Nov 082010
 

[Every Monday, Katie Maximick takes your questions and answers them in her own cantankerous style. If you have any questions about the Canucks, send it to her via Twitter (@canucksgirl44)]

Vancouver Canucks beat Los Angeles Kings, 2010 Playoffs


In this week’s edition of “Ask Katie about the Canucks”, Katie Maximick responds to your questions on player surprises and lineup changes, and looks ahead to the playoffs. (We know it’s only November, but hey, we’re allowed to get overexcited sometimes.)

Kayli (@KayliDiebel93) asks: Who is your favourite current Canucks player?

Katie: I would have to say, like 90% of Canucks fans right now, Manny Malhotra. He’s a beast. Amazing faceoff statistics, great SHG chances, scoring ability, and veteran leadership. Who wouldn’t love Manny? But I’d still get a new Kesler jersey over a Malhotra – loyalties, after all, lol. Kesler was here first.

Calvin asks: From the opponents we played so far, who would be the toughest first round opponent?

Katie: I think the LA Kings. They’re getting a lot of hype, and for good reason, with Kopitar, Brown, Smyth, Doughty and even our former D-man Willie Mitchell and a pretty good goalie. They’re going to be really dangerous this year, and if Vancouver can avoid them in the playoffs at all cost, the better. Let’s hope that someone else can take them out first before the Canucks have to face them because it’s not going to be easy.

Thomas asks: Do you think Torres can be the Burrows from last year and put up 35-40 goals?

Katie: If he keeps his recent play up, I think so, yes. He plays with a lot of heart, grit and drive, and a lot of Canucks fans are hoping that this will be his consistent style rather than a streak that will burn out or fade away. But wouldn’t it be better to have both Burrows and Torres scoring 30+ goals each this season? Talk about offensive depth. I gotta say, I’m liking Torres killing other teams for once. Nice to have him on our side!

Todd (@Toddske) asks: When Hamhuis returns, who will be bumped? Rome or Alberts?

Katie: Rome, hands down. He seems really slow out there on the ice and has been pretty much invisible. Alberts, on the other hand, has been using his size out there, finishing checks, making big hits and is at least TRYING to stay out of the penalty box so far.

Andrew asks: The West Conference is looking extremely competitive as always with 9 teams within 5 points of each other after approx. 13 games played. What are your thoughts on the Canucks success, and what will be the key factor(s) that will take them into the playoffs?

Katie: Not since the West Coast Express era has the Canucks had this much depth, which is why Vancouver is practically trembling in anticipation to see what this season brings (hopefully a Cup, obviously). I think the potential is there, but it’s been there before and we still don’t have a Cup in this city (aside from the Millionaires). First of all we need to stay healthy, although that’s hard to guarantee. We’re already having issues. Last year our injuries killed us in the playoffs, in addition to Burrows and Kesler playing injured. Second, we need solid goaltending. We’re still waiting to see Luongo at his best, but at least we have consistent and stellar backup goaltending with Cory Schneider. Third, offensive consistency.  Vancouver has a few players that tend to disappear during the playoffs (the Sedins are the worst at this, but not quite so bad last playoffs) and others who get taken out by our first issue, injuries.

Steve asks: Taking off from Andrew’s question, I am wondering what strategies during the regular season will help them when they are in the playoffs. Last season they seem to fade as the playoffs progressed, as they did the year before.

Katie: Maybe look to the coach? Don’t sit on leads then have to fight back in the third period as result (typical of AV’s defensive style of play) and use timeouts and your backup goalie when the team is struggling. Don’t keep players out there just to punish them and prove your point. Get them off the ice and give someone else the opportunity to help the team.  I hope that if Luongo does blow a tired during the playoffs again, that both Lu and Vigneault will be comfortable and confident enough to put in Schneider to help the team get to that next step. I’m not saying count Lu out, I’m just implying that having Schneider in for a game or two during the playoffs would boost the team’s confidence a bit if Luongo is struggling.

We could always just fire Vigneault and solve most of these problems. Just a suggestion for MG to mull over…

Nov 052010
 

In this early season, there’s no doubt in my mind that Raffi Torres is quickly emerging as the Canucks’ feel-good story of the year.

Following a hat trick against his old team, Edmonton Oilers, on Tuesday night, ‘El Torro’ scored another goal in last night’s 3-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche. He now has 7 goals in the Canucks’ first 12 games, second only to Daniel Sedin’s 8. He’s on pace to score 48 goals, and while the chances of that actually happening are about as slim as Kyle Wellwood passing on a Big Tasty, it’s still pretty impressive. (Yes, I used slim and Kyle Wellwood in the same sentence.)

GM Mike Gillis signed Raffi primarily to add size and toughness to a team that needed a boost in both. Raffi’s done just that.

And despite scoring 19 goals for an offensively-challenged Columbus Blue Jackets team last season, I’d be lying to you if I said now that I expected him to score that many while playing 13 minutes a night on the Canucks’ third and fourth lines. But again, that’s exactly what he’s done and he’s helped give the Canucks a more balanced and deeper attack.

Needless to say, Raffi has exceeded expectations so far.

Raffi arrived in Vancouver with little fanfare. His signing was largely overshadowed by the earlier signings of two top-four defensemen (Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard) and one of the biggest and best faceoff men in the league (Manny Malhotra). Plus, having played for three teams in three seasons – he went from Edmonton to Columbus to Buffalo between 2007 and 2010 – there were various rumours regarding his off-ice activities. Credit to the Canucks for taking a chance on him and giving him a clean slate; credit to Raffi for making the most of his opportunity.

Oct 252010
 
  • Finally the offence really shined. Hank and Danny got on the score sheet again but so did almost everyone else! Bellini looked confident playing with the Sedins and scored a goal. Manny Malhotra scored 2 goals and had an assist (bad ass). Jannik Hansen had 2 assists and was noticeable every time he was on the ice. The 2nd line finally gelled and had a goal and an assist. Even Andrew Alberts and Cory Schneider had a point!
  • Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff were very solid. Ehrhoff was a +5! And he didn’t have one point! He’s not called the Hoff for nothing. The Bieksa and Parent pairing only had me wincing a couple of times. Alberts is a completely different defenceman this year. I guess that’s what happens when you get comfortable with a new team and city.
  • Raffi Torres scored his 100th point and I got to sing Baby Beluga
  • Cory Schneider was very solid again. I really enjoy watching him in net. He’s so damn mellow and I don’t freak out when he goes to play the puck. His stats are quite sparkling. There are going to be whispers of ‘Goalie Controversy’ on the wind which is silly. I’m not totally sold on Luongo but he’s the Canucks stallion for better or worse. TWELVE YEARS is a marriage. Schneider is the scrappy young colt that you trade at auction for several other young colts. Sorry, I got a little too caught up in my horse analogy there.
  • The Wild have a player named Stoner. And he was born in BC. Was there ever a more perfect player for Vancouver? Trade ya, Minnesota!
Oct 072010
 

[As we approach the start of the NHL regular season, members of the Canucks blogosphere give their two cents about your Vancouver Canucks and address the issues, questions and expectations of the team in their 40th year anniversary.]

Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Shortly after the Vancouver Canucks were eliminated from the second round of last year’s playoffs, Mike Gillis said:

“Experience is a major factor,” he said. “We have very few guys that have gone far into the playoffs.

“You need experienced players who have been there, who don’t deviate from the game plan when the pressure is on, and who continue to be patient and play.”

This summer, Gillis retooled the Canucks’ roster. He upgraded the bottom-six and rebuilt the defense. But did he add the leadership and experience he wanted to?

J.J.: Of the four key additions to the Canucks’ roster, only two have gone deep into the playoffs: Manny Malhotra went to the Conference Finals with the San Jose Sharks last season, and Raffi Torres went to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Edmonton Oilers in 2006. The two key additions on defense, Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard don’t have significant playoff experience; Hamhuis has never played past the first round, while Ballard has yet to suit up in the postseason.

That said, most of the core has been together for a few years now and they’ve made the second round of the playoffs three of the last four seasons. Lack of leadership and playoff experience should no longer be an issue with this team. As a group, they’ve played enough playoff games now; I just hope that they’ve been able to learn from their losses.

Chris: Has MG brought in veteran leadership? Not sure. Ballard is a decent addition on the blueline, but that’s tempered by the loss of Mitchell. Hamhuis is definitely no rookie, but even in his five seasons in the NHL he still lacks the experience the wily vets usually have (let alone the playoff experience). You can add Malhotra and Torres to the conversation, but I’m not sold that Torres has figured out his own game well enough to provide leadership. All in all, we haven’t really seen much of a net increase.

Katie: With Malhotra I think he did a good job in terms of adding veteran leadership and playoff experience. In fact, I wouldn’t complain if Manny was given an ‘A’ to start the season. Torres also has some playoff experience with the Oilers.

Richard: Mike Gillis didn’t bring in a lot of playoff experience, but I think the team and its core already have enough collective experience. Samuelsson is the only one that has won a Stanley Cup, and I thought he did a good job of providing leadership in last year’s playoffs. Manny Malhotra is a great addition – he’ll mentor the prospects and assist the veterans.

Cam from Canucks Army: Uh, not exactly. There are a grand total of TWO Stanley Cup rings in the dressing room so that speaks for itself. However, the addition of Malhotra does add more veteran leadership. That said, I think both of those things are a bit overrated. Kesler, Henrik, Daniel, Luongo and Hamhuis have plenty of leadership so adding shouldnt have been a huge priority. As for playoff experience, the group in the room already knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. They have to battle their own demons of previous playoff failures and overcome them. To me that would be as strong a motivator as you could possibly have.

Mike from Nucks Misconduct: He did add a couple pieces, but I don’t think it is truly going to matter. Samuelsson is still the standard bearer in terms of playoff experience; the new guys don’t eclipse his 81 playoff appearances and 50 playoff points. Malhotra has two goals in 24 games, Hamhuis has nine points in 28 games, Torres has 15 points in 30 games and Ballard (thanks to being trapped in Florida) has none.

But I do think these guys bring qualities to the team that weren’t there before. Malhotra has been lauded for his strong work ethic from Columbus and San Jose, so hopefully that catches on with others and the same can be said of Torres (in Columbus not to mention his Cup run with Edmonton in 2006). Nashville runs a tight ship and hopefully Hamhuis will infuse part of that system into the backend.

Oct 052010
 

[As we approach the start of the NHL regular season, members of the Canucks blogosphere give their two cents about your Vancouver Canucks and address the issues, questions and expectations of the team in their 40th year anniversary.]

Raffi Torres, Vancouver Canucks

At the Canucks’ training camp in Penticton, coach Alain Vigneault had this to say about Raffi Torres:

I’m not interested in what has happened to him in the past. He’s got a clean slate and he’s got to have the work ethic we’re looking for and so far that’s what I’ve seen.

For all intents and purposes, we’ll assume here that he’s talking about Raffi finishing the 2009/2010 season scoring 0 goals in his last 19 games (including every game he played with the Buffalo Sabres).

Between 2003 and 2007, Raffi was a 30-40-point scorer for the Edmonton Oilers and a key player in their unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006. He suffered through a couple of injury-plagued seasons after that, and then rebounded nicely a bit last season (or at least he rebounded nicely in the first 60 games of last season).

When healthy, he’s exactly the kind of fast, gritty, tough-to-play-against winger the Canucks wanted to add to their bottom-six.

“That is a big part of my game, being a guy who will finish hits and try to change the momentum of a game at some point,” Torres said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do. I’ll sit down with (coach) Alain Vigneault when I get there and I’m sure he will let me know what he expects out of me. But I think I know what I need to bring.”

We hope so.

Richard: Raffi brings size, and a lot less “suck” than Bernier. It’ll be interesting to see if he can return to form but at the very least he brings some much needed grit to the team. Secondary scoring from him would be nice, but as we saw last year, scoring won’t be one of the Canucks main concerns this campaign.

Chris: When I saw what the Canucks to paid to get Raffi on board, I was quite happy (although from what I saw on Twitter, I might have been the only one). In his NHL career, Raffi has averaged a point every two games while playing a rough and tumble style of game – and Vancouver got that for a clean million in a year. Now I’m sure many of his naysayers will point out that of those points he brings, he scored a whole whack load against the Canucks, but I’m thinking he understands the position he is in and will play well to ensure he gets a far better contract (albeit somewhere else) next season.

Katie: I hope Raffi starts his season strong and adds some grit to the bottom-six. Unlike a lot of Canucks fans, I think it was smart to add him to the team. Oh, and he can piss off other teams for once.

Cam from Canucks Army: Yes, of course he can. The problem with Torres is his lack of consistency. If he can get his legs quickly on the second line to start the year, he’ll have a great year. However, if Torres ends up slow, he’ll end up bouncing around the line-up to try to find him a spot. If that happens, he’ll lose his consistency and he might up having a lacklustre season.

Sep 282010
 

Only a week-and-a-half before the start of the regular season and the Canucks announce new roster cuts, Cody Hodgson keeps his linemates for at least one more game, Sergei Shirokov has a new training plan, Roberto Luongo has a sore groin, Keith Ballard has a new hip, and Raffi Torres has a new lease on life.

Sep 182010
 

The CHB crew are up here in Penticton for Canucks training camp. The 58-man camp kicked off today and here are some things I noticed from day 1:

  • Eddie Lack looked good. The 6’5″ goaltender is the tallest of those checking into camp and covered a lot of space in net. Given Cory Schneider is likely going to be Luongo’s back up, Lack looks poised to take that starter’s position with the Moose.
  • Billy Sweatt (Canucks fans’ newest favourite Twitterer – follow him at @billysweatt) looked very good out there. He’s got great speed and seemed to always have the puck stick to his stick. He reminds me a lot of Mason Raymond from a few years ago. He doesn’t have any finish but if he can work on that aspect of his game. The kid could have a big year on the farm.
  • The Canucks bottom-six looks like it’s going to get bigger this year. Malhotra, Torres and Oreskovich are all upgrades on some of the players that filled bottom-six roles last year. The Canucks needed to get bigger and Gillis has done a god job of bringing in players that meet that requirement with sacrificing skill and speed. Torres looks mean, Malhotra looked good in some face-off drills, and Oreskovich was skating very well for a guy of his size. He also managed to plaster Billy Sweatt along the boards. The guy is going to bruise and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he made the Canucks fourth line.
  • Brendan Morrison was getting feisty when he had to. It was clear he’s here to take his PTO to the next level and the general buzz in the locker room is that he’s going to make this team. He brings a lot of leadership to the table and I’d go as far as say that I wouldn’t be surprised if he was given an ‘A’ if he makes the team.
  • Peter Schaefer, the other interesting invite to camp, didn’t look out of place. After training with Peter Twist for the last year, he seems as quick as ever.
  • On defense, Lee Sweatt and Dan Hamhuis looked particularly good. At one point, Sweatt, who loses four inches to Hamhuis, laid him out, picked up the puck and fired a laser under Louie’s glove. I know it’s just training camp, but it still looked good.
  • Hodgson skated with the Canucks C group that took no contact. This group included Alex Burrows Prab Rai, Steven Anthony and Shawn Weller amongst others. Jordan Schroeder, the other prospect everyone has their eyes on was almost invisible. He skated with the Canucks A group in the morning and was barely noticeable.
  • Sergei Shirokov continues to fly under the radar. He was out and skating, but without the hype surrounding him last year he just quietly did his thing without standing out.
  • After watching Andrew Alberts skate today I’ve come to the following conclusion: For a big guy he can skate really well. He’s a perfect number six or seven defenseman, however the Canucks moved him up to the fourth and fifth spot last year which placed him out of his comfort zone and amplified his flaws. His size would be a huge attribute to the blue line if we weren’t so stacked but he really didn’t look as bad as on the ice as he did last year.
Sep 092010
 

One of the things the Canucks have lacked in recent years has been size. Now entering his third season with the team, Gillis has groomed a team of finesse and skill players but this off-season he took steps towards addressing the size issue as well. Last year, Gillis built a team that was good enough to win the Northwest Division title, but in the NHL’s second season, they found out that they just weren’t big enough to compete with the likes of Blackhawks. (Yeah I said it.)

Things have changed a little bit this off season.

Goodbye Kyle Wellwood (5’10″, 181 lbs.), hello Manny Malhotra (6’2″, 220 lbs.). Goodbye Steve Bernier (6’2″, 216 lbs.), hello Victor Oreskovich (6’3″, 225 lbs.). Ryan Johnson (6’1″, 199 lbs.) wasn’t re-signed; Raffi Torres (6’0″, 223 lbs.) signed. Combined, the new guys recorded 75 points (35 goals-40 assists); the old guys only combined for 52 points (26 goals-26 assists).

At least on paper, Gillis seems like he added size without compromising skill.

Last year we asked Wellwood to be grittier, Rypien to take on the giants of the NHL, and Glass to throw his weight around. Needless to say, they weren’t always effective and we unfortunately watched while the Blackhawks – Byfuglien – ran Luongo over and over and over again. Gillis has now addressed this and the bigger bottom-six is going to go a long way to making this team better. A potential third line of Malhotra, Torres and Hansen is probably the best third line the Canucks have had in a long time. At the very least, they’re bigger and better than the combination of Wellwood, Bernier and Glass and this should make a difference right off the bat. It’s long been said that a good team is able to roll all four lines and the Canucks are on the verge of being able to do this.

Gillis built the core of this Canucks team around speed, skill and finesse. Now he’s surrounded that with big, multidimensional players who can actually play too. Come playoff time, a skilled Canucks team that doesn’t get pushed around will be a very dangerous team to play.

Aug 262010
 

Mike Gillis addressed another need yesterday by signing left-winger Raffi Torres to a one-year, $1 million contract. Torres boosts the Canucks’ bottom-six and adds some sandpaper and grit to the lineup.

From Jason Botchford (Vancouver Province):

Torres brings things to the table the Canucks are woefully lacking in. He brings size/muscle/sandpaper. He will forecheck, be a net presence and score garbage goals. His seven power play goals last year with Columbus are more than Steve Bernier managed during his entire Canucks career. It’s also more than Kyle Wellwood and Bernier had last year combined.

Torres can move up to the second line with Alex Burrows out until November (especially important if Cody Hodgson isn’t ready). Or he can settle in to the third line (though there will be some defensive gaffes there). He’s also comfortable on the fourth line. He’s played them all. More importantly, he’s scored on them all.

Botchford goes on to call this a value signing and I couldn’t agree more. Especially when you see guys like Colby Armstrong and Brett Lebda sign for more, the dollars are reasonable for a bottom-six player. And Torres has the potential to produce more than a typical bottom-six player. It’s a low-risk signing. At best, the Canucks have added a big, mean, 20-goal scorer for a bargain basement price; at worst, they’ve added a low salary player to keep Andrew Alberts company in the press box. Of course, the hope is that his woeful stint with the Sabres was an aberration and that he could return to form. I mean, he’s only 28 years old so there’s no reason to think he can’t, right?

Aug 262010
 

The only thing I remember about Raffi Torres is he was absolutely dismal after being traded to Buffalo. Also, he’s generally a minus player and is easily injured. But he did put up decent points in Edmonton and Columbus and he’s not expensive so I guess it’s alright. I wouldn’t want to meet that guy in a dark alley. The dude is scary looking. I suppose that’s what you want on your hockey team though, right? You want a guy that will scare Patrick Kane right out of his limo, right?

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