In this episode of the CHB TV video podcast, Matt Lee, Clay Imoo and J.J. Guerrero talk about the improved production from the Canucks’ second line and back end. Also, more on the team’s goalie tandem.
Two years ago, I would never have written this post on Kevin Bieksa.
At least, if I did, it would have had a completely different angle and would most likely be titled, “Kevin Bieksa and His Contract Years: I TOLD YOU SO!” or something along those lines.
For years I was a firm believer that Bieksa was a contract year player, and as the Canucks entered the 2010/2011 season, I said to many friends, “Watch. Bieksa will play great, they’ll re-sign him, then he’ll slip back into mediocrity again.”
Some might say that I was right when I said that. But now I don’t want to be right.
I want to be wrong. In fact, I was wrong.
I understand how strange that sounds coming from a woman, and a Canucks fan on top of that, but it’s true.
Bieksa has grown on me, not only as a player, but as a person. Call it what you will, but for whatever reason, I am now rooting for KB3 to rise above the fan base’s pigeonholing and prove people wrong. Sound familiar, Luongo?
Maybe Bieksa does perform better in contract years; stats do prove that, but it’s not that simple, and I was ignorant and an idiot to ever think it was.
There’s a 13-page discussion on Canucks.com’s fan forum discussing this exact topic. Here’s a fan’s comment that basically sums up Bieksa’s critics:
“It was funny how everyone jumped on the Bieksa bandwagon last year just like they did back in 06/07. He was horrid in between those years and yet everyone seems to have forgotten that.”
To me, it seems that what people have forgotten isn’t how “horrid” Bieksa was; they’ve forgotten what happened to Bieksa during those years.
It’s all about circumstances.
After Bieksa’s first full year with the Canucks in 2006/2007, he won the best defenseman and unsung hero awards from the team. He was then rewarded with a 3-year contract extension in July 2007.
But following this extension, Bieksa would miss nearly half that season and finish a minus-11. This wasn’t because Bieksa felt secure with his new contract and decided to play badly; it was because he suffered his first calf laceration by a skate only a month into the season.
I would hardly consider these circumstances to be a result of laziness or a sense of security in a new contract.
For the next two seasons, Bieksa would see numerous injuries and another calf laceration in December 2009 that sidelined him for another 27 games.
His next year with the Canucks in 2010/2011 was another contract year, and we all remember how successful that was for Bieksa, and thus for the team. He finished the season with a mind-blowing plus-32 rating, only second to the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara that season. Bieksa also played noticeably smarter hockey, leaving behind him his days of constant turnovers at the blue line or stupid penalties that would cost the team.
Bieksa’s composure changed, and with it, so did his defensive game.
It was, after all, Bieksa who scored that double-overtime goal against San Jose that sent the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final. Although the Canucks lost to the Bruins, Bieksa ended his 25 playoff games with the most goals and ice time of Canucks defensemen, despite playing injured.
In the summer, Bieksa was rewarded again for his great performance with a 5-year contract extension at $23 million with a NTC.
Immediately there were rumblings from the fan base that Bieksa would slip back into his “comfort zone” after being extended, and would possibly have another mediocre season. Then the season started, and it would appear that those rumblings weren’t far off.
After 19 games, Bieksa has six points and is a minus-7, giving his critics a reason to smirk.
Two years ago, I would have been smirking with them, but things change and people grow up. These opinions of Bieksa that were once mine now frustrate me, and remind me how fickle and demanding some fans are.
Did people so soon forget what happened over the summer?
Perhaps a fan’s recent comment that rang true the most for me was this one:
“It’s too early to start breaking down and assessing things…just off to a slow start… More so, the hangover of playing in a 7 game SCF is evident…couple that with a rough summer emotionally, and I think some of the guys are still ‘tired’. They’ll get their jump again.”
Where to start.
Let’s start with the over-discussed Stanley Cup hangover, plus the short offseason combined with the tragic death of Bieksa’s friend and close companion Rick Rypien.
To be blunt, give him a damn break.
If you need to remind yourself how close those two were, or maybe you weren’t even aware of it to begin with, re-read Iain MacIntyre’s fabulous article on their relationship to remind you.
“I felt he was as much my responsibility as anybody’s,” Bieksa said. “Looking back now, I wished I’d talked to him a little more in the summer.”
That article brought many fans to tears.
So if you want to sit there and accuse Bieksa of playing poorly because he got a contract extension, you’re going to come off as a callous couch jockey. It’s easy to sit there and judge from your living room, pointing fingers and bringing up things like salary, isn’t it?
You know what’s not easy? Feeling the pressure to perform perfectly night after night under the microscope that is Vancouver, all while grieving the loss of the Cup, and the loss of a little brother.
In my opinion, which doesn’t mean much, he’s doing the best that he can, and considering it’s only November and how others are struggling on the team as well, that’s good enough for me.
It’s good enough because Bieksa is human. He has a big heart, he’s a great friend on and off the ice and he’s one hell of a hockey player.
I can wait.
So Bieksa, take all the time you need. I’m behind you.
“And so here come the Canucks, the same group of whining cheap-shot artists who alternate between diving and slashing when they’re not sucker-punching or biting, all while refusing to drop their sticks.”
“[Schneider]’s the better goaltender right now and probably was a year ago, but the Canucks didn’t have the guts to play the right guy.”
“Of course, gutless is synonymous with Canucks.”
Ladies and gentleman, if you haven’t met before, you’ve just been introduced to Chicago-based columnist Barry Rozner from the Daily Herald. These quotes come from Thursday’s column which he wrote in anticipation of Sunday’s hockey game.
I’d say Rozner is back “with a vengeance” if it weren’t for the dribbling bellyaching he uses as a sorry approach to sports journalism… if you can call it sports journalism. He’s written multiple nasty articles on the Canucks, labelling them as “cowards” whose name would “dishonor the Cup.” In fact as a writer, he should know better than to overuse a term in one article, in his case, “gutless.”
Ah, Rozner, a man from humble beginnings who worked hard to get into the sports writing industry. If you read about his background, he seems like any other sportswriter – hardworking and ambitious, with shining, beady eyes that once dreamt of a bright career in journalism.
But then you read some of his columns and wonder, “How much did this guy get beat up as a kid?”
Outside of Chicago, Rozner is best known to Canucks fans, a group he quite obviously enjoys enraging whenever possible. Seriously, I think this guy’s a little evil. I’ve perused his other columns and haven’t witnessed anything close to the kind of tactless, over-exaggerating “writing” he seems to save for the Canucks.
In fact, most of his other columns are just damn boring. And maybe that’s the thing; maybe Rozner knows that pissing off Vancouver Canucks fans gets him attention he can’t garner from anything else he produces; attention that draws the highest amount of viewers to his articles. After all, the more hits his articles get, the happier his editors are. It’s all about the numbers.
And there are a hell of a lot of Canucks fans across North America, and even more people who love to hate the Canucks (as Rozner lovingly points out himself). Combine the two by writing a provocative article on the Canucks that no one can ignore, and you have a lot a lot of hits, don’t you?
Give him some credit; he knows what he’s doing.
Sure, maybe Rozner really does hate the Canucks – a word he actually uses over and over to describe them – but if you read any of his attacks on Vancouver (the city, its team, its fans), and manage to look past the bullying and macho vocabulary, you’ll find something quite simple underneath it all:
Holy shit, whoever wrote that must know Barry Rozner!
We all know internet trolls. They hide behind their computer screens and smart phones, firing off one-sided personal attacks and ignorant commentary without fear of real-life repercussions. They’re everywhere, and they’re cowards.
Sound familiar, Rozner readers?
If you’re a fan, it’s easy to get angry when you read any of Rozner’s anti-Canucks articles. He’s actually quite triumphant at being nasty, and many of his points hit close to home (and aren’t necessarily wrong either). It’s how he delivers his points that make him sound more like a petulant child than a professional journalist, considering his attacks got nastier after the Canucks tossed his beloved Blackhawks from the playoffs.
But remember, if you get angry you’re just feeding the troll. Be smarter than him, and remember he just wants the views and the expected attention. He feeds off of it. It’s sad, really, how someone would forfeit their dignity as a journalist for some notice and a few more website hits.
I wonder if he and Rick Reilly are golf buddies?
Oh, and Barry, I’d like to see you call Kevin Bieksa a gutless, whining cheap shot to his face. Actually, I’m sure there are enough Canucks fans out there who’d gladly pay you to give it a try.
But you won’t, not for any amount of money. Hell, you won’t even speak with Vancouver media about your writing or respond to the Canucks fans you love to torment.
After all, why would you? You have your computer screen to hide behind.
I guess the term “gutless” isn’t only synonymous with the Canucks now, is it Barry?
[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. Clay is also a finalist in the "Replace the KB" blogging competition for the Province and you can see all of his submissions for the contest here.]
With back-to-back victories over the Washington Capitals and Calgary Flames last week, it looked as if the Vancouver Canucks were going to put a mediocre October safely in their rear-view mirror. Well, the Canucks didn’t get too far before returning to their middling October ways with losses to the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. Let’s call a spade a spade and look at 5 things that make me go hmmm…
5. National Anthems. Lastly, and staying on the Canada theme, just a small thing I noticed last year that bugs the heck out of me. Why is that all 3 networks (CBC, TSN and SN) only show Canucks during the Canadian national anthem and never during the American national anthem? Let me explain. I get the fact that when playing at Rogers Arena against a team from a US city, that the Canucks are obviously the “home team”. And vice-versa when then Canucks are playing in the States. And I get the fact that when playing in the States, they are only playing O Canada because it’s the Canucks. But I still find it funny that we as viewers are to presume that all Canucks are Canadians and other opposing players are American. I first noticed it in the Chicago Blackhawks playoff series last spring. During the Star Spangled Banner, the camera would focus on crowd shots and the Blackhawks, including Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook (before he got knocked out) – all 3 stalwarts on the Canada’s 2010 Winter Olympic Team. And then, during O Canada, we got shots of not only Luongo (Canadian) but shots of the Sedins (Sweden) and Kesler and Higgins (American) as well. Although admittedly unrealistic, I would love it if the cameras focused on American-born players from both teams during the American anthem and Canadian-born players for the Canadian anthem. Look for this during the next few games on TV.
The Canucks barely have any time to lick their wounds as they face their nemesis Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday. This will likely go one of two ways: either the Canucks pick their game up for one of their biggest rivals or they come out with even less confidence and more discombobulated than they already are. What will happen? Hmmm….
Let’s get one thing out in the open: Kevin Bieksa is not Christian Ehrhoff, and that’s as much of a good thing as it is a bad thing.
When Mike Gillis made the decision to let Ehrhoff go so that he could retain Bieksa over the offseason, few Canucks fans even batted an eye, let alone flinched. And few would, given Bieksa’s heroics during the playoffs (Ehrhoff, conversely, was hit-or-miss throughout the postseason).
The price tag wasn’t cheap — $23-million over five years ($4.6-million for those crunching the numbers). On July 1 when Bieksa inked the extension, other blueliners were signing contracts for far more extravagant prices (James Wisniewski at 6 years, $33M and Ed Jovanovski at 4 years, $16.5M).
But the honeymoon between the fans and Bieksa’s play has long worn off since then. Defensively, he’s been a nightmare, caught swimming in his own end, making out-of-character passes up the middle, and finding himself making unnecessary pinches in order to generate offensive plays. A lot of these traits could be expected out of Ehrhoff, who again isn’t exactly a defensive stud, but not Bieksa, who was arguably the Canucks’ steadiest defenceman outside of Dan Hamhuis.
Simply put, Kevin Bieksa is trying to do too much. Maybe he’s trying to replace some of the offensive void left by Ehrhoff, who put up a 50 spot last season, but by trying to do too much, he’s making mistakes he doesn’t normally make. Bieksa was at his best last season when he kept his game simple, strong first passes out of the zone and a constant snarl around the Canucks crease.
This isn’t the first time Bieksa has been in a funk. We saw this version a lot two years ago. During last spring’s playoffs, Alain Vigneault attributed Bieksa’s improved play to the fact the blueliner “stopped chasing the game”. Somewhere in that hard exterior of KB3, that simplified game is just dying to re-emerge.
Bieksa, stop chasing the game. Let the game come to you.
[Every Sunday, Caylie King looks at the Canucks week that was and the Canucks week ahead. You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing).]
8 GP, 4-3-1, 9 points (2nd in Northwest Division, 6th in Western Conference)
Last week, the Canucks were shut out against the Rangers, the second time they’ve been held off the scoresheet this season. The boys were the better team for most of the game, but were unable to capitalize on their chances against King Lundqvist. The Canucks also pounded the Predators – a lopsided 5-1 win – and won an overtime squeaker against the Wild, thanks to Sami Salo and his balls of steel.
Reigning Art Ross champion and Ted Lindsay award winner, Daniel Sedin, has had a great start to the season. He currently has 12 points (4G-8A) to lead the team in scoring. He and brother Henrik have combined for 22 points (7G-15A) already – to put that into perspective both have generated the same number of points than the next 5 highest scoring players on the Canucks combined!
The defensive pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Keith Ballard is a risk and reward type of relationship. They are both great skaters and willing to join the rush but they have also had trouble getting back and tying up their men. It’s been evident that Keith Ballard is playing some of his best hockey in a Canucks uniform; he is skating well, he gets into the dirty areas and he likes to chirp and get under the skin of opposing players. That being said, KB3 and KB4 have the worst plus/minus ratings on the team. They only have 1 goal and 1 assist between the two of them. Either they need to change their mentality to defensive first, join the rush later or AV needs to mix up the pairings and put a more stay-at-home defenseman with Ballard and maybe reunite the shutdown pair of Hamhuis-Bieksa.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011 vs. Edmonton Oilers (6:30 PM start, away)
In their last meeting just over a week ago, the Canucks witnessed the talent of young star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins when he scored his first career hat-trick. In that contest, the Canucks overcame several one-goal deficits and battled back to win the game 4-3. Since then, the Oilers have points in 3 of 4 games and are sitting just outside the top 8 in the Western Conference.
The Oilers have yet to beat a Northwest Division opponent this season (0-2-2). With a team-leading 5 goal and 7 points, RNH is having the best possible start to his rookie season. The Canucks saw his hockey sense and goal scoring instinct first-hand so perhaps the Canucks would want to pay special attention to number 93.
Thursday October 26, 2011 vs. St. Louis Blues (7:00 PM start, home)
The St. Louis Blues are on a bit of a streak having won both of their weekend games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers.
The Blues had a losing record against the Northwest division last season going 7-10-3, including a 2-2 tie against the Canucks.
Against the Canucks last season, Alex Steen had 5 points (4G-1A). The Blues will look for much of the same as he and new comer Jason Arnott lead the team in scoring with 6 points (3G-3A) and 7 points (3G-4A), respectively.
There seems to be a legitimate battle in net for the Blues as their backup Brian Elliott has gone 3-0 this season with a 2.06 GAA and a .935 save percentage. On the other hand, starter Jaroslav Halak has struggled with a 1-4 record with a 3.47 GAA and .835 save percentage.
Saturday, October 29, 2011 vs. Washington Capitals (7:00 PM start, home)
Alexander the Gr8 and the Washington Capitals have had a dream start to the season, going 7-0-0 so far, including a 7-1 beating of the Detroit Red Wings; at the time, the Caps and the Wings were the only 2 unbeaten teams in the league.
It’s always exciting to see Eastern Conference teams play in Vancouver, it’s especially exciting to see the likes of team scoring leader, Nicklas Backstrom (2G-8A-10P), Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, and of course, the always entertaining Ovechkin. The Caps addressed a major issue in the off-season, boosting their blueline with the additions of Dennis Wideman, who is second in team scoring with 7 points (2G-5A), and veteran Roman Hamrlik.
With a solid veteran presence on the back end, their always potent firepower up front, and now, a consistent goalie in Tomas Vokoun, the Caps are hoping to finally translate their regular season production to postseason success.
A Shoutout to the 4th Line
Having a good top-six is needed to win games, but having a gritty, hardworking bottom-six who can change the course of game is vital as well. Do we all remember the effect that Shawn Thornton had on the Bruins?
I believe the line of Volpatti-Lapierre-Weise is the best 4th line that the Canucks have had in a long time. These three gentlemen have been the biggest surprises for me this season. They are not afraid to play physically and get to the dirty areas. They’re able to maintain a strong forecheck, and most importantly, they’re not a liability when they’re on the ice. The 4th line’s energy and enthusiasm can change the atmosphere of the game with one great shift. They have the ability to get the bench going with one bone crushing hit. If they continue to play the way they are as well as chip in offensively every now and then, the issue of the revolving door, that we saw all of last season, will no longer be a problem.
Some quick thoughts now that the draft is done, the Moose have moved and free agency being just a few days away.
(Update: TSN’s Bob McKenzie just tweeted that Kevin Bieksa has agreed to terms on a new contract. More to come later.)