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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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The Canucks mourned the 2011 Stanley Cup loss because they knew they'd never get a better shot at it.

The Canucks mourned the 2011 Stanley Cup loss because they knew they’d never get a better shot at it.

With a half an hour to go prior to the Calgary Flames vs. Vancouver Canucks tilt, and a mountain of my own to climb in terms of personal deadlines, I need to stop and reflect upon what has been the most memorable Canucks season in recent history, a history worth remembering for all of the wrong reasons.  Even if I was optimistically fanboying the Canucks into first place to begin the season, I did add the cryptic “if all goes according to plan”.  Well, it didn’t.  It really didn’t.  As expected, with injuries to any significant player, the team’s organizational depth was never strong enough to sustain any need to replace key roles.

Luongo's days of wondering in Vancouver are over.

Luongo’s days of wondering in Vancouver are over.

And how the team has had to replace key roles! Love him or hate him, Roberto Luongo’s contract is lengthy but it is somewhat plausible that he will play to the near end of it, as he is still, on reputation anyway, an elite all-world goalie.  Still, moving the Canadian goalie to his old stomping grounds in Florida means the team has a dubious NHL backup, a towering under-performing center and a promising junior player in Bo Horvat, who is now nursing a leg injury to show for not only Roberto Luongo, but also a second starting goalie in Corey Schneider.

Without Luongo, Eddie Lack's job gets a lot more serious all of a sudden.

Without Luongo, Eddie Lack’s job gets a lot more serious all of a sudden.

So the Canucks fans and, to a greater extent, the team must realize the fact of the matter.  He’s gone.  Swedish rookie, Eddie Lack is the Canucks new starter, as the deflated lineup still struggles to win.   When the great saviour tonight is Nicklas Jensen who, up until recently, was so far down the depth chart that the replacement call for Daniel Sedin was not Jensen but Darren Archibald you know the Canucks are stretched thin.

The Canucks organizational depth has never had such a stiff challenge from injuries than this season.  Even the proverbial cupboards are officially bare, with Hunter Shinkaruk needing hip surgery and Bo Horvat suffering a knee injury just the other night.  Brendan Gaunce has slowed down from his early season pace.

Moreover, what cannot be denied is that the move of Roberto Luongo has signified what hockey fans perhaps have failed to realize for the last three seasons, however — this Canucks team simply isn’t the same team that needed one less Maxim Lapierre taunt to win it all in 2011.

Former Alternate Captain Sami Salo was written off like so many others.

Former Alternate Captain Sami Salo was written off like so many others.

The list of names missing from that roster are now retired or fixtures on other team’s first unit power plays, penalty kills, goaltending, and situational plays.  Since the team has parted ways with players such as Raffi Torres, Manny Malhotra, Mikael Samuelsson, Sami Salo, Corey Schneider and Christian Ehrhoff, to name a few, the team has been searching for a winger who can score and hit, a faceoff winner, a veteran scoring winger and steady reliable defensemen who can move the puck on the powerplay.

It won’t be long before the team is in search of reliable goaltending, and everyone will point to the days when the team had the two best goalies in the league, too.

So where does it go from here?  The injury to Shinkaruk, a long shot to make the team, is more serious than the can’t-miss  prospect Bo Horvat’s, but injuries to 18 year-old rookies are not as concerning things as injuries to a veteran’s pride, as we’ve witnessed with Luongo.  Case in point, we need look no further than Ryan Kesler’s recent interest in playing for a contender and how it will only become more magnified around draft day. The media storm was palpable this time around, just imagine how much of a distraction it will become towards the 2015 trade deadline if it drags on that long.  And, just how long will it be before other veterans on the team feel that it’s now or never for a chance at the Stanley Cup?

Alaign VigneaultDespite all of this, the lineup, on paper, looks good enough to make the playoffs, but at least one other element appears to be missing from previous years of domination.  The baffling drop in production of not one or two but all of the Vancouver Canucks directly coincides with the removal of its all-time winningest coach in Alain Vigneault and the arrival of John “I don’t coach the powerplay” Tortorella.  Tortorella’s often mysterious choices have already led to a suspected divisiveness in the dressing room and dissension in the ranks.  The signs are all over the ice too.

But the signs are also there that the Canucks are suffering through what every once-great team eventually suffers.  Time catches all of us. The Edmonton Oilers have taken years to recuperate after the Gretzky and Messier led era.   After Roy, Sakic and Forsberg, the Colorado Avalanche took years to rebuild and are only now showing signs of rebounding.  Even the Detroit Red Wings, seemingly invulnerable to this effect for years, are not what they once were.

Osgood isn't better than Luongo... but he did win more cups... so far?

Osgood isn’t better than Luongo… but he did win more cups… so far?

The Canucks are no different, for the exception of one key aspect.  These other teams I mention, when they were given their window of opportunity, used it to win a championship.  They are the franchises’ untouchable names, permanently engraved on a silver ring and in all the memories of the legions of fans devoted to their respective teams.

The Canucks, meanwhile, instead of opening the window and emerging into the freedom and immortality a championship provides a player, may have used the window to leap to their sudden death.

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There was a time when choosing Schneider over Luongo was a divisive matter. Perhaps no longer.

You knew this was always coming.  You, like GM Mike Gillis, avoided thinking about it all year, but it became the white elephant in the room, swelling larger every day until now.  Now, when it is about to burst.  It has to.  It’s the only way this ends.  I’m talking, of course, about the Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider situation.

1.  What has happened to Roberto Luongo?

Watch the video.  In it, there are three things which are notable.  The first thing to note is that this was the season Luongo strung together nearly 3 straight hours of shutout hockey.

Secondly, the announcer explains that Luongo is “one of the guys who would be a candidate for MVP of the league” as he is helped off the ice by Kesler and Pyatt towards the end of the video.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, at 0:26 of the video the announcer cryptically states:  “I think we’ve seen the end of Luongo here”.

Since the injury, Luongo’s ability to push off to his paddle side has been weakened, creating more net space for shooters.

Since this injury, Luongo has never been the same laterally and his adjustment to a more positional goalie has robbed him of his number one asset as a younger backstop — his athleticism.  No one talks about it, but Luongo has quietly eroded over time to the point we’re at now, where he has to flop forwards to slide from one post to the other.  He is exposed on this play at least once per game now, despite his occasional brilliant reflexes.

2.  Can the Canucks keep both goalies?

No.  The time has come when the Canucks must make a decision with the goaltending tandem of Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider.  Either the team banks on Luongo playing better with more games and a career backup behind him, or they trust in the younger legs of Corey Schneider to carry the full load, and explore the trade options for Roberto Luongo.

Signing Corey, one would think, would depend heavily on whether or not his agent believes he will start for the Canucks, while trading Luongo will require the team to check with Roberto for his final approval on the destination.

Keeping both, it seems, causes team division in style of play.  The time has come to recognize that the two goalies, despite their friendship, cannot coexist on the Canucks any longer.

3.  What options to the Canucks have with Schneider?

Keeping Schneider and trading Luongo has been talked about a lot in Vancouver, but the young goalie is still unproven at the NHL level.

Even before the Canucks trade Schneider and keep Luongo, one of three things can occur.  The Canucks must decide whether or not to sign-and-trade Schneider, wait for Schneider to be signed by another club then match or accept compensation, or trade his signing rights  to another team.

In the first case, the Canucks deliver a contract to Schneider, which would likely mean that the team is keeping the young goalie for future use on the team as a number one goaltending option.  In this scenario, the Canucks are banking on potential rather than on results, for Schneider is largely unproven at the NHL level.

In the second scenario, one which I’ve already alluded to with regards to the Leafs, Schneider’s offer sheet can be matched, but if a team wanted to be really mean, they could include such stipulations as no-trade clauses, or extortionate front-loading to complicate matters for GM Gillis.  He doesn’t want this to happen.

In the third scenario, the team gives up the rights to sign Corey Schneider to another team.  This possibility will yield the least amount of value in return for the young goalie, and the Canucks are likely to do this only as a last resort.

4.  What options do the Canucks have with Roberto Luongo?

No matter how poorly the Canucks play in front of him, Canucks bandwagon fans always find ways to blame the goalie.

Luongo’s situation is simple.  Either the team keeps the veteran goalie and trades Schneider, or they ask him to submit a short list of teams to which he’d be willing to accept a trade and keep Schneider instead (after he signs a contract with the team, ostensibly).

In the first scenario, the Canucks keep Luongo and trade Schneider, presumably.  This means that the team keeps a world champion,  Olympic gold medalist, runner-up for the Vezina, all-star and Stanley Cup finalist caliber goaltender in his prime, and trades a goalie whose value has never been higher, despite never winning more than one career playoff game, or starting a full season for an NHL team.  Trading Luongo, when you really think about it, sounds like sheer folly.

Schneider is not impenetrable. Poor stick handling and an early butterfly leaves a couple of holes for shooters to expose already.

In the second scenario, the Canucks trade away the aforementioned Luongo for a very low yield, and hopes that Schneider’s promise holds true when professional NHL scouts devote all the hours they previously enjoyed breaking down Luongo’s game for their shooters to analyzing, scrutinizing and deconstructing Corey Schneider’s game.

I can already tell you that the Kings found a spot high on the blocker side that looked a little suspect, and Corey has trouble handling long shoot-ins on net, often giving up fat rebounds in the middle of the slot.  In addition, if you became paranoid about Luongo’s stick handling, wait til you get a load of Schneider’s shaky stick handling all season long.

5.  What will be the likeliest scenario involving the Canucks’ goalies this off-season?

All that’s missing for Roberto Luongo is the Stanley Cup in his grasp. How will Canucks fans feel if he wins it with another team?

After the playoffs, Luongo seemed to indicate that he was open to helping the team out in whatever manner possible.  Reports then circulated about a list which Luongo gave to management regarding his possible destinations.  Additionally, there have been rumours of Luongo “working out” with the Maple Leafs, in total and complete contradiction to league policy for players under contract.  By all accounts, Luongo is sitting in the Maple Leafs’ players’ lounge right now, tweeting as Strombone1 while watching the Euro Cup.

I smell smoke.

Luongo is Gillis’s contract.  For whatever it’s worth, he made this goalie a rich man for a long time, even naming him captain of the team at some point.  Both goalies have shown professionalism throughout the process, but Gillis’s main asset is not a veteran goalie who has another 5 or 6 years of good hockey left, but rather, a young prospect who may… or may not… be the best young goalie in the league.

Scheider’s worth as a trading chip might fetch a better player in return who could help the Canucks more than a mediocre player in return for Luongo.

For some reason I feel that Luongo amounts to more to the Canucks success than the team is letting on.  I have a funny feeling about this one. I think Gillis is going to trade Schneider, and build a 4-year window around the Sedins, Kesler and Luongo again by trading for a high end player in return for his biggest asset — Corey Schneider.

After he acquires a first-line forward for the blue-chip goalie, Gillis will further load the team with a free agent or two who can bolster the lines, and shoot for another division championship and Stanley Cup.  Fans can blame Luongo all they want, but the team’s success at acquiring overall depth will be better if Gillis acquires a superstar level of player for the unproven Schneider, than yet another mediocre player for a world-class goaltender in Luongo.

Having options is always nice, and with Eddie Lack on the farm waiting to come aboard the Canucks train, things in Vancouver look pretty good at their only completely filled position.  Glass is half full here in the Goalie department, but for how long?

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The once-maligned Bieksa is now the Canucks top D-man.

There are always questions about a team’s needs in every area, but no questions have been asked of the defensive core in several seasons here in Vancouver.  This might be the year which will see the most fluctuation of the team’s roster in recent memory.  There are questions in need of answers.

1.  What is the Canucks greatest need on the back end?

Only Mike Gillis knows what he wants.  The GM is now in his fourth year as Canucks GM, and has a fairly good grasp on the strengths and weaknesses of his blue-line core by now.  NHL defenders currently signed are:  Kevin Bieksa,  Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Alex Edler, Andrew Alberts and Chris Tanev.  Of those six, only three, Hamhuis, Bieksa and Edler, saw regular minutes.

The other three were used as alternates and varied in effectiveness.  The greatest need here is size, mobility and leadership on the one hand, and a skilled positional player who can run the point on the power play on the other.  That’s two top-4 defensemen or one Shea Weber.

Preferably the latter, as there is currently no player on the back end who can be categorized as a number-one d-man.

2.  Should the Canucks trade Keith Ballard?

Should they? Yes.  Can they? No.  The Canucks will never rid themselves of this albatross of a contract, but they should consider absorbing him in the minors until such point exists when a trading partner can be found, or they are assured losing him at half the salary cap hit when they recall the player.

Keith Ballard has had ample opportunity to prove that he belongs on this team, but he simply isn’t making the cut.  He played because no one else could last year, but next season, expect the Canucks to load up on D-men and push Ballard down the totem pole a bit further.  Chicago is a great city, and I’m sure Ballard will star for the Wolves.

3.  Should Sami Salo retire?

Yes.  Salo is not aging gracefully and has had too many injuries over his career to continue.  With the Canucks looking like a rebuilding team next season, especially on the back end, one would have to believe that Salo’s best fit is as a utility depth defenseman on a Stanley Cup contender, which the Canucks are not.

The team should look to fill positions on the back end with defensemen who can handle the Dustin Browns, and Milan Lucic’s of the league.  Currently there are none.  Salo has had a fine career, but it’s time to call it quits before he does more damage to his body.

4.  Is Chris Tanev or Marc-Andre Gragnani the answer to the future power play?

Tanev needs to cut down on some nervous moments and must learn how to hit the net with his shot in order to justify his existence on an NHL roster.

No.  Tanev is simply under powered as a defenseman, and has very little pop on his shot.  Tanev is a nice player to move the puck out of the back end, but he lacks the requisite strength to handle bigger players, and can’t hit the ocean with his slapshot.  At 6’2″ and only 22, Tanev can fill out his frame, but he does not have the kind of toughness needed by the team at the moment, and this is difficult to teach.

In Gragnani’s case, the Canucks need to tender an offer sheet which they have not done. The Canucks interest in signing Marc-Andre Gragnani is tempered somewhat by his propensity for turnovers in his own zone.

Gragnani has not shown the type of promise scouts have spoken of, instead, his game lacks the type of confidence one would expect from a player of his age and caliber.  While his skills are good, he lacks toughness and physicality.

There was some talk of making Gragnani an offer, but the Canucks might not be interested if the price is more than what they wish to pay.  Besides, he didn’t seem to be favoured by Vigneault, who himself just signed an extension with the team.

5.  Which Alex Edler is the real Alex Edler?

Alex Edler needs to put it all together next season in what is, for him, a contract year.

Edler represents the future of the team on the blue line, but his choking (for lack of a more accurate term) in this year’s playoffs was nothing short of alarming.  Yes.  Alex Edler choked in the playoffs.  And it isn’t the first time either.

There are serious questions about Edler’s ability to perform when it matters the most dating back to 2010 against Chicago when the Canucks were eliminated in 6 games by the eventual champion Hawks.  There was some talk of trading Edler to the Predators for Shea Weber last season, which at the time was met with aghast by Vancouver fans.

There aren’t too many fans who wouldn’t make that trade now.

Would the GM’s?  Both players are in contract years, both RFA’s, and both teams have suffered setbacks in terms of expectations not matching results.  One thing is certain, and that is that the Canucks have some serious holes to fill on the back end, and without addressing this in the off-season, with nothing coming up through the system, the Canucks will let in a lot more goals than they have in the past.  Unless of course they make the right decision in goal.

Canucks defense outlook for 2012/2013:  As it stands?  Glass half empty here for sure.

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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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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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