Sep 132011
 

It’s taken me a while to look back at last year’s season and start to think about how the team can take that step forward after a near perfect campaign last year. That’s one of the biggest challenges – it was near perfect. It could have been perfect when you look back at all the records that were set, but it wasn’t because of one game which went wrong – Game 7 – and as such the season wont be defined by its records and wins but rather by one loss.

*****

I tweeted at the start of the playoffs (and hoped it wasn’t going to truly be a deciding factor) that the Canucks didn’t have that journeyman or veteran NHL player hungry for a Cup (or in other cases his last Cup). The Red Wings seem to have one every year. Gary Roberts helped Pittsburgh to the Cup Finals (although they didn’t win that year). We’ve seen Teemu Selanne give the Ducks a boost, Dave Andreychuk the Lightning, Ray Bourque the Avs, and the list goes on. Most recently, we were privileged to see the Mark Recchi and how he seemed to carry the Bruins on his back at the most important time of the season. One could argue that Samuelsson was that player, but we won’t know because he was injured and it seemed all the talent in the world wasn’t enough to handle the sheer will of Recchi.

Heading into training camp, we come out of a 2011 offseason that doesn’t look anything like the 2010 offseason. 2010 was rife with big-name signings and the bolstering of a line up that boasted many stars. 2011 was Gillis’ quiet confidence in the team he has and the acknowledgement that they are merely a step away. It’s something we all knew, but it’s also something he reaffirmed by inviting Owen Nolan to camp.

If there was one thing missing from the Canucks team it was heart. Mind you, it’s not the kind of heart that the entire team showed in order to beat the Blackhawks in the first round or the heart that Kesler showed by singlehandedly leading the Canucks over Nashville in the 2nd round. Rather, it’s the kind of heart you see from players like Selanne, Andreychuk and Bourque who know that they may never get another chance. It’s not easy to find that player. It’s even harder given the demands of such a high-caliber team, the restraints of the cap versus players’ egos, and the need for depth on a roster that is so susceptible to injury as a result of one of the NHL’s toughest travel schedules. While Nolan hasn’t gone past the second round in his career, he, as a veteran, brings something to the table that the Canucks don’t have. It’s a hunger and desire to sip from Lord Stanley’s Cup in a way that only a player fighting against time can demonstrate.

Is Owen Nolan the answer? Only time will tell.

Aug 042011
 

After watching high-profile unrestricted free agents find new homes and seeing Shea Weber and Zach Parise not get traded to Vancouver, fans were raising red flags all over Twitter, waiting for Mike Gillis to address the second-line scoring, or lack thereof. Of course, the level of panic was only magnified when it was learned Ryan Kesler may miss the beginning of the season after hip surgery.

As it stands, if the season were to begin today, the Canucks’ second line would be composed of Chris Higgins, Maxim Lapierre, and Mikael Samuelsson, which would leave most people feeling pretty uninspired. Thankfully, there’s still a couple months before October arrives and if Cody Hodgson is having one heck of a summer training regimen, maybe there’s still a shred of hope.

So of course Gillis, known more for bargaining rather than bold, reached into Father Time’s back pocket and pulled the ageless Owen Nolan out of the European abyss. Should we be concerned? Is this his genius plan?

It’s not the sexiest of transactions, but ultimately Nolan (and Todd Fedoruk, hereby nicknamed ‘Leftovers’) is here on a player tryout, nothing more and nothing less. Historically, Nolan has a good chance to seize an opening night roster spot; if Peter Schaefer can do it, so can Nolan. But then again, asking Brendan Morrison about a player tryout might leave you with a less-than-satisfied response.

Five reasons why Owen Nolan is a low-risk, high-reward player for the Vancouver Canucks:

  1. He’s only two years removed from the NHL. Nolan will become the third high-profile NHL player to return to North America after spending time in Europe, joining Jaromir Jagr and — as soon as he gives up and returns to the New York Islanders — Alexei Yashin. In the 2009-10 season, Nolan put up 16 goals and 33 points in 73 games with Minnesota; not exactly poor numbers albeit on a fledgling Wild team. At the very least, Nolan can still be a crash-and-bang player on the third or fourth lines, perhaps seeing spot duty on the second line.
  2. He’s been playing hockey. It’s not like Zurich of the Swiss League is a top-flight hockey league, but the league isn’t exactly chopped liver, either. The Swiss League is often in the running for the elusive Spengler Cup. And unlike some aging hockey players, at least Nolan hasn’t been sitting on his hands for five months (I’m looking at you, Mats Sundin).
  3. Have you seen the crop of UFAs remaining? Unless Gillis would like to roll the dice on damaged goods like Chris Drury, take a chance on recently bought-out J.P. Dumont, or see what Steve Bernier is doing these days, taking a chance on Nolan is no worse than taking a chance on any of the above. Having played in Europe and invited on a tryout basis, Nolan has almost little to no bargaining power and would likely take a one-year contract worth somewhere around $600K to $750K. Don’t blame Mike Gillis for trying to get some bang for his buck.
  4. Nolan has intangibles the Canucks lacked down the stretch. Integrity and an insatiable drive. Those were some of the qualities the Canucks could have fed off of when they were humbled in Boston in Games 3 and 4. Nolan hasn’t tasted champagne from the Stanley Cup, but this is a grizzled veteran, in every sense of the word, and he knows a thing or two about how to battle in the trenches. I’m not saying the Canucks lack leadership, but Nolan is certainly a guy who can lead by example.
  5. We’re talking about fourth-line minutes. Assuming Nolan doesn’t have a Mathieu Schneider-like spaz, Nolan will comfortably play five to six minutes a night on the fourth line. He doesn’t need to be a star; he doesn’t even need to be a Raffi Torres replacement. He just has to not play stupid. Don’t put a ton of stock into fourth-line guys. Just ask Tanner Glass and the whopping five or so minutes he averaged in the postseason.
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