Dec 062011
 

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.

Dec 012011
 

[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.]

Mason Raymond, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: thescore.com

It’s been two weeks since my last post here at Canucks Hockey Blog.  In that time I found out that I wasn’t chosen to Replace the KB for The Province (read my thank you blog here), I channeled my inner-Shawn Stockman for last week’s CHB TV video podcast, and I attended the Grey Cup (and was interviewed for the CBC National News by Ian Hanomansingh).  More importantly, the Canucks have seemingly turned their season around by rattling off five straight wins.  And as always, there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm…

  1. Mason Raymond’s Return. There is much anticipation for the return of forward Mason Raymond tonight.  He’s expected to play on a line with Cody Hodgson and Jannik Hansen, effectively bumping Manny Malhotra down to the fourth line and Aaron Volpatti into the press box.  I would suggest that expecting any type of significant contribution from Raymond right away is expecting too much.  He hasn’t had a pre-season or training camp and he hasn’t played in a game since June 13.  And even if he does return to his pre-injury form, what type of form are we talking about?   Is it the 2009-2010 Raymond who scored 25 goals and 53 points and looked like he was ready to truly break out?  Or will it be the 2010-2011 Raymond who struggled to 15 goals in the regular season and only 2 goals in 24 playoff games?  Now don’t get me wrong: I’m absolutely thrilled that he’s been able to come back after suffering tissue damage and fractured vertebrae after being checked into the boards by Bruin Johnny Boychuk in last season’s Stanley Cup Finals.  All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t expect too much too soon.

    Perhaps looking over his shoulder at Raymond’s return, David Booth has quietly improved his play over the past two weeks, including a couple of points in his last three games.  Booth is looking more and more dangerous, and his 6 shots in the last game vs. the Blue Jackets matched a season high. Let’s hope it continues.

  2. An Unlikely Catalyst. After a middling start, the Canucks have risen to 6th place in the competitive Western Conference are only 4 points behind conference leaders Minnesota Wild with a game in hand.  Judging by the team’s play over the past two weeks, it’s obvious that the Canucks are a confident group and the vibe I get watching them is similar to the vibe I got last year when the team went on a torrid 17-1-2 run (in games 21 through 40) from November 24, 2010 to January 7, 2011.  This season, the Canucks have won all four of games 21 through 24 with Cory Schneider in net for all of them.  Since returning from an injury he suffered against the Islanders back on November 13, Luongo has been relegated to back-up status setting off yet another firestorm of speculation and pre-emptive claims of another goalie controversy brewing on the West Coast.  To be fair, there have been a few other factors contributing to the recent winning streak including better even-strength play and more balanced scoring from the forwards.  However, the primary reason is indeed the stellar play of Schneider.  It’s quite remarkable to think that at the end of the season we may look back and point to Luongo’s injury as the catalyst to the Canucks turning their season around.
  3. You Win One, You Lose One. It’s not the best sample size, but it’s still interesting that this is the second time that the BC Lions have won the Grey Cup in the same calendar year that the Vancouver Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Before this year, it last happened in 1994 when the Canucks lost to the Rangers and the Lions beat the Baltimore Stallions 26-23 on Lui Passaglia’s dramatic winning field goal.  Coincidentally, that was also the last time that the host city had its football team with the championship.  As I mentioned earlier, I was blessed to attend this year’s Grey Cup and I was thankful that the result was a lot better than the last championship game I went to (game 7 Canucks-Bruins).  What a stark difference in post-game celebrations too…but I’m not sure what would have happened if the Lions had lost.  Thankfully we’ll never know.

With the Canucks’ next games against Nashville, Calgary, Colorado, Montreal, Ottawa, Columbus and Carolina, the team has a huge opportunity to continue their surge towards the top of the Western Conference standings.  Just how much of an impact will Raymond have?  And when will Luongo next shed his baseball cap for his goalie mask?   These are a couple of things that make me go hmmm.

Jun 142011
 

Gutless – lacking courage or determination.

Unclassy – lacking in good taste or sense; crude.

Both of these terms have been tossed back and forth between the Vancouver and Boston camps since the beginning of the Stanley Cup Final. They’ve been used so often and so stupidly that for many people, the words have lost their venom. Even the supposedly “unbiased” media is jumping on the wagon of name-calling, labelling the Sedin Twins “Thelma and Louise” (Mike Milbury, NBC/Versus) or calling the Canucks a bunch of classless, gutless brutes (Barry Rozner, Daily Herald).

It’s pretty apparent that the Canucks and their fans are more often the culprits of these accusations compared to the Bruins, who time and time again are coming off as the victims, despite HNIC calling the series’ officiating in favour of the Bruins and the countless horror stories from Canucks fans brave enough to go to Boston.

What’s disgusted me is how this whole series has spiralled into a savage show of brutality, finger-pointing, whining and name calling from both cities. Is this really what hockey has come down to? 

A grown man elbowing a nine-year-old boy in the head for wearing a Canucks jersey?

Or Canucks fans calling Milan Lucic’s parents at all hours of the night to swear at them?

Some parents should be more concerned about their own terrible behaviour rubbing off on their children rather than that of the players’ on the ice.

The lowest point in this entire series so far is what happened in Game 6 when Mason Raymond went down awkwardly into the boards and laid on the ice while Boston fans cheered, clapped and chanted. Then while Raymond’s limp body was carried off the ice by his teammates, fans in TD Garden actually booed.

Today it was revealed Raymond has fractured vertebrae in his back and will be out 3-4 months.

Fans across the NHL know that you never boo an injured player off the ice no matter how much you hate the opposing team. It’s the epitome of bad taste, or “unclassy” behaviour if you want to recycle some redundant terminology. It was a disgusting, embarrassing show of behaviour at TD Garden, and yes, I did actually expect more from Boston fans despite the shame spiral this series has turned into.

Even NHL Connected had something to say about this today:

“Bruins fans: how do you feel now after the merciless booing you rained down upon Raymond as he struggled on the ice with a broken back?”

And somehow Vancouver is the classless city of the two? Really? Because when Horton went down in Boston, fans watching on the JumboTron at Rogers Arena applauded in support when he left the ice.

Today @lizzmoffat tweeted: “When Horton was hit everyone at the Rogers (Arena) viewing party clapped him off. Boston booed off MayRay. I think that says a lot.”

Vancouver has a reason to be very upset with Boston’s performance last night. It didn’t matter who was hurt; an injured player should never be booed off the ice, especially not a harmless Mason Raymond who hasn’t done anything to garner hatred in Bean Town.

Some Twitter reactions to the incident:

Sportswriter Joe Haggerty: “One thing I can confidently say I didn’t like tonight: Bruins crowd yelling at Mason Raymond while he was seriously hurt on the ice. Brutal.”

From Nanaimo, BC: @Tambellini_Girl: “What’s more “classless” than making fun of Raymond while he’s hurt on the ice? I’ve never hated other team’s fans until yesterday.”

From Montreal: @MALaviolette: “’Mason Raymond out with fractured vertebrae’ »»» I wonder if the booing Bruins fans feel cheap now. #classless #bruins

From Denver, Colorado: @Greg69Sheryl: “Mason Raymond suffered a fractured vertebra – Now I’m more embarrassed about the behavior of #Bruins fans in Game 6.”

I could go on, but what’s the point? There’s one more game left to play in this series, and I have to admit that despite how much I love hockey, I can’t wait for it to be over for a while. Obviously I hope that Vancouver walks away with its first Stanley Cup in franchise history, but another part of me is glad the series will be finished after all the continuously ruthless crap going on between the two cities.

I don’t think the good name of hockey (or what’s left of it) can afford any more incidents like this if the sport is going to walk away with any scrap of dignity after Wednesday.

Normally I’d end this kind of post with “stay classy” but what’s the point? That ship sailed a long time ago.

So I’ll end with what every Canucks fan is thinking, and what every Bruins fan should be admitting:

We hope you’ll be okay, Raymond. See you next season.

Mar 212011
 

[Every Sunday, Caylie King looks at the Canucks week that was and the Canucks week ahead. You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@cayking).]

Canucks Record

73 GP, 47-17-9, 103 points (1st in Northwest Division, 1st in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Captain Henrik Sedin has done a commendable job of keeping up with brother Daniel in the NHL scoring race. He’s scored in 7 of his last 8 games and has 11 points (2G – 9A) in that stretch. It doesn’t look like he’ll reach his career-high, franchise-record of 112 points that he set last season, whilst winning the Hart and the Art trophies, but still leads the league with 68 assists. His 86 points has him currently tied with Steven Stamkos for second place in NHL scoring, 7 points behind Daniel.

Who’s Not

Mason Raymond has 2 goals in his last 14 games with a minus-7 rating. Although the effort looks like it’s there, he’s been struggling to score consistently all season long . With the recent injury of Manny Malholtra, AV has demoted May Ray to fourth line center; while giving Chris Higgins a turn on the 2nd line. Higgins has looked great so far, using his speed and generating scoring chances; he has fit into the system seamlessly. Hopefully Higgins’ good play will put some fire under Raymond; I wouldn’t mind him scoring consistently come playoff time.

Who’s Next

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 vs. Detroit Red Wings (4:30 PM start, away)

After four days off, the Canucks head into Detroit to take on Pavel Datsyuk and friends. How else do you describe the Wings’ consistent play, year in and year out? They are one of the best hockey organizations in the league.

Detroit has won 4 of their last 5 games and are holding onto 2nd spot in the Western Conference. (They have been for quite some time now.) This game could very likely be a Western Conference final preview.

The Wings have won 2 of 3 games this year against the Canucks this season. Both of their wins came in extra time: one in the shootout and the other thanks to an overtime winner by Henrik Zetterberg. Speaking of Zetterberg, he has 2 goals, 3 assists and is a plus-2 against the Canucks. He also leads the team in scoring with 72 points (20G-52A), averaging a point a game.

If you happen to be in “Hockey town”, the Red Wings have some great deals for families – 2 premium tickets, 2 cokes, and 2 hot dogs for $78. I think you can get about 4 beers at Rogers Arena for the same price.

Friday, March 25, 2011 vs. Atlanta Thrashers (4:30 PM start, away)

The Canucks head into Atlanta for the first and only meeting of the season. ATL is led by a few of our friendly foes, ex-Hawks, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. The Thrashers had a great first half of the season, but have been dropping consistently in the second half. They have 1 win in their last 6 games and currently sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, 6 points out of a playoff spot.

BC boy and Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd has 8 points (4G-4A) in his last 10 games, however he is a minus- 7 in his last 3 games. Ladd also leads the team in scoring with 26 goals and 53 points but he is a minus-11.

Arguable the most effective player in the last couple of playoff series against the Canucks, we don’t mind that we only see Buffy once a year now. He’s moved from forward to defenseman, which has translated into a career year for him in assists (31), points (50), and goals (19).

Sunday, March 27, 2011 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (2:00 PM, away)

The Blue Jackets hopes of making the playoff is hanging by a thread. They sit 8 points out of a playoff spot and have not been helping their cause by going 2-4-4 in their last 10 games.

This is the last meeting of the season; the Canucks have won all 3 previous matchups.

Captain Rick Nash had a huge 4 point (2G-2A) night, in their last game against the Wild, and he leads the team in scoring with 31 goals and 65 points, all while being a plus-player.

Events of the Week: The Good, The Bad, and The “Did he really just call a major penalty?”

The Good: This week, the Canucks became the first team in the NHL to reach the century mark. In the process, they clinched the Northwest Division and a playoff spot. The boys in blue sit 9 points ahead of Detroit for the Western Conference lead and 7 points ahead of Philadelphia for the President’s Trophy race. (The Wings and Flyers do have 1 and 2 games in hand, respectively.)

The Bad: In the game against the Avalanche on Wednesday, the Canucks suffered a huge blow to the team and locker room. After getting hit in the eye with the puck, Manny Malholtra skated rapidly to the locker room, while blood was pouring from his face. We were all hoping he would get stitched up and be out by the next period. Unfortunately, Manny suffered a serious eye injury that required surgery and places him out indefinitely. Uncle Manny is a huge part of this team’s leadership core, on and off the ice, and more importantly is a fantastic person. We wish him all the best in his recovery. We miss you already!

The “Did he really just call a major penalty?”: In the last game against the Coyotes, Burrows was called for a major penalty against Vernon Fiddler, which give the Yotes a five minute powerplay and Burr was kicked out for the remainder of the game. Yes he did hit him in the numbers. Yes Fiddler did an excellent job of going into the boards in an awkward position. But a MAJOR penalty? I do believe Burr deserved a two for boarding, but the call on the ice changed the entire game, seeing Phoenix score 2 goals on the PP. I hate to blame the refs for a loss, but all I ask for is consistency throughout the game.

Mar 052011
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Brian Murray, Ottawa Senators

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Gotta give it to Bryan Murray – he’s an entertaining, horse-trading general manager in a league where many front offices are afraid to make deals. However, his off-season plans for the team, as expressed to local media this week, have to concern Sens fans. Quick fixes won’t get the job done, and players selected in the first round aren’t always ready to play in the NHL right away.
  • As a courtesy for Sens fans, here’s a taste of the type of “top-six forward” likely available through free agency this summer: Simon Gagne, Alexei Kovalev (been there, done that), Tim Connolly, Jason Arnott, Michael Ryder, Steve Sullivan, Cory Stillman, Marco Sturm, Alex Ponikarovsky, Radim Vrbata. Yikes.
  • James Mirtle had a great piece this week analyzing the success and future potential of Leafs goalie James Reimer.
  • Speaking of the Leafs, Phil Kessel and Remier are getting a ton of credit for getting the Leafs into the playoff race. Going unnoticed is the very strong play of Carl Gunnarsson. He’s been an upgrade on Tomas Kaberle defensively, and Gunnarsson’s outscored the former Leaf defenseman since the deal.
  • The sky really isn’t falling in Vancouver, but the Canucks’ secondary scoring issues are very real. Manny Malholtra and Maxime Lapierre are unlikely to contribute any offense in the post-season. Which means Vancouver’s second line (Mason Raymond-Ryan Kesler-Mikael Samuelsson) will have to produce, or it’ll be another early exit from the playoffs.
  • Speaking of the Canucks, their defense is reminiscent of the 05-06 Carolina Hurricanes blueline – a collection of good second and third pairing defensemen without a real strong #1. It worked for the Hurricanes, who won the Cup. Usually though, Cup winners have at least one top-end, puck-moving guy. The Canucks don’t have anyone like that, no matter how hard Christian Ehrhoff tries.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets have spent almost ten years trying to find suitable linemates for Rick Nash. Jakub Voracek certainly looks like a strong offensive match for Nash, but he’s a mess in his own zone. Until he figures that part out, Voracek isn’t a first-line player.
  • Since the Buffalo Sabres are suddenly a “have” organization financially, it will be interesting to see if they can become a viable option for the best free agents. Players hailing from the Greater Toronto Area may like the fact that they can play “close to home” without the media frenzy that comes with playing for the Maple Leafs.
  • If the Atlanta Thrashers become the Winnipeg Jets, they’ll move to the Western Conference, with the Detroit Red Wings coming East. The Jets are an easy fit replacing Detroit in the Central Division. Yet finding a place in the East for the Red Wings could see a major reorganization of the Conference. There really isn’t a suitable replacement to slot into the Southeast Division.
  • It was foolish for Taylor Hall to get into a fight, but not unexpected – the Oilers are the softest team in the league, and Hall has been on the receiving end of punishment all year. At some point, even the most veteran of NHL players is going to lose their cool. That being said, Edmonton has to become a tougher team to play against for 2011-12. For three years now they’ve been pushovers, and that will only hinder their development into an NHL powerhouse.
  • Who knows how long it will last, but it should be noted right now the much-maligned Phil Kessel is outscoring Alex Ovechkin 27-25.
  • This is like a real-life Family Guy joke – enjoy some lewd telestrator-ing.
  • Boston coach Claude Julien says he wants a fourth line that gives the team “an identity.” Translation: Tyler Seguin can expect even less ice time in Boston.
  • One thing to watch in the Eastern Conference playoff race – given Martin Biron’s injury, it looks like Henrik Lundqvist will have to start every remaining game for the Rangers. Lundqvist has played in 70+ games for four straight seasons, and fatigue has affected his game before.
  • An interesting Toronto Star piece on the KHL.
  • One thing to consider after Nashville’s victory over Vancouver this week is the lack of success low-scoring teams have had in the playoffs since the lockout. The lowest-scoring team to make the playoffs in each Conference has never made it further than the second round. In fact, the lowest scoring team to make the playoffs in the Western Conference has yet to make it past the first round.
  • The three lowest scoring teams currently fighting for playoff spots in each Conference: Nashville (8th), Minnesota (10th), Dallas (9th) in the West, Toronto (10th), Montreal (6th), Washington (5th) in the East.
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 282011
 

[Every Sunday, Caylie King looks at the Canucks week that was and the Canucks week ahead. You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@cayking).]

Canucks Record

63 GP, 39-15-9, 87 points (1st in Northwest Division, 1st in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

When the Canucks signed Manny Malholtra to a 3-year/$7.5 million contract in the summer, no one expected him to be one of the top scorers of the team. He was signed for his faceoff domination, penalty-killing and veteran leadership. But no matter what anyone says, scoring goals and getting points is one of the best parts of the game. After going 19 games without recording a point, Uncle Manny has 7 points (3G-4A) in his last 8 games, including the game-winner against the St. Louis Blues this last Thursday.

Who’s Not

After a career year in goals, assists and points (25G-28A-53P) last year, Mason Raymond has been very disappointing this season. He seems to be making better decisions and getting more chances recently, but in the last game against Boston, AV decided to bump him to the fourth line in place of Tanner Glass.

May Ray hasn’t recorded a point in 5 games and is a minus-4 in that stretch; the last time he scored a goal was at the beginning of February against the Coyotes. It might take a stint on the fourth line or possibly scratching him, and giving Jeff Tambellini a go on the second line, to wake Raymond up. All I know is that Canucks nation is anxiously awaiting the resurgence of Mr. Dimples, #WeAreAllCardboardRaymond!

Who’s Next

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7:00 PM start, home)

Columbus is hot, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They’re making a serious push for a playoff spot and are only 4 points behind 8th place Dallas and Chicago with a game in hand on both.

The Canucks have won both meetings this season, the more recent one a 7-3 shellacking just before Christmas.

Rick Nash, captain of the Blue Jackets and Olympic gold medal winner, is having an excellent season. He is currently on a 6-game point streak; he has 10 points (5G-5A) during that stretch. He leads the teams the team in goals with 29 and in points with 56.

The Blue Jackets recently boosted their defence by picking up Craig Rivet off re-entry waivers from the Sabres.

Thursday, March 3, 2011 vs. Nashville Predators (7:00 PM start, home)

Points-wise, the Nashville Predators are tied with Dallas and Chicago for the 8th and final playoff spot; the Stars and Blackhawks have a game in hand though. The Preds beat the Blue Jackets last night, but had lost 4 games in a row before that.

The Canucks and Preds have split both meetings to-date this season. Martin Erat scored a goal and added 2 assists in those meetings. Despite missing 16 games, Erat is 4th in team scoring this season with 32 points (10G-22A).

Saturday, March 5, 2011 vs. Los Angeles Kings (1:00 PM start, away)

The Kings are playing some of their best hockey, as of late, going 8-1-3 in their 12 February games so far. They are currently on a 3-game win streak and sit fourth in the Western Conference.

The Kings have won both meetings against the Canucks this season, outscoring them by a combined score of 6-2.

Captain Dustin Brown leads the team with 2 goals and 1 assist in the two previous matchups. He has 4 points (2G-2A) in his last 5 games and is 3rd in team scoring with 43 points (20G-23A).

Sunday, March 6, 2011 vs. Anaheim Ducks (5:00 PM start, away)

The Canucks are in Anaheim for the second game of a back-to-back. The Ducks are fighting for a playoff spot and currently sit 11th in the Western Conference, only 2 points back of the 8th playoff spot. They’ve been up and down all month, winning 4 games in a row at one point and then losing 5 in a row. They beat the Colorado Avalanche last night.

Getzlaf and company are 2-0-1 against the Canucks this season. Don’t get the wrong idea, all 3 games have been very close and decided by one goal.

In just 3 games against the Canucks, Getzlaf and his balding head has a goal, 5 assists and a plus-3 rating. In their last meeting, Getzlaf had a questionable hit on Dan Hamhuis, which resulted in Hamhuis missing some games due to a concussion. Although Getzlaf missed some games due to injuries earlier this season, he is still 4th in team scoring with 48 points (15G-33A).

Should We Be Worried?

It’s hard to look at the standings, see the Canucks leading the league, and describe their play as inconsistent. But when you look at their last 9 games, they’ve alternated between wins and losses. That said, should we be worried? Absolutely NOT!

Sure the Canucks haven’t posted consecutive wins in 3 weeks, but let’s not overlook that in 4 of 5 losses, they were only been beaten by a single goal. Let’s also not forget that the Canucks have had a handful of injuries on the backend, which means that a lot more pressure has been placed on our top players. Like Mike Gillis said yesterday on HNIC Afterhours, the team is just physically and mentally fatigued. So before you jump off the side of the bandwagon, think about this: don’t you want the inconsistency now instead of in April?

Feb 242011
 

(with contributions from Richard Loat and J.J. Guerrero)

Since his hat trick against the Calgary Flames on December 1st, Mason Raymond has 3 goals in 27 games. And with only a few days left until the trade deadline, the heat is starting to build around him.

On the surface, it’s easy to say that May Ray is having an off-year. A 25-goal scorer last season, he’s on pace for only 14 this year. Part of this is because he played through shoulder and wrist injuries during the early part of the season. Another part is because he was sidelined by a thumb injury a couple of games after his Calgary hat-trick. (At the time, the latter thumb injury was actually seen as a blessing in disguise as it allowed for his original injuries to heal at the same time.) Yet another part, however, is his decline in powerplay production.

As anyone who watches Canucks games can tell you – a major difference between how the team is deployed now in comparison with last season, is that Newell Brown has wisely loaded-up the first power-play unit. The “loaded first unit” approach has been an overwhelming success – powering the Canucks to the top power-play conversion rate in the league. One ‘negative’ side-effect of employing this loaded unit, however, has been to decrease the amount of power-play time Mason Raymond gets by a rough average of 40 seconds per game. Not only has Raymond’s power-play time diminished, but the new power-play combinations have lessened the quality of that time as well. Instead of skating with a point per game player in Kesler on the second unit, Raymond is being centred by Malhotra.

To that, Raymond has 5 PP points on the Canucks’ second PP unit; last season he had 18.

Looking at it another way, Raymond still has 31 points this season, 25 of which came on even-strength – or an average of 0.50 ES points per game. Last season, he had 35 ES points in 82 games – or an average of 0.43 ES points per game. As funny as it sounds right now, his total production actually hasn’t dipped as much as it seems. His 0.62 points per game average – he’s still on pace for 44 points – is only slightly lower than his 0.64 points per game average last season. He’s still getting his chances, as evidenced by his shot totals (2.78 shots/game this season vs. 2.65 shots/game last season) and good Corsi rating.

The problem is, obviously, he hasn’t cashed in on as many of those chances.

Once you take away the powerplay time argument, Raymond is still only on pace for 10 even-strength goals (he had 17 last season) and this is what is frustrating most Canucks fans. The assists are nice and you can maybe make some argument about his improved passing or on-ice vision; however, the Canucks gave him a 2-year/$5.1 million contract this summer, not because of these intangibles, but primarily because of his goal-scoring ability.

Like winning games, scoring goals masks a lot of deficiencies. Unfortunately for Raymond, the warts are showing again.

I have a buddy who constantly rips on Raymond. Not coincidentally, this is the same buddy that thinks there should be a statistic that tracks the number of times the play dies on a guy’s stick. It’s an interesting concept. He’s not talking about giveaways, which is a questionable statistic that’s mostly dominated by big-minute defenceman and play-making forwards. (Take the 18 leaders in giveaways in the NHL and put them on a team and you’d have a pretty good team.) The statistic my buddy would like to see tracked occurs when a player gets knocked off the puck or rubbed out along the boards leading to a change in possession. It might also include a poor dump-in that leads to a change in possession, or maybe a player that skates in circles in the attacking zone before unloading a weak shot or a pass to nobody in particular. Sound familiar? Yeah.

At least publicly, both GM Mike Gillis and coach Alain Vigneault have both stood behind May Ray. They probably see the chances and missed chances as well. For his part, Raymond acknowledges he needs to start burying more of them.

We hope he does too. Or, come Monday, Gillis might need to find someone who will.

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.

%d bloggers like this: