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If the Canucks will go anywhere in the next few years, these guys will need to work.

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.

irish settler

“Work is thy own reward!”

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.

stack burger

Seriously, the Milestones stack burger? Well worth the work.

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.

A little work to find Craft paid off.

A little work to find Craft paid off.

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.

horvat vs burns

Bo Horvat worked Brent Burns and Stanley Cup winner Niemi for his 9th goal.

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:

Go Canucks.

Go.

And keep working.

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First, click on the following link as you read this article:  Alex Ovechkin’s earnings by the second

I apologize to those returning to this site expecting some form of current affair in the NHL. I know you’re starved for anything related to the sport we love to watch, play, and comment on.  But over the months I thought for a long while, as I’ve listened to the bickering between owners and players, about all the things the NHL’s $3 billion dollars of revenue can assist with other than men skating around chasing a frozen rubber puck and smiles on owners’ faces.

Let’s put things in perspective, shall we?

  • A new recruit on the police force makes $45,000 a year in Ontario.  He/she is expected to protect the peace, save lives, and put his/her life in the way of danger for you and me.
  • A down and out person needs $175 weekly to live in the worst areas of the Downtown Eastside .  Compare this to the $375 monthly stipend afforded by the BC Government and you get the picture.
  •  According to Lisa Kristine, a modern anthropologist and humanitarian, there are over 27 million people enslaved in 2012, or, twice as many people as were taken during the trans-atlantic slave trade during the colonial and post-colonial era.  Don’t believe me? Listen and watch this TED talk and you’ll be haunted forever.
  • Public education budget cuts are now a  silent but global concern.  In BC over alone, over $70 million dollars is being cut from post secondary subsidy, and public secondary and elementary schools are not being additionally funded despite inflationary costs. It is estimated that school in BC are going to be short some $100 million dollars in 2013.
  • 10 million people suffered and died from communicable diseases this year.
  • 1.5 million people died from water related illnesses this year.
  • There are 1 billion undernourished people in the world
  • 30,000 people died of hunger today alone.

So, forgive me for my cynicism during this labour dispute. I am all for worker’s rights, but when the NHLPA speak about “fairness” and “going to work”, as in this video released by the NHLPA, I can only react with a sense of understanding.  Meanwhile, locked out players aren’t really giving off the image that they’re contributing to their hockey communities in meaningful ways as they flee for Sweden and Russia to earn money there.

My understanding, however, is not for the players or the owners who are negotiating a privately settled contract in a publicly appreciated and supported industry.

In a world where the divide between rich and poor has, perhaps, never been as stark, the message to both is: it’s time to shut-up and play, because there are other injustices in this world which bear more worth mentioning when it comes to money.

Now ask yourself how many seconds went by as you read this and go back to Alex Ovechkin’s by the second earnings.  Ask yourself, how many groceries would this buy you? Which bills would be taken care of?  And, perhaps more importantly, who might it help in this disparate world of ours?

In the thirty or so minutes it has taken me to write this, Alex Ovechkin would have earned more than an average two-week pay-day of a nurse who is taking care of our loved ones in under-funded hospitals. What do you think the NHL earns per second?  Cut the integer: 3 000 000 000 and paste here.

Still care about the negotiations?

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Jannik Hansen represents the future of the Vancouver Canucks. Will 2012 be his breakout year?

As with every team which gets bounced in the first round of the playoffs after a first-place finish, Canucks nation is asking questions about a group of forwards who managed a mere 5 goals against the Boston Bruins in 7 games of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011, and hardly dented the armor of the imperious Jonathan Quick in 2012’s version of the chase for Lord Stanley.

A down season for Kesler, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, as well as the total and complete disappearance of Mason Raymond meant an overall depreciation of fans’ respect for the same forwards of whose names they clambered to wear upon their backs while swinging from lampposts and Japanese Maples on the streets of Robson in 2012.

Here are five questions worth pondering, when considering if the cup runneth full or empty in raincity.

1.  Is Kesler ever going to return to form?

If Kesler quits on the dirty jobs, are the Canucks still as effective?

Let’s get on with it shall we?  This is the only question worth asking when it comes to the forward group in Vancouver.  Without Kesler, the team has very little scoring depth after the Sedins, and loses its preeminent shut-down forward, power play net presence, speed on the rush and leadership on and off the ice.  In essence, he is as vital as either Sedin to this team.

I’ve now noticed something though.  A quiet Kesler is an effective Kesler, and he’s only been quiet once — the entire 2011-2012 season.  It appears as though AV must do a better job of reading the signs.  When Kesler starts chirping, diving and being generally ineffective, he is most likely injured.  True hockey fans saw it at the end of the season — the sluggish acceleration, the avoidance of contact, the unwillingness to go through every detail… his six month layoff due to surgery better be worth it, because he is bent on destroying his body in the process.

The real question is, what is Kesler’s “form” exactly?  Is he a forty goal scorer flying in on the rush and whipping wrist shots through goalies, or is he the broken down version of himself, forever wondering where his game went as he slips into an injury riddled career?  My guess is that, even when healthy going forward, Kesler will need to be a third line centre as the Canucks will have to search for a solution down the middle to replace him as soon as next month.

The cold, hard answer here is… no, well, not really.  Kesler is never going to return to form, but he’s still young enough to recover enough to change the way he plays.

2.  Are the Sedins “tough enough”?

After being crushed by L.A.’s Brown in the 2012 playoffs, Henrik got back on the ice and played a full two minute shift. The Sedins are warriors.

I’m going to choose the short version of this answer.  Daniel plays with concussion symptoms and puts the team on his back for a game against eventual champion Los Angeles.  Henrik takes the best Dustin Brown hit of these playoffs, and comes back to dominate a game.  Slash after punch after cheap shot after collision, these two guys take more abuse than any superstar in the game, yet remain constant in the Canucks lineup.

Henrik has played in over 550 NHL games despite taking these continual abuses, night after night.  They’re tougher than you think.  Tough enough?  Did Vikings come from Sweden?

3.  Where does David Booth fit in?

With a full training camp and a season under his belt, much more is expected from the high flying David Booth.

David Booth has to find a role on this team, simple as that.  Assuming Kesler misses roughly half the season and Burrows plays on the second line, Booth should see plenty of time on the top pairing for the Canucks.  The leash will be short though, as AV has not been known to have much patience with chemistry experiments.  Booth gives the Sedins a physical net charging presence Burrows does not, but he has yet to find the hands to complement this skill.

If Booth does not score at least 25 goals in 2013, the trade which cost Mikael Samuelsson will actually seem to favour the Panthers, who parlayed Samuelsson’s experience into a playoff run lasting exactly two games longer than the Canucks.  Booth fits, for now, on the top line… but it won’t be long before he fits nicely in AV’s press box.

4. Zack Kassian?

Yes, that is a question.  Just what, exactly, did Mike Gillis acquire in this young rugged forward?  The second coming of Dustin Brown or Milan Lucic?  Or is he merely like many other big bodies in the NHL– serviceable, but not skilled enough to merit anything higher than a fourth line role?

I haven’t seen enough of Zack to make any sort of decision, and I am a big believer in the power of a training camp.  I think that kid Kassian has many tools, but adding him to a veteran laden team, at least last season, was a bit overwhelming.  Let’s see if a year to get accustomed to Vigneault’s system is a key factor in the evolution of this young power forward.

For now, I’m withholding judgement, but anyone thinking that Kassian is about to break out next season is woefully wrong.  If he wins a full-time job it will be a miracle.

5.  Where is the Canucks offense going to come from?

What if Burrows takes a step back next season from his 2012 campaign?

More than usual, the Canucks are going to lean heavily on the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows to support the absent scoring of Ryan Kesler.  With the injury recovery time to Kesler looming (and you can bet the Canucks are going to keep him off skates for more than six months), the near certain departure of Sami Pahlsson, and the questionable returns of Byron Bitz, Aaron Volpatti, and Dale Weiss, in addition to the mysterious disappearance of Chris Higgins, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre and to a certain extent, David Booth in the 2012 playoffs, the Canucks are in a quandary.

Do they risk another contract for Mason Raymond, who was the poster-child for scapegoating in the NHL last season?  Do they throw some money at Alex Semin and hope that he plays like he did for team Russia in this year’s world championship and not like he did for team Washington Capitals?  Or, do they make a major move and shift the paradigm of the core that has existed in Vancouver for the last 6 seasons?

That’s a lot of answering one question with a bunch of other questions, but that’s where the Canucks seem to find themselves right now — at a crossroads.  The truth is, the forwards haven’t been good enough in two straight series against a bigger, stronger, more physical group backed by a solid goalie, and that combination has worn out the once proud team built on the backs of speed, grace, fair play and finesse.

They have become embittered at an NHL which has gone back on its word to call the game as it should be called, and now need the support of what everyone else is currently seeking–

big, strong, young hockey players with some skill.  The Canucks were one win away in 2011 from changing how the NHL GM’s envision their teams, but instead the team has to play catch up with the rest of the league, a league which is already midstream in transition towards the “Bruins Blueprint”.

With all the gaps in the lineup and uncertainties, this current group is definitely half empty.

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For the 41st consecutive season, the Vancouver Canucks have not won the Stanley Cup.  They did get their 16 wins, only one season too late, and perhaps one game too late as well, as the inglorious defeat to the Kings became a reality.  The overtime winner by Jarret Stoll at 4:28 of overtime in game five of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs signaled a change in more than just the fortunes of the yearly tournament to win Lord Stanley’s Grail, but also the dawning of some serious change in Vancouver for the hometown Canucks.  The glass here is not just half empty, but it may be more air than substance for the first time in a long time.  Mike Gillis in his 30 minute interview addressed it all, from Hodgson to Luongo, but here are all the key areas the Canucks need to fix before the season starts this coming September.

Coaching Staff:

Head Coach: Alain Vigneault   

Assistant Coaches: Rick Bowness, Newell Brown

Goaltending Coach:  Roland Melanson

Video Coach:  Darryl Williams

Strength and Conditioning Coach:  Roger Takahashi

I have previously written that the coaching staff should no longer include one man or another based on what I have witnessed on the ice.  Like your average fan, I can only judge the coaching based on performance.  Allow me to correspond with the top-5  criticisms for which Alain Vigneault and his staff have fallen prey in this market:

1.  Vigneault wasn’t very nice to Cody Hodgson and therefore “cannot coach younger players”.

Cody Hodgson was a pain in the ass, and an overrated player.  His 40 points per season won’t be missed by the Canucks and even if he amounts to an 80 point a season player, Mike Gillis, the man who will be behind the helm for the next 5 years at least, didn’t like him anymore and he drafted him.  They way I see it, Gillis developed him, and reserved the right to trade his Lindros-whiny ass to whomever would take him.  In this case the return was a toothless goon.

Fine.  I don’t see how this is A.V.’s fault to be honest.  Last I checked, Kesler was once a 21 year-old youngster under Alain Vigneault.  He seems to be doing alright.

Kesler’s playing time could be reduced, but that would mean that the team needs more out of Booth and Higgins.

2.  Vigneault  can’t inspire his “troops”.

Inspire his.. what the… ?  Seriously?  If these guys who average the price of Umberto Menghi’s house per year, what motivation do they need exactly.  Seriously, they chase around a frozen rubber puck for a living and get paid millions  of dollars.  They need their coach to motivate them?  They need to play hockey.

Nevertheless, I can see the point those who argue this are making.  A.V. has often used the media to motivate his players, which suggests that he doesn’t have a very open relationship with his team.  Perhaps the distant coach is a better fit for consistency’s sake than the “best pal” approach, but the buddy system seems to be working wonders in L.A. where Daryl Sutter has adapted his style to suit today’s crybaby players, of which he has several in L.A.  Do the Canucks need a softer, kinder AV?  I don’t think so.

3. Vigneault has “lost the room”.

I can’t count how many time the inbred suburbanites have called into team 1040 to lament about how “AV has lost the room”.  Are these people behind the walls?  Are they hiding in between the ample room between Luongo’s jock strap and his strombone becoming privy to the dressing room AV so apparently “lost”?  No.  They are not.  Seriously… enough.  This is a business, and AV is a professional.  He will be in Vancouver, and the Canucks will respond.

Is Melanson still wearing his equipment under the suit?

4.  Vigneault babies Luongo and the rest of “his favourites”

The “favourites” theory has been floating around the radio waves for a while about Alain Vigneault and I can’t argue that it’s untrue, but who doesn’t have favourites?  Aren’t the favourites the players who respond, listen and generally lead the team according to how the head coach envisions the game?  Can you go wrong when AV’s favourites include the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, Luongo, Bieksa, Hamhuis, and the role players who support the core?

In addition, last I checked, Schneider started around 30 games this season, and finished the year between the pipes in the series clinching game for Los Angeles.  Vigneault does what it takes to win, and that means choosing the players who will sequence the game the way he envisions.  Has he lost the core?  I say no.

If anything, that career sieve Rolie Melanson needs to reconsider his posting and take the first greyhound out of Vancouver.  Luongo has lost all confidence in Vancouver, and the star he was is no longer since Melanson has “changed his style”.  This is a travesty and a waste of a great goaltender.  What the hell has Melanson ever done to coach in this generation of goaltenders?

5.  Vigneault mismanaged Kesler.

Look, when it comes to a man who is bent on playing through career ending injuries, it is at some point up to that player to realize that he can’t do what he wants to do.  The last 4 out of 5 seasons, Kesler’s season has been cut short due to some injury likely sustained while throwing himself headlong into the boards, or deflecting pucks with his groin into the net.  Should AV take Kes off the low slot on the power play?  Probably.  Should someone else kill penalties?  Ya sure.  Will the Canucks win as many games or get the $5.2 million of contract space he inhabits?  Nope.

Play the junk out of Kesler, and Kes?  Put on some muscle.

Coaching:  Either you change them all, or keep them all.  Winningest coach in Canucks history… 2 President’s trophies….  Glass half full… for now.

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Has James Reimer seen his last days as a starter for the Leafs?

Before James Reimer was concussed, and prior to Jonas Gustavsson’s usual utter and complete loss of confidence, the Leafs were sitting amid the leaders in the NHL for points.  By the end of the season which saw their goaltenders decimated by injury and poor play when it mattered the most, the Leafs were writing apology letters to the fans and making promises of better days ahead.  In order for that to happen, they need a reliable goalie.  Reliable goalies, however, don’t come cheap.  For the Leafs to acquire something special, they’re going to have to give something special up, so the conditions for them to land a Corey Schneider, Tuuka Rask or any other goalie ready for prime time lights and pressures of Toronto market depend on several variables.

Turco’s demise has been rapid and definitive. He will retire after this season.

Unrestricted Free Agents  


The pool of free agents is looking pretty thin right now with only veterans Marty Brodeur, Martin Biron, and Tomas Vokoun likely to draw some interest, but of that group only Vokoun might sign with a team other than the one he currently plays with.  Luring Brodeur to Toronto to finish his career would be folly, and any other 30-plus goalie such as Chris Mason, Marty Turco, Ty Conklin or Andrew Raycroft have shown incapable of carrying any substantial load anymore as a starting goaltender.  The newly minted UFA’s include unproven Justin Peters from the Hurricanes, the Wild’s Josh Harding, Islander’s Al Montoya, and the Leafs’ own Jonas Gustavsson.  Of that group, only Harding will garner any interest from the team, which is likely to let Gustavsson walk without much fuss.  Unless the Leafs make a serious bid for the services of the 27 year-old Harding, Burke will not be likely to use the UFA pool for an answer to his dilemma in goal.

Canucks Corey Schneider will be juggling with a few options this off-season.

Restricted Free Agents

More than likely, Burke’s answer lies within this category of goaltender in 2012.  It’s not the cleanest route to solving the team’s deficiency in goal, especially considering that GM’s have proven particularly reluctant to break the unwritten code of avoiding other teams’ RFA’s, but given the desperation in Toronto at the moment, anything is possible.  Add to this that Burke has no desires to deal with Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis, the likelihood of the Maple Leafs chasing the services of, arguably, the best young goalie in the NHL today, Corey Schneider, seems fairly high.  The Canucks would match, of course, but if the Leafs are interested in Corey Schneider, they’ll have to clear about $5.5 million to get this one done.  Another option would be to chase San Jose Sharks and former Vancouver Giant netminder, Tyson Sexsmith, who could come at a bargain price if the Sharks decide to let him go, but Sexsmith, a known commodity for Burke given his affiliation with the WHL team, is an answer for the future and not the present.  Schneider, Bruins’ Tuuka Rask, and Canadiens’ Carey Price are the creme of the crop in this category, but don’t expect their parent teams to let them leave for free.  They’ll match offers and make roster moves to accommodate them in the lineup.  In Rask’s case, there is one year remaining on Tim Thomas’s contract, which will spell the end of Thomas in Boston and the beginning of the Rask years.  Putting pressure on a parent team to sign the RFA for big bucks is something which Burke, in particular, is reluctant to do, except in the case of the Canucks’ Mike Gillis.

Can the emotional Burkie suck up his pride and deal with Gillis? By proxy, maybe.

Trades

Burke has already openly declared the “good ol’ fashioned” trade route as the most likely method of handling the goaltending or any positional situation in Toronto.  I know for a fact that the men who drafted and developed Corey Schneider would love nothing better than to see their dream come to fruition in Toronto, where he would have them in playoff contention for years to come.  Burke is going to try everything in his power to mastermind a trade with Gillis, without even lifting a finger to speak to Gillis directly.  He will call a GM with whom he is on friendly terms, and beg that GM to trade him Corey Schneider by proxy.  It was the same method Detroit used to acquire Kyle Quincey from the hated Colorado Avalanche (just don’t expect the Avs to be dealing with the Lightning anytime soon).  Burke’s friendly neigbourhood GM won’t mind robbing Burke of any number of assets, since he’ll have him over a barrel, and Burke won’t mind rebuilding the Leafs with Corey Schneider locked in the cage for 6 years.  Burke must build from the goal out, and Schneider is his best bet to make the Leafs a contender again.

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22 year old Cody Hodgson has turned his back on the past, and will be scoring big goals for Buffalo for a long time. Kassian, meanwhile, has struggled.

As the final horn sounded at Rogers Arena and the 18,000 fans went home to digest another harrowing defeat to the L.A Kings, the questions are beginning to mount about this 2012 version of the President’s trophy winners.  Last season, it could be said that the statistics didn’t lie.  First in the league in multiple categories including faceoffs, penalty kills, power play, goals for, and goals against, the team seemed formidable at every position, and hungry for a deep run into the eventual finals.  The points they piled up weren’t even of the cellar dwelling variety, as they lost 4 games to the then lowlier Edmonton Oilers and took losses to the other cellar dwellers of the league.  The wins they compiled were impressive, and their run to the finals made sense.  2012, however, with the L.A. Kings’ sheer domination of an older and apparently more satiated Vancouver Canucks team, looks infinitely different.

After a series with the Boston Bruins that left the Canucks searching for answers, Mike Gillis began transforming the roster from a swift and preeminently skilled lineup with finesse goal scorers and gritty speedsters to a tougher, bigger, stronger lineup to help combat that element everyone said they were missing from last season.  The Cody Hodgson trade was the final nail in that particular organizational direction.  It was a statement which irrevocably changed the complexion of a team in favour of a lineup which was, theoretically, “hard to play against”.  You may correct me if I’m wrong, but a rookie with 20 goals on the third line of a team with two already prominent scoring lines is pretty damn hard to play against.  In fact, as this blogger so poignantly describes, there actually is no historical correlation between teams which fight a lot, and Stanley Cups.

Instead, and because of this “harder to play against” team, the Canucks are in a massive hole, and depending on players like recently acquired Sammy Pahlsson who sports 68 goals in a near 800 career games.  Granted, Daniel Sedin’s concussion is not helpful, but where is another winger on this team who can score?  On any other team, Alex Burrows is a second line player at best.  Ryan Kesler, the beneficiary of a better puck-moving back end with Ehrhoff in the lineup in 2011, must depend on breakout passes from the likes of Aaron Rome, Andrew Alberts and a host of other D-men who clearly enjoyed career years in 2011.  In fact, everyone had a career year in 2011, a downturn is not only predictable, but to be expected.  The difference this year is that the Canucks did feast on the lower echelon teams, while they clearly struggled against teams down the stretch, who were exhibiting the will to succeed.  The intangible desire to win.  The same desire that they clearly showed up until game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, and the same will which is rightfully being questioned right now.

The identity of the team has shifted to a more methodical, slower, less skilled team in favour of a tighter checking, more physical grinding team, but it remains to be seen if Gillis abandoned a successful style of play far too early in the experiment.  In trading Cody Hodgson, Gillis may literally have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.  How good would Cody’s big shot look on the powerplay right about now, instead of Zack Kassian’s propensity for ill-timed checks which yield penalties and scrums?  How nice would it be to receive an unexpected boost from a breakout pass from Christian Ehrhoff, whose 4.5 million dollars are currently being spent on Keith Ballard, David Booth or the combination of an ineffectual Mason Raymond and Bitz/Weiss?  Even with the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, Hamhuis, and Luongo this team has about as many chips to stack up against other teams that are boasting their own roster of upper echelon players.  On paper, perhaps the Canucks truly don’t have any right to be in a series with the likes of Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams, all players in their prime and all world-class caliber in their own right.

Perhaps.

Perhaps what Gillis should have been looking for is more skill to add to Hodgson’s line instead of stripping the team of a blue-chip prospect for a young physical player with good hands who has had allegedly struggled to be physical or score goals.  Perhaps instead of targeting the Dale Weiss’s and Byron Bitz’s of the NHL world, Gillis should have been making deals to move some of this team to retool with scorers instead of grinders.  Wasn’t this team supposed to be the second coming of Detroit, equipped with a constant flow of quality hockey players with quality and finish around the net?  Doesn’t Detroit continue to build with talented young players they develop themselves instead of scouring the market for another GM’s missed marks?

The identity of the Canucks is in flux right now, and the current series reflects it.

The patience of the market will grown thin if the team is eliminated by the Kings next week, and the questions will begin about Gillis’s player acquisition, and movement from a team which appeared impenetrable defensively, because they were constantly dominating the puck.  Now as a “more physical” team, Gillis and the Canucks are going to have to get used to the team chasing younger, faster and more skilled players all over the ice again. With their backs against the wall, the Vancouver Canucks are now challenged to prove that Gillis’s faith in being “difficult to play against” isn’t misplaced. One thing is certain.  If the Canucks are eliminated by the Kings, the patience for Gillis’s new direction and the loyalty he has fostered in the seasons since joining the Canucks will be all but destroyed in one fell swoop, and no spin doctoring and none of his men will be able to put this fanbase back together again.

It is that fickle.

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Image

This will likely prove to be as thrilling a first round in the NHL playoffs since the lockout, as every team in the league has an equal opportunity to win the holy grail of all sports, Lord Stanley’s cup in 2012.   My instincts have always been pretty good about these types of things and, while major networks are shifting towards using slightly trained monkeys or animals slated to be the next takoyaki at the prefecture fair as prognosticators, I’ve decided to use my own equally non-sensical method of crystal balling the playoffs.

Funny thing about the internet is, it is rife with strangers always willing to indulge you in any number of ruses.  In this case, I used a site called “omegle”, where all you do is link up with a random stranger and start typing.  If it sounds creepy, well, it kind of is, but putting it to use for survey purposes actually yielded some pretty solid predictions.  I asked the creepy omegle stranger a simple question — to pick a letter.  Based on that letter, the creepy Omegle stranger made Stanley Cup predictions for round one.

In addition to this rigorous method of playoff picking, I also used a fair bit of good ol’ fashioned logic to determine the Stanley Cup champion in 2012.  I’ll start with round one herein, and while I might not be any closer than TSN’s Maggie Monkey,  at least I write better than a primate.

Western Conference Predictions:

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)

The basics:

The basics of this series are simple.  The Kings and the Canucks both rely on very similar formulas for success.  In theory, both teams have two very potent scoring lines, with ample defensive, grinding forwards filling out the roster on the third and fourth.  The goaltending really defines both teams, with a clear number one backed up by a solid blue chipper who can step in and win games.  The D on both squads is tight, and both teams have seasoned coaches who have been to cup finals.  The games will be tightly contested close affairs, with not much scoring and plenty of hitting and bad blood.  Home ice will mean very little, as will what type of animal is thrown on the ice as sacrifice for the hockey Gods.

Canucks fans are expecting another deep run by their newly revamped tougher and more structured team. Will it be enough?

Why you bet on the Kings:

You bet on the Kings if you believe that their late season surge is the real team, and they’ve finally put together the team which everyone predicted would be contending for president’s trophy this year.  You are a firm believer in fresh starts and believe that Kopitar, Doughty, Richards, Carter and Brown are all going to “flick the switch” and perform to their potential in the playoffs.  You see Quick as being the Hart and Vezina trophy winner that he should be, instead of the honourable mention that he will be, and you believe in the strength of a bigger, stronger, faster and younger Kings lineup which will match up well against what is lately a more plodding and methodical Canucks team, laden with tired veterans.  You feel as though it’s “their time”, and any number of other cliched statements related to underachieving teams with potential to win.  You also have a burning desire to witness Alan Thicke at Staples Centre, bringing a beer to Sylvester Stallone in an “Expendables” baseball cap.

Why you bet on the Canucks:

You bet on the Canucks if you believe that Daniel Sedin is currently eating Swedish Pepparkakor and sipping tea in a local Vancouver tanning salon instead of actually being concussed.  You are a firm believer that the Canucks have been “storing energy” in anticipation of another deep run in the playoffs.  You see Luongo as he should be seen… a strong goalie who can get a team to the finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and if he falters, Schneider is even better.  You look at all the signs of a roster  with underachievements in every direction from top to bottom and think “this team is playing possum and they still won the president’s trophy”.  This is a sleeping giant waiting to explode, and the Kings are the humble recipients of a massive beatdown coming their way.  They won’t even know what hit them.  You probably graduated with Milan Lucic but you hate his Croatian ass anyway.

How it plays out:

I hope you like 1-0 hockey games, because this series will have 4 of them.  The other games will be games which the Canucks lose in ugly fashion to a Kings team bursting with youth and willingness to win.  There is no pressure on the Kings, whereas the Canucks have all the pressure in the world.  The time for the Canucks was last year, and they are living in the shadow of their glory if another Stanley Cup finals appearance is not in the works in Vancouver.  At some point, somehow, the Canucks will find that extra gear they’ve been talking about all season, and the Kings will be no more in 2012.  It won’t inspire confidence in Canucks nation, it won’t be pretty, and it won’t be without a fair share of drama, but somehow, some way, the Canucks will gut this one out.  Take them, but don’t expect big numbers from their players just yet.  This is a series for unsung heroes like David Booth, Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen and especially Sammi Phallsson.  AV will have his team playing with enough precision when it counts, and the Kings will want to add more mobility in the off-season, especially on their blue line. And, don’t worry Schneider lovers, he will play.  You know he’ll play….

Prediction:

Canucks win 4 really dull, tactical 2-1 games, and the Kings win 3 haywire, zany lopsided games. Luongo is yanked, Schneider takes over the team, for now. Canucks in 7.

What the creepy Omegle stranger predicts:  L.A.

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Saint Louis Blues (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (7)

The basics:

The St. Louis Blues are the model for playoff disappointment in the NHL, and here they find themselves in a battle with a team which, essentially, is a president’s trophy caliber team in the first round.  St. Louis has relied upon steady and often spectacular goaltending from both Brian Elliot, who will win the Vezina, and Jaroslav Halak, who is worthy of mention in the same conversation.  For a while, the Blues were held back by three or four players with concussions on their roster but lately they appear to have some healthy heads.  In addition, Alex Pietrangelo has really blossomed into a stud D-man with still more room for growth.  Coach of the year, Hitchcock has his team playing disciplined, tough hockey in St. Louis and they will be a tough out for the Sharks.

The Sharks, meanwhile, have sort of bumbled their way through a functional regular season and as though by accident, ended up in the playoffs, yet again.  They are as offensively dangerous as ever with the usual suspects in Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Cotoure, and Boyle, but they remain a bit thin after this.  Their defense is a bit on the suspect side, and goaltending has been a problem in San Jose this season.  They have played a lot better lately and have not had to play the role of underdog in a series in recent memory. Lots of playoff experience, but also lots of playoff failure too.

The aging centreman, Joe Thornton, has proven himself year after year. Perhaps it's time the Sharks start looking at other positions to complain about after they lose to the Blues.

Why You Bet on the Blues:

You feel strongly linked to the notion that this team has been in “ripening” mode for quite some time, and only needed the firm guidance of the right coach to get them over the top.  Hitchcock is a man of immense clout and enormous poise under pressure, as well as one of only a handful of active coaches who have actually won the whole shebang.  Oshie, Perron, Backes, Pietrangelo, have all developed into the solid professionals Blues management envisioned when they drafted them, and though unproven, you believe them to have the right type of character to get past an aging and declining Sharks team, whose claim to fame is choking under pressure.  The Blues rugged forwards will wear the Sharks down, while the deceptively effective D corp will stifle the Sharks offense, which has been inept of late anyhow.  You are the loudest person in the arena to chant “Let’s go BLUES” and you like that.

Why you bet on the Sharks:

You are a sucker for punishment, and often willfully throw money into streams, ponds, wells and other such areas of enclosed water in the hopes that your wishes will be granted by some obscure aquatic Goddess, expectant of your monetary tribute.  You believe that the Sharks are really attempting to compete for a championship this season and not trying to get Todd MacLellan fired.  You still believe that Antii Niemi is better than Nabokov ever was, and you think that the Sharks D, largely rooted in the same cement laden skates as last year, will somehow learn how to be mobile and puck moving.  You don’t think that age has anything to do with the Sharks inconsistent performance this season.  You think that Havlat’s hamstring injury while going over the boards for a line change was a fluke, and he’ll never get injured when you need him the most.  You believe that Sharkie meant to get stuck above the score clock, and that San Jose would have had a franchise had Gretzky not been forced to prostitute the game of hockey in California instead of win cups in Edmonton.

How it Plays out:

This Sharks team is the Calgary Flames just before they became the what we know of the Calgary Flames today.  The only difference is that the Calgary Flames core group actually made one finals appearance while this group of Sharks have suffered through endless numbers of embarrassing collapses and ultimate disappointments, year after miserable year.  This series will show the rise of the new NHL, with a young and hungry St. Louis Blues team essentially having their way with a Sharks team which is all but washed up.  San Jose is going nowhere and, while showing some pride late in the season to make the playoffs, will suffer an early exit at the hands of the poised and rigidly structured Blues.  The Blues will frustrate the Sharks, making life difficult for all of their players.  In addition, Niemi will not hold the fort for the Sharks, while if Elliot should fail, Halak will prove as impenetrable as any goalie in the NHL today.  The Blues are too big, too strong, too fast, too young, and too well coached to miss an opportunity this season to eliminate a team which should have restructured a long time ago.   The Sharks will not handle a smash mouth series like this will become, and they will shrink into the oblivion of teams that failed to live up to expectations. Bringing in Havlat for Heatley was a mistake, and the Sharks will need to soulcheck after this season to get back on everyone else’s level next year and beyond.

Prediction:

Get a broom.  St. Louis in 4.

What the creepy Omegle stranger says:  St. Louis

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Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (6)

The Basics:

The curse of the Jets continues despite the Jets being back in the league.  By some miracle, the Coyotes qualified by winning their division and becoming the highest seeded Coyote team in the combined history of the teams.  Neither the Jets or the Coyotes have ever made it out of the second round of the playoffs, and that was only twice against the Calgary Flames in the 80’s.  In the sixteen years since the team moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix, the ‘Yotes have qualified for the playoffs eight times, and been eliminated in the first round on every occasion. This year, the unlikely Pacific division champions have climbed on the back of an extremely hot goalie and gutted out several narrow victories down the stretch.  Their reward?  One of the most storied franchises in league history, still smarting from a first round exit a year ago, a mere single season removed from winning the Stanley Cup.  Go figure.

Why you bet on Phoenix

You believe in Mike Smith’s goaltending, shane Doan’s leadership, and home-ice advantage.  You look to the Hawks’ pedestrian road records and are not threatened by their history of rising to big occasions.  You see the life of the franchise flickering with hope this year, and a city beginning to embrace them after years of bankruptcy and inconsistent attendance.  You think that the Winnipeg curse has been lifted now that the Jets are back in town.  You think the Hawks are overrated, and that they do not have the goaltending to take them anywhere this season.  The Toews injury will hamper the Hawks. You are one of the 26 season ticket holders still left in Glendale and don’t mind paying a tenth of the price other fans have to pay to watch their team play,  for tickets to see one of the most attended teams in the NHL play against your team in what should be a pretty decent series.  Either that or you’re a Canucks fan hoping Phoenix meets Vancouver and you can fly down to Glendale, book a hotel room, get two tickets, 12 beers and dinner, all for a cheaper price than going out to a bar in Vancouver to watch the game there.

Doan and Whitney's near half century of experience is going to be needed against the hungry Hawks.

Why You bet on Chicago:

You are semi-religious about the NHL points system and see a higher ranked team in Phoenix playing a better team in Chicago.  You’re sure you’ll receive the Corey Crawford who was consistent, at least, against the Canucks in last year’s playoffs.  You see Chicago’s forwards as having the requisite status to explode all over an unproven goaltender in Mike Smith, and the depth this year is better than last year.  The Hawks gathered 45 wins and over 100 points despite losing 11 straight games at one point.  You think they have been coasting along, biding time, lurking in the shadows for the opportunity to have an easy sitter of a first round opponent.  You feel as though it is the Hawks’ destiny to play the Canucks in the second round, and you never, ever, tire of “Chelsea Dagger”.

How it plays out:

Mike Smith, a project of Dave Tippet’s since 2006 when both men were in Dallas, has blossomed into a legitimate workhorse goaltender will be tested against Chicago, who has shooters who know where to find the small percentage shots.  Phoenix, for all their success this year is led by a 40 year-old offensively, and several players who, other than Shane Doan, have been spare parts their entire career.  This is a battle between players with no pedigree against purebred first-round “can’t miss” types in Chicago.  I’m not a big believer in these types of things, normally; however, this is a Hawks team that has made two significant runs in the playoffs and very nearly upset the prohibitive favourites last season.  I just don’t see Chicago bowing out, Toews or no Toews, in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs two years in a row, against Phoenix.  The curse of the Jets continues, but now there are two teams to shoulder the load, and not just one.  Smith hasn’t lost to the Hawks in his entire career, but those losses are about to pile up.  I don’t believe the hype around Smith yet, and I don’t believe the Coyotes have the type of team that can keep Chicago off the scoreboard for an entire series.  I see it as close, but there are no shootouts in the playoffs.  Take Chicago.

Prediction:

Do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do….. Chicago in 6 double overtime games.

Creepy Omegle stranger says:  Chicago

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Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5)

 

The Basics:

Straight forward enough, this series is between a veteran Detroit team stacked with future hall-of-famers and enormous pedigree against a young, upstart Predators team looking to go deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Nashville boasts the best 1-2 boots to asses defensive pairing in the league and has the 2011 Vezina trophy winner between the pipes, while Detroit has relentless line after line of system-playing, puck-cycling machines, backed up by a young goalie in Jimmie Howard who has proven himself over the last couple of years.  This is a coin toss series for a lot of people, but for the fact that you can’t count out the many intangibles which drive a man to succeed.  It seems those intangibles are leaning towards the Detroit Red Wings this year.

Why you bet on Nashville:

They have retooled their defense, adding size to, well, more size.  They have the best goaltender in the game in Pekka Rinne.  Their forwards can finally score goals as well as grind you down.  You know they are offensively more balanced than they ever have been.  They’ve tasted the second round of the playoffs and know what that feels like.  They are facing a creaky Detroit team which has been inconsistent this season and ripe for a first round bounce. Steal of the century Alexander Radulov is about to go ape-shit all over the Red Wings D.  Weber… Suter… Rinne…. Radulov…. home advantage….  It’s the Predators time now.

The Predators will have their hands full with a rested and savvy Detroit Red Wings team.

Why you bet on Detroit:

You take Detroit because they, like several other veteran teams, have been waiting in the reeds for the opportunity to pounce.  They have known about Nashville for weeks in advance.  This is not a team which is easily rattled by noise or away crowds, although their road record would seem to indicate it this season.   They need to steal just one game, as they’ve been pretty impenetrable at Joe Louis.   Jimmy Howard is the real deal.  They are getting healthy players back in the lineup, most notably, Pavel Datsyuk.  Valtteri Filppula has blossomed into another Wings future star.  The lineup is full of players top to bottom who know how to play hockey and win games.  Detroit’s offense is seldom shut down and there are too many players to focus on for Nashville, which is without a significant shutdown forward whereas Detroit has many.  Experience and credentials galore on this team.

How it Plays out:

I think that Nashville is amazing, believe me.  I’m saddened that one of these teams has to bow out so early because I also respect Detroit for their accomplishments, loyalty, and ability to compete year after year for the Stanley Cup.  Let’s get something straight here though… Pavel Datsyuk is the most versatile player in the NHL today.  If you had to pick a straight up hockey player to win with, right now, where do you get a guy who can get you 30-40 goals and an equal number of assists, as well as shut down the opposing team’s best player night after night?  Detroit and Detroit alone, that’s where.  Datsyuk will be the difference maker in this series because it is Datsyuk, and not Rinne, Radulov or any of the invisible Kostitsyn clan who is the most special player in the series.  The 34 year-old has had his share of scrapes along the season, his minutes and game nights monitored, but the team knows that everything hinges on him.  He will shut down Radulov and any of the other Predators will be taken care of by the likes of Lidstrom, Kronwall and Howard.  While I don’t deny the Predators are on the way up, the Wings will not be taking this team lightly.  One team has to go, and I’m betting that the Predator’s offence dries up sooner than the Red Wings will.

Prediction:

Sadly, Nashville’s best team ever is taken out once Detroit steals an away game.  Take Detroit in 6 tough games.

Creepy Omegle stranger says:  Detroit

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