Sep 082011
 

As sports fans in general (and hockey fans in particular) continue to mourn the tragic plane crash in Russia that claimed 43 lives (including players and coaches from the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL team), many people have named the summer of 2011 as the worst-ever in the history of hockey.  And when you consider the sudden deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak (all within the last four months), it’s hard to disagree.

This latest tragedy affects different people across the world for various reasons.  Canucks fans are fondly remembering Pavol Demitra, who played here for two seasons and had an excellent 2010 Winter Olympics tournament here in Vancouver.  Combined with Rypien’s death last month, Luc Bourdon’s death in 2008, and the death of Taylor Pyatt’s fiancee, Carly, in 2009, it’s been an extremely difficult three-year period for fans on the West Coast. 

The Czech Republic lost 3 ex-NHL players in Jan Marek, Karel Rachunek, and Josef Vasicek.  And both Lokomotiv head coach Brad McCrimmon and the recently-retired Wade Belak were born in the prairie province of Saskatchewan.

But as tragic as these hockey deaths have been, sadly these types of deaths happen every day… just to less famous people.  We see stories and read accounts of people being killed by earthquakes, washed away by tsunamis, and starving to death in Africa.  But for some reason we don’t always give these people the same amount of attention that we do to professional athletes.

Not to mention our own family members and friends who may be suffering from disease, illness, and disability.  They often fight a silent yet noble battle with little to no fanfare.

The truth is, catastrophe and disaster bring people together.  Despair can lead to hope…and we can only hope that tragedy will lead to triumph.

As much as it pained us to see the Vancouver Canucks lose game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, recent events both inside and outside of the sporting world help put things into proper perspective.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’ll still be screaming, cheering, and jumping around like a madman whether I’m at Rogers Arena or in the friendly confines of my living room.

But I hope to do so with the proper perspective.   Because perspective helps us gain an appreciation of the bigger picture and reminds us as to what’s important.

KHL Lokomotiv

Sep 072011
 

I was going to start a series of posts previewing the 2011/2012 Vancouver Canucks today. But in light of this morning’s tragedy in Russia, in which a plane crashed shortly after takeoff, killing members of the KHL team, Lokomotiv, I thought I’d start the series with a look at one of the victims, former Canuck, Pavol Demitra.

What we remember:

Perhaps one of our most lasting memories of Demitra in Vancouver wasn’t his play as a Canuck, but rather his performance at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He represented 9th-ranked Slovakia, which upset Team Sweden in the quarterfinals and came within 20 minutes of a bronze medal finish.

Demo led all scorers in the tournament with 10 points, including a short-handed goal and 2 assists in the second period of the bronze medal game. The night before, with Slovakia down 3-2 and only 10 seconds left in the semifinal game against Team Canada, he had this grand opportunity:

He was named a tournament All-Star, and, invigorated after the Olympics, he returned to play some of his best hockey with the Canucks. In what would prove to be his final games in the NHL, he recorded 12 points (2 goals – 10 assists) in the Canucks’ final 17 regular season games and 6 points (2 goals – 4 assists) in 11 playoff games.

What we expect:

When Mike Gillis took over as Canucks GM, one of his first moves was to sign his former client to a 2-year/$8 million contract. At the time, the Canucks badly needed some secondary scoring. The Sedins were simply point-per-game players, not Art Ross winners, Ryan Kesler was a 20-goal scorer on the 3rd line, and there was no guarantee that UFA Markus Naslund would return. Demitra, at least in his first year as a Canuck, would provide just what the team needed. In 2008/2009, he scored 20 goals and 53 points in 69 games, good for 4th in team scoring that year.

Reality check:

Age and injuries ultimately caught up to Demo. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious shoulder injury during the 2009 playoffs, which then caused him to miss a large part of the 2009/2010 season. Demo was obviously far removed from his seasons of scoring 35+ goals and 75+ points, but if Gillis’ intent in signing him (and Mats Sundin for that matter) was to afford the likes of Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond with another year of development, then it’s hard to critique the move.

He said it:

“When I played with Minnesota and L.A., we played many games in Vancouver and I always loved the atmosphere and everything else about the fans and the city. That was the biggest reason. Another big reason was Mike. We are very close friends and I always like to play hockey for a guy like that.”

- Pavol Demitra after signing with the Canucks in July 2008

RIP Demo. You will be missed. And RIP to everyone who were killed on that flight. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, your families and your loved ones.

Apr 252010
 
Henrik Sedin and Mikael Samuelsson celebrate another goal.

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

The Canucks can close off their Western Conference Quarterfinal Series against the LA Kings tonight. Can they go for the jugular? Or do they allow the Kings a chance at Game 7 on Tuesday? Can the Kings stop the ‘S-Train’? And if they do, can they also stop the Canucks’ secondary scorers?

Here are today’s game day links:

Apr 242010
 
Rick Rypien tunes Rich Clune.

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

The Canucks, left looking for their swagger after Game 3, seem to now have found it in spades. I don’t know what happened or what was said in their locker room during the second intermission of Game 4. Whatever it was, the players have responded positively and are playing great hockey. They’ve scored 11 goals – 8 ESG, 2 PPG and 1 empty-netter – in the last four periods. Even their penalty-kill has been a bit better. They’ve allowed just 1 PPGA in the last 7 Kings powerplays, and even killed a brief 5-on-3 against them last night. Most importantly, they’ve put the Kings on the brink of elimination and searching for some way to counter the Canucks’ attack.

After Game 3, Alain Vigneault challenged his best players to be his best players. Consider the challenge accepted. In the last two games, the Sedins and Samuelsson have combined for 13 points (5G-8A) and a plus-12 rating; Demitra (2G-2A-4P), Kesler (1G-1A-2P) and Bernier (2G) have all chipped in; in the back end, Salo, Ehrhoff and Edler have combined for 6 points (3G-3A); and despite letting in 6 goals in 52 shots, Luongo has made key saves at key times. For the last couple of games at least, the Canucks have looked like the Canucks from December and January, rather than the Canucks from March.

The Canucks so thoroughly dominated the Kings last night that, by the end of it, the Kings were left looking for something to motivate them for Game 6. Ryan Smyth, Wayne Simmonds, and that little puke, Rich Clune all took turns running around and taking their shots at Luongo and everyone else. The Canucks – especially Shane O’Brien and Rick Rypien – answered this challenge just fine. If Simmonds and Clown getting their asses kicked counts for motivation, then I suppose the Kings can take something out of this game.

This doesn’t mean that Sunday should be a cake walk. Far from it. The Kings will make sure it’s not; the Canucks need to make sure they’re ready.

Other post-game links:

Apr 192010
 

The Canucks take their show on the road with the series tied at 1-1. Can they play better than their 19-20-2 regular season road record indicates? Without the benefit of last change, how can the Canucks contain Drew Doughty? Can Demitra prove that he’s no Justin Williams? Can the Canucks stop taking stupid penalties?

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:

Mar 022010
 

Not too long ago, in fact about 2 and a half weeks ago, in the ramp up to the “first deadline” before the roster freeze everyone had marked Demitra as on their trade block. Then came the Olympics and Canucks fans are already excited to have him back on the team. I knew from the beginning that Demitra was only going to get better during the Olympics and he showed that from game to game. Heck if Halak and the rest of the Slovak team hadn’t imploded in the 3rd period of their bronze medal game it would be Pavol not Sami coming home with the medal.

Demitra was playing some inspired hockey and it’s clear that he’s found his stride. I don’t doubt when he returns to the lineup tonight in the NHL he’s going to be better than he was before the Olympics but when playing with linemates like Wellwood and Bernier, I fully expect his level of play to regress a little. He’s slated to start on the 2nd line tonight but I doubt playing alongside silver medalist Ryan Kesler can spark him the way Hossa and Gaborik did.

Demitra’s play at the Olympics made his value spike, but that being said trading him isn’t going to give us all that much more cap room. While he has a 4 million salary cap hit over 82 games, it’s pro-rated over the games he’s played and the games he has remaining, so really his cap hit is more in the area of 1.2 million. Right now with a struggling set of bottom six forwards, Demitra’s play isn’t going to thrive. That being said the Canucks can never have too much scoring so it makes sense to keep him around. So what do you do?

The original rumours of Demitra to the Rangers look better than ever. Especially if he got to play with fellow Slovak Gaborik and re-spark what they had at the Olympics here in Vancouver. If that were the case the Canucks would likely have to throw a couple other players in and swing some sort of package deal but in moving a big name like Demitra, you’re going to want something back. The Canucks are not in the business of selling at this deadline.

Bottom line is while Demitra’s value has gone way up because of his play at the Olympics the Canucks aren’t likely to get what they need at this deadline in return for him. Right now they need a defenseman and the list of teams that would want Demitra aren’t the same list of teams that have a top 6 blue-liner capable of filling our needs. At the end of the day Demitra’s value to this team keeps interesting. Demitra gets to slot back into the PP taking that point shot away from Raymond/Samuelsson, and he has the potential to really ignite that 3rd line and give the Canucks another offensive weapon. With the playoffs coming up we’ll need a guy like Demitra on the team and unless Gillis gets offered some sort of no-brainer in return for Demitra I don’t see him moving at this deadline

Jan 192010
 

With Demitra factoring back into the equation it looks like as far as forwards go we’re back at square one. The same problem we were going to have to deal with in game one of the season had we not been hit with that ridiculous number of simultaneous injuries. The interesting thing is now that we’re half way through the season the players have formed this chemistry that I for one wouldn’t want to tinker with. I know Vigneault’s a smart man and I have a feeling he isn’t going to tinker with things too much either.

That means the Canucks have a 4 million dollar man and they have to find something to do with him. The only immediate thing to do is throw him on the 3rd line, like the Canucks have and when you think about this it should have some positive effects on the team as a whole. Demitra knows his place on the team. He’s a Mike Gillis player and I have no reason to believe that there’s bad blood between the two, or between Demitra and the team as there was a la Mathieu Schneider. With that said, Demitra’s going to need a few games to get his stuff together and even once he returns to game shape he doesn’t have a spot on the top line for obvious reasons, but his spot on the second line is gone at the moment just because there’s no point in tinkering with a hot and cold Samuelsson who at the moment is pretty hot.

So, you put Demitra on the third line. Let that sink in for a moment and then ponder this. You have a slumping Wellwood and a snake bitten Hansen (last game notwithstanding) and you want them both to find their scoring touch. What do you do? With Demitra skating along side Wellwood and Hansen you can’t help but think this team now has 3 lines that are dangerous. We go from being a 2 line team to a 3 line team, and the depth just keeps going. We still have Grabner and Bernier to return at some point. But back to the point at hand. Demitra, a former 60 point guy, playing alongside Wellwood could really help him re-spark his game. He’s been under the gun for his lack of production and while that third line isn’t going to get a lot of minutes, they provide another scoring threat when they’re on the ice.

Demitra can’t expect to get his second line spot back. It’s not his fault he lost it, but it’s just unrealistic at this point to place him there and deliberately tweak already excellent chemistry. If Demitra can play effectively with whoever his 3rd line line-mates are he’s going to be doing exactly what he needs to. His role is going to be the same offensive oriented one he’s always had, he’s just going to have to be more efficient at it in the fewer minutes he’ll be getting. He’ll also take the point over from Mason Raymond (bless his little heart but that point shot is just… *sigh*) and with some power play time once Pavol finds his game this Canucks offensive juggernaut is just going to keep on rolling.

I don’t think any other team can say they have a 4 million dollar top 6 forward on their 3rd line, but with the insertion of Demitra into that 3rd line winger position the Canucks now go from have a 2nd and 3rd line, to a 2a and 2b line which I don’t think anyone can complain about.

May 152009
 
May 062009
 
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