Posts Tagged ‘preview’

The Canucks will need to get big minutes out of big Shawn Matthias against the Kings Thursday.

The Canucks will need to get big minutes out of big Shawn Matthias against the Kings Thursday.

Times have changed and the franchises have gone in different directions since the Kings ousted the Daniel-less Canucks in 5 games en route to their first Stanley Cup.  The Kings are coming off their second Stanley Cup and have, in some ways, a better roster that helped them take the cup in previous seasons and in other ways one which has grown a little stale.  The Canucks, meanwhile, have rebuilt on the fly, and coach Willie Desjardins has them playing an up-tempo forechecking style of play which keeps opponents defense on alert and their forwards pinned in the neutral zone.

Tale of the Tape

Season Overview
Season Record (NHL Rk) 32-21-13 (17) 38-24-4 (13)
Division Rank 4 2
Conference Rank 9 6
Home Record 21-7-7 18-12-1
Away Record 11-14-6 20-12-3
Division Record 10-4-6 12-8-3
Conference Record 19-9-9 19-15-3
Goals For 180 189
Goals Against 170 179
Streak Won 1 Won 2
Justin Williams LA
3 pts in last 2 GP
Marian Gaborik LA
4 pts in last 4 GP
Kyle Clifford LA
2 pts in last 2 GP
Brayden McNabb LA
3 pts in last 3 GP
Jake Muzzin LA
3 pts in last 3 GP
Tyler Toffoli LA
0 pts in last 3 GP
Radim Vrbata VAN
6 pts in last 5 GP
Daniel Sedin VAN
11 pts in last 10 GP
Dan Hamhuis VAN
5 pts in last 6 GP
Jannik Hansen VAN
11 pts in last 13 GP
Eddie Lack VAN
2-0-0, 1.50, .957 in last 2 GPI
Alexandre Burrows VAN
0 pts in last 3 GP
Canucks fans are hoping the return of Tanev solidifies their playoff bid.

Canucks fans are hoping the return of Tanev solidifies their playoff bid.

Other Intangibles:

LA:  The Kings talismen are not getting it done as a whole.  Other than Jeff Carter and, lately, Gaborik, who missed some games with an injury, the Kings have had some trouble finding regular contributors on offense.  Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, and the all- but-finished Mike Richards have had trouble finding the back of the net this season. Going into the game vs. the Canucks, who do a pretty good job of shutting down other teams top lines, these players will need to produce.

The win against Colorado was a big one, but the Avs started rookie netminder Calvin Pickard who was pulled in favour of Reto Berra.  While Canucks’ Eddie Lack isn’t exactly Patrick Roy, he is a legitimate NHL caliber goalie, so the Kings will have to be accurate.  Although the Kings have been a little up and down this season, they have a tendency of playing well against the Canucks and are not bothered by having their backs up against any wall, ever.  L.A. is also a very good road team, at least when it matters, have a day’s rest and just finished playing in higher elevation.

doughty kopitar vrbata

Kings’ all-stars haven’t been, while Canucks’ Vrbata has been tremendous.

Vancouver:  Rogers Arena hasn’t been indomitable for the Canucks and they haven’t beaten the Kings all season.  Their record against Pacific teams is only 19-15-3 and the Canucks have traditionally struggled against bigger more physical teams, which the Kings are.  Still, the Canucks have shown signs of becoming more “Kings-like” in recent months, adding younger legs and bigger bodies throughout the lineup.

Some of those legs and bodies are playing quite well for the team, as in the case of the Dorsett, Matthias and Horvat line.  They’re not setting the NHL on fire exactly, but Desjardins is getting timely production and using them in big minutes.  As well, the Canucks have assembled a formidable back line of stay-at-home defenders who take no prisoners and make sound hockey plays.  The wins against San Jose and Anaheim in the last week are much bigger character-builders than wins against the Avalanche and Oilers in a two week period which saw the Kings go 3W-4L.

The Canucks would love it if Alex Burrows could find the net again.

The Canucks would love it if Alex Burrows could find the net again.

Advantage Canucks:  Even though the Kings have a tendency of producing big wins when they need them the most, Thursday’s game feels like a Canucks win.  The key scorers for Vancouver have been consistent, while the supporting lines do what they’re supposed to do.  The Canucks are getting healthy at the right time, though they are still missing key D-man Kevin Bieksa.

More importantly the Canucks mental health has improved dramatically since the January 1st loss to Los Angeles while the Kings, say what they will, have been a little shaky.  As the Canucks younger players begin to arrive now, the Kings key pieces are slumping at the wrong time. The traditional size mismatch still favours the Kings but is not as dramatic as before.  This game will be close, but the Canucks should have enough to get their first win of the season vs. the defending champs and all their hubris.


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Bergeron and the Bruins are rested, healthy, and young enough to remind everyone that they're still the best.

Bergeron and the Bruins are rested, healthy, and young enough to remind everyone that they’re still the best, as much as we hate to admit it.

Things in the Eastern Conference are looking a bit dicy, considering the hotly contested Atlantic Division will see most of those top three teams, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York, split wins and losses.  The true beneficiary will be a rested Boston Bruins team, with, possibly, a better team than the one which won it all in 2011.  Rounding out the playoff contenders are some old favourites and some new surprises.


1. bostonbruinsBOSTON BRUINS:  The beneficiaries of a soft Northeast Division, and tighter competitions within the other two divisions, the Bruins will cruise to first overall in the East without much trouble.  They’re healthy, and they’re hungry.  They are the equivalent to the WWE’s Ryback, screaming “FEED ME MORE!” No worries on the Tuuka Rask front either.  This is a great team, and Bergeron has been flying in international play.

Newyorkrangers2. NEW YORK RANGERS:  At the end of the day, Rick Nash will tip the balance, and the Rangers will ride the great goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, who learned how to speak last year, as well as the D of a healthy Eric Staal.  Can we splice the Staal gene and just create a new league?  They’ll win the Atlantic, but not by much.

carolinahurricanes3. CAROLINA HURRICANES: It’s easy to forget that this team won a cup with many of its current roster.  Adding another Staal will definitely help, and the addition of Semin certainly accounts for some secondary scoring.  They should be much better than we’ve seen them in a while.

pittsburghpenguins4. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS:  Crosby, Malkin and Chris Letang are all healthy and ready to go.  Is M.A.F.?  Fleury looked stupendously bad against Philadelphia in last year’s playoffs.  That kind of performance is not soon forgotten or forgiven in Pittsburgh.

philadelphiaflyers5. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: The Flyers lost Jagr to free agency last year, which most people seem to be disregarding.  We didn’t.  After running out of gas against a poised New Jersey Devils in last year’s playoffs, the Flyers need to figure out what went wrong.  There are problems here.

washingtoncapitals6. WASHINGTON CAPITALS:  Remember them?  They’re the team with arguably the world’s best player.  If Ovechkin can keep the form he had towards the end of last year, and D-Man Mike Green can return to some semblance of form, Adam Oates will have his team playing hard, and fast.

ottawasenators7. OTTAWA SENATORS:  We here at Raincityhockey salute the Sens for being the easiest other Canadian franchise to cheer for, if only because they hate the Maple Leafs as much as we do in Vancouver.  They also have the best defender in the game in Erik Karlsson, and a bevy of outstanding forwards.  Pencil them in for another playoff run, but a little softer after losing Zenon Konopka.

montrealcanadiens8. MONTREAL CANADIENS:  Claude LeBut won’t be happy, as a Nordiques die-hard, but the Canadiens will definitely sign P.K. Subban, have better seasons out of Pacioretty and Desharnais, while Andrei Markov will finally fulfil his destiny as rookie Alex Galchenyuk goes on to win rookie of the year. I just noticed how many “if’s” those are.

buffalosabreslogo9. BUFFALO SABRES:  This was more as a result of realizing that Cody Hodgson was Buffalo’s number one Centre than anything else.  Losing Derek Roy to Dallas hurts, and the health of Christian Ehrhoff is doubtful.  Miller should be better than last year, and newly acquired Mikhail Grigorenko has all the makings of a dominant NHL’er.  This year though?  D-man Tyler Myers needs to show that this is the year he steps up.

newjerseydevils10. NEW JERSEY DEVILS:  The goaltending tandem of Brodeur and Johan Hedberg is a combined 78 years of age.  The team lost Zach Parise, Ilya Kovulchuk didn’t want to report, and star rookie Adam Henrique has a torn ligament in his thumb.  In a shortened season, it appears the Devils have too much to sort out and not enough time.

winnipegjets11. WINNIPEG JETS:  Our old Smythe division rivals have a similar look to last season, which means that they haven’t solved any of the problems which kept them out of the post season last year.  Lack of depth will hurt them again, despite good seasons out of Byfuglien and captain Andrew Ladd.

floridapanthers12. FLORIDA PANTHERS:  The team most responsible for expensive contracts for mediocre players just to meet their floor, actually got results last season.  Consider it an aberration.  They’ll be looking for help at about the 12 game marker.

tampabaylightning13. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING:  After Steven Stamkos, this team has precious little to show on offense.  The D is hoping for a leap in Victor Hedman’s game, but is also depending on fragile veterans Sami Salo and Mattias Ohlund to log big minutes.  Still no goaltending in Tampa, as Vinny Lecavalier cashes in enormous paycheck after enormous paycheck.  The balance askew, and results absent, expect TB to deal.

newyorkislanders14. NEW YORK ISLANDERS:  They are the Oilers of the East — a once great franchise struggling to find their way again.  The new location could translate to a bit more buzz about this team, and eventually some of these draft picks have to start panning out.  Out of playoffs, but not for long.

torontomapleleafs15. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS:  The Buds just fired Brian Burke, which means other moves could be imminent.  Long time Burke acolyte, GM Dave Nonis, is a pretty cautious guy though.  The real chip is Carlyle.  Have the Leafs bought in to Coach Carlyle’s system?  Burke might get the last laugh though.  Another down year for the Maple Leafs, until they can shore up some key areas, i.e. goaltending and Defense. 

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Attention Leaves fans: this was a loooong time ago.

With all this talk of late of how great the heroes of Canucks lore have been, and there have been some great ones, there are far, far more players for this franchise who have flattered to deceive, than have had actual success in the Vancouver market.  While, and as Leafs’ fans are always quick to point out, the Canucks have never won a Stanley Cup in all of the 40 years they have existed, their two finals’ appearances are exactly two more than the lowly Leafs have had in the same time frame.  In the last twenty years or so, the Canucks’ fans have had much more to be upbeat about than the Leafs’ supporters, who even supplied us with one of our most memorable playoff victories when all-Canuck, Greg Gus Adams, potted the most redeeming goal in the franchise’s history.

Now, don’t be mistaken.  This isn’t about the Leafs’/Canucks’ two game a year rivarly, and don’t go accusing me of being a “hater” because I don’t even mind the Leafs that much.  In fact, I believe the league would really benefit from having such a storied franchise in a position of some authority.  At the moment, other than being like the blind, rickety old-timer at the same seat in the bar for the last century or so, telling all of us how it used to be back in the day, the Leafs are more of an ironic reflection of their own petulant attitude of immediacy than they are a hockey team.  Getting back to the point, this is the Canucks’ 40th anniversary bash, so to speak, not the Leafs’ which, these last four decades at any rate, makes for far too easy a target anyway.

There have been a number of Canucks players, GM’s, coaches and trades, going back over the annals of time, which were ass-backwards.  In fact, one could argue that the success stories are almost by default in Vancouver, where your average spoiled Vancouver teen fan knows nothing of the suffering we had to endure during the expansion era and in the 80’s when we were actually expected to compete.

This last point is important.  Our own version of the Leafs’ old-timers in these parts, the turtleneck wearing, latte sipping retired yuppies, like to point out that we had some decent players in the 70’s, and I agree.  Where I disagree is in the matter of relevancy.  The 70’s is dominated by three teams:  Boston, Montreal, and Philadelphia.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that Buffalo, our expansion twins and recipients of all of the parental favour in the early years,  made a finals appearance in only the franchise’s fifth year.

Uniform revamps: Sabres 3; Canucks 13. Hey, we're winning something, right?

I blame this on the NHL, of course, not our inept drafting, although this tradition did appear to begin at the inception point for Vancouver.  Through the apt intervention of a roulette wheel, the Sabres were awarded the first pick of the draft, we got second.  We drafted a serviceable offensive defenseman in Dale Tallon.  The Sabres drafted a hall-of-famer.  Back in those days, if you had one player who could skate circles around everybody else, you were going to win some games.  The Sabres did.  We did not.

The Sabres, in fact, have always been associated with being staunch defensive teams with two or three elite forwards on the roster.  Their identity has always been that of a competitive, serious team, making the playoffs in their third year, and 23 times in 26 years after their finals appearance in ’75, including another finals’ appearance many believe to have been tainted by a foot in the crease (then a cause for disallowed goals in the NHL.  Makes you wonder how many of today’s rules will later be deemed unnecessary).  But this is not a Sabres article any more than one about the “Leaves” as we like to call them out West.   In fact, I like the Sabres a lot more than the Maple Leafs, though I admit their city is even uglier than Toronto.

1970 NHL Draft: Sabres draft a future hall of famer; the Canucks draft a jigsaw cover boy. Bad omen.

The Canucks, due to a rotating carousel of bad coaches, bad personnel decisions, and inconsistent players who played in a city considered, largely, to be irrelevant and “small town” in the same vein as Winnipeg or Quebec City  became known as a boom or bust franchise.  Every season was a complete mystery as to who would be playing, coaching, managing, and to what degree of ineffectiveness.  Some seasons resulted in excellent results, and most others in lower echelon mediocrity.

If the question “why are Vancouver Canucks fans so annoying” has ever crossed your mind, it’s because the only thing consistent about this franchise is that its level of hope, hype, predictive pandemonium and subsequent mood swings when the predictions fail, has far outweighed anything reflected on the ice.  When Pavel Bure’s English improved to the point at which we were able to tell he less Yakov Smirnoff and more Nikolai Rachenko he dryly observed Vancouver’s strange hockey culture.

“Sometimes,” said Pavel, “When I sit on the bench and watch [the] fans I can’t understand why people pay money to act crazy and watching [us] play. I think, if I had to sit and watch [the] whole game, I would be so bored.”

Pavel, if you only knew what we had to endure before you got here.

Without further ado, I introduce you to my mathematical equation to measure the worst Canucks of all time, players, GM’s and coaches included.  I’ve even rated trades and drafts, as is only fitting in a market which has shown an alarming lack of professional scouting.

rating = production (pts.) + intangibles (1-100) / “yousuckness” (1-10) – expectations (1-100)… highly technical, I know.

He wasn't butterfly, he wasn't stand-up, but he was disappointing.

Most Disappointing Canucks Goalie of All Time — Dan Cloutier

If he played as well as he fought, he would be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Still, I can’t think of a goalie that disappointed more than this one.  Not even Felix Potvin flattered to deceive as much as Dan Cloutier, and the sales pitch year after year that Brian Burke tried to hammer into the Canucks nation’s psyche about his merits and virtues made you think you were at Landmark convention whenever he opened his mouth.  Google “cloutier” and the first link is related to cloutier and a beach ball.   The career ending injury was not nearly as bad as the career ending goal he let in against Detroit in the 2002 playoffs, in a series that Vancouver had by the throat.  “Cloots” put together decent enough numbers, but never rose to the big moments, and suffered untimely injuries in the playoffs, earning him the title of “most disappointing Canucks goalie of all time”.

Most Disappointing Canucks Defenseman of all Time — Doug Halward

Even the mustache is a bit disappointing, really.

I have to admit, the early years have many candidates in this category from whom to choose.  The player I chose wasn’t a bad player, in fact, he was actually one of the most skilled.  Nevertheless, Doug Halward, despite his timely play during the now ancient 1982 Canucks run to the finals, was the most disappointing Canuck to ever pull on the orange and black, er… white… yellow.  Oozing with talent but short on delivery, Halward and his gangly frame didn’t patrol the Canucks blue line for seven years so much as he lurked there, sort of like an NHL version of Gollum.  It seemed like the Canucks were always waiting for Halward to get out of the hospital, and in the one season he actually did play 71 games, his most as a pro, he was a -41, still a Canucks record, on a team which allowed a whopping 401 goals against, good for 6th worst all-time in the entire league.  Like the team itself, Halward showed flashes of brilliance in ’82, carrying immense expectations into the next few seasons, only to fail on a colossal level. After several in-game related suspensions by the league, including one for a brawl with some Nordiques fans a la Rick Rypien, as well as team suspensions for missing practices and meetings, Halward became a scrappy, annoying defenceman who spent most of his time in the penalty box licking his wounds after being beat up by tougher players.  Eventually he was sent packing to end his career with other teams with slightly less ugly uniforms than ours.

Most Disappointing Canucks Left Winger of All Time — Vladimir Krutov












Back when we weren't allowed scouts in Russia, we had to trust the Russians the transfer money was money well spent.













This is no-contest.  When the Soviet Ice Hockey federation announced that they’d release a few of their former all-star calibre players to come and pursue their careers in North America, the hockey world was abuzz.  The Canucks, for a change, were ahead of the curve on something.  Not only had they become the toast of the town for having the first Russians, they essentially stole a young Russian in Pavel Bure the following year.  Kroots and Iggy represented 2/3 of the fabled KLM line. The two Russians followed opposite career paths.  Igor Larionov was still a sound hockey man, with deft passing ability and a Leninist appeal which earned him instant praise.  Vladimir Krutov, however, turned up woefully out of shape, and more interested in the splendours of large supermarket chains, and American cars.  He is a legend in Russia, and so is he in Vancouver, but for another reason entirely.  He was fat!  After a handful of games, Krutov left the country with much less fanfare than when he arrived in it.



The Most Disappointing Canucks Right Winger of All Time — Jim Sandlak

Sandlak's definition of a power stride.

Known as “The House”, Jim Sandlak played 8 of his 11 seasons in the NHL for the Vancouver Canucks.  It seems we just couldn’t get enough of his disappointing 6’4, 220 lbs. frame in the city, flirting with his “Cam Neely talent” not just once, but even after we shipped him off to Hartford to complete a minor deal.  He entered the ’85 season under heaps of pressure from media and management who were enamoured with his size and potential to become “the next Cam Neely”.  It was in fact this very notion which caused Canucks management to hold on to Jim for more than was necessary, even fearing that any trade involving Sandlak would yield the same results. It was another example of poor scouting in those miserable early days, and nervous management which enabled “The House” to play more like “The Greenhouse” as he became an often injured and frail under producing big man, lingering on the third and fourth lines for half a decade while fans became accustomed to placing every miserable loss on his broken shoulders.  Sandlak’s impact was a reminder to GM’s and fans in this then young market not to place unrealistic expectations on young players.

Most Disappointing Canucks Centre of All Time — Mark Messier

No Canuck is talked about less than Mess.

No name in Canucks sporting history causes such feelings of disappointment more than Mark Messier’s.  If there was ever a player who was inducted into the hall of fame that Canucks fans wanted nothing to do with, it’s this man.  He represents a destruction of a decent team in the name of progress, and his fabled “leadership” served the purpose of bringing in the second most hated name in Canucks sporting history, Mike Keenan, who replaced a then young, up-and-coming coach by the name of Tom Renney, as well as disposing of the most beloved name in Canucks sporting history, Trevor Linden, stealing his captaincy in the process, just like he stole poor Wayne Maki’s all but retired number 11.  Just one look at the roster from Messier’s first season in Vancouver gives you an idea of what was going on that year.   It was a revolving door of players in the name of bettering the team in the coming years.  Replacing a “stale culture” as I believe Messier phrased it. His leadership wasn’t enough to keep the most talented player in Canucks’ history, Pavel Bure, and it wasn’t enough to keep even Mike Keenan from getting fired and replaced by Marc Crawford.

Zero playoff appearances in all three years of his time in Vancouver meant that not only is Messier linked to being responsible for cheap shotting Linden en route to crushing Vancouver’s Stanley Cup hopes in ’94, but also for another three years of futility during his meaningless tenure here.  He might be the most disappointing Canuck of all time, period.  In his 3 regrettable seasons for this team, only one season resulted in being over .500, his last, and that was by a mere one win.  It was an experiment worth trying, and offered some hope, but in the end, Messier lived up much less to his name of “the best leader in the history of the NHL” and more to his on-ice nickname, “Mess”.

So, you younger Canucks fans, when you look at your team and want to criticize its ineptitude, do so by all means.  But remember, there were a lot of years of misery that we had to endure here before we could talk about having a team challenging for a Stanley Cup every season.  Look at those twins and how they play.  Admire our goalie for being consistent.  Watch Kesler terrorize other lines with his tenacity, and enjoy how fast and mobile your d-men are.  At this point in time, you are watching the finest generation of Canucks this city has ever known, except for one year in ’94 (For my money, I’m still picking McLean over Luongo, however).  They won’t last forever, for the life span of a professional athlete is short indeed.  Remember what we had to endure to get here.  Take a good long look at the Maple Leafs.  You laugh now, but have you thought about what this team will look like in four years when the core are grizzled veterans?  Hope that the Canucks are laying down the foundation for success, instead of putting all their eggs in one basket, because a fall from grace doesn’t take long, and building back up takes longer than you think.

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Brain Half Empty Too!

Hattrick will make you believe I lost the bet between us that night we drank like fish.  Actually, I knew what I was doing the whole time.  To me, the Canucks’ future is totally like an empty glass, not half empty!  So, after Hattrick passed out faster than an opium smoker, I said “Half Empty” to wake him up.  He woke up and laughed because he thought he won, but actually he lost.  The future is pretty bad, if things stay like they were this season.

GM:  Mike Gillis

To me, this is the worst part about the organization right now.  He makes all the decisions, and half of his decisions are just wrong.  He signs the twins, that’s good, he signs Kesler and Luongo for about as much, but that’s not so good.  Kesler hasn’t done anything in his career and has always been a whiner when it comes to contracts.  Luongo too.  I think Ron Tugnutt could have won the Olympic gold this year.  Gillis signed Demitra, who was very bad, and then he signed Samuelsson who was very good.  He traded for Ehrhoff and Lukowich for Patrick White and Daniel Rahimi which was fine, but then this trade deadline he didn’t really address anything by trading for Andrew Alberts, who just sucks.  I’d rather have the 6th round draft pick back.  And, speaking of drafts how about the 2nd and 3rd rounder that Gillis gave up for Bernier who he eventually had to overpay to keep anyway?   It would help if Gillis was nicer, but he’s also a jerk, so I say the glass is half empty with this guy, and it was filled with some bad Oka moonshine to begin with.

Coach: Alain Vigneault, Rick Bowness, Ryan Walter

I think Hattrick forgot to mention the entire coaching staff for a reason.  I don’t have much problem with Alain as the head coach, but what is that Ottawa reject doing on the Canucks along with the former Habitant who never bothered to learn any French, Ryan Walter.  I don’t like our assistants.  I have no real proof that they suck, but I’m pretty sure they do, because the Canucks don’t do the little things right, like play good special teams, find new ways of beating teams  or play good defense.  That’s usually the assistant coaching staff that helps out with that stuff, so I think when you have 1 out of 3 that’s good, it’s a fail.  Definitely half empty coaching staff.

Goalie:  Roberto Luongo, Andrew Raycroft

You have to be kidding me right?  Luongo is signed for another 12 years?  How is this a good thing?  I thought Mike Gillis was this fancy lawyer agent guy who knew what players were worth?  I am surprised that this team is still hanging on to this whole Captain Luongo thing too.  He can’t possibly be the captain next season or I’m going to get really angry.  I like whatPuck Daddy reported today, that some fan is selling Luongo on craigslist!  That is so funny!  Anyway, Raycroft is a league reject who actually played pretty good here, while Luongo is a league primadonna who would be eaten alive by the Montreal press if he played there.  We should find a taker, then sign Carey Price and Cory Schneider to split the games in Vancouver.  Our goalies are the worst.

Defense:  Edler, Ehrhoff

I listed those two guys because the rest of the defenders need to go.  Seriously.  They suck.  Salo, Mitchell and Bieksa get hurt way too much, and those other guys I’m not bothering to remember because they are absolutely non-factors in the games they play.  What more do I need to say?  Other than Luongo playing like Frankenstein, the defense was the main reason we lost to Chicago this year, and almost to L.A.

Forwards: Twins, Kesler, Burrows, Samuelsson

You know what?  Maybe these guys aretwinkies, like Darren Pang said  (That doesn’t change the fact thatDarren Panglooks like a trailer hitch on the back of a pickup truck).  Seriously, where were these guys against Chicago?  Mostly, they spent some time in the penalty box because they couldn’t keep their emotions in check, and Kesler anyway spent some time calling Chicago players silly names like, “rats”.  Burrows was completely shell-shocked since game one, and Samuelsson was invisible since L.A. . Hey Vancouver!  This is your core!  Wake up! There is something seriously wrong here.

You know, in the end, the team has to consider a lot of different options including trading players (like Burrows) while they still have some value and getting big tough players who can perform in the playoffs.  A little experience wouldn’t hurt either, as the only player who has ever won a Stanley Cup was Samuelsson and that leaky Alberts guy.  Everyone else is a glass half empty.

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A little while ago, Claude and I made a bet to determine who would get to write about the future of the Vancouver Canucks after they would be eliminated from the playoffs, which we inevitably knew would happen.  They just weren’t ever going to convince either of us that they were ready to win the big one this year.  We both wanted to focus on the positives of the team, because you don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, as they say, but only one of us could.

Our bet was quite simple.  Whomever drank the other under the table, would get to declare the title of his article ( I have since learned to never challenge a Quebeccer to such a duel).  Anyway, even though Claude wanted to write about the glass being half full, I was awoken to jubilant and repeated chants of “Glass half empty! Glass half empty!” thereby allowing me to keep on the safe side and write about how the Canucks have hope, aren’t as far as you might think, and don’t have the most overrated goalie in the world.  So, I won what I originally wanted, but, much like the Canucks initial desire to play the Hawks again this year, I’m not sure Claude got the short end of the stick.

GM:  Mike Gillis

It’s easy to forget that this is Gillis’ 2nd year on the job and already he has had two successful years putting his team in contention for the Stanley Cup and suffering two tough second round exits to the same team.  You have to think that Gillis has a long term plan in place including keeping his eye on potential free agents in 2010 and beyond.  He has set up a potent scouting squad, and drafted unquestionably well during his tenure.  Extending key players on the team and coach Vigneault’s contract speaks volumes towards stabilizing this franchise which has been in need of stability for a long time.  Resisting the temptation to extend Mitchell earlier in the year as well as timing Ryan Johnson’s and Pavol Demitra’s contracts to expire at the same time frees up some money for the Canucks, who are looking to retool.

Coach: Alain Vigneault

Coach V has become the stalwart leader the Canucks have always needed.  It might be difficult for you fans to hear this after we got dumped by Chi-Town again in quite similar fashion, but honestly, who else would you have behind the bench of the Canucks?  He has won a Jack Adams with this team, and he gets the most out of his players through his tough love style.  He giggles at press conferences, and he weathers numerous Vancouver shit-storms with dignity and class.  He backs up his players when they tell the world about corrupt referees, and he lets the world know when his star goalie is under-performing.  Coach V has the respect of the team and the league, and will adapt to the new lineup he gets in 2010/2011.  Pencil in another division championship for AV and the Canucks next year.

Goal:  Roberto Luongo

Between the pipes is the undisputed number one in this organization.  He has a gold medal to his name, and was not the goat against Chicago this year, despite some suspect numbers.  Luongo will probably give up the captaincy of the team, at which point his elite game will return to him, of course.  As long as the organization signs and brings Cory Schneider up to handle a couple dozen games thereby limiting Luongo’s exposure in net during the regular season, the Canucks will be the envy of the league.

Defense:  Salo, Bieksa, Mitchell, O’Brien, Edler, Ehrhoff, Rome, Alberts, Lukowich, Baumgartner

The Defense core is going to be together for another year, with the only major decision being how much to pay Shane O’Brien, who acquitted himself well this year.  Mitchell, whose injury seems career threatening is not under contract, neither is Rome or Lukowich, leaving space for signing a proven UFA D-Man, or offering a young RFA big money in an attempt to steal him from another team.  Another year for Edler and Bieksa will prove to be key in developing their talents, and if worst comes to worst, we’ll only have to pay Bieksa, Salo, Ehrhoff, Baumgartner and Alberts through to 2011, freeing up in excess of $13 million by the start of the 2011 season.

Forwards:  Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, Samuelsson, Bernier, Hordichuk, Rypien, Grabner

People forget, we don’t have a lot of forwards signed for next year.  The Canucks have unlimited options as Wellwood, Raymond, Demitra, Johnson, Hansen and Glass all become free agents.  Normally, teams feel impending disaster when their players become free agents for fear that they will lose them.  In this case, everybody but Raymond is expendable, and the Canucks can spend $11 milliion on new forwards (-$5 million they spent on Kesler… so about $6 million).  Seems to me that this means we’ll be looking at a lot of rookies on league minimums next season, which bodes well for the culture of the team changing, as it must.  The top two lines seem in tact, while the Canucks can go shopping for a bottom half of the roster, an area in need of fixing anyway.

The glass is definitely half full here.

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You know, I was thinking about writing this after Pavol Demitra let Dave Bollan steal the puck at the Hawk blue line and skate for yet another short hand goal against Vancouver in this series.  I just knew at that point the series was won by Chicago.  It was depressing to watch Demitra smash his stick all over the place on the ice, because I felt a bit bad for this man.  He had such a good Olympics and then barely misses tying the game for his country against Luongo, then he loses against Salo’s really bad Finnish team in the bronze medal game.  Now he is basically the reason why the Canucks lose again against the Blackhawks.  It’s a very sad ending to a very underwhelming experience here in Vancouver.  I wonder how Gillis feels about this signing.

Anyway, the Canucks have a lot of things to fix in this off-season, especially since they are no longer the last Canadian team left in the playoffs.   That distinction belongs, unfortunately, to the Montreal Canadiens.  ( In case you’re wondering, I grew up in Quebec city, so I’m not much of a Canadiens fan.  Actually I kind of hate them!).

10.  The goalie can’t be the captain of the team.  There is a reason why this hasn’t been done in many years in the NHL.  Teams don’t like being criticized by the goalie.  Just stop the puck and focus on your game!

9.  There are lots of free agents on this team.  How much do you pay your Restricted Free Agents: Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Kyle Wellwood, Shane O’Brien and Aaron Rome?  Plus these guys aren’t very big bodies, so do you keep them at all?

8. I feel very bad for Willie Mitchell, but what can you do?  He makes 3.5 million dollars and is an Unrestricted Free Agent.  His concussion problem is going to be a big factor in whether or not he ever plays again.  He is really good, but if I remember correctly The Canucks didn’t win against the Hawks with him in the lineup last year.

7.  Is there something wrong with Luongo?  The team will owe him money for the next 13 years with a no-trade clause.  I don’t know about this guy right now.  See point 10.

6.  Is the answer in free agency or in rebuilding?  Top free agents this year like Nick Lidstrom, Rob Blake or Scott Niedermayer could help, but they are going to be really expensive and really old.  They need SIZE on the blueline, more than skill.  They have given up too much size back there over the years.

5. What kind of style is next for this team?  They tried grinding defensive style, and that didn’t work.  This year they tried speed and skill and they still lost.  Do they need to try a different approach?  Is it about copying the Stanley Cup winner, or developing something you believe in?

4. It’s time to see the warning signs sooner.  Everyone saw the problems with this team after the first month of the season, but we kept hearing “everything’s fine… it’s early…. it’s about the playoffs…. etc.”  Now that the results are the same, I think the fans have the right to second guess the decision makers a little more.

3.   Why haven’t too many teams wanted to trade with Gillis?  He hasn’t made any shrewd moves through the trades, but he made some ok decisions with the free agents.  Is it still an old boys club that doesn’t want to let Gillis in?  Seems strange that he doesn’t make any trades to me.

2.  I love this kid, but I don’t think Burrows is a natural 35 goal scorer.  I think there is trouble with Burrows being our number one scorer on this team.  Either we need to get a true dangler, or a more structured second line that makes life tough for other teams by banging and crashing.   Lots of holes to fill here, now that I think about it.

1.  Who is going to backup Luongo next year?  Can’t we bring Schneider in and have him play 25 games while resting our “superstar”?  I think we should.  It’s time for the kid to come up and play, and maybe push our number one a little more.  Besides, he’s up for a contract next year, and I don’t think he wants a 2-way anymore.  I wouldn’t.

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From ugly to fugly, to just plain Byfuglien, on the anniversary of the now fabled 7-5 loss in Chicago, the Canucks found ways to lose at GM place while the Hawks found ways to win.  It’s a bad combination for winning a Stanley cup, but leave it to the Canucks to keep beating that drum, as the franchise has since day one of its inception.  Aside from a brief interlude with a legitimate run in ’94, the Canucks finish out of the running for the Stanley Cup for the 40th consecutive year of largely inept hockey.

Don’t get me wrong here, I prefer a top-8 finish as opposed to a top-16 or out of the playoffs entirely.  Looking around the league, Washington, New Jersey, Ottawa, Detroit and Vancouver’s expansion cousin, Buffalo are all out before Vancouver is tonight.  There are teams which haven’t cared about hockey since the regular season ended, and the Western Conference is stacked, but still…. it doesn’t feel any better tonight.  I can’t make this pain go away.

Luongo was good enough this time.  The D was not.  After several spectacular saves in the first period, the Canucks came undone in the second, allowing easy opportunities to the young and talented Hawks who eventually capitalized on the juicy opportunities.  In the end, the ‘Nucks had no answer to Toews, Sharp, Kane, and, yes… Byfuglien.

The fact of the matter is, Dustin Byfuglien might just be the series MVP.  With all due respect to Patrick Kane’s 8 points, and Jonathan Toews monster series with 12 points, Dustin Byfuglien was a runaway train crashing through the Canucks depleted D-core which offered all the resistance of wet tissue paper.  Byfuglien’s sublime game 3 turned the series around in the Hawks’ favour.  His game 6 put the final point on the exclamation point of his incredible game.  He was a wrecking ball, demolishing the Canucks’ D on every opportunity, playing with a consistent fire that I’m sure the Chicago management team saw in him when they took a chance on him in the 8th round back in 2003.

Byfuglien must now be considered at the top of the list of players who I’d hate to play against, but would love to have on my team.  The Canucks had no answers for his size and strength, and yes, infectious energy, and must now find ways to fine tune the roster in order to compete with this Hawks team that will be around for a very long time.  They are younger, faster, stronger and better than the Canucks, but what’s worse, the core is all signed long-term.

There is some solace in all of this of course.  Now we can sit back and passively observe  what other teams are skating with which put them in contention for the top 4 spots.  Watching what the final 4 have on the ice, I’m sure even the passing observer will notice some key differences on the forward lines and the defensive corps of the remaining teams.  One thing is for certain, however.  No one has been bigger and nastier than Dustin Byfuglien was against the Canucks.  If Byfuglien can put together the same kind of series he had against Vancouver against the Sharks, and whoever the East has to offer, we might have just lost to the Stanley Cup champs.

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