The Los Angeles Kings showed the Vancouver Canucks why they are the defending Stanley Cup champions Thursday night in Vancouver. While the Canucks were busy trying to stand up to the Kings physically, the Kings played a smart, tight and controlling road game en route to a dominating 4-0 win.
From the opening whistle the Canucks seemed determined to make a physical statement to the Kings, a team that has bullied the Canucks over the past three seasons since they met in the 2012 playoffs. The knock on the Canucks has long been that they have lacked a physical presence on the ice. While that problem seems to have been remedied, the Kings showed that they aren’t just a mound of meat-heads, and the Canucks will need to make further changes to the roster if they expect to contend in the future.
That said, the most notable problem for the Canucks on this night seemed to be an issue with their coverage on the weak side of the puck, down low. It was exposed twice against San Jose and the Kings clearly watched some game tape.
The first two goals were cross ice feeds, high to low, for easy tap in goals. That the Canucks seem to be overloading one side of the ice is one thing, but that they’re allowing exacting passes that slice through the middle of their defence to the front of the net is an entirely different problem, especially since the passes are not being made by Jeff Carter or Anze Kopitar, but rather by the likes of Justin Williams and Brayden McNabb.
After the clutchy goals of Justin Williams and Tyler Toffoli built the Kings a 2-0 lead, the game was all but over when the normally reliable Dan Hamhuis coughed up a puck to none other than Anze Kopitar, playing perhaps his best game in recent memory. Kopitar beat the hapless Eddie Lack on the play, and the game was solved.
All that remained was the question of whether or not Kings netminder Jonathan Quick could stop the 19 shots the Canucks could muster all game. Quick was up to the task, and after Canucks coach Willie Desjardins pulled Lack with 4:20 remaining, a quick empty netter deposited by Marian Gaborik completed the Kings win.
Canucks’ shooters couldn’t muster more than one shot at a time on the Kings net, as the Kings cleared the rebounds time and time again. It seemed difficult for the team to muster any sustained pressure, while the Kings came up with timely plays seemingly whenever they needed to.
Whatever has been going on this season for the Kings seems to have been corrected, at least on this night, while the Canucks will need to hope that all the other teams they face this season prove a little more compatible to their playing style.
At the moment, the Kings asked a lot of questions of the Canucks, questions which had no answers.
Posted in NHL Gospel According to Raincity |
Times have changed and the franchises have gone in different directions since the Kings ousted the Daniel-less Canucks in 5 games en route to their first Stanley Cup. The Kings are coming off their second Stanley Cup and have, in some ways, a better roster that helped them take the cup in previous seasons and in other ways one which has grown a little stale. The Canucks, meanwhile, have rebuilt on the fly, and coach Willie Desjardins has them playing an up-tempo forechecking style of play which keeps opponents defense on alert and their forwards pinned in the neutral zone.
Tale of the Tape
|Season Record (NHL Rk)||32-21-13 (17)||38-24-4 (13)|
|Streak||Won 1||Won 2|
LA: The Kings talismen are not getting it done as a whole. Other than Jeff Carter and, lately, Gaborik, who missed some games with an injury, the Kings have had some trouble finding regular contributors on offense. Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, and the all- but-finished Mike Richards have had trouble finding the back of the net this season. Going into the game vs. the Canucks, who do a pretty good job of shutting down other teams top lines, these players will need to produce.
The win against Colorado was a big one, but the Avs started rookie netminder Calvin Pickard who was pulled in favour of Reto Berra. While Canucks’ Eddie Lack isn’t exactly Patrick Roy, he is a legitimate NHL caliber goalie, so the Kings will have to be accurate. Although the Kings have been a little up and down this season, they have a tendency of playing well against the Canucks and are not bothered by having their backs up against any wall, ever. L.A. is also a very good road team, at least when it matters, have a day’s rest and just finished playing in higher elevation.
Vancouver: Rogers Arena hasn’t been indomitable for the Canucks and they haven’t beaten the Kings all season. Their record against Pacific teams is only 19-15-3 and the Canucks have traditionally struggled against bigger more physical teams, which the Kings are. Still, the Canucks have shown signs of becoming more “Kings-like” in recent months, adding younger legs and bigger bodies throughout the lineup.
Some of those legs and bodies are playing quite well for the team, as in the case of the Dorsett, Matthias and Horvat line. They’re not setting the NHL on fire exactly, but Desjardins is getting timely production and using them in big minutes. As well, the Canucks have assembled a formidable back line of stay-at-home defenders who take no prisoners and make sound hockey plays. The wins against San Jose and Anaheim in the last week are much bigger character-builders than wins against the Avalanche and Oilers in a two week period which saw the Kings go 3W-4L.
Advantage Canucks: Even though the Kings have a tendency of producing big wins when they need them the most, Thursday’s game feels like a Canucks win. The key scorers for Vancouver have been consistent, while the supporting lines do what they’re supposed to do. The Canucks are getting healthy at the right time, though they are still missing key D-man Kevin Bieksa.
More importantly the Canucks mental health has improved dramatically since the January 1st loss to Los Angeles while the Kings, say what they will, have been a little shaky. As the Canucks younger players begin to arrive now, the Kings key pieces are slumping at the wrong time. The traditional size mismatch still favours the Kings but is not as dramatic as before. This game will be close, but the Canucks should have enough to get their first win of the season vs. the defending champs and all their hubris.
Ok, so I’ve been a bit busy working with other things. I know, I know, what could be more important than blogging for no recognition, pay or credit on my own site to a world of people who don’t leave comments and don’t reblog the site? It seems unfathomable that I should have taken such a layoff, given the enormous boon of dividends that online blogging provides. It truly is a wealth of rewards.
But, in the interest of fueling the long used saying that “work is its own reward”, a saying surely initiated by some poor sap toiling away for some unscrupulous bastard in the early colonial years when half of Ireland was convinced that starting a farm in the Hudson Bay lowlands was a great idea, I will continue to provide the world with my invaluable insights.
So, I will preempt this all by explaining that, while I have been away from blogging about the Canucks, I have not been away from the work that is hockey. In fact, just the other day I was at a Giants game during which my date received a souvenir to the head by ways of a flying puck.
A pool of blood, five hours in Burnaby General Hospital and six stitches to the scalp on a first date was definitely not the kind of reward that work should provide, but it did serve as a reminder, of sorts, that there is a silver lining. In the world of calamities, and a pencil thin scar just below the hairline not being the worst of calamities one could think of, I got to thinking about the game of hockey again and how the work of it is represented in life and life represented through it.
Tonight, however, I took the safe route. Work, nonetheless, but safe. I decided to get a stack burger at the Cambie Milestones, where there were, literally, more people serving than actual customers and Patrick Hernandez’s “Born to Be Alive” blared in the background as the Canucks worked for a 1-0 lead.
Later, I decided to work at hunting down a more vibrant atmosphere and cabbed it to Athlete’s village where I sat on the long bar at the eponymously named tavern “Craft”, admiring the Canucks efforts on one of the many screens, the sports version of a silent drama playing out in front of me as more contemporary music than the stuck-in-the-eighties Milestones could provide (but did I mention the stack burger?).
Tonight I watched something I haven’t seen since maybe 2011, and no, I’m not referring to two clowns from Toronto who were cheering on the Ducks out of spite that their team can’t seem to make the playoffs in a year when everyone is actually trying to lose games. I watched a team. A real team. Working.
The truth is that I’ve been there, watching, praying, hoping and lamenting every day, every game that it would finally culminate in what I saw today against Anaheim. The Canucks have arrived, and they’ve done it through hard work, proving that it truly is its own reward.
I’ve been working hard watching this team closely all season, and I probably had lots to say about Willie Desjardins being selected to coach the Canucks, the trade of Ryan Kesler, or the promotion of Bo Horvat, the play of Ryan Miller, both good and bad, the surprising consistency of the team, the sucking of Kassian, Vrbata as an all-star, the rise of the Dorsett’s and the Mathhias’s, the injuries and then the resurgence of Kassian along with Eddie Lack finding his game again, but, hey, why work at recapturing all of that when another more appropriate saying (in this case) trumps them all:
And keep working.
He’s not a Harvard lawyer, but a solid hockey man from hockey roots — someone who understands the game from the inside out. Jim Benning has all the potential to be exactly what the Canucks have always longed for since the days of Pat Quinn. The first order of business for the former Canucks D-Man will be to find a coach who can create the exciting “brand” of hockey which newly appointed president Trevor Linden longs for. In order to do this, Benning will likely read the irony written on the walls of the team’s asylum. Kesler must go, but first things first.
Benning understands how delicate the balance is in the Canucks dressing room. After a year of the recently dispatched John Tortorella, the Canucks can ill afford to hire another defensively minded coach who attempts to mold offensively gifted players like the Sedins into the pre-halcyon days when all they did was cycle the puck in the corners like a conveyor belt. The Canucks do not need a “name brand” coach. They do not need Barry Trotz.
After the failed Tortorella experiment the Canucks need to shift to a coach who will work with the offensively gifted veterans who want to win now, and bring along the young players who need to be inserted in positions to have success. Enter Portland Winter Hawks’ Mike Johnston.
This hire makes a lot of sense. Johnston has a history with the Canucks going way back to 1999 when he and Jack Mcllhargey were named as assistant coaches to the Marc Crawford led teams, teams which featured none other than current Canucks’ president Trevor Linden. Additionally, the rise of Henrik and Daniel Sedin coincided with the arrival of Johnston, whose last season with the team in ’06 saw the twins reach then career highs of 75 points.
The rest of Johnston’s resume is impressive. After two more years as an associate coach of the L.A. Kings where he and Crawford coached a young Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, Johnston was offered a job as a GM/Coach of the Portland W’interhawks. This is from their website:
After taking over early in the 2008-09 season, Johnston and his staff led the Winterhawks to the biggest turnaround in team history in 2009-10, improving the team by 48 points. The Winterhawks made the playoffs for the first time in four years, knocking off Spokane in overtime of Game 7 in a thrilling series.
Following the season, eight Winterhawks were taken in the 2010 NHL Draft, tying a franchise record.
Since 2010, the Winterhawks have competed in the last four consecutive finals, winning once. His track record with young players is undeniable, even leading the Canadian Juniors to an undefeated record and a gold medal in Russia in ’09, the first time in seventy-three years. If that’s not enough of a case to hire Johnston as the Canucks new coach, Johnston understands the business of hockey from a managerial standpoint, meaning that conversations between him Benning and Linden would be that much more enriched with regards to player movement.
Adding to all of this is the Canucks interest in young Penguins’ defenseman Derrick Pouliot who could come Vancouver’s way via a Kesler trade, a trade Ray Shero was unwilling to complete but a new Pittsburgh GM might. Pouliot has blossomed, starred and emerged as a champion for none other than the Portland Winterhawks under none other than Mike Johnston.
Additionally, when Johnston was suspended in a rather heavy handed manner by the league for, essentially, paying for his captain’s cell phone bill it was none other than his assistant Travis Green who stepped behind the bench and won a championship. The season after, the Canucks hired Green to coach their minor league affiliate, the Utica Comets. Rumour has it that Tortorella didn’t consult Green with regards to player movement. This would be another area which would be instantly resolved with the hire of Johnston as Canucks coach.
Linden has offered that the team is in search of a “career coach” and in that respect Johnston meets all criteria. He began at the collegiate level in Canada in 1985 moving his way all the way up to coaching alongside Crawford at the Nagano Olympics where he coached not only the Great One but also, again, Linden himself.
His teams are known for speed, offensive stability, defensive mobility and immense success. He has won at every level and has the maturity to handle veterans as well as the skills to handle young players. He isn’t a Harvard lawyer, just like Benning and Linden aren’t, but he does hold a Master’s degree… in Coaching Science.
Linden, much like his role model Pat Quinn, is a loyal Canuck. Already he has proven that loyalty by extending to a former Canuck and comparative model, Cam Neely, who gave back to the team that drafted him by allowing for a quick hire of former Canuck Jim Benning. Jim Benning has a home in Portland where he would have undoubtedly caught a few Winterhawks games here and there. This is a franchise once coached by Canucks’ Ring of Honour inductee, Harold Snepsts, and the same team for which Benning played in his junior days.
Even Hockey Night’s Elliotte Friedman touched on Johnston explaining the obvious connections:
The final name was team-specific to Vancouver: Mike Johnston of WHL Portland. Linden made it clear the GM should hire the coach, but the two have a history. Anyway, just some different names.
Just one person’s opinion here, but if the Canucks want that old-time feel they should seek to reestablish that Canuck connection by hiring another lost brother in Mike Johnston, but the only question would be, would he want to leave his position as GM of the Winterhawks to accept the relative instability of an NHL coach where he hasn’t won the big one?
Winterhawks owner Bill Gallacher has said he “wouldn’t stand in Johnston’s way”, should the coach want to move up to the NHL. Admittedly, the news on the Canucks coaching front has circulated around current assistants or Barry Trotz, but given the current direction of the team, owned by two Vancouver locals and die-hard fans, presided over by a local legend, and now managed by a former player, the hire of Mike Johnston would complete the cycle.
Posted in Slew Foot Burrows | Tagged canucks and mike johnston, canucks coach, canucks coach hire, canucks should hire mike johnston, derrick pouliot canucks, jim benning GM, mike johnston, new canucks coach, penguins canucks trade, ryan kesler penguins, trevor linden president, vancouver canucks and coach mike johnston, who will the canucks hire as coach for 2014 |
Is it a retool, a reset a refresh or a rebuild? It’s a known fact that the Canucks are breathstrip thin in the offensive ranks and are in need of serious help all over the roster. Even a quick glance at this year’s playoffs will tell any Canucks fans who watched the game closely that the team is neither strong enough or quick enough to compete with any of the remaining eight teams in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Newly appointed President of Hockey Operations, Trevor Linden, knows a few things about playing the north/south game, and will be looking to understand what the franchise holds in current talent vs. what the franchise needs vs. what it can afford. But without a GM and a coach his job is significantly more difficult. Linden will have to prove that he’s not just a figurehead, and soon.
It is assumed that the team returns with Sedin as their primary scoring center and Kesler as the team’s premier two-way pivot and not as the slow defensive pass-first center and a swashbuckling right winger as under the Tortorella regime. Even so, with Mike Santorelli’s health in question (and a UFA himself) the team will be looking to add a quality player as insurance in the middle at the three spot, while bolstering the lines with quality scoring wingers.
The other assumption is that the Canucks new direction is a departure from the old direction. Former President/GM Mike Gillis’ s main strength was to scour other teams’ rosters in order to mastermind a roster.
GM Gillis’s acquisitions were mostly misses anyway.
In the case of Dan Hamhuis, Mikael Samuelsson and Manny Malhotra, the strategy seemed to pay immediate dividends. In other cases such as in Jason Garrison’s or Mike Santorelli’s, the results are still in the balance.
The list of failures, however, is lengthy: Kyle Wellwood, Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Johnson, Curtis Sandford, Pavol Demitra, Rob Davison, Mats Sundin, Andrew Raycroft, Tanner Glass, Marco Sturm, Dale Weise, Andrew Ebbett, Byron Bitz, Steve Pinizzotto, Mark Mancari and Alexander Sulzer all arrived to the Canucks via free agency and were never better than just roster filling support players for a core that he neither drafted nor traded for.
Rest assured, Trevor Linden’s philosophy will be to search from within to succeed from without.
Linden will not be as involved with the free agent chase, unless to sign his own, for nothing says “F-U” to other GM’s in the league more than signing their players for more money than they’re worth, a talent for which Mike Gillis appeared to have a penchant. If Linden is the second coming of Pat Quinn, the talents of other teams’ player development and scouts will will take a back seat to his own.
The Linden regime’s first move will determine what the team is doing going forward. A Ryan Kesler trade for youth and draft picks, for example, would indicate a movement towards rebuilding. A signing of a big name UFA like Paul Stastny, Andrei Markov or Dan Boyle, for example would indicate a reloading.
And then, of course, everything depends on what the team’s new GM’s philosophy is and, ultimately, who the new coach is too.
Linden’s most pressing concern is to fill the gaping management hole with a seasoned professional who has numerous connections league-wide. The next step is to find a coach whom the players will enjoy playing for. In the end though, Linden’s most critical stamp on the team will be to repair the bridges Mike Gillis burned in his five-year tenure with the team.
Perhaps it isn’t a retool, reset, refresh or rebuild inasmuch as it is a re-engineering of the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks and their fans are hoping these bridges hold this time, because the franchise is one collapse away from a protracted period of futility.
The Canucks can compete as soon as next season with a few decisive roster moves but a few things have to happen first. Here is a top ten list of things to do in Canuckville this off-season to turn last year’s roster of spare parts into a unified and up and coming team, in chronological order.
Trade Ryan Kesler.
Even if he wants to stay, the Canucks’ forward was and will continue to be a distraction. If Tortorella was right about one thing, it was that Canucks fans need to forget about 2011. That Selke trophy and those 41 goals are distant memories now, but the player still holds his value across the league. To avoid an Iginla situation, at the first available moment the team must trade him to acquire what they really need. See number 2.
Acquire a young “can’t-miss” offensive defenseman.
If there is one commonality between all previous cup winners it is that they all had a defenseman who could skate, shoot, and move the puck. Think about the previous ten Stanley Cup champions and their premium defenseman:
2013: Chicago Blackhawks — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook,
2012: L.A. Kings — Drew Doughty
2011: Boston Bruins — Zdeno Chara,
2010: Chicago Blackhawks — That combo of Keith and Seabrook again
2009: Pittsburgh Penguins — Kris Letang,
2008: Detroit Red Wings — Nicklas Lidstrom (who also won in three other finals)
2007: Anaheim Ducks — Scott Niedermayer (who also won with the New Jersey Devils in 2003)
2006: Carolina Hurricanes –Leadership of Brind’Amour and goalie Cam Ward. Oilers did have D Chris Pronger.
2005: No playoffs due to lockout
2004: Tampa Bay Lightning — Dan Boyle
Compliance Buyout David Booth.
I’m not sure I need to explain this to Canucks fans, or any other fans for that matter, but David Booth would have been a disappointment if he were being paid half a million and change. Unfortunately, the club has been saddled with his $4.5 million over the last three years. The likeable Booth has unfortunately not really lived up to any part of his end of the contract, and is now healthy enough to use a buyout on. This must happen if the Canucks can do the next logical thing in number 4.
Overpay Paul Stastny.
The Canucks can now dangle near Sedin money at the 28 year-old player. He was a big part of Colorado’s resurgence this season and also has developed a strong two-way game. Is he a better defender than Kesler? Not yet, but he is a better distributor of the puck which is what the Canucks need on the power play and on their second line. The Canucks need goals and Stastny plays more like a true centre rather than the converted winger Kesler is. Unfortunately, the Canucks will have to pay big bucks to gain the centre’s services.
Find a backup mentor for Eddie Lack.
J.S. Giguere is another free agent who may come at a nicer price tag than most. He’s at the tail end of a brilliant career and would provide the kind of stability behind Eddie Lack that, say, a 38 year-old Roberto Luongo would provide — can get in when called upon, but is no threat to the throne. Meanwhile, Lack could benefit from an experienced netminder giving him tips along the way.
A right winger with pedigree and/or leadership.
The Sedins are not going to do much more with Alex Burrows, that much is proven. After a season in which the former “third Sedin” went half a year without scoring a single goal, and injured every part of his body in the process, the Sedins need a trigger man who can bury the puck on the right side. I suggest Radim Vrbata or Ryan Callahan depending on what kind of cap space is available. Marian Gaborik is also a free agent, but will command top dollar. How about dangling an opportunity to play with the Sedins for Daniel Alfredsson? It’s all doable.
First, Chris Tanev. The Canucks need to lock this player up long-term. He is simply too important to let go. He is not the dominant D-man they need, but he is the steadiest and most reliable player former GM Mike Gillis was ever able to acquire on his own intuition. Tanev might cost the Canucks in the 3-4 million zone, but he is too important to the team. Second, Zack Kassian. He’s still on the cusp of becoming a legitimate contributor but there were some signs last season that the hulking winger was willing to take on the challenge. The game vs. Buffalo when he poured in 4 assists was utterly dominant.
Roll out the rook.
Bo Horvat’s time is now. The Canucks must give him every opportunity to make the big leagues, especially after he has accomplished everything there is to accomplish at the junior level. Linden’s leadership and advice will serve the young Horvat well and could make the Canucks competitive as soon as next season.
Find a scoring left-winger.
It’s also time the Canucks had a proper NHL second line, and with the addition of Stastny, all the Canucks need to do is find him some skill to work with for a season or two while the younger players develop. If all goes according to plan, a second line of Stastny, Kassian and Michalek wouldn’t look half bad skating after the Sedins with their new winger.
Salary dump Alex Edler.
It’s time the club admitted what they have in this player. Benning is the second evaluator of Alex Edler to come in from an objective standpoint and say what this player once was: a dominant defenseman who could move the puck and put opposing forwards on the ice with shocking hits. By rights, this is the player the Canucks needed to have develop more than most but he is verging upon becoming a bust. By lifting the 4 million from the Canucks books, they can acquire a higher draft pick and/or a prospect while shoring up a better winger for the newly acquired Stastny. It’s time to say bye to Edler, and the Canucks could look like this: http://www.capgeek.com/armchair-gm/roster/20191
Posted in Slew Foot Burrows | Tagged canucks new team, canucks roster 2014, canucks roster moves, canucks sign stastny, canucks signings, capgeek armchair gm, careative roster 2014, fixing the canucks, jim benning trades, trade edler, trader kesler, trevor linden's canucks, vancouver canucks |