experience.

The Canucks have been solid on home ice this season and it looks like that last minute surge that saw them grab the top spot in the Northwest is paying dividends after all. Their home record speaks for itself and with a rested squad you know the Canucks are ready to go.

Series predictions are built on ifs and buts, and as always everything depends on if the Canucks come out flying, if Luongo is on his game, if the defense can shut things down, and if the scoring is there. The Canucks proved that they are here to play. One of the key factors is going to be who can out last the other. The Blackhawks faced a Flames team that was depleted, but which gave Chicago a much more physical series than they wanted. The Blackhawks are more a finesse team and in the fight to win 4 through 7 games they’ve been battered and bruised with only have a couple of days to recoup. On the other hand, the Canucks have had over a week to heal up, get themselves mended and are going to come out with fresh legs. Everyone’s worried about the Canucks coming out flat, that’s not going to be an issue. With Bieksa and Kesler showing that they still have that edge, getting at each other in practice, it’s clear the Canucks are still ready to go, as feisty as ever, and haven’t lost that spark.

The wear and tear factor is going to be put to the test. The way the last regular season meeting between these two teams went there’s bound to be some bad blood in the first game and if the Canucks can keep their emotions in check they might be able to take advantage of the careless mistakes Ben Eager and the fourth line are likely to make in their 45 seconds of game ice time. The Canucks have the edge up again because when it comes to bumping and bruising, we have a team that can hit, and hit hard. That and I’m sure Bieksa’s out to lay the body on a couple of Blackhawks in particular.

I’m not bought into the whole “experience” being a tangible factor and difference maker in a series. That’s a discussion for a different post, but when you look at the ‘Hawks, Khabibulin has close to, if not more playoff experience than the whole team put together. (oh right, they also have that Brent Sopel guy who played a few games for us in the playoffs. He’s also the guy that threw out his back picking up a cracker. Just saying) The Canucks have a couple playoff freshmen of their own, but on th whole you’re looking at a team with some solid playoff experience which has taught them lessons they’ll never forget. Just ask Luongo, I’m sure he’ll tell you after the Anaheim series he re-read his contract and realized it wasn’t his job to play referee and it isn’t in his job description at all.

When you look at the series, everything points in the Canucks favour. Their special teams are clicking, their ‘Tending is hot, the defense is on lock down so tight you’d think they were quarantining swine flu, and the Sedins have come to play. The Canucks have the edge up on the Blackhawks in almost every way. The series is going to be hard fought. The Blackhawks aren’t just going to give up, and we’re going to see some of the best hockey of this playoffs so far. Khabibulin after splitting the season starting with Huet has elevated his game and with Luongo’s play as of late this is going to be a goalie’s duel for the ages.

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