Apr 152011
 

Where the heck did that come from on Wednesday?

In the previous week, we’ve heard all kinds of experts confirm the Canucks as the favorite to win it all this June but an equal number of them expressed that they wouldn’t be surprised if the most dominant team in the NHL this regular season with all their trophies and top-5 presence in nearly every important statistical category were bounced by the reigning champs in the first round. Why? Most questioned whether the Canucks were tough enough both mentally and physically to make it through what is probably the most difficult post season in sports. We were too soft, too fancy, too Swedish to play with the big boys. Our style was too regular season. Our grit and grime was enough for November but not April.

One game isn’t enough of a sample size to make a realistic call on whether the Canucks are tough enough. But 47-21 is a big advantage in hits, and while they’re banged up, the Blackhawks aren’t small. However, they have lost a lot of the physical presence that made them so hard to play against last year. Gone is Dustin Byfuglien’s 265-pound presence in front of Luongo. Actually, the ‘Hawks have another giant on their roster by the name of John Scott but that guy hasn’t played since March and his 4 career points aren’t likely to phase Luongo. His hands are probably made of stone and/or ham since he’s more used to using them as facial softness testers on opposing teams rather than putting pucks in the net.

The ‘Hawks are also without Dave Bolland who’s still out with a concussion but that doesn’t quite explain how the Canucks exploded into the playoffs with a new physical game. If you look at their stats all season, they’re closer to the bottom of the league in terms of hits, blocked shots and for the first time in recent memory, not one player was over 100 PIMs (there were 5 last year and 4 before that). Jannik Hansen who leads the team in hits is less than halfway to NHL hits (and name awesomeness) leader Cal Clutterbuck. Personally, I had a few fears as well of the Canucks being able to play playoff hockey, where the refs make fewer calls.

But now I’m thinking the Canucks were just saving it all year, hoping to manage injuries knowing full well in October that they were going to make the playoffs. I know that sounds ridiculous. I thought so too but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

How else can you explain that Sami Salo, the most injury prone player on the roster since he arrived in Vancouver, threw three hits on Wednesday, taking away time and space from players that were learning their ABCs when he started in the NHL. Consider that three hits is 50% of his hits total for the entire regular season. He’s had 49 hits in his 692 career games and I’m almost sure the majority of those were by accident. Heck, when’s the last time you thought of Sami Salo and physical game at the same time without Salo being injured at the end of it? I would’ve sooner believed he could be injured just thinking about throwing a hit but his crunch on ‘Hawks Tomas Kopecky and Viktor Stalberg last night proved otherwise.

You also have to consider Alex Edler, just a couple games back from missing over 30 after back surgery laying out monster checks everywhere, especially on ‘Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, finishing with seven total, one behind Maxim Lapierre for the team lead. Michael Frolik had six to lead the Blackhawks but he must’ve been doing that off camera because I don’t remember that guy playing 18 minutes. In short, the Canucks dominated the physical game. Maybe they were tired of being pushed around by the ‘Hawks the last two seasons and decided they weren’t going to take that crap anymore.

Whether the Canucks can build on this one-to-nil series lead is up in the air as there’s still lots of hockey to be played and we can never underestimate the Blackhawks after falling to them each of the last two years in the post season. However, if the Canucks maintain everything they’ve done all year and add the physical game we saw last night, there should be little reason to worry. Why?

  1. Depth is reversed. The Canucks are a much deeper team than the Blackhawks this year. We have nine or ten NHL playoff capable defensemen available and nearly all healthy. Our most important forwards are all healthy and while our bottom six isn’t as strong as I would like, they’re contributing at the right time and playing tight. Dan Hamhuis led all Canucks in ice time last night while five Blackhawks played more than his 22 and change. If the Canucks continue to play hard, the Blackhawks will have to rely even more on their top players. They’re world class athletes but fatigue has to set in when your forwards are playing over 23 minutes a game.
  2. Almost more important than the Canucks physical presence is the ‘Hawks lackthereof. Luongo has been sharp and without a big body in front of him, he’s even better. The Canucks are middle of the pack when it comes to shots allowed but near the bottom in blocked shots. I’m guessing this is by design with Rollie Melanson’s philosophy this year. Block what you can but otherwise, get the hell out of the way and let Louie see it. Luongo has been stronger positionally this year than he has probably his entire career. If he can see it, he’ll likely stop it and with the Canucks depth on defense, there probably won’t be much parked in front of Lu this series.
  3. Special teams. While they weren’t much of a factor in scoring on Wednesday, the Canucks have the advantage in case things get ugly. The ‘Hawks have to be worried that countering with their own physical game could result in getting burned when the Canucks get the man advantage. Yes, the Blackhawks are probably just as good on the powerplay but our penalty kill is decidedly better. Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler almost connected on a short-handed chance despite being hounded by three Chicago players.

But again, it’s one game and it’s the Blackhawks. We were all optimistic last year after the first game and I don’t know about you but by the time game six came around, I was ready to jump out a window. There’s a lot to work on for the ‘Nucks. Their second period was sloppy at best and they just barely contained the four star, although overworked, Blackhawks forwards in Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and that mullet-wearing kid.

However, what they did show us was they can do even better than their magical regular season, that they can add another dimension to their already stellar game come playoff time and as a Canucks fan, I can’t help but be even more excited than before.

Apr 042011
 

[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)]

Roberto Luongo

Photo credit: National Post

Whoever likes losing 4-1 to the worst team in the NHL raise their hand.

Anyone? No?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I think the only worth-while thing Canucks fans got out of Saturday’s game against Edmonton was the HNIC Afterhours interviews with coach Vigneault and Roberto Luongo.

Andrew (@andz205) asks: Lui said during his HNIC interview that he’s excited to face the Hawks in the playoffs. Do you think they’re ready? What changed?

Katie: My initial reaction to that part of Lu’s interview was, “Are you insane?!” but that being said, I see his point. He wants redemption – he’s been embarrassed two seasons in a row and he thinks he’s finally ready to face his demons (aka the Blackhawks) and defeat Chicago in a series. What Canucks fan or player wouldn’t want to beat the Blackhawks after what we’ve gone through as an organization? It would be great to get that monkey off our backs, especially Luongo, who’s earned the unfair title of “choker” to many people because of his series against Chicago.

And if the playoffs started today, Vancouver would be facing Chicago. Is this realistic to think Vancouver can beat Chicago them? I think so. The Blackhawks have lost a lot of players from their Stanley Cup winning team this past season to trades and free agency, and the team no longer represents that roster Vancouverites have learned to hate (and maybe even fear a bit). In the meantime Vancouver has only added to its own roster depth and has a much better team than the last time they faced Chicago in the playoffs.

Herve (@1stLineCenter) asks: How confident do you and Mozy feel about the Canucks chances in the playoffs this year, regardless of who we play?

Katie: Personally I’m confident, but cautious. I was interviewed by The Province reporter Ian Austin before the season started, and back then I said that I was be cautiously optimistic about the season and take it one game at a time. I’ll do the same for the playoffs. Canucks fans have been disappointed so many times in the past 40 years that it would be unwise to do otherwise – but it’s nice to dream, isn’t it?

And as for @mozy19’s opinion:

Richard: I think the Canucks chances in the playoffs this year are good. Not because they have any individual element of team that is outstanding but because their work ethic and system is foundationally solid. Regardless of circumstance, the Canucks are a well-oiled machine who play the same hockey whether they’re up by 2, down by 2 or in a tie game. They don’t seem to get phased and that attribute is going to be one of their largest assets when the puck drops on the second season. The Canucks, as well as everyone else, know that when the puck drops on game 83 of the season all bets are off. It’s a different game and they’re ready to go. Teams have ups and downs throughout the season but when one of their worst stretches was a stretch of .500 hockey alternating wins and losses, there is no doubt that this team has the consistency and team ethic to make a serious run at things this post season.

Dave (@merlynbc) asks: Should the Canucks really care who they meet in the first round of the playoffs?

Katie: In the end? No.  It shouldn’t matter. To win the Cup (and deserve to win the Cup) the Canucks should be able to beat anyone they come up against and with their track record this year, I think this should be a fair presumption to make. Obviously there are teams out there we’d like to face more than others (for example, Calgary over Detroit) and others some of us fear to see again (see first question of this column), but for the most part, a Stanley Cup winning team shouldn’t fear any competition – and I think this year Vancouver has (so far) proven to be miles ahead the rest of the league in terms of talent and performance.

If we’re lucky, this should carry on through the playoffs, but there are always underdogs and black horses to watch for (ie. Edmonton circa 2006)  so Vancouver shouldn’t let up any of its steam against any team they face in post season.

Jared (@JThompsondesign) asks: Is Salo a free agent that the Canucks have to let go, with the break out of blueliners such as Tanev and Sauve? With Bieksa having had such a great season, is he a free agent the Canucks can’t afford to lose this off season?

Katie: I think Salo should choose to retire before the Canucks have to make that decision. He’s been with the club for a long time and I can honestly say that despite his injuries (all 40+ of them) Salo lives in the hearts of most long-time Canucks fans. He’s the last of the WCE legacy, and one that fans would like to see sent off with style and class. This should mean that Salo should probably step down on his own free will. I have a feeling that if he doesn’t do that at the end of this season, he might not be offered an extension.

As you say, there is a lot of up-and-coming defensive talent in the organization, not to mention a sound blueline of regulars who have stepped up to the plate in another injury-plagued season. Don’t think Gillis and Vigneault haven’t noticed this. Salo is (I hate to say it) a bit of a relic, but a well-respected and adored one. It would be wise of him to end his time with the Canucks now on a high, especially if (God will it) we have a championship season on our hands.

Regarding Bieksa, I believe he’s actually earned himself an extension this year. I, of all people, hate to admit that, but there’s no denying it. He’s a +31 right now, and honestly, who saw that coming last season? I thought KB3 would be traded by now.

That being said, the last time Bieksa’s contract was up he performed well, then performed less-than-spectacular for his next two years on the team. Could he be playing well because he wants to be re-signed, or is he finally injury free for the first time in ages?

Only time will tell, I guess, but let’s hope for the best.

And on that note, let’s hope the team can defeat the worst team in the NHL tomorrow. Saturday was embarrassing.

Feb 212011
 

[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

Welcome back, Ask Katie readers. I hope you all enjoyed the Canucks win on Saturday and your weekends, including yesterday’s Heritage Classic in Calgary. Carey Price looked like he was about to get pneumonia and perhaps did, considering the Flames scored four unanswered goals on the poor guy.

Adrian (@unambig) asks: Maybe you’re a closet Flames fan?

Katie: Maybe the Leafs will make it to the Cup final?

I digress. I actually fell asleep on the couch in the second period and woke up to find the Habs had been routed and the neighbour across the street staring into my living room window at me. Yes. Creepy.

Anyway, lots of good questions this week, so let’s get to them.

@Left_Wing_Lock asks: Long-term plans for Schneider in Van?

Katie: Unfortunately I really don’t think there are any. Everyone knows that Schneider is basically trade bait, which is part of the reason he’ll play 20-25 games by the end of this season (and he’s not doing too shabby either at 10-3-2 and .924 save percentage). He might have one more season serving as backup at the most, but this probably hinges on the team’s health and playoff success (or lack thereof) later this spring to see who management trades him for.

@howesoundbeer asks: Who’s the best shootout goalie in the NHL?

Katie: Jonathan Quick, with seven shootout wins and a .848 save percentage. Where’s Luongo in the NHL’s list of shootout goalies? 31st with .444 save percentage. Ouch.

Andrew (@andz205) asks: We know the Canucks can score, but they are still 0-6-4 when trailing after one. Is this anywhere near concerning?

Katie: A little. I’d be lying if I said this stat didn’t bother me. It’s as if the team is suddenly the exact opposite of their last two seasons as the Comeback Kids. Last year the Canucks were first in the NHL with 11 wins when trailing after two periods. So where’d the Comeback Kids go? They literally can’t come back AT ALL this season, which is a little troubling when you start to think of the playoffs. If the Canucks can’t fight back to win a game with forty minutes left on the clock, then the fans (and the team) have something to be worried about. Perhaps it’s just a fluke or bad luck that the Canucks haven’t been able to battle back (look at the injuries), but if they’re going to get past the second round of the playoffs, they need to earn their nickname back and start winning these games – no matter what.

(Editor’s note:: The 10 times the Canucks are trailing after the first period is lowest in the league. That’s probably because they lead the league in number of times scoring first at 32. One other way to look at this is they don’t have to come back if they’re already leading. Yes, there’s sunshine and rainbows in my cereal this morning. – J.J.)

Herve (@1stLineCenter) asks: What is Salo’s nickname? Who is the jokester on the team?

Katie: Besides Sami? He doesn’t have a real nickname, but I’ve heard Salo called many things by the fan base, including “Balls of Steel”, “FrankenNuck”, “Finnish MacInnis”, and “Man of Glass”.

The jokester is definitely Keith Ballard. Remember when he tried to hide in Bieksa’s hockey bag and scare him? He also teamed up with former Canuck Bryan Allen in Florida to prank and harass the rest of the Panthers – this led to Allen and Ballard getting pranked in return by finding all the furniture in their hotel room had been removed. Ballard has also untaped all of Bieksa’s sticks one day after Bieksa meticulously wrapped them. “He’s a little strange,” Bieksa said after Ballard’s failed hockey-bag prank. “He’s definitely the odd one out of the group, but he likes to have fun and he keeps guys on their toes and he’ll often make himself the butt of the joke to get a laugh for the boys.”

Now hurry back, Ballard. At the moment we need your defensive skills more than we need your pranks.

Until next time, Canucks fans, have a great week.

Feb 132011
 

[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

56 GP, 36-11-9, 81 points (1st in Northwest Division, 1st in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

It was about this time last year that Mikael Samuelsson went on a hot streak, a way of showing Team Sweden what they were missing out on. To say that Sammy is en fuego as of late would be an understatement. He has 6 goals and 14 points in his last 8 games while adding a different look to the first PP unit. With the injury to Alex Edler, Sammy has fit nicely into the first PP unit and is, for now anyway, quarterbacking the point with Christian Ehrhoff. Sammy is also happy to back on the 2nd line with Kesler, where they have rekindled their chemistry along side Mason Raymond.

Who’s Not

Night in and night out, Jannik Hansen is one of the hardest working Canucks on the ice, but unfortunately, it hasn’t translated in to much offensive success recently. He only has 1 goal and 1 assist in his last 12 games. While he works tirelessly on the penalty kill and tries to generate chances on the 3rd line with his speed, he just hasn’t been able to finish.

Who’s Next

Monday, February 14, 2011 vs. St. Louis Blues (5:00 PM start, away)

The St. Louis Blues lost both games to the Minnesota Wild in this weekend’s home-and-home series. Since a 5-game win streak to end 2010, the Blues have only 4 wins in 2011. (In contrast, the Canucks have 3 regulation losses in 2011.) The Blues are looking from the outside into the playoff race, sitting in 13th place in the Western Conference.

The Canucks and Blues have split their first two meetings of the season, with the road team coming out on top both times. The Blues won 3-2 in Rogers Arena on December 5th; the Canucks won their latest meeting 3-1 on December 20th in St. Louis.

Alex Steen has 4 points (3G -1A) and is a plus-3 in the season series to date. He has 15 goals, 40 points and a plus-4 rating for the season.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 vs. Minnesota Wild (5:00 PM start, away)

On the front page of the Minnesota Wild’s website, it says “Every Point Counts”, which is fitting considering that the standings in the Western Conference seem to change every night. Minnesota has been battling with the Flames and Kings for the last playoff spot. The Wild are hot and are currently on a 4-game winning streak; they have an 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games.

The Wild have won 2 of their 3 games against the Canucks this season. Both wins came at home at the Xcel Energy Center where they outscored the Canucks 10-2, including the 4-0 beating just last month. (Incidentally, that loss was the start of a mini-slide where the boys in blue went 0-1-3.)

Martin Havlat has 9 points with a plus-7 rating in his last 10 games. He leads the team in points with 48 (16G – 32A) for the season. He has 3 points in 3 games against the Canucks this season.

Thursday, February 17, 2011 vs. Nashville Predators (5:00 PM start, away)

The Canucks roll into Nashville for the last game of a 3-game road trip. The Preds look different this time with the addition of Mike “Mr. Underwood” Fisher, who came over in a trade from the Ottawa Senators. The Predators are 5-4-1 in their last 10 and are currently sitting in 4th place in the Western Conference.

The Canucks have won the only meeting between the two teams this season, when Lee Sweatt potted his first NHL career goal and first game-winning-goal.

After a few tumultuous years in Montreal, Sergei Kostitsyn seems to have found a home in Nashville. He has 10 points (4-6) in his last 10 games and is second in team scoring, just behind Captain Shea Weber, with 15 goals, 18 assists and 33 points – all are career-highs.

Saturday, February 19, 2011 vs Dallas Stars (7:00 PM start, home)

It’s Hockey Night in Canada and the Canucks are home from a road trip to play against the Dallas Stars. With only 2 wins in their last 9 games, Dallas is just barely holding onto 3rd place in the Western Conference, with the Coyotes only a point back and making a push for the Pacific Division lead.

The Canucks have had Dallas’ number this season winning all 3 previous meetings by a combined score of 15-3. Both Sedins have 6 points each in the 3 games played.

All-Star Loui Eriksson has 4 points (1-3) in his last 5 games and is second in team scoring with 18 goals and 53 points this season. He is also a good plus-14. Eriksson is a pure offensive player and is generally-considered to be one of the most underrated players in the league.

Welcome Back: Sami “Balls of Steel” Salo

The win against the Calgary Flames on Saturday saw the return of Sami Salo.

About a month ago it was unknown whether we would even see Sami back this season or ever. But with the latest string of injuries – unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you’ll already know that Edler is out indefinitely after having back surgery, Ballard is out about a month with a sprained knee and Dan Hamhuis was plastered to the boards and will be out indefinitely with a concussion – the return on Sami has happened with opened arms.

Sami’s presence adds so much to the Canucks lineup, and it’s always nice to know we have that blast from the point that would scare any goalie straight. It’ll take a few games for Salo to get back into top playing form, after all this is his “training camp”, but to see #6 back on the ice makes all Canucks fans happy.

So here’s to Sami Salo, we missed you and your balls of steel!

Feb 122011
 

When the final buzzer sounded in the Vancouver Canucks’ final game against the Chicago Blackhawks on May 11th last year, they were down to a defense corps that includes Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo, Andrew Alberts and Shane O’Brien.

Barring any last-minute changes, the Canucks will start tonight’s game against the Calgary Flames with a defense that includes the same top-four of Bieksa, Ehrhoff, Salo and Alberts. Plus, instead of SOB, they’ll have Aaron Rome in the lineup. And rookie Chris Tanev.

For all the excellent planning and work GM Mike Gillis did over the summer to address the Canucks’ (lack of) depth on defense, they’re back to where they were at the end of last season.

This isn’t to blame Gillis, of course. I mean, how do you plan for long-term injuries to three of your top-four defensemen? If anything, he deserves credit for the fact that it took this many injuries to get the defense to this point.

The Canucks have been able to withstand injuries so far this season, but this will be their biggest challenge. Dan Hamhuis has a concussion and is out indefinitely. Keith Ballard won’t be back until after the trade deadline. Alex Edler won’t be back until April or May at the earliest. Guys have been able to step up and fill in for short stretches; we’re about to see if they can hold the fort for a longer term.

Now, someone make sure to keep Salo away from the crackers.

Feb 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)]

Hi there, hungover Canucks fans! For those of you who don’t give a damn about football, thanks for your questions for today’s column. You were a big help during a hectic weekend when people were too enthralled with Troy Polamalu’s mane of hair and Fergie’s train-wreck version of Sweet Child of Mine to help me out.

You, my friends, saved the day.

I feel like I’ve already answered the following question, but what the heck.

Jovan (@jovanheer) asks: Who should we trade for at the deadline?

I had this discussion during the Super Bowl around a poker table (not like I played, I’m useless when it comes to poker), and the conclusion we came to was – nobody. Unless we lose a defenseman right before the playoffs, there’s really no reason to go for or unload anyone by the 28th. As I’ve mentioned before, probably last week, we have a very deep roster and our secondary scoring is picking up again after a bit of a slump.  Raymond’s name is being tossed around as a favourite to go, similar to Bieksa’s story before he decided he wanted to perform well, but let’s face it, if he’s going to go anywhere, it probably won’t be until the off-season.

Then again, I’ve been surprised before.

BCAA Booster (@BCAAbooster) asks: Hodgson’s cage… what’s the deal?

As the Kurtenblog wrote, some may have noticed that Hodgson’s been “wearing a facial cage from the Hayley Wickenheiser collection”. This is because he cracked the orbital bone in his face during a Manitoba Moose practice on December 9th and missed 16 games as a result. The cage is basically to protect his face until he has the orders that he’s in the clear. It was a pretty serious injury and he can’t risk a stick to the face at the moment. Remind anyone of the Willie Mitchell look from the ’03 playoffs?

David (@merlynbc) asks (or actually suggests): The coincidence of injury/recovery with Canucks is interesting. Think #6/#23. Think #54′s foot. Not a conspiracy theorist but…

You’re not the first to point this out. I think even Jason Botchford and Tony Gallagher addressed the “conspiracy” on The Province’s live chat last week. Conspiracy theories are very popular among Canucks fans, or NHL fans in general. I wouldn’t go as far as to think that the Canucks could plan blueline injuries with such impeccable timing to make cap room for Salo. I would just think it was good (and lucky) timing for the team. Perhaps Salo was close to coming back anyway, and was taking things slow so as not to shatter any of his glass parts too soon; perhaps Edler’s injury forced Salo to make a decision and return quicker than he would have liked. We don’t know, and knowing the tight-lipped Canucks we probably won’t ever find out the exact details.

Jason (@@jasonwheelerBC) asks: How many starts do you see Schneider getting for the rest of the season?

So far Schneider’s played 13 games, and according to pre-season comments by Mike Gillis, Ginger Bricks would likely see 20-25 starts in order to give Luongo a long-awaited break. I may be really bad at math, but I’m going to go and estimate that he’ll see 7 to 12 more starts before the playoffs. Cheeky enough for you, Wheeler?

That’s all, folks.

And just to update you all, my introduction to football didn’t go well yesterday. I think I’ll stick to hockey.

Feb 072011
 

Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers for winning Super Bowl XLV. As well, congratulations to Christina Aguilera for joining Bryan Adams in national anthem infamy and looking like a younger Cyndi Lauper in the process.

As we turn our attention back to the Canucks and wait for puck drop in tonight’s game against the Ottawa Senators, here are some reads to help pass the time:

Feb 042011
 

My apologies for not posting anything in the last couple of days. Work and home life got a bit crazy.

Regardless, allow me to share some quick thoughts on the Canucks this week.

*****

Is it just me or does the Canucks’ rise to the top of the NHL standings feel somewhat surreal?

Recently, it’s almost as if the Canucks can’t do anything wrong. Even during their worst stretch of the season early in January when they lost 6 of 8 games, they managed 8 points and maintained their first place standing in the Western Conference. Despite being decimated by injuries on the back end, they’ve put together a 4-game winning streak.

As a Canucks fan, I’ve learnt to expect the worst so it wasn’t a surprise when the number of injured defensemen rose to four. What has been a pleasant surprise is how this team hasn’t skipped a beat despite the injuries.

*****

It’s interesting to watch the succession plan – and depth – this team has on defense, especially in the last couple of weeks. When Aaron Rome was injured, Andrew Alberts stepped up. When Alberts went down, Chris Tanev stepped in. With Alex Edler was lost for the remainder of the regular season, Keith Ballard stepped seamlessly into the top-4 and Lee Sweatt, in his first taste of NHL action, scored his 1st NHL goal and has 2 points in 3 games.

Oh, and that Sami Salo guy is close to coming back.

And Edler may very well be back in the playoffs.

*****

I can’t imagine anyone with a more vested interested in Cody Hodgson’s play than GM Mike Gillis. After a tough past couple of seasons, there’s no doubt everyone in Canucks Nation – from Canucks management to the coaching staff to the players to the fans – wants him to succeed. But for GMMG, Cody represents more than a highly-touted prospect. He represents the first Canucks draft pick in the Mike Gillis era to play an NHL game.

When GMMG first came on-board, he made it clear that he wanted to build up the Canucks’ scouting and development team. True to his word, the Canucks now have one of the largest scouting and development budgets in the league.

But for everything GMMG has done and the Canucks have accomplished this season, a lot of his critics still point to the fact that the various core players of this team were drafted by its previous GMs. (Never mind the fact that these same core players only just matured under Gillis’ watch, but I digress.)

One of the stories from Cody’s draft year is how Mike Gillis, on Dave Gagner’s recommendation, overrode the Canucks scouting staff’s recommendation to draft Kyle Beach and select Cody instead. Despite Cody making the NHL before Beach, it’s obviously too early for us to judge this move. But if his first 2 games are any indication, he’s going to be just fine.

And deep down inside, I’m sure GMMG is smiling just a little bit.

*****

One more thing about the prospects.

Every team preaches the mantra that it’s important to build through the draft. In order to be successful in the salary cap world, every team needs players on entry-level contracts or low cap hits to outperform their contracts.

The problem is, the 2006 and 2007 drafts have yielded no quality prospects for the Canucks, except for Michael Grabner, who is now on Long Island, and Sergei Shirokov. And to be honest, I still have doubts about Shirokov being a full-time NHL regular. Meanwhile, the 2008, 2009 and 2010 draft picks are probably (or hopefully) a couple of years away from putting in any meaningful contributions.

Despite that, you have to admit that the Canucks have done a good job of bridging the gap. On Tuesday, they had five rookies in the lineup – Cory Schneider, Aaron Volpatti, Chris Tanev, Lee Sweatt and Hodgson. Schneider, of course, was a Dave Nonis draft pick, but Volpatti, Tanev and Sweatt were all free agent signings by Mike Gillis. Add his relative success in his other free agent signings (i.e. Jeff Tambellini, Tanner Glass, etc.) and the Canucks have been able to plug holes in the lineup and give the rest of the prospects time to develop in Manitoba.

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