Feb 282012

Let’s get this out of the way first.

I’m still not convinced Columbus’ interest in dealing Rick Nash wasn’t a creation of TSN and Sportsnet. The two networks needed a big name to speculate about to drive up ratings for their annual Trade Deadline TV marathons.

Sadly for those networks, Nash remains a Blue Jacket at least until the draft, where the hype will be built up all over again. I am giddy with anticipation (and by giddy I mean hitting my head with a shoe to make the idea of 24 hour coverage of “The Rick Nash Trade – Part Two” go away).

Nonetheless, the trade deadline did produce some moves – 15 trades involving 31 players, according to TSN. As per usual, the moves quickly revealed who’s serious about the Stanley Cup.

Based on team performance and moves they made, here now are the REAL contenders for the Stanley Cup.


1. Vancouver

The Canucks enter the final portion of the NHL season with the strongest group of forwards they’ve had in a long time, if not ever. The 2012 version of Sammy Pahlsson is a step-slower, slightly less-effective than the one who helped the Anaheim Ducks with the Cup in 2007. However he remains a strong shutdown centreman who can win faceoffs (he led the Blue Jackets in faceoffs prior to the trade, winning 51.1%).

In Zack Kassian, Vancouver effectively replaced Raffi Torres from last year’s playoff run with someone younger and with 20-30 goal potential. Kassian could even develop into the big, scoring winger the team hasn’t had since Todd Bertuzzi left town. Kassian models his game after Bruins bruiser Milan Lucic, which is probably music to the ears of most Canuck fans.

Marc-Andre Gragnani is an underrated puck-moving defenseman who is about to have the spotlight shine on him. There are folks who think he could flourish into a 40-50 point player, and there are certainly similarities between his game and ex-Canuck Christian Ehrhoff. Those similarities include some puzzling play in the defensive zone.

Bottom Line: This Canuck team looks primed for another long post-season run. Cody Hodgson is a big chip to play, but when you consider the team’s time is now (and Vancouver already has Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler in the top two centre positions), Gillis has made the team stronger than it was yesterday.

Potential weakness: The blueline.

2. San Jose

While there will be folks who scoff, let’s remember that the Sharks have made the Conference Finals in back-to-back seasons, and they will enter these playoffs with likely their deepest team ever. Like the Canucks, the Sharks have had some concerns regarding secondary scoring and forward depth, and the acquisitions of Daniel Winnik, T.J. Galiardi (and previously Dominic Moore) address this area.

Winnik was one of Colorado’s most important forwards, playing tough minutes and leading team forwards in ice time for much of the year. The improved play of Gabriel Landeskog and Winnik’s status as an impending UFA made him expendable. He’ll look very good alongside Michael Handzus on San Jose’s third line.

T.J. Galiardi has been an offensive tease so far in his career but he’s got the talent to be a fringe top-six player. Ray Fererro mentioned during Trade Deadline coverage today that Galiardi came to training camp having put on too much muscle, which hampered the player’s speed. Galiardi is an adequate replacement for Martin Havlat, allowing the injury-prone star to take his time to get back into the lineup.

Bottom Line: The Sharks improved their defense in the off-season, and now have improved their foward group. If Martin Havlat comes back healthy, and they get any kind of goaltending, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Sharks three-peat as Conference Finalists, perhaps even graduating to the Cup Final. A re-match with the Canucks would not surprise.

Potential weakness: Goaltending

3. Nashville

Why the Predators and not the Red Wings? Detroit only tinkered with their team (adding Kyle Quincey), and now enter the playoffs with pretty much the same group that’s been knocked out of the playoffs early the last two years.

Meanwhile, the Predators are showing Ryan Suter the money and  pushing their chips to the middle of the table. They were rumoured to have made a big push for Rick Nash, and when that didn’t materialize, they quickly added Andrei Kostitsyn from Montreal. He’s an enigmatic scorer, but he is a scorer, and a legitimate top-6 one at that. Playing with his brother Sergei could be problematic (one friend commented beer sales are about to go up in bars around Nashville), but it’s unlikely coach Barry Trotz will let any off-ice shenanigans impact the team on-ice.

Paul Gaustad is another effective grinder on a team full of them, and acquiring Hal Gill earlier in the week gives the Predators a premiere shutdown defenseman, perhaps one destined to matchup with Ryan Kesler this season.

Bottom Line: The Predators are one of the toughest teams to play against in the NHL, and they were a sniper-away from beating the Canucks in last year’s playoffs. Andrei Kostitsyn might not be Paul Kariya or Peter Forsberg, but he is someone who can create offense on his own. With a deep defense, strong goaltending and an upgraded forward group, Nashville has become the dark horse team to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup.

Potential weakness: Scoring


1. Boston

Remember, these are the defending Stanley Cup champions, who have retained much of the team from last year. The addition of Brian Rolston effectively replaces the departed Mark Recchi, although the emergence of Tyler Seguin means less is expected of Rolston in an offensive role. He might become a key part of the second powerplay unit, shooting darts from the point. Otherwise he’ll play a bottom-six role.

Meanwhile, there is a common belief today that you need 8 NHL-ready defenseman to go far in the playoffs. Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau fit that bill, the former one of the better shot blockers in the league, while the latter is a good skater and marginal puck-mover.

Bottom Line: Boston looks like a team ready to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

Potential weakness: Nathan Horton’s health

2. New York Rangers

Why the Rangers, when they didn’t make a single move of significance (apologies to John Scott) at the Trade Deadline? Sometimes, the best move a team can make is no move. The 2012 New York Rangers are greater than the sum of their parts, and messing with that chemistry in a significant way could upset everything the team has been building towards.

Rick Nash would have been sexy, but there’s no telling how his arrival would have worked in the locker room. GM Glen Sather was smart to let this team prove what it can do in the playoffs, and then tinker as necessary in the off-season.

Bottom Line: Thanks to Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, the Rangers are Nashville-East with more scoring. That makes them a Cup contender.

Potential weakness: Scoring


  • Couldn’t put Pittsburgh on the list for one reason – there’s no guarantee Sidney Crosby is coming back. If he does, and he’s healthy, they’re added to the contender mix. The thing is, with how aggressive play is in the playoffs, does anyone think Sidney Crosby would survive a long playoff run without another injury?
  • The Flyers aren’t a contender, and really, haven’t been one all season. They’re fun to watch but there are too many holes on defense or in goal to be considered among the elite. Could be a different story in a few years though.
  • Puzzling move #1: The Toronto Maple Leafs trading Keith Aulie, who remains a legit defensive prospect - one who could become Hal Gill 2.0. Yes Toronto has depth on the blueline, but acquiring Carter Ashton for Aulie seems like acquiring 50 cents on the dollar. Ashton projects as a 3rd line guy at best. Burke is living and dying by his current roster in Toronto. It’s likely not enough to get the team into the playoffs.
  • Puzzling move #2: The Edmonton Oilers trading Tom Gilbert to their division rivals the Minnesota Wild for Nick Schultz. I think this sums it up nicely. Perhaps all this really means is that Edmonton intends to draft an offensive defenseman in the first round this year, and pair him with Schultz immediately.
  • Talked a lot about the Vancouver – Buffalo trade above, but one more thing: there’s no question Cody Hodgson is the most talented player in the deal, but from a Canucks standpoint they’re looking to win now. Long-term, it could be a trade the Canucks regret, although it does seem the franchise never warmed to the guy. Biggest immediate concern - what happens if one of Kesler or Sedin gets hurt?
  • Johnny Oduya is a nice complimentary pickup by the Blackhawks, but they needed more (another d-man, another scoring forward) for their playoff chances to truly improve. Right now, the ‘Hawks look like a second round team at best.
  • It’s rare you see the Flames apologize to the Oilers.
  • It would not surprise me if Ben Bishop eventually forced Craig Anderson out of town in Ottawa. Bishop is a very good goalie prospect, and the team already has Robin Lehner on the farm. It could be Anderson becomes the known asset the Senators eventually move for needed pieces.
Dec 142011

Well someone’s going to get a lump of coal for Christmas.

In case you’ve missed it, Chicago Blackhawks third-line centre Dave Bolland didn’t mince words in a WGN interview on Monday, chastising the Vancouver Canucks and calling out the Sedin twins:

“I hate all of them [the Canucks]… I don’t think we’d let [the Sedins] on our team. And yeah, they probably would still be sisters. I think they might sleep in bunk beds. The older one has the bottom one, the younger one got the top.”

Slow clap, Dave Bolland. Slow clap.

Maybe Dave Bolland played up to the laughter of the crowd during the interview. Maybe he himself embraces being public enemy number one in Vancouver, or maybe he wanted to see if he could get a rise out of some of the Canucks. Either way, Bolland succeeded in ruffling at least a few feathers.

For every fan who has come to appreciate the Sedins, there’s the troll who have followed the “Sedin sister” label, and Bolland’s latest comments allowed those trolls to come out of the woodwork in droves today. Some Canuck “fans” even suggested on the TEAM1040 that they’d rather have Bolland in their lineup than the twins. Bolland’s comments forced both Alain Vigneault and Mike Gillis to jump to the defense of their top players:

“Dave Bolland has an IQ the size of a bird seed and a face only a mother can love.”  – Vigneault

“If someone wants to take a shot at them after all they’ve accomplished, especially over the last three years, it rings hollow in my ears.” – Gillis

Dave Bolland can jab at the Sedins with his Stanley Cup ring all day, but it absolutely astounds me that anyone can actually hate the Sedins.

They’re twin brothers who were drafted into the NHL with the highest of expectations. They were burned at the stake in Vancouver when they didn’t produce in the early days of their careers, to the point where they were this close to going back to Sweden. Not only did they manage to train hard and prove those naysayers wrong, they exceeded our wildest expectations, becoming the first two Canucks to ever win Art Ross trophies (Henrik also won the Hart trophy). Their charitable work in the Vancouver area is also unrivaled; they donated $1.5-million of their own money to the B.C. Children’s Hospital.

If Dave Bolland or any of the Canucks chief rivals can’t (or don’t want to) see just how good the Sedins are on the ice or how genuine they are off of it, it’s probably best to turn the other cheek and ignore it.

The Sedins and the Canucks have never cared about what the media or other teams say about them, and they’re not about to start. They’ve got other, more important things to worry about, like winning the Stanley Cup. That’s the only thing that will shut up every last one of those critics.

Oct 282011

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

If the 2011-12 season was the Pacific Ocean, we’ve barely dipped our toe into the cold waters.

Nonetheless, there’s been almost a month of NHL hockey, and it’s not too early to start evaluating what’s happening around the league.

Here now are a handful of teams better than, or worse than, their record-to-date.

Significantly Worse Than Their Record (aka the Ron Washington is a Lousy Coach Division)

Toronto: The Leafs enter Friday with a 6-2-1 record and a .722 winning percentage, good for 5th overall in the league. Phil Kessel is leading the league in scoring, which a Toronto player hasn’t done since exposed ankles were considered risqué. It’s time to start planning the parade right? Wrong. For starters the Leafs are near the bottom of the league in goals against (24th) and shots for/shots against differential.  Other than Dion Phaneuf, Toronto’s defense has also been wildly inconsistent and surprisingly soft. Finally, as in previous seasons there’s still nothing special about the team’s special teams (powerplay is 21st, penaltykill is 25th). Despite some strong 5-on-5 play, the Leafs look primed for a losing stretch.

New Jersey: Despite a rash of injuries, the Devils enter Friday with a 4-3-1 record, and their .563 winning percentage has them seated 13th in the league. The biggest factor in their early season success has been the play of Johan Hedberg, whose taken over for the injured Martin Brodeur and posted terrific numbers (2.31 goals against average, .926 save percentage). If you look closely though, you notice that once again this is a New Jersey team that can’t score. They are 25th in goals per game, 26th on the powerplay and 25th in shots for/against differential. They’re still not getting any production from their defense (just two goals so far this season), At 38 and as a career backup, Hedberg can carry a team for only so long. These Devils look a lot like the team that stunk up the first half of last season.   

Dallas: With a record of 7 wins and 3 losses, the Stars enter Friday sitting atop the Western Conference standings. Like New Jersey, the Stars have been carried through October on the shoulders of incredible goaltending. Kari Lehtonen is sporting a miniscule 1.84 goals against average and a .945 save percentage, and remains the defacto team MVP. However, the rest of the team’s peripheral numbers aren’t very good. The Stars are 22nd in goals for and on the powerplay, and their shots for/against differential is nearly -6. In fact, the Stars currently give up the fourth-most shots in the entire NHL. Granted, this may be the result of coach Glen Gulutzan’s conservative gameplan, but these Stars look identical to the team they were last year – decent, but not good enough for the post-season.  

Significantly Better Than Their Record (aka the Tony LaRussa’s St. Louis Cardinals Are Surprising Baseball Again Division)

Montreal: Wait a minute, aren’t the Canadiens struggles being debated in Quebec’s National Assembly as we speak? Isn’t the Molson family about to not only fire coach Jacques Martin, but get his family and friends fired from their jobs too? Aren’t we about to see Patrick Roy’s triumphant return behind the bench of the Habs? Well, hang on a second. Yes, the Canadiens’ record of 3-5-2 places them 27th overall. However, they’re sixth in the league at 5-on-5 play, and their shots for/against differential is almost +8, placing them 3rd overall. This is a quintessential Jacques Martin team – one that will live and die by the success of its defense and goaltending. As Carey Price rounds into form (his save percentage right now is 28 points below his career norm), the Canadiens will rise back up to where they should be – fighting for a playoff spot. 

Boston: Not since the 1967-68 Toronto Maple Leafs has a defending Stanley Cup Champion been this low in the standings so far into the season. The Bruins currently sit last in the Eastern Conference, 29th overall.  Boston’s biggest problem has been scoring – they’re 26th overall in goals per game, 25th at 5-on-5 play and 24th on the powerplay. Otherwise, they’re still playing the extremely strong defensive game coach Claude Julien demands. Tyler Seguin looks primed for an All-Star season, and David Krejci is too good to struggle for long (only one point, a goal, so far). If Boston can muster even league-average scoring, the Bruins will find themselves comfortably in the playoffs.

Philadelphia: Let’s acknowledge they’ve given up 14-goals in two games and that their star goalie has a crisis of confidence. They look lost defensively without Chris Pronger, and currently sit 17th overall in the league (.550 winning percentage). These Flyers, however, can flat out score. They’re 2nd  in goals for per game, 4th on the powerplay and their shots for/shots against differential is +6.3 (5th overall). They have three dangerous lines, and for every disappointment so far (James Van Riemsdyk, Scott Hartnell), there’s been a revelation (Wayne Simmonds has far more puck skill than expected; Sean Couturier is the team’s best defensive player). Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky aren’t this bad, and neither are the Flyers.

Thoughts on the Fly

-          Vancouver’s trade last weekend led me to this collection of Mike Gillis’ moves as general manager of the Canucks. A few things stand out on this list.

  • First, the trade for Christian Ehrhoff was a legitimate home run, and the trade for David Booth (acquiring the most talented player in the trade and a 3rd round draft pick) looks like it could be another.
  • Beyond these two moves it’s a very mixed record, with two notable trade mistakes: acquiring Keith Ballard for a first round pick AND Michael Grabner; and trading 3rd and 2nd round picks for Steve Bernier.
  • It’s too early to make any conclusions, but the Gillis drafts don’t look very dynamic. Last May, Hockey’s Future ranked the Canucks 27th in the NHL in terms of its farm system talent. This month the website released its 50 top-prospects, with only Cody Hodgson making the list (26th).
  • Finally, there are a number of moves on this list that made little-to-no impact on the team whatsoever. Maybe that’s a good thing though – better no impact than a negative one.

-          Damien Cox speculates Sidney Crosby might play on November 11th.

-          For all the angst coming out of Montreal, the expectations surrounding Erik Cole are the most unfair. Cole had success in Carolina because he played wing with an elite centreman (Eric Staal). He’s struggled in Edmonton, and now in Montreal, because he’s a strong complimentary player, not a go-to scoring presence. Without Staal, he’s a useful, industrious, 15-22 goal scorer. Hab fans expecting more will be disappointed.

-          Speaking of Montreal, this is what happens when you build a team entirely around defence and goaltending. If those areas falter even a little bit the team can’t score enough goals to compensate. The Habs will right the ship, but it’s a tight-rope low-scoring teams walk. Nashville’s struggling in the same fashion right now (last in the league in shots for/shots against at -11.4).

-          Final Habs note: Firing Perry Pearn 90 minutes before game time was the most ridiculous NHL firing in years, and is a black mark on the Montreal front office. He deserved better, and will land on his feet elsewhere.  

-          For all the accolades Duncan Keith has earned in Chicago, he could be ranked third behind Brent Seabrook and Nick Leddy in terms of performance this year. Seabrook is taking less physical risks, and as a result his positional play has improved. Meanwhile, Leddy has seamlessly filled Brian Campbell’s role.

-          The best part of any talk about a Philadelphia Flyers alumni team? Thinking of Eric Lindros and Bobby Clarke on the same bench.

-          He probably can’t keep it up, but every one of Kings defenseman Jack Johnson’s goals this year has been a game-winner.

-          Sorry Oiler fans, Nik Khabibulin won’t have a 0.97 goals against average all year. Enjoy the ride while it lasts, and full marks for squeaking out a win against the Capitals. Having said that, the Capitals were dominant 5-on-5, and Ovechkin hit the crossbar with less than a minute to play.  

-          Only three forwards are in the top-50 in the NHL in terms of ice-time: Ilya Kovalchuk, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

-          There’s 12 teams on pace to score fewer than 200 goals this year. Even with the Winnipeg-Flyers game, it certainly feels like scoring is down in the NHL.

-          TSN’s Darren Dreger takes a look at who could be next coaching behind an NHL bench.

-          Brad Richards is really struggling in New York. He isn’t skating very well or controlling the play at all.

-          In case you missed it – Jonas Hiller’s new mask.

-          Here’s a report on Defense Independent Goalie Rankings for last season. Oiler fans might be surprised to see Devyn Dubnyk in the top-10.

-          Katie Baker’s weekly recap on Grantland.

Mar 072011

[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)]

Aaron Rome, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

For the first time since February 7th, the Canucks have won two consecutive games. The Canucks swept the California weekend with a 3-1 win over LA and a 3-0 shutout against Anaheim.

Also, welcome back Manny Malhotra!

In other news, Aaron Rome’s 20+ minutes of ice time last night is causing a maelstrom of speculation to brew across Vancouver’s fan base.

Mac (@Meonfire11) asks: What’s up with AV and Rome?

Katie: One word: Bromance, a strong one similar to that between three particular writers on Canucks Hockey Blog… I can see a very special Pyatt-Vigneault relationship sprouting here. In last night’s game in Anaheim, Rome saw a whopping 22 minutes of ice time, the second highest of D-men, while good ole Rubber-Knee Ballard struggled (possibly with a groin injury) just to make it through the game with 14:20 of ice time.

(By the way, Rome is a minus-3 and Ballard is a plus-5.)

Does Rome deserve this ice time? Fans were arguing over this all last night. Whether it’s because he’s earned it, because AV loves him or because the Canucks are resting their blue line for the playoffs, I don’t think we’ll ever know. However, true to Canucks Nation standards, it will be analyzed ridiculously in the meantime.

Jared (@JThompsondesign) asks: When Bieksa returns, do we keep Rome or Tanev in the top 6?

Katie: Rome. If Rome’s ice time and praise speak for anything, it’s that he’s doing a good job and Tanev will be sent back to the Moose. I like Tanev on the team and think he’s done a decent job of filling in, but that’s all it is: filling in.

Sean (@holmes156) asks: What line do you want/expect Higgins to play on?

Katie: I’d like to see him with Kesler and Samuelsson on the second line, replacing Mason Raymond, who hasn’t had a great season for what he’s paid and injured his shoulder last night. For those who don’t know, Higgins already has 23 points in 48 GP this season with FLA and is a plus-5. Raymond has similar stats with 32 points in 55 GP and is a plus-7.

The difference? Raymond makes about $1 million more per year than Chris Higgins.

If Higgins can come back sooner than later, the Canucks won’t have to put Bieksa on LTIR to call up a forward from Manitoba. Let’s hope Raymond’s injury proves to be a help rather than a hindrance.

Adrian (@PatrickTussie) asks: Did you learn any lessons during trade deadline day?

Katie: Me? Personally? Uh, sure. Trust in Mike Gillis. He’s been getting us players for nothing since 2008.

Fiann asks: Now that they’ve won two in a row again, is that the end of their supposed ‘slump’?

Katie: I don’t really think it was a slump to begin with for those fans calling it that. Why? Because even though they didn’t win two in a row for almost a month, they didn’t lose two in a row either. They’re also still sitting at the top of the league with a six-point cushion. The Canucks’ next three games are road games against Phoenix, San Jose and Calgary. Can we win the majority of those? Yes, although the big Sharks might bruise the team up a bit. Our away record is pretty good at 19-9-4 and I think the team is ready to go on a hot streak (see Manny Malhotra).

So to answer your question: I hope so.

And on that bombshell, have a great week Canucks fans.

Nov 112010

Great piece by Iain MacIntyre (Vancouver Sun) on the Canucks’ decision to cancel practice and attend Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial instead.

Believing there are things more important than hockey – yes, even Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens – Canuck general manager Mike Gillis and coach Alain Vigneault have cancelled the usual morning skate in Ottawa and instead will walk with staff and players to the War Memorial to observe Remembrance Day.

For once, these National Hockey League millionaires have no special privileges. They’ll merely gather in the hotel lobby, and walk solemnly with their poppies and thoughts to the cenotaph, joining the crowd of thousands who gather annually at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

They’ll watch and listen, see wreaths laid near the tomb of the unknown soldier, see the faces of war’s survivors and ponder the millions of lives sacrificed for freedom.

Perspective, Gillis believes, is a powerful thing.

“When you participate in the NHL, it’s easy to lose sight of other things that are very important,” he explained Wednesday. “It’s good for everyone to have some perspective about life. If these guys can go and see the emotions and the interaction of veterans, it will be a healthy and lasting memory.”

More here.

[update: 11/11/2010, 12:20 PM]

From Ben Kuzma (Vancouver Province), Canucks players share their memories of loved ones who served.

Sami Salo lost one grandfather to conflict in the First World War and another in the Second World War. Growing up, he was too young to understand what they endured, but a mandatory one-year stint in the Finnish army gave the Canucks defenceman needed perspective. That’s why he was excited to experience the national ceremony in Ottawa, where he previously played but never saw the event live. And going through basic training helped Salo understand what his grandfathers sacrificed.

Christian Ehrhoff had a grandfather who served in the German air force in the Second World War. He was captured on the Russian front and the Canucks defenceman was thinking of him Thursday.

More here.

Nov 092010

If you’re not following Vancouver Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis on Twitter yet – he’s at http://twitter.com/GMMikeGillis – you’re one of the few. Only a couple of hours since joining Twitter, Gillis already has more than 2,700 followers.

Being the first NHL team executive to join the millions of tweeps out there, I hope he quickly gets a good grasp of things and tweets interesting insights on the what it takes to run a Stanley Cup contending team in a hockey-mad market. Or at least I hope he tweets more interesting things than what he ate to power up for his latest bike ride.

This should be an interesting social media experiment for the team. After initially being reluctant to embrace blogs and social media, the Canucks now host several blogs on their official site, engage other bloggers – us included – in their initiatives, and are fairly active on Twitter. That said, Twitter is a different beast and each of Gillis’ tweets will be broadcast and re-tweeted over and over again. Anything he says on Twitter will be praised, criticized and dissected instantaneously by Canucks fans.

Of course, these sorts of discussions already go on daily among Canucks fans, but we’ll have to wait and see to what level Gillis participates in them. Obviously, there are a lot of areas he can’t talk about publicly or in 140 characters (e.g. personnel decisions, etc.), but there are definitely some opportunities for a higher level of engagement (e.g. ticket prices, etc.).

When Gillis first talked about joining Twitter, he stated that it was his intention to connect more closely to Canucks fans. Now that he’s on it, it’ll be interesting to see how much he actually does.

For now though, we await his first tweet.

Oct 222010

After 7 games last season, the Vancouver Canucks had 6 points (3-4-0). After the first 7 games this season, they have – yes you guessed it – 6 points (2-3-2).

First 7 games2009/20102010/2011

The Canucks aren’t scoring as much but they’re not allowing as many goals against either. Given this, it’s probably not surprising that their powerplay isn’t as good but their penalty kill is better.

As much criticism as Luongo has received in the last couple of days, his save percentage after the Canucks’ first 7 games is slightly higher this season (6 GP, 1-3-2, 175 shots against, 0.903 save%) than it was at the same juncture last season (7 GP, 3-4-0, 161 shots against, 0.870 save%).

He’s doing this too with a defense missing 3 of its top-5 in the last couple of games, a depth issue the Canucks didn’t have to deal with last season until, IIRC, sometime in November.

A couple of days ago, GM Mike Gillis mentioned that he would review this team after 9 games – conveniently, just before the Canucks get a 6-day layoff. Alex Burrows should return shortly after that and the Kevin Bieksa rumor mill seems to be turning again. (Darren Dreger was quoted on TSN last night that, “As soon as the Canucks can move Bieksa, they will.”) Who knows what Rick Rypien’s status will be at that point – he’s been suspended for 6 games and will be eligible to return on November 6th against Detroit – and whether or not Jeff Tambellini or Peter Schaefer will still be with the team.

The Canucks may be in same position (points-wise) as they were at the same point last year, but the fans aren’t happy. Maybe it’s the elevated expectations this season or perhaps it’s their style of play. Certainly, the Canucks have looked great in some games and obviously not in others. The bottom line is, we expect more from this team, and if they truly want to be seen as contenders, then they need to play with more consistency, more effort and more finish.

Sep 092010

In one of my favorite Tommy Larscheid rants a couple of years ago – and if I remember correctly this particular one was after the Canucks failed to qualify for the 2008 playoffs – Tommy said that the Vancouver Canucks would never win the Stanley Cup until Canucks management expressed that anything less than a Stanley Cup win was unacceptable. (I’m obviously paraphrasing but I think you get the gist.) While Mike Gillis falls short of saying such in an interview on TEAM 1040 yesterday, he still set some lofty expectations of his squad – in my opinion, much loftier expectations than has been placed on this team in a long, long time.

“I think we’re one of four or five teams that are considered to be capable of winning the Stanley Cup. But you have to have a lot of things go your way that are out of your control. Injuries play a major factor. I think our team is really deep in every area. I don’t think we have a glaring weakness that needs to be addressed at this point in time, but injuries and different things can change that. You know, I feel really good about the team we have. I think it’s deep, I think we have a lot of key elements, but these guys have to come together and perform, and we have to get a little lucky.”

With Francesco Aquilini signing off on players’ paycheques totaling more than $69 million this season (give or take Kevin Bieksa’s $3.5 million), I’m sure everyone in the Canucks organization – from Aquilini to Gillis to Alain Vigneault to the players – is aware of these expectations and their pressure to perform and win. But to be aware of it is one thing. For Mike Gillis to publicly lay down the gauntlet is another.

Consider this another culture change for this organization. The Canucks are no longer content to just make the playoffs as they were in 2007. They’re no longer satisfied with winning Northwest Division titles; they’ve won the division 3 times in the last 4 years. They want to get further than the second round of the playoffs. They now expect to contend for the Stanley Cup and Mike Gillis has made no bones about expecting it.

It’s refreshing to hear. And if the Canucks win the Cup in June, I’m sure Tommy will be quick to say, “I told you so.”

Aug 272010

Good players are attracted to other good players. It’s a simple premise, but in reality, one of the GM’s biggest and toughest jobs is to make their team a desirable place in which other players want to play. When it comes to the city of Vancouver, I doubt there are many people – or many NHL players – who wouldn’t want to live here. But if the team isn’t winning or players don’t perceive the team to be a team worth playing for, Mike Gillis’ job all of a sudden becomes increasingly difficult. With that in mind, one of the things that Gillis has been able to do better than any Canucks GM before him is to make Vancouver an attractive destination for players.

It’s been a long time since we have seen a Canucks GM who would get the players we wanted. In previous years, we’ve usually talked about signing the big name free agents and then seeing them sign elsewhere. Somehow now, Gillis has managed to set his sights on a specific player – and even within the restrictions of the salary cap – convince him that Vancouver is the place to be.

On paper, Vancouver is arguably the best team in the league. This has been largely due to the fact that Gillis has been able to convince the team to buy into a system, execute on his vision of what the team should be, and put his players in place. In no particular order, Gillis has been able to re-sign Luongo, the Sedins, Kesler, Burrows and Raymond at market value or lower than market value. He’s been able to sign Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres despite competing against higher offers from other teams. Gillis sold them his system and his vision; these players believed him. He hasn’t been perfect and some of his decisions may have been controversial (i.e. Luongo’s captaincy) or WTF-worthy (i.e. sleep doctors), but he’s stuck with his vision, and as such his players have stuck with him. As he sets his mark on this chapter in Canucks history – do we call this “the Gillis era”? – he’s created a Canucks team that players want to play for and has made Canucks fans genuinely optimistic that they can win the Stanley Cup.

At first I doubted Gillis’ ability to be an effective GM because his previous role was as a player agent and had no experience running an NHL team, but with each move and signing, he’s continually proven me wrong. Simply, he’s been specific on what he wants in a team, has identified who wants to fill those roles, and gone out and acquired that player. He wanted defensive depth so he traded for Ballard and convinced Hamhuis that it was better to leave a reported $1 million per year on the table and sign with his hometown team. He wanted to upgrade his third line center spot so he targeted Malthotra and signed him away from a team that won one playoff round more than the Canucks did last spring. He wanted more grit so he targeted Torres and signed him for a mere $1 million this season even though he scored 19 goals, all before the trade deadline. What does that tell you? These guys obviously want to win and Gillis convinced them their best chance to win was with the Canucks.

For one reason or another, it seemed like players have always wanted to play for teams like the Red Wings, Habs, Devils or even the Rangers. Well, add Vancouver to that list now. In his two-plus years as Canucks’ GM, Gillis has made the Canucks as desirable as those teams, and in the process, has made his team – our team – a legitimate contender. And if good players keep wanting to come, the Canucks can be a contender, not just for this year but in future years as well.

Apr 262010

As reported by the Vancouver Observer, City Hall has announced tomorrow, April 27th 2010, as “Canucks Day”!

The media is being invited tomorrow to join Mayor Robertson and Council, Canucks Sports and Entertainment owner Francesco Aquilini, President and General Manager Mike Gillis and Chief Operating Officer Victor de Bonis to an event commemorating the day.

The Mayor will read a proclamation for Canucks Day, and the Canucks flag will be raised for the day at City Hall. The Canucks mascot, Fin, will hand out white towels to help the public cheer on the city’s home team.

As if Canuck fever needed anything more to propel it, I hope someone takes the time to head down to City Hall and take some pictures. It’s an off day before the Canucks second round date in the Stanley Cup Finals so have fun, wear your colours loud and proud, and Go Canucks Go!

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