Canucks Having Surprise Start to Season, But According to the Map They’ve Only Gone Four Inches

By now you’ve thought this too: “How the heck are the Canucks pulling this off?” It’s still supposed to be a rebuilding year and it is but the expectation was that this team would again be challenging for the last place in the league and the chance to draft Quinn Hughes’ younger brother, Jack Hughes first overall.

The preseason pretty much confirmed that thought after Vancouver went 1-6 in exhibition play. It was tough to gauge if this was going to be the team we would see in the regular season and for the final few games, it was. Concussions claimed goalie prospect Thatcher Demko and Antoine Roussel. There wasn’t much to be excited about. We were about to see the same team we saw last year minus eventual Hall of Famer’s Henrik and Daniel Sedin, the folk hero Thomas Vanek who signed with the Red Wings, and fan-favourite Jayson Megna.

Sure, Elias Pettersson would join the Canucks and his Young Stars Tournament performance may have set the table for what was about to occur but after that, it was a pretty basic September.

The Canucks had no wins, no one was fighting for jobs, and their Brock Boeser’s goal totals were falling off.

I have followed the stats like many of you have and it isn’t quite adding up. This year’s Canucks are kind of like Harry and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber. Down and out and then accidentally find a briefcase full of cash that they need to return to its owner.

Instead of returning the briefcase right away, Vancouver spends a bit of the money and filled the briefcase with IOU’s. Let’s take a look at what got the Canucks to this point: a 9-6 record in October. Oh, and Elias Pettersson, the Lamborghini, $925 thou, they’ll want to hold onto that one.

The Expectation – Why you going to the airport, flying somewhere? 

With Quinn Hughes going back to Michigan for another season of college, the Canucks defense was going to be exactly the same as it was a season ago. So much the same that Jim Benning double-down on Erik Gudbranson to a three-year contract. Gudbranson hasn’t been a shining star for the Canucks, he hasn’t been even been top-four defenseman but here we are with another three years of disappointment.

He ranks 323 out of 372 defensemen in CF% since the start of the 2015/16 with a 45.95 rating, at 5v5 having played at least 50 minutes. From there, Alex Edler was the returning #1 guy on the back end for the Canucks, a player that hasn’t played a full season since the 2011/12 campaign. In fact, that was Edler’s only wholly healthy year.

Michael Del Zotto and Sam Gagner were liabilities for different reasons: MDZ might have been the hitz king but he did take the most penalties on the Canucks a season ago and also was tied for the most giveaways on the team. As a defenseman, it could be assumed the chance to create giveaways increases trying to clear the puck out of the defensive zone.

Sam Gagner had an impressive season with Columbus before signing a three-year deal in Vancouver but he wasn’t able to transition that to the Canucks lineup. He’ll never be given full-time PP1 opportunities and 5v5 he doesn’t factor as a fourth-line pivot. When the Canucks sent him to the minors on loan to the Toronto Marlies, his fate was sealed: he would never play for the Canucks again. That has yet to be confirmed.

Looking at the sophomore season for Brock Boeser, the expectation was that he would hopefully continue his scoring ways before his season ended to injury and after Boeser’s Da Beauty League performance, it looked like his wrist was once again 100% and he would dominate the NHL scoring race. Hitting the 29 goal mark last year, Boeser sure had the feel of a guy that could challenge the elite NHLers with his lethal shot.

And then there’s Elias Pettersson. He was the odds-on favourite to win the Calder trophy this season for Rookie of The Year. His otherworldly talent might even make the Canucks a better team overall. Having only played seven games as a centre in Sweden, the Canucks were confident he could be their 1C. Sounds easy, right?

All in all, there was a few bright spots but the reality of it all was that this team would again be fighting for the bottom.

The Surprising Start – Oh look, Frost!

The whole “Pettersson” thing has worked out pretty well so far. The small things are actually what has made him more impressive than the goals themselves. His dekes, his strength despite his weight, OK and his incredible knack for scoring has made the Canucks one of the surprising teams to watch so far this year.

Add to that, Jake Virtanen looks like he’s finally arrived as the Canucks main power forward and the #shotgunjake movement has taken on a life of its’ own.

Hey, I have the same counters! Jake has already scored five goals this year and he might end up being as big a story as Petterss… I take that back. Virtanen is using his frame to make a difference and his confidence as he drives the net will only pay more dividends as the season continues. His five tallies are good for third on the Canucks behind Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat. The project player is a project no more.

I’d include Loui Eriksson but his “little things” that have been chronicled elsewhere are not worthy of this post. The scattered contributions on their own are impressive in their own way but as a whole, they’ve formed a foundation for fighting chance.

Injuries Should Have Sunken Them – What if he shot me in the face?

It feels like a neverending story as injury after injury mounts and the Canucks thin out the Utica Comets one by one. First, it was Jay Beagle with a broken wrist after blocking a shot, then Sven Baertschi received a concussion, Alex Edler with the sprained MCL, Chris Tanev with the hip injury, Anders Nilsson broke his finger, and finally, Brandon Sutter suffered a separated shoulder.

Injuries have definitely taken their toll on the Canucks but like so many seasons prior, injuries create opportunity and everyone has made the most of their time in their new roles.

Adam Gaudette hasn’t been a world-burner but he’s seeing some significant minutes with Markus Granlund and Jake Virtanen. The decimation on the back end has forced Travis Green to make Ben Hutton and Erik Gudbranson the top pairing and they haven’t disappointed, well not entirely. It probably will crash and burn at some point for the same reasons Kevin Bieksa was used as a top pairing guy when all the responsible defensemen were out.

All I’m saying is that maybe Troy Stecher and Derrick Pouliot should be given higher billing… well maybe not Pouliot. The turnovers have kinda been a bummer.

Imagine the Canucks scoring fewer goals with no Sven Baertchi or Alex Edler in the lineup and then realizing that it couldn’t be further from the truth.

With every injury, the Canucks have bonded closer as a defensive unit and their takeaways currently rank fourth overall. They’re getting contributions from Jake Virtanen and Troy Stecher as the top thieves on the team and future Selke winner Elias Pettersson is showing everyone a 200-foot game pays dividends with his eight takeaways.

So injuries haven’t sunken the Canucks, that doesn’t explain why they’ve been so good though, either.

The Whole Scoring First Thing – We landed on the moon!

Almost half of the Canucks wins have come when leading after the first period (4) and half of their losses have come when trailing after the first period (3). The first goal doesn’t seem to matter either, they have four wins when they score first and five wins when their opponents score first. It looks like the Canucks haven’t read the news that scoring first is essential. Kinda like the moon landing thing.

The Goaltending isn’t Losing Games – I’m going to hang by the bar, put out the vibe.

The preseason was awful for every single goaltender in Vancouver. New/former goalie coach Ian Clark was tasked with reworking Markstrom and Nilsson’s habits and everything we saw suggested Thatcher Demko needed to be ready ASAP. But then, Demko went down with a concussion and even though he’s still out, goaltending doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Neither Markstrom or Nilsson is amongst the league leaders in GAA or SA%, their advanced stats aren’t screaming Jennings winners either; what has occurred is that both goalies have adjusted and are more square to the puck. They’re taking fewer chances as well and with the group defense mentality, each and every game isn’t being hung on the goaltending tandem. It’s a nice change.

But is that the reason this team has a fighting chance this season?

The Pettersson Effect – So you’re telling me there’s a chance?

He has the rookie race all but locked up and it’s only November. He’s already impressed the Sedins to the point they’re charging him for using the plays that really only they were good at, and his size doesn’t seem to be an issue. Oh, and pretty much everyone in the NHL has been put on notice that Elias Pettersson is coming for them.

Brock Boeser had the shot and could diffuse any goaltender. That’s all fine and dandy but what Pettersson has done is beyond explainable. The Canucks were supposed to be dismal again this season and Pettersson may have single-handedly changed the course of direction for this team’s future. Everyone thought the Canucks needed Quinn Hughes this year when in fact, adding him isn’t necessary quite yet.

Check the tweets:

Pettersson has played six fewer games than his teammates and he leads them by four points. Sure, the five-point game against Colorado helped a bit. He’s everything the Canucks have wanted and more and by the time it’s all said and done, his trophy case could be a walk in closet.

If I put all of Pettersson’s best plays so far into this post, it would be an eight-part series. He’s a game-changer and the Canucks may finally have their “IT” guy. He’s no Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, or Auston Matthews but honestly, that’s just fine.

The Canucks are surprising the NHL and their own fanbase and they might just make a season out of this. It’s only a month in but some trends are being set that suggest the bottom of the league won’t be where they finish in April. Playoffs? Probably not. Back to relevancy? Absolutely. Pettersson has been the biggest visible reason the Canucks are out ahead this season but it’s the sum of the parts that are getting the job done.

Jim Benning has been questioned for many of his moves and even his drafting early on but once we saw how those picks started to materialize, the pitchforks were lowered a bit.

No doubt, I’ve left out a few things but the main point is that this season won’t be a write-off.

It doesn’t make much sense but all I can really say is “Big Gulps, Huh? Alright! Well, see ya later.”

 

Photo – Vancouver Sun

 

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The Canucks and why We just want to so bad

It’s been said over and over when it comes to Elias Pettersson this season or Brock Boeser last year “hook it up straight into my veins”. We’ve been given two gifts in the form of goal scoring, playmaking, and sheer excitement. Not to say the Canucks haven’t been exciting before but not like this. The 94 run brought the Canucks to the forefront of the NHL as an underdog and in 2011 they were the odds-on favourite to win it all.

The Canucks have had exciting players but none of them projected hope like the duo of Pettersson and Boeser. The infamous (r)ebuild has carried on and there has been no lack of confirmation the Canucks will not be good for some time still but somehow now it feels different. Goals are coming from the expected sources and there’s not many of them, the defense is almost identical as it was a season ago and there hasn’t been a clear frontrunner for the net.

How are the Canucks managing to sell this?

This for starters.

Also this.

OK and that one as well.

One kid has turned his teammates into believers and they’ve begun to carry on his story without him in the lineup. Canucks Nation has unified once again through a bit of luck in getting Pettersson at five in the draft and equally, as amazing they stole Brock Boeser at 23. The wait hasn’t ended for a playoff-bound team but the Canucks have once again become appointment viewing.

The group that emerged from training camp looked like they were going to flirt with their record-low point total from two seasons ago when they plummeted to 69 points. Last year wasn’t much better but as Brock Boeser continued, so did Canucks fans. Believing in change is a great feeling. There’s a reason to get excited again. All the questions about sitting stale veterans are coming to fruition and for once the process seems like a real thing.

The defense has improved and Erik Gudbranson is no longer a liability.

Is it sustainable? Who cares?

It probably won’t be but even early on, this Canucks team has a moxie to them that other Canucks teams haven’t in the past. There aren’t any Sedins to talk about, no questions if they’ll retire or if their ice time will drop. The Ben Hutton questions seemed to have subsided and he is playing like he did as a rookie.

The new Canucks are making people want it in a way that feels odd. I think people have seen the perceived bottom and the jump back up the ladder is coming sooner than we all expected.

Vancouver has committed to team defense and their PK is just below sixth-overall. They’ve only given up three power play goals on 26 opportunities. It also means they’re a bit more aggressive by forcing the play a bit more which has drawn these penalties but you have to break a few eggs to make a spaghetti.

I think I may have that wrong. What about some of the other guys?

Brandon Sutter as a role player is a lot more doable than making him the second-line centre, Jake Virtanen embracing his growing role instead of forcing himself to be the immediate top-six threat everyone is waiting for him to become. He may never be the Todd Bertuzzi-type player many want him to be but he’s shown that his game has taken massive strides and #shotgunjake might be a star yet.

Loui Eriksson is still arguably the biggest question mark and what the Canucks will do with him in light of the Sam Gagner, Brendan Gaunce and Michael Del Zotto decisions is intriguing.

There are more than just these few players making people believe in change but at the top of it all is indeed Brock and Elias. These two may very well be the Canucks ticket to the top and we’ve all got a front row seat.

People are subscribing to The Athletic because they want more access to these guys, they’re bingeing The Patcast, they’re arguing over what Petterson’s freaking nickname is.

It’s fun to be a Canucks fan again and we want what they’re selling. We want it bad.

Photo: National Post

The Canucks Parade Goes Through Penticton

WHOA! Ok, maybe a line has been crossed but the Canucks prospects knew they had to show up on Friday night when they took on the Winnipeg Jets prospects in Penticton, B.C. The Baby Canucks scored early and often and obliterated the Baby Jets 8-2 with most of the damage being done in the second period. All in all, it was a good time and for a fan base that has clearly suffered for five years now, they deserved to see what hope looked like.

I couldn’t tell you if the excitement from Friday stemmed from the Canucks game, the recently revamped Pat-Cast that dropped with Jeff Paterson and Jason Botchford, or the fact that my tax return cheque FINALLY came to my mailbox after four months, but it was a good day you can be sure.

The Canucks prospect pool, which was just ranked as the third-best in the NHL by The Sporting News, showed off its wares in an absolute onslaught of scoring and it came from the players everyone wanted to see. Elias Pettersson donned a Canucks jersey in a game for the first time and he didn’t disappoint. Jonathan Dahlen showed he was worth trading away Alex Burrows to acquire his talents, and the undersized Petrus Palmu proved to everyone that size doesn’t matter, he can play.

Access to goal hilites via “The GIF” will be found all over Twitter but if you happened to have gone out for dinner instead of joining your buds just down Highway 97 for some puck, here are a few gems to start the 2018/2019 season. It’s Canucks hockey and we’ve waited long enough.

Alright, that’s just nasty. A season of Pettersson and Brock Boeser doing things like this might end up being illegal in some provinces. People, DO NOT CHECK YOUR PHONE DURING CANUCKS GAMES IF YOU’RE DRIVING. First of all, you’ll get pulled over, second you’ll never get home, and finally, your TV has to be bigger than a phone so enjoy the artistry.

All range on that one and you have to wonder if he challenges for a fourth line spot at some point soon. He was a savvy pick and he had to have made a few fans on Friday. Dahlen was no slouch either, he would have been worth the price of admission and what he does here reminds me of LeSean McCoy aka Shady McCoy formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles circa 2010. Those shimmy-shakes and his edge work, the way he cuts, it’s just insane.

Kelowna Rockets faithful were treated to a bit of Kole Lind as well. He didn’t pot this one but Pettersson to Lind isn’t far-fetched. This could be sooner than later. What stood out for me was that Lind didn’t score on this one and he buried that all day long in Kelowna. Maybe he needed to be cut before the game so he could have tallied a hat-trick.

 

Signs of things to come? Possibly. But let’s be real here for a second: it was a prospects vs. prospects game and the best comment during the game pretty much summed up how everything “should” have been viewed:

No one is winning the Stanley Cup after this game and it’s about 10 years (woof!) before a parade schematic needs to be drawn up. On Friday however, the buzz was back and the Canucks might be a little bit closer to competitive than we all thought. Now if only they could get rid of Erik Gudbranson.

That’s for another day.

 

Cover photo – The Hockey Writers

With or Without Quinn Hughes, The Canucks Defense Will Suck Again Next Season

We’re all a little giddy after the Canucks somehow landed Quinn Hughes with the 7th overall pick in the NHL Draft back in June. Knowing full well Rasmus Dahlin wasn’t possible, Hughes was the second best option and for the first time in many years Canucks Nation was unified (ok, mostly) with a first-round pick and the likelihood he can help turn the franchise around sooner than later.

Whether Hughes signs a contract now or a year from now isn’t going to drastically change the Canucks on-ice product for the 2018/19 season. QH will no doubt impress like Brock Boeser did but on defense, it’s a bit more of a clusterschmuck and those same opportunities won’t be available for him on the back end.

The Canucks’ defense corps is crowded and Jim Benning hasn’t made it easy for younger players to advance. Michael Del Zotto was signed to a 2 year/$6 million deal which wasn’t terrible and has given the Canucks more speed on the back end but he’s hardly a catalyst for an improved offense, despite being second on the Canucks in defensive scoring. He’s a band-aid at best as this team transitions but a player like Ben Hutton is now in question after being pushed down the depth chart.

Speaking of Hutton, there has been a lot said about his future with the Canucks. The major question is “Where does he fit?” His six assists in 61 games last year was worrying if you believe he’s part of this team’s future. Hutton has been in the press box more than he would have liked this past year and coach Travis Green seems to have fallen out of favour with him, and no I’m not talking about Erik Gudbranson all of a sudden, unfortunately.

Ben saw the worst output of his young career in 2017/18 and may very well have played himself into a trade. Not sure how he isn’t given more of a chance like Jake Virtanen has up front but I suppose there is less movement on the backend and less room for error. The way Hutton has developed, maybe Quinn Hughes could make his debut this season.

Let’s say Hughes signs his entry-level deal this summer and can help the Canucks right away, can he really take a defensive group from third-worst in the NHL to even close to league average in shot percentage? I doubt it. Vancouver had a combined 2.83 SH% on defense last season, almost a full two points below the league average.

Hughes is going to be touted for his skating and maneuverability in the early stages and simply just getting the puck out of the defensive zone which will end up being a lot especially after losing the Sedins to retirement. He won’t get as many opportunities to shoot the puck as we all would hope and by the looks of those stats above, there aren’t many opportunities, to begin with.

So who would he be paired up with? The options aren’t pretty.

Vancouver shed itself of Luca Sbisa but doubled-down on colossal mistake Erik Gudbranson. Guddy is going to need a massive turnaround next season as well as staying healthy if he’s going to amount to anything on the Canucks. He isn’t a fan-favourite whatsoever and he seems to make his partners worse when they play together.

Three of the bottom five pairings last year on the Canucks involved Gudbranson when looking at CF% and as far as the aggression he was supposed to bring, it was almost non-existent. Gudbranson had 35 PIM last year and remembering any roughing, charging or even fighting majors is a stretch. Knowing how Green has deployed his defenders, we should all hope for a Tanev/Hughes or Edler/Hughes option. Everything else scares me.

On the money side, looking at where Hughes may fit in 2018/19 is muddy as well:

Troy Stecher will get signed in the next little while but other than that the defense looks set for the next season. Unless there is a trade or multiple trades, Hughes will be sandwiched in the bottom portion of the depth chart and with Benning’s commitment to Gudbranson and Michael Del Zotto, and that’s just talking about the guys on the big club, he may be fighting for minutes to start his career.

Of course, even early on, Hughes has shown in Development camp he may be the best skater for the Canucks defensemen and he hasn’t played a game yet. If he does make the team he’ll be given every chance to succeed but Green will still have to trot out Alex Edler and Chris Tanev with regular minutes, Stecher won’t see his status decline so it really only leaves three other spots in Gudbranson, MDZ and a combination of the rest.

In his rookie season, why subject Hughes to that mess when he can develop for another year eating up huge minutes in Michigan? The Canucks were patient with their other recent pick Elias Pettersson and it paid off in spades with a season for the ages by the young Swede. Brock Boeser also stayed back in North Dakota after his draft year and he too decimated his competition in college.

Defensemen are heavily criticized in the NHL and on this Canucks team, that is absolutely true.  The Canucks won’t make the playoffs this season and will most likely sit at the bottom of the standings in a race for Quinn’s younger brother, Jack, as the consensus top pick in next year’s draft. Let the Canucks work out their issues for one more season and give Quinn Hughes a real chance to make a difference in 2019 after his college season is complete.

He wants to be a pro but gets that going back to college isn’t the worst for his development. Thatcher Demko hasn’t even made the Canucks yet and he is supposed to take the reigns in net any time now after showing he has the ability to backstop this team. Regardless of what both the Canucks and Hughes decide, Vancouver will once again have a disgusting showing on defense in 2018/19 and really, what’s one more year?

 

Photo – The Hockey Writers

Alex Burrows Lived The Dream

On July 6, 2018, Alex Burrows announced to the hockey world that he was retiring from the game after 13 seasons. The truly remarkable thing is that he almost never played a single game in the NHL. His story has been chronicled over the course of his playing days and Canucks fans celebrated his efforts when he was traded to the Senators just over a year ago.

It is inevitable that he will be inducted into the Canucks Ring of Honour and the only real question is how soon that will take place? It has been a pretty eventful offseason already for Canucks fans as Henrik and Daniel Sedin both retired and now Burrows as well. The Sedins will have their numbers raised to the rafters most likely next season and it would be fitting if Burrows saw his name enshrined in Canucks history with the likes of other Canucks legends leading up to the Canucks’ 50th season celebrations.

What really makes Alex Burrows special was the fact he ground away in the ECHL before a chance opportunity put him with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL, from there, he tirelessly worked on becoming a true pro and went from an agitator to the “Third Sedin”. Burrows was involved in many memorable moments with the Canucks, both good and bad, but the slaying of the dragon most likely tops everyone’s list:

Of course, it can’t be forgotten that he scored another significant goal that spring:

These videos have been posted before in the linked Canucks Army article above but as far as Canucks history goes, they’re staples of what this team was able to achieve.

This could be a whole thread of epic Burrows goals, shenanigans, and tear-jerking memories but thankfully if you’re reading this you have a basic understanding of how you can relive the rest of them on the Internet.

A ball hockey beast for the Montreal Red Light before his pro days, he knew what hard work looked like and like every young Canadian dreaming of making the NHL, he got his chance and made the most of it. When you think about it, it’s pretty crazy the way it all played out.

As Alex Burrows departs the NHL for his next career, an assistant coach with the Laval Rocket of the AHL and maybe GM of an NHL team one day, his time on the ice will be cherished. He made you believe that dreams were possible and that hard work, believe or not, actually pays off. Being paired with the Sedins not only made Burrows a household name but it allowed the Sedins to step their game up as well and were eventually recognized as two of the greatest players to ever play the game of hockey.

Burrows had that subtle slyness to him like he shouldn’t be in the NHL but he wasn’t going to tell anyone and he kept plugging away. He closed in on just shy of 1000 games in the NHL, played for Team Canada, and rode shotgun on a line many NHLers could never handle.

I am reminded of the humour of Alex a day after he signed his first contract extension in 2009 when he was doing an autograph signing in the mall I worked at. Being the funny guy I thought I was, I frankly asked him what now seems like a really dumb question “I have to know, how big IS Kesler’s nose in person?” He responded without skipping a beat with a laugh “Oh, it’s huge”.

Many people will have their own stories of the Canucks’ hero but one thing everyone shares is their admiration for what he did for that team.

Alex, what a career you had! Good luck in the next chapter of your life and thanks for being a Canuck.

 

Cover photo – The Hockey Writers

Noah Hanifin Could Be Jim Benning’s Sami Salo Trade

By now, you’ve heard every possible Noah Hanifin to the Canucks trade angle. Why it would work, why it wouldn’t and so on. It’s no secret that Hanifin is on the up and up and with his stats progressing handsomely year over year. He was named an NHL All-Star for the first time this past season and it’s possible that this is just the tip of the iceberg for his production.

Ever since the Elliotte Friedman 31 Thoughts snippet, things have been a little bit nutty. All it took was this, and Vancouver was buzzing:

 

 

 

A lot has been said since that article but the potential for a 2018 version of a Sami Salo to Vancouver trade is enticing. When the Canucks traded Peter Schaefer back in September 2002 for Sami Salo, the Finnish defender hadn’t hit his stride quite yet and he would eventually become one of the Canucks’ anchors on the backend. Of course, he wasn’t healthy a whole lot but when he was on his game, Vancouver had a legitimate threat that could tickle the twine from the parking lot with his rocket of a shot.

With Hanifin, Vancouver would be getting a guy who doesn’t need to be acclimated to the league, he knows the pace, the pressure and the mindset needed to succeed. Sure, Carolina isn’t exactly the place to hone your skills but Noah seems to have figured things out for the most part. The Hurricanes are in a position to rebuild, like the Canucks, and moving a skilled up and coming defender could potentially bring back the asset(s) needed to further the process.

When Cory Schneider was traded to New Jersey in 2013 for the 9th overall pick, many people quickly shouted: “that’s it?!” Was Schneider really only worth a first round pick? Turns out it worked for both teams as Bo Horvat was the player taken with that pick and it’s possible he becomes the Canucks future (like maybe by October) Captain, while Schneider has become the Devil’s man between the pipes.

It hasn’t been as rosy as Horvat’s tenure in Vancouver thus far but both teams got what they needed.

The rumored trade so far is Hanifin for the Canucks’ 7th overall pick. It’s been said the Hurricanes are asking more than that but looking back at the Schneider trade, both teams could benefit from this right away without potentially ruining the relationship between both GM’s (says me).

The parallels between the Salo trade and the potential Hanifin one aren’t extensive but they do have some similarities and quite frankly, for most of us, that’s good enough. Salo was gaining steam in his rookie campaign with Ottawa and was scoring as a second-pairing defender. Hanifin was also a second-pairing guy this season but was Carolina’s top scoring defenseman.

The Canucks were in need of a reliable defenseman back then and were able to part with a mid-range forward in Schaefer who put up 36 points in the season prior to the trade which basically is the equivalent to what Sam Gagner or Brandon Sutter did this past season. Wait, what?

STOP THE PRESSES! Get Jimbo on the phone ASAP!!

Salo hadn’t eclipsed 20 points in a season when he arrived in Vancouver but when he found his groove he was getting most of his offense on the power play. He went from almost one-third of his points coming on the power play in his first season with the Canucks to just over half the season after that and then to just under two-thirds of his points coming on the man-advantage in his third season with Vancouver.

Hanifin’s contributions on the power play aren’t quite at that caliber yet but were somewhat similar to Salo’s production when he was still in Ottawa. Of course, the power play in Vancouver saw gigantic improvements the moment Brock Boeser was stapled in “the spot”. Adding another weapon to that unit would easily increase the Canucks offense in that area.

Noah’s skating is his biggest asset right now and it has been said he’s still improving all the other areas of his game.

Parting with a high pick most years isn’t always a great idea but if there is a chance to acquire not only an NHL-ready defenseman but a player that doesn’t need training wheels like some of the players that have arrived recently to the Canucks, I say you do it. The Canucks most-likely will draft a defenseman with their first pick so why not take a similar player who is already producing and skip the first part of the development stage.

I’ve argued why this idea makes more sense than drafting a player they may not see for years, or ever potentially. I’m all for developing talent but for conversation’s sake if you could take a producing Noah Hanifin right now or the possibility of, say, Olli Juolevi working out, what would you choose?

Potential is great and all but IMO a guy like Juolevi is still a lottery ticket until proven otherwise where Hanifin has already proven he can contribute as very good everyday NHL defenseman.

Brian Burke made a shrewd move in Salo and now Jim Benning has an opportunity (or so we are led to believe) to get his version of the up and coming defender. The hype train has left the station and only time will tell if stops at “Expo Line to… Stadium/Chinatown”

*Disclaimer: I do not think they are the same player but players with a similar career trajectory thus far. Also, Hanifin is not Finnish.

 

 

Cover photo – NHL.com

The Most Important NHL Mock Draft To End All Mock Drafts

If you play fantasy sports you no doubt have dabbled in the mock draft world to see how your draft position would pan out and what you likely would get through a real test. Mock drafts can be fun and can help strategize how to find the good talent when others leave it on the board. Now that the NHL lottery has been revealed everyone knows that the Canucks will pick seventh overall.

Who does Jim Benning select with that pick? It could shake down a few different ways but many believe no matter what they do, the pick has to be a defenseman. It won’t be Rasmus Dahlin but even Shea Weber and Duncan Keith didn’t go in the first round. Good players can be had at any pick and after an explosive 2017 draft for Vancouver, Benning will need to shrewdly swing for the fences again.

But, you came here to see a mock draft and not just any mock draft but THE most important NHL mock draft to end all mock drafts. Mocks are fun to read, they allow us to daydream about what could be and it’s a lot more fun than saying “Hey, the Canucks sure do suck still. They’re going to suck for awhile. I wish they’d stop sucking.” People mock draft because they believe they have a good idea of how it will all play out and we all love to see who’s the smartest.

However, you won’t find any references to where Quinton Hughes will fall to or if the Canucks will most likely choose Noah Dobson. Brady Tkachuk is far, far away from this list as well. So what are we talking about then?

I bring to you, the mock draft you’ve all been waiting for, a top-10 because I don’t think I could figure it out past that.

 

1: Wayne Gretzky – The Great One had his own “99” branded mock turtle and if Wayne isn’t the first pick in this, I’ve done hockey a great disservice. This one here is the Easton model and he was the dad brand before dad brands were cool.

DATE TAKEN: 5/21/93—LA Kings Wayne Gretzky stands on the ice, 5/21/93, in a game against Toronto. ORG XMIT: UT3537

2: Tomas Plekanec – When Plekanec was traded to the Leafs this season he was welcomed back to Montreal with many of his former mates donning the mock. It was a thing of beauty. Finding TP without his trusty mock turtleneck is like the Sedins without the cycle, not gonna happen.

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3: Alexei Yashin – If Yashin wore anything but that shirt underneath his jersey for his career, I’d never know. Yashin’s look was as iconic as Arturs Irbe’s look in net. That’s something you don’t forget.

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4: Steve Yzerman – Stevie Y isn’t someone that immediately comes to mind with the mock but the proof is in the pudding. Imagine if he wore the thin-framed coke bottle glasses, he’d look like a Steve Jobs clone.

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5: Mario Lemieux – It was tough to find more than one photo of the Magnificent one but it’s safe to say if he wore one, no one was brave enough to tell him not to. Super Mario did it all so it’s not surprising he donned an ugly looking undershirt.

Dugger Sports NHL

6: Ilya Kovalchuk – Again, not someone you’d expect to see wear the mock but it’s the truth. He’ll be expected to wear that again in the Big Apple next fall.

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7: John Tortorella – Torts makes the list as a coach and quite frankly, that’s fine. He sneaks them in every now and then in Columbus and he actually makes them work. The first and only coach to crack the list.

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8: Jaromir Jagr/Luc Robitaille – I don’t even know what this is. It counts. They make the list. Now forget you saw it.

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9: Jaroslav Spacek – It took an outdoor game to track down this one and boy oh boy, was it tough. Thankfully, he made it look good. Looking back, this jersey was a good look altogether. I wonder if the Slug will ever return for an outdoor game?

Hockey Blog in Canada

10: Alexei Kovalev – How could we forget Kovalev? He didn’t wear it often but he did bring it out for the Penguins and Canadiens. A fitting final pick to this mock draft.

Bardown

 

So there you have it – the mock draft to end all mock drafts. If you hate mock drafts then this one will absolutely cause you to never click on one again and just ride it out until the real draft in June. It was as excruciating for me as I’m sure it was for you. The moral of the story is that they should bury this shirt, it doesn’t look good. Hopefully, you had a good quick laugh and can now move on.

 

 

Cover – NHL.com

 

Is There Any Way To Fix The NHL Draft Lottery?

The NFL awards the first overall pick to the worst team every season, MLB does the same but based on win percentage (so many games, can’t keep track), while the NBA and the NHL have opted for the lottery system. If the system is set up properly, a fair chance is given to all the teams eligible for the first pick. The NBA will adopt a revised lottery system in 2019 when four teams, instead of three, will vie for the number one slot while the remaining 10 teams that missed the playoffs go in reverse order from worst team record to best of all the teams that missed the postseason.

Each team in the top four (or bottom four, I suppose) will get an equal 14% chance of winning the lottery. Now, considering many NBA teams can be defined by a single player like Lebron James or Kobe Bryant, the need for a franchise player can alter the team’s history, and yet the NBA is quite simple in their method of awarding the top three picks. No fancy gimmicks or jumping up eight spots and the like.

It’s a locked system at the bottom so there isn’t any funny business.

Before I did any research on the other leagues, namely the NBA, a fixed tier of teams at the bottom made the most sense. In the NHL’s case, they’ve put too much emphasis on every team missing the playoffs getting a shot at the first pick. It should be simple. It should be fair.

As a Canucks supporter, they no doubt have been given a pretty raw deal since their tailspin began and they started to occupy the bottom three league positions. This year, Vancouver finished 26th, 29th a season ago, and 28th in 2015/16. They picked fifth the last two seasons and in June they’ll pick seventh.

How is that possible?

In my proposed new system the NHL would adopt a modified version of the NBA model. If the league is worried about “tanking” they can assure themselves that if teams are truly bad there still is a chance even the worst team won’t be guaranteed the top pick. Instead of four teams, I propose the NBA’s original three-team program.

Give each of those teams an equal percentage chance of winning the top pick and because this day seems to be so marketable, logo up all the balls and put them in the lottery spinner just like the old 649 segment every Wednesday and Saturday night.

Obviously, the lead up to the big pick is a big draw and watching the big spinner rake go round and round just adds to the cheesery. No one cares about the teams that just missed the playoffs by a point or two, the draw is the ones on the podium. Even though the reveal itself takes seconds the spin that determines pick number three gets it all going. From there, Gary empties the globe and they have a fresh set of balls with the final two teams.

How many balls they put in really doesn’t matter, although there shouldn’t be too many or it will lose the effect. It’s now a 50/50 chance to draw the winning team ball and everyone is watching. There doesn’t need to be a room full of GM’s sitting like stooges watching cards being flipped over, where’s the fun in that?

Make it all public, make it real. Send the mascots, make it ridiculous when the winning ball is chosen.

When that ball rolls out to determine the top pick, the suspense sells the whole thing. Anyone remember this little nugget?

Watch how that Nike check just hangs there… a marketer’s dream. Imagine the Canucks lottery ball falls and that whale is sitting upside down, that’s a commercial right there. Now imagine that player goes on to do great things and one day hoists the Cup. They roll the clip of that ball falling and sitting upside down. Genius.

Adding to all of this is the rule that a winning lottery team is ineligible for the top three for two years afterward. A three-year swing is a long time in hockey and by then those same three teams from the first go around most likely wouldn’t be in that situation again, or at least one would hope they wouldn’t. The “Oiler rule” as it could be called would keep the league’s parity intact and help disperse the best talent somewhat evenly to a certain degree.

It’s not reinventing the wheel by any means but it’s a pretty simple fix to something that looks way too complicated. Maybe Jason Botchford would even support this model, maybe he’d even play the online button clicking game. We can all dream.

 

Follow me on the twitter: @always90four

Could the Canucks Take A Flyer On Kevin Bieksa on July 1?

I didn’t say “should”, I said “could” they take a flyer on Kevin Bieksa? On July 1 of this year, Kevin Bieksa will be one month removed from his 37th birthday and he’ll be looking for work. Bieksa is set to become a UFA this offseason and it doesn’t look like the Anaheim Ducks are too keen on re-upping ‘Juice’ on another deal.

The Canucks aren’t in the position to be taking on aging players of any ilk but it might be a case of the devil you know if they took a chance on him. Bieksa is coming off a 2 year/$8 million contract and that will most likely be the last significant deal he signs. The Canucks have proven year after year that defensemen get injured and all too often they’re caught reaching for answers.

Bieksa isn’t the greatest option on the back end and the Canucks have already committed big money to Erik Gudbranson (ugh) and Michael Del Zotto (yuck!) for the next few seasons. KB would be a similar fit to both of those players and on the injury side of things he has seen similar injury time to Erik Gudbranson. On a one-year deal, he could get maybe $1.5M with a team that has a few contracts to dish out and doesn’t want to be too desperate.

Jim Benning will have a lot of money in the bank this offseason and a frugal buy on Bieksa might not be the worst thing he’s ever done. Bieksa finished slightly ahead of Gudbranson this season with 44.50 CF% to Guddy’s 43.68. That’s pretty bad but it’s not the bottom of the barrel bad. He’s also on the losing side of a few other advanced stats but that doesn’t matter a whole lot on this team apparently.

Bieksa is middle of the road in the giveaway department of defensemen playing at least 20 games and even though he has a poor Corsi rating, it doesn’t look like he’ll be the scapegoat for any danger that will inevitably come the Canucks way.

Now, the Canucks face a few issues on defense with the potential exodus of Ben Hutton, the uncertainty of a Chris Tanev trade, and as mentioned above, the other side of a hopefully healthy Erik Gudbranson. Does Bieksa make things a bit easier for Benning if any of these scenarios pan out? His first pass and his ability to be a swashbuckler of sorts give the Canucks a bit more physicality and potential offense than they’ve had recently.

Statistically speaking, this past year was Bieksa’s second-worst. He had eight assists in 59 games played, Chris Tanev even had 11 points this season. He won’t be brought in for the points he produced in his past but for his ability to be a consistent option on a third pairing. Getting through a season without an injury might not be a guarantee for KB but if he does keep the record clean he might have something left to give still and why not with a team that knows him best. The Canucks need some snarl back in their lineup and especially on the backend.

There have been too many times where the Canucks appear to just turn the other cheek and even though they had more hitz than Big Shiny Tunes 2 this past year, most of us are hard-pressed to remember any of them.

He isn’t going to be a game-breaker and he won’t be a guy you can count on for big minutes night after night but Kevin has seen what this league can offer young players looking to make a name for themselves and that leadership might be a factor that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Vancouver is rebuilding and signing Bieksa to a deal might not be the best way to spend money but on a low-risk one-year deal he might help bridge a gap for Jalen Chatfield, Ashton Sautner or the infamous Guillaume Brisebois.

Kevin Bieksa is a band-aid to the Canucks problem on defense, he’s not a big shin-sized one that keeps it all together but even the Spider-Man ones that cover paper cuts are effective when needed.

Plus, he’ll make the team fun to watch even after a loss.

 

Photo – O.Canada.com

Sedins Were Tough And Gross But Never Soft

What is left to say that hasn’t been said about Henrik and Daniel Sedin? The outpouring of emotions has taken over social media, radio, and TV these last few days as we all found out the same way that the Sedins were in fact, retiring after the season came to a close. Many had suggested it was time for them to move on to make way for the next generation of Canucks and that they were only delaying the inevitable.

The Sedins weren’t exactly slowing down per say but their competition (and even their teammates) were speeding up. They didn’t waver and still ground out the season and considering how bad this team was on paper and on the ice, the Sedins proved yet again, that they were indeed tough.

How could they not be?

Enduring diminished ice time to start the season, watching as player after player gets injured in front of their eyes while the losses mounted weekly, and yet still being asked to be the face of the franchise. That’s grit. When you look at a highlight reel of the Twins they don’t scream “bruisers”, maybe gross dudes, but their ability to outlast the bumps and bruises, the concussions, cheap shots and rabbit punches should have them right amongst the toughest players in the league.

Why would they be gross you ask? I recently started paying attention to Daniel before the opening face-off of the last few games and maybe I missed this from every other game but Daniel has a pre-game “snot rocket” ritual. I cannot find a specific clip to show as there aren’t any out there on the web (how can that be?) but the second there is I’ll post the heck out of it.

Who would have thought Daniel shooting boogers would be so intriguing? It’s quite cool, actually. How has this never been brought up? There could have been memes or even a podcast named in its honor. Oh well, water under the bridge, I guess.

I never submitted my story for the Canucks Army send-off to the Sedins but having some time to think about it there is one story that really speaks to their dedication to the Canucks. It was a game in December 2016 against the Oilers that Henrik Sedin had been battling back issues. It got so bad he couldn’t even sit on the bench in fear it would stiffen up:

Henrik’s
injury problems began in mid-December when he left a game in Philadelphia after
playing just nine shifts and 5:08. He sat out the next two games in Detroit and
Florida before returning to the line-up in Tampa Bay on December 22nd.
The surest sign that things weren’t well came in a bizarre Boxing Day game
against Edmonton when, although he played 20:11 and picked up an assist, Henrik
could not sit on the Canucks bench between shifts and stood awkwardly the
entire game in an effort to ease his obvious discomfort. – Jeff Paterson via Canucks Army

He played 20 minutes with a messed up back and got a point, seriously? Knowing these guys as we all believe we do now, they most likely did not want to let their team down. It wasn’t on them to do that, though, this team was spiraling downwards already despite these problems. As far as Daniel goes, the Brad Marchand incident in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final is crystal clear for everyone and it just ate away at us as we watched him get brutalized and he just took it in stride knowing his retaliation most likely would have drawn a penalty.

When the Canucks lost the Final, many of us cried because it hurt so much or that it might be a long time before the Canucks ever got back to that point. When we cried on Thursday night throughout the Sedins final game, for me, I think it was a culmination of so many reasons. Sure, it’s sad we won’t get to see them play another game for the Canucks after this weekend but that isn’t the real reason.

I cried because the gauntlet that Henrik and Daniel emerged from had to have been one of the toughest battles any athlete, or any person really, may ever have to go through. They took all the blame regardless of its merit, they were called names, labeled “soft” and so many other things that under normal circumstances would break most individuals. They endured for us. They were different.

First of all, they had each other. Getting to play a lifetime as brothers, as twins, as teammates, as linemates, they had each other’s back. Even when their own city didn’t, they stood up for the team at its worst moments. For that, we really should tear up. I honestly believe that they believed this Canucks team could turn it around in recent years. They saw things that kept them playing here, they saw what this team could become or maybe they saw there was one final thing they needed to contribute to get the Canucks back to respectability.

Maybe we missed the reason they stuck around but it wouldn’t surprise me if Henrik and Daniel stuck it out so they could bridge the gap even for a little while. We may not have seen it the way they did but they’re not selfish and they believed there was something still there to give.

On that final home game against the Coyotes we were treated to a special episode of “Sedinery” and as it was said so many times, it was perfect.

Thank you, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, thank you for giving it your all and for being different. Your story has captivated the sports world and rightfully so, you both are indeed captivating. Thanks for not only being different but being the difference on the Canucks and in the community. I am so happy to say you were Canucks from day one until your final shift.

When and if the day comes the Canucks do win the Cup, it will be the final part of your legacy and we’ll owe so much of that to you both.

Godspeed.

 

Photo – Zimbio