Apr 042012
 

With 98% of the NHL season behind us, it’s time to fill in an imaginary awards ballot.

But before we get to that, let’s take a moment to consider two more dead teams:

Calgary Flames

What went wrong: No team had an easier stretch drive schedule among teams fighting for the last Western Conference playoff spots than the Flames did. They failed to reach the post season because they couldn’t score. The Flames as a team are currently 25th in shots on goal per game. They’re 3-9 in shootouts, rivalling Montreal (5-11) and Carolina (0-6) for the league’s worst record in the skills competition. Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross will finish the year as the team’s lone 20-goal scorers. None of them are consistent (Iginla’s slow starts have become legendary). Calgary sits last in the league in faceoff performance.

What went right: Mikka Kiprusoff carried the team all season with stellar play between the pipes. When finally healthy for the second-half Mark Giordano played well. He has 16 points after the All-Star break and has helped Calgary reach 11th in the NHL on the powerplay. Mike Cammalleri has struggled to stay healthy with the Flames but when dressed has scored at a 30-goal pace.

Off-Season Gameplan: It’s been said in this space more than once, but this aging Calgary team desperately needs a rebuild. After three years of missing the playoffs there’s clearly not enough talent in the lineup to reach the post-season. There isn’t enough organizational depth right now either to create hope for better days in the future. This may the last chance Calgary gets to shop Jarome Iginla before seeing his value depreciate completely on the marketplace.

Winnipeg Jets

What went wrong: There was lots of talk pre-season about what the travel schedule would do to not only the Jets, but other teams in the Southeast Division. Clearly it was a factor for the Manitoba team, as Winnipeg has put together a terrible road record (13-21-5). The penalty kill is below 80%, which hurts a team that’s short-handed a lot (25th worst). As well as Ondrej Pavelec has been at times this season, he tired down the stretch (3.13 goals against in March) and currently ranks 57th in the league in save percentage (.906). Alex Burmistrov was improved this season, but his offensive progression has been slow (just 28 points in year two). Eric Fehr (3 points, 35 games) was a bust, while Tanner Glass (-12) was asked to do too much.

What went right: Blake Wheeler (61 points) and Evander Kane (29 goals) have taken steps forward as top-six, even top-line players. Dustin Byfuglien has had a strong second-half. Off the scrap-heap, Kyle Wellwood has been an effective offensive player (47 points despite just 14:57 per game in ice-time). The MTS Centre has proven to be one of the few home-ice advantages left in the NHL.

Off-Season Gameplan: Continue to build around a very solid core. Veteran depth, particularly the type that could improve the defensive side of Winnipeg’s game, would be helpful. Mark Scheifele will get the Burmistrov treatment next year. If Scheifele’s ready, he could supply enough offense to bring the playoffs back to Manitoba.

***

Now with that little bit of ugly business out of the way, let’s take a quick look at who deserves award recognition for the 2011-2012 NHL season.

Hart Trophy – Evgeni Malkin

Runners-up: Jason Spezza; Henrik Lundqvist

Malkin has been arguably the league’s best player this year. Lundqvist is probably the most valuable, but goalies rarely win this award. A Hart nomination is the feather-in-the-cap to a marvellous season from Jason Spezza.

Norris Trophy – Zdeno Chara

Runners-up: Alex Pieterangelo; Erik Karlsson

Chara wins because he’s put forth his strongest offensive season while retaining defensive dominance (+33 leads all d-men). Karlsson’s had a magical season but his defensive play remains average. Under Ken Hitchcock, Alex Pieterangelo has arrived, breaking the 50-point barrier but more importantly playing extremely well defensively night in, night out.

Vezina Trophy – Henrik Lundqvist

Runners-up: Jonathan Quick; Mike Smith

The Rangers success gives Lundqvist the nod over Quick, whose Los Angeles Kings team have been in a playoff dogfight all season. Mike Smith’s career rejuvenation in Phoenix gives him a slight edge over the two St. Louis Blues goalies (Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott) who’ve split too much playing time to be considered.

Selke Trophy – Patrice Bergeron

Runners-up: David Backes; Anze Kopitar

Bergeron wins almost 60% of his draws and is one of the league’s premiere penalty killers. Backes has flourished under Ken Hitchcock, leading Blues forwards in goals, points, hits and blocked shots. Kopitar deserves greater recognition, is leading the Kings in points once again but, more importantly to this category, has been Los Angeles best defensive player as well.

Calder Trophy – Gabriel Landeskog

Runners-up: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; Matt Read

Not only is Landeskog tied for the rookie points lead, but he’s an incredible +23 and has played in all situations for the Avs down the stretch. He’s a future captain. Nugent-Hopkins is the most offensively-gifted rookie, but injuries have prevented him from running away with the freshman scoring crown. Matt Read leads all rookies in goals and has become an important player in the Flyers lineup.

Adams Trophy – Ken Hitchcock

Runners-up: Paul Maclean; John Tortorella

Hitchcock’s turned a middle-of-the-pack team into arguably the best team in the Western Conference. Paul Maclean has done wonders in Ottawa, taking a Sens team destined for a lottery pick into the playoffs. Tortorella’s nomination is a reward for guiding a team that’s out-performed its roster’s talent level all season.

 THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Another take on possible NHL awards, this one from ESPN.
  • Let’s just get this out of the way: Mike Milbury was a joke as a general manager and he’s a joke as a commentator. His take on league affairs is almost always neanderthal and ultra-traditionalist. Attacking Sidney Crosby gets your name in the paper though.
  • This definitely should be on any list of craziest goals of the year. It also epitomizes the difference in heart between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.
  • At this point, wouldn’t it be for the best for everyone if the Washington Capitals missed the playoffs, fired their coach, and re-built their approach around Ovechkin’s offense than see the gutsy Sabres (one of the best teams in the NHL since the All-Star Game) come up short?
  • Quietly, Willie Mitchell’s having one of the best defensive defenseman seasons in the NHL this year. Granted, the ultra-conservative Kings gameplay helps in that regard.
  • Still without a contract, you have to expect the Edmonton Oilers are ready to walk away from Tom Renney. The talk is Todd Nelson, coach of Edmonton’s AHL farm team, will get a long look. Hard to believe he’s the guy who can take this young team to the next level.
  • It’s a small sample size, but the Nashville Predators are 4-3 in Alex Radulov’s seven games. The big Russian has 3 goals, 6 points in that span and has fit extremely well into the lineup.
  • For all of those people ready to anoint the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh, let’s acknowledge the fact that the Penguins are actually 25th in the NHL in team save percentage. Marc-Andre Fleury, not Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby, will have the biggest say in how far the Penguins go in the playoffs.
  • Speaking of which, the Chicago Blackhawks, for what it’s worth, are 27th in the NHL in team save percentage. Numbers-wise, Chicago’s entering the post-season with the worst goaltending amongst remaining teams.
  • Some other interesting Pre/Post-All-Star Game numbers: Winnipeg was 22nd in league scoring during the first half; 3rd so far in the second half. Buffalo was 25th in the first-half; 5th in the second half. Going the other way, Vancouver was 3rd in the first half scoring-wise; 15th in the second half. Washington was 9th in the first half; 26th in the second half.
  • Defensively, the Bruins have gone from 4th in the first half to 22nd in the second half. Minnesota from 8th in the first half to 25th and Pittsburgh from 10th to 23rd. Improving their defensive play in the second half were teams like Buffalo (26th to 7th), Anaheim (23rd to 8th), Colorado (21st to 5th) and Ottawa (27th to 13th).
Dec 262010
 
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks Team Store had their annual Boxing Day Sale today. Here are a few (unneeded) items they had available for sale:

  • Jannik Hansen’s hands of stone – In the past 6 games since moving to the second line with Ryan Kesler and Jeff Tambellini, Hansen has 3 points (1 goal – 2 assists). I know it’s a modest 0.5 points per game average, but consider he had 7 points (2 goals – 5 assists) in the previous 28 games – a 0.25 points per game average.
  • Tanner Glass’ plane ticket to Manitoba – The fourth line has seen a revolving cast of characters; no less than 11 players have suited up on the fourth line this season. About the only constant has been Glass.
  • Ryan Walters’ motivational posters – Sure didn’t help Steve Bernier’s confidence.
  • Cases of Eggo Waffles – The Leafs don’t come to Rogers Arena again until next season.
  • Kyle Wellwood’s game-worn jersey – Comes in size XL (but some smaller sizes available).
  • Robero Luongo’s goalie mask – Some markings. Looks like a ‘C’ under the cage.
  • Ryan Walters’ powerplay playbooks – The Canucks’ powerplay improved steadily with Walters behind the bench, but it’s really taken off this season with Newell Brown.
  • 40-Year Old Virgin DVDs – Because it hurts too damn much to watch. (Located next to the Canucks at 40 books – you know the one that reminds us that we’ve had a couple of good runs but haven’t won the whole thing yet.)
  • VIP passes to the Roxy – Previously belonged to Shane O’Brien.
  • Jeff Tambellini’s plane ticket to Manitoba – Kid’s got 14 points (8 goals – 6 assists) in 20 games and the Canucks are 16-1-3 with him in the lineup.
  • Floorball equipment – Must keep away from Sami Salo.
  • Green spandex tights – Surely The Green Men’s 15 seconds of fame is up, right? Right?
Apr 172010
 
Alex Burrows and Shane O'Brien high-five

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

The Canucks and Kings meet for Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal Series tonight at 7:00 PM. Does Drew Doughty dare go in Alex Edler’s space again? Will Pavol Demitra show up? Can Andrew Alberts cut back on the dumb penalties?

All this and more in today’s game day links:

Feb 092010
 

There have been a handful of players on the Canucks bottom six this year who have been questionable selections for the roster and it seem as each game goes by some of those spots are put even more-so into question because of extremely sub par play. Now it’s no secret I’m a huge Jannik Hansen fan, so naturally I’m upset when he gets unnecessarily scratched, or sent down on a conditioning stint, no matter how voluntary it was. With that in mind though, there’s got to be something else at play here that we’re not hearing about.

I know he has a two way contract and that works against him, but when I look at the play of players like Bernier you have to wonder what static there is between Hansen and Vigneault that keeps resulting in Hansen being put on the back burner. Hansen’s play has been solid, his work on the penalty kill as good as any of his equals (Bolduc, Bernier, Wellwood etc). He’s played his role to the T and as it goes he’s making the small plays to turn up ice, and the smart plays to get the puck out of the defensive zone.

His play hasn’t been outstanding, but it’s been well above average and it’s for this reason I can’t understand why he gets scratched in favour of a player like Bolduc. Hansen on any other team would be a staple 3rd liner. The fact that this team’s depth when combined with his two way contract works against him is unfortunate, but when you look at the absolutely awful play from the bottom six, Hansen seems like the necessary choice. His skating’s been better this year, and on nights when Hordichuk isn’t needed it would only make sense that Hansen slots in and yet it takes Demitra’s absence and Ryan Johnson’s lack of presence for Hansen to slot back in.

Hansen took a two way contract he was reluctant to sign just to stay with the Canucks, but I have a feeling the Dane, who will be a free agent this summer, is in his last season with the team. While I’d love to see him return, he’s as expendable at the deadline as any one of the other bottom six players and if he’s still a Canucks member at the end of the year I have a feeling he’s going to do the smart thing and head to another team.

Hansen slots in tonight for the Canucks and it’ll be nice to have a fresh set of legs on the team. Who knows how many more games he’ll get. While he deserves a spot over players like Wellwood, Bernier, and Hordichuk, I think there’s something greater at play that we’re just not hearing about. It just doesn’t make sense to sit a healthy forward like Hansen when Bernier and Wellwood have been in the ruts they have. There’s going through a slump, and there’s poor play. Wellwood’s days are numbered and if the Canucks want to turn their road play around, as well as make a serious run in the playoffs, they are going to have to ship out certain players from that bottom six, but one of those players that needs to remain is Hansen.

Feb 052010
 

[Editor's note: CHB would like to welcome Chris Golden as a contributor to the site. As you'll be able to see from his first post, he's a tough-love kinda guy. Don't worry, we think he'll come around after SOB scores a big goal in the playoffs.]

*****

Hidey ho folks!  Remember me?  No?!  I’m hurt. Some of you may recognize me from my witty (or witless) banter in the official Canucks Fan Zone Live Blog, others may know me more as@lyteforce from the vast twitterverse, and one of you probably hangs out at my blog. Regardless of how you know me, I happened to come across the keys to the front door of the Canucks Hockey Blog and thought I’d give ‘er a spin.

So before we start, let’s get one thing clear – I don’t “hate” the Canucks. Far from it. I’m completely enamoured with the team and tend to see things through Canucks-tinted sunglasses. It’s just a few players who I love to hate. It’s like how I hate Chris Pronger – he’s a great player, I’d love to see him patrolling the blue line for the Canucks, but I’d boo him anyway. That’s just how I roll.

Anywho, the first person on my Love to Hate list is obviously Shane O’Brien. Any opportunity I get, I’m on his case – it’s just that easy. SOB brings great size to the Canucks blueline and has some potential, but like how coal turns into diamonds, I just don’t have the patience to wait for the transformation. So I hate him. Whether he’s on the ice or not, I blame him for the goal. Or whenever there’s talk about retiring someone’s jersey, I point out that SOB’s should be hung in the penalty box. I’ll concede his play as of late has improved drastically, but I’m set in my ways.

The second person on the list is Sami Salo. Sami’s a great guy. He’s a solid D-man who brings stability on the blue line, has a booming slapper that could kill, can throw a breakout pass well enough to send Jim Sandlak in alone, and provides veteran leadership. The problem is these benefits are only available for the 20 games he’s healthy for, so I hate. Word is, Sami has one of those “this workplace has been injury free for” signs in his dressing stall for inspiration when he’s healthy for extended periods of time. It’s that bad. I’ve also heard from unreliable sources that the trainers always check on Sami after a thundering hit – even though he was sitting in the press box watching the game just in case the shockwave sets him back a few days.

I could go on forever, but I won’t. Here’s the rundown of my top 4 “love to hate” players:

  • Shane O’Brien
  • Sami Salo
  • Kyle Wellwood – The guy can stickhandle in a telephone booth, but plays like he actually is in one.
  • Kevin Bieksa – Sami Salo lite but with a frown.

So who do you love to hate? Or am I completely out to lunch? Let me know!

Apr 242009
 

I’ll admit over the course of the season I’ve been really harsh towards Taylor so I guess now I have to take it easy on him. Pyatt’s back in town and according to the team has resumed his full duties as a Canucks player. Again, my condolences go out to him and to the Bragnalo family, I can only imagine what it’s like for Taylor to have lost his high school sweetheart of 11 years.

That being said, it’s playoff time, we’re right in the thick of things and the question now is “Who/what/where/when/why to do with Pyatt”. Pyatt was at the end of the season finally skating a lot better, he’d managed to get a few points and it looked like he was settling in on the third line and finally clicking with his line mates. Then tragedy struck and off he goes and the bottom lines fill up nicely and form a cohesion that has wowed us all.

If Pyatt comes back and takes up his role on the third line we’re going to see that third line that has been fantastic split up. So is that third line playing so brilliantly because the players are playing well, or because they’ve got some sort of chemistry there? Either way, I’d be hesitant to split up Wellwood, Bernier and Raymond with the way they’ve been playing. They’ve been that energy line that’s been missing since Burrows got his 1st line promotion and Kesler locked up a spot alongside Sundin and Demitra.

Putting Pyatt on the 4th line might work well (even though my boy Hansen then gets the scratch) because with the way Johnson’s been playing with Rypien, the third man seems interchangeable. But is Pyatt really ready?

Here’s my issue, I feel for Pyatt, I really do. However, when you look at the team from a neutral perspective, Pyatt’s coming in as an emotional wreck. We know he’s close to the team, we know his fiance was close to the team, and I don’t want that flood of emotions to be brought into the locker room. We saw how the original shock of the event hit the players and the last thing this team needs is emotional instability to hit the team again. If Pyatt is ready to play (my criticism of him aside) I welcome him back with open arms. But here is a team that is at the top of it’s game. It’s got a new found chemistry that’s more like alchemy the way they’ve been cashing in lately, and I just want to see them do whatever is necessary to go all the way, whether or not that includes Pyatt.

Apr 212009
 
Apr 202009
 

In these playoffs it’s clear that the Canucks need to be firing on all cylinders. Everyone talks about the Sedins needing to step it up. They talk about Luongo needing to be on top of his game, but there’s one thing that can really be the X-Factor for this year’s Canucks playoff run and it is the play of 4 players. Particularly it is the 3rd line and Ryan Johnson.

Coming off game three where the Canucks faced their biggest challenge in a first period throttling that saw them spend half the period on the penalty kill. That’s where the X Factor shone brightest. Johnson in particular was key to shutting down the Blues and literally surviving a first period that could have broke the game wide open and let St. Louis back into the series.

If the Canucks plan on going far in this year’s playoffs they are going to need something that they haven’t had all season, that X Factor, the third line. In the first 3 games of the playoffs so far it’s been overwhelmingly clear that the Canucks have come to play. With a handful of Canucks playing in their first career playoffs the excitement hasn’t dried up yet and that’s really paying off for the Canucks.

Bernier has been showing hustle and speed that no one thought possible from him due to his play in the regular season. Raymond who we all knew could skate like the wind has been winning most races to the puck, especially on the penalty kill, and Wellwood’s play has improved exponentially since the Canucks played game one. Also, Rypien who’s been energized from his first game back is silently doing his thing. This third line is playing better than it has all year and I think that’s showing because Vigneault isn’t splitting them up very much.

Bernier’s quick reflexes got him a goal last night against the Blues as he handled a sweet, quick pass from Sedin to put it behind Mason who had no chance at all. Raymond and Wellwood along with Bernier are the key to a long run. When you look at the way the Sedins have made a statement, the way Kesler and Burrows have played as of late, and the leadership in the tending of Luongo, the last piece of the puzzle is if that third line of Bernier, Raymond and Wellwood can pull it together and play as consistently as they have recently. Wellwood’s itching for a goal and with the way he’s playing it’s only time before he gets one in the back of the net.

With primary scoring all figured out, Luongo looking more amazing than ever, and a defense that has once again regained its edge, we’re looking at a Canucks team that is more dangerous than this city has seen in years. With the energy and speed the 3rd line has been playing with, and the clutch play of Ryan Johnson both in the faceoff dot and on the ice (shot blocking) right now the Canucks look to be without flaw as they head into tomorrow night with a chance to sweep the Blues at home and record their first every best of 7 series playoff sweep.

The Canucks will go tomorrow for their 7th consecutive win, and have never swept a best-of-7 playoff series. They have one sweep in their franchise’s history and that was back in ’82 when the Canucks beat the Flames 3 games to none.

Apr 172009
 
Apr 082009
 
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