Author: always90four

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

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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.

ballecourbe.ca

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.

reddit

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.

Geocities.ws

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.

Yahoo! Sports

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.

YouTube

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

Dsudis.livejournal

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

Canucks and Sedins Should Follow Toronto Model

The debate continues: will Henrik and Daniel Sedin retire after this season or will they ink an extension, whatever that might look like? The Sedins originally stated they wouldn’t decide until after the season ended which would put them in the driver’s seat for narrating the Canucks’ future to a certain degree. Only recently did they open up the door to the future a bit more.

The future Hall of Famers aren’t a fan of publicity or a “farewell tour” but it’s becoming more and more evident that the Canucks would really like a little more information into the brothers’ future plans.

Can the Sedins still play? You bet. They aren’t the league leaders they once were but there are still many nights where they have factored on the score sheet. Henrik Sedin is two points shy of 50 this year, has five points in his last five games, points in four of five and along with Daniel, still holds a share of the team lead in CF% (both above 51%).

For Henrik, only four of his seasons would be below 50 points if he hits that target this season, not including the lockout year in 2012 where he put up 45 points in 48 games. Not to be outdone by his brother, Daniel holds similar stats but has six sub-50 point seasons to Hank’s four.

So, what should the Canucks do with these two players who could still hack it on any NHL team in the league? Follow the Toronto model. No, not the Leafs… the Toronto Blue Jays.

Jose Bautista will potentially spend his first season away from baseball after the Jays opted not to re-sign the former all-star after 10 seasons in the 416. Bautista isn’t the player he once was like many former stars but he isn’t washed up completely either. He crushed 23 HR a season ago, put up 119 hits (his 6th best total ever), had 27 doubles (tied for 4th best in his career) but struck out 170 times in 157 games played which was his highest backwards-K season as a pro.

There was a lot of drama surrounding Joey Bats last year and it probably could have been handled differently by both the team and Bautista. He still played and helped Toronto make a run to the playoffs until they couldn’t anymore. The Jays also let Edwin Encarnacion walk and they may still regret that decision but they moved on and gave an opportunity to new, younger players.

The Canucks need to employ this approach. Does it feel good to say goodbye to the greatest players to ever put on a Canucks jersey? It sure doesn’t, but that band-aid has to come off at some point and owing the Sedins another year or owing the Canucks another year or whatever is not the way this should be handled.

Bautista gave the Jays many productive seasons and a few memorable, ok VERY memorable moments that will not be forgotten anytime soon. He was a terrific fielder and could be an excellent addition to a team that believes they can contend this season even if it means he plays DH most games. For the Sedins, they won’t play anywhere else and that may be the hardest part for both sides.

Vancouver knows full well Henrik and Daniel can still play and be valuable role players but that isn’t how they operate; the Sedins aren’t depth players like when they first came into the league. The flip side of the Twins decision is how do you walk away from a game you can still play quite well? Pride factors in.

But, it’s a business and the Canucks need to move on. I personally do not want to see the Sedins hang up their skates because quite frankly, they’re a blast to watch even today. Class acts to the end but the Canucks have to get the rebuild going and the Sedins hanging around doesn’t help that move forward any quicker.

This may mean an absolutely horrible season next year but it has to be done. I can’t envision a scenario where the Sedins willfully play 10 minutes per game and are healthy scratched for potentially a quarter of the season. What everyone needs to see is that a Stanley Cup will not be coming to Vancouver any time soon and at the end of the day, that’s the ultimate goal.

Like the Blue Jays, the Canucks have exciting prospects in the hopper and sooner than later those players will be in the lineup every day and this will just be a decision that was made in the process. For all we know Elias Pettersson blows up next season, Brock Boeser makes a run at the scoring title, and Thatcher Demko mimics the Vancouver version of Cory Schneider.

Anything is possible, probably not all of those things but many of them will happen at some point and the Sedins won’t be part of them on the ice.

It might as well be now.

The Jays did it and it’s barely been a talking point so far.

 

Photo – CBC

Could The Future Canucks Become The Championship Blackhawks?

There are few leading headlines that could draw the ire of B.C. sports fans quicker than comparing the Canucks to the Chicago Blackhawks in a good way. Currently, the Vancouver Canucks are nowhere near what the Blackhawks have become and aside from a few home run picks and a blossoming prospect pool, the Canucks will continue to tread water barely above the NHL’s standings floor.

But what if it all turned around starting this offseason? What if the Canucks won the NHL Draft Lottery and were able to pick Super Swede, Rasmus Dahlin? Could the Canucks actually right the ship and begin the ascent back to true glory?

It’s possible, a long shot, but possible.

The turnaround for the Blackhawks wasn’t when they drafted Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006, nor was it when they won the draft lottery in 2007 and took Hart and Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane first overall; the Hawks began their rebuild when they took Duncan Keith in the 2002 draft followed by Brent Seabrook in 2003.

Chicago’s defense would later emerge as the NHL’s elite group and was pretty much unstoppable. As the team continued to finish towards the bottom of the standings in the mid-2000’s they also picked up Corey Crawford, Dustin Byfuglien, Dave Bolland, Adam Burish, Patrick Sharp. These players were picked up in various rounds but the combined efforts of Mike Smith, Bob Pulford, Dale Tallon, and Stan Bowman created the team that most NHL franchises feared and also wanted to emulate.

That team had everything from top to bottom: grit, scoring, goaltending, defense, power play, PK; the works. Oh, and multiple draft picks.

Before the Blackhawks got there, they had similar numbers that resemble the current Canucks roster and it gives hope to a fanbase that might not want to believe this.

Check out the current Canucks stats:

hockey-reference.com

Now, take a look at the mid-build Blackhawks in 2003/04:

hockey-reference.com

OK, that team didn’t have Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane. No, it didn’t. However, there was a very young Tuomo Ruutu, Tyler Arnason, an impressive Steve Sullivan and aging forwards like Alexei Zhamnov and Igor Korolev. That team wasn’t very good and it would stay that way for a few more years, hence the lottery picks.

They would later add Martin Havlat, Radim Vrbata, former Canuck Adrian Aucoin, Rene Bourque, and even a soon to be retired Peter Bondra. There are some similar storylines that mimic what the Canucks have done like the acquisition of Thomas Vanek, Loui Eriksson, Erik Gudbranson and even Michael Del Zotto.

I’m sure a few of these pickups for Chicago weren’t loved, speaking at the Bondra move and possibly the pickup of Michal Handzus who would only play eight games for Chicago before tearing his ACL and moved on.

Here’s the Hawks after the lockout and take a look at what a few new faces do to this team:

hockey-reference.com

Shrewd drafting clearly paid off for the Hawks and it’s possible Jim Benning is still creating a stable of players (hear me out) that could resemble this team in the next 3-4 years. Chicago didn’t win the Cup immediately with this team but the young group grew together and was anchored by an amazing defense, a few star forwards, and a supporting cast that drove teams nuts. The stats don’t lie.

So, where do the Canucks come in?

First and foremost, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat are the keystones of this franchise going forward. Having leaders like the Sedins still on the team to show them how to be professionals can’t go unnoticed. Gritty forward Brendan Leipsic could be one of the players that go completely overlooked as the team grows and his resemblance to Alex Burrows with more of a Patrick Sharp release, will give the Canucks future second line a real punch.

When Elias Pettersson steps onto the ice as a Canuck he will have the opportunity to become what fans have lusted for in a hybrid scoring forward that combines bits of Toews and Kane with the level-headedness of a Swede. Depth forward Adam Gaudette is on the verge of becoming a Canuck as well and even though he won’t get top billing, Kris Versteeg and Adam Burish didn’t either and the Hawks wouldn’t have won Cups without those guys.

I’m not saying Gaudette is a great comparable to either of those players but where they factored in the lineup is very close to where Gaudette will be for the next couple of years. Add to that the likes of Kole Lind, Jonathan Dahlen, and Canucks Army, favorite Jonah Gadjovich, and the Canucks might be closer to rebuilding this team than many thought.

Yes, I’m aware none of the last three will be mainstays and prime contributors to the team in the immediate future but there are numerous teams in the NHL that have had similar problems and have bounced back, let’s not think the Canucks are alone in this problem.

As far as goaltending is concerned, the future lies with Thatcher Demko. He has the makings of a superstar and like former Canucks Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, he is a big game player that studies the game and is constantly getting better.

Chicago went with Antti Niemi when they won their first Cup and ran with Corey Crawford in the next two; definitely not superstars by any means but they were young and confident. Tough to say how Demko compares to them and every team has a different path to the Cup but Thatcher’s stability in net will determine how far the Canucks go in the future, much like Luongo dictated before he had his throne taken away.

The real results lie on defense. None of this may come to fruition without the luck and fulfillment of this year’s top prize: Rasmus Dahlin. It’s no secret Dahlin and Elias Pettersson would love to play with each other as they were friends and teammates on Team Sweden at the World Junior Championship and potentially at the World Championships this spring.

Dahlin is a game-breaker, nothing like the Canucks have ever had on their backend. He scores, he passes, he dangles, he dipsy-doodles. He’s everything this fanbase has ever wanted and maybe just maybe, missing out on a franchise center like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews can be forgotten if Vancouver gets a stud defenseman this June.

Look through history and see what each team had when they lifted the Stanley Cup: a top defenseman. Niklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermeyer, Bobby Orr, etc. All of these players made their Cup-winning teams a threat because they were game-changers. Rasmus Dahlin may very well be in that category but time will tell if that’s true.

Again, if the Canucks don’t get Dahlin much of this may be delayed until Vancouver can snag their man but overall, the Hawks and Canucks aren’t all that different in their growth. I guess the real difference is that Chicago knew it was happening and set themselves up for the future with multiple picks and picks in the right areas whereas the Canucks are trying to push the door open when it clearly says “pull”.

 

 

Photo – Sportsnet

Not A Throw Away Season For Canucks

There were parts of the 2018 Canucks season that brought hope and there were more than enough times where the heavy reality sunk in that this team is still figuring it out. The emergence of Brock Boeser as a legitimate threat gave Canucks fans something to believe in while the rest of the (r)ebuild was going on. Jake Virtanen’s progression has been another good sign things are slowly turning around as well. There haven’t been any draft picks acquired yet but Jim Benning is trying to assemble “his” team in a roundabout way.

As bad as it’s all been, it hasn’t been a season to put in the trash.

Coach Travis Green has shown everyone that proper line deployment is, in fact, possible after the snoozefest that was Willie Desjardins tenure was put to rest. Henrik and Daniel Sedin looked like they would be phased out early in the season but are a good couple of weeks away from leading the team in points, again.

Losing Derek Dorsett to a career-ending injury was tough for everyone involved because he brought a presence that didn’t exist on the team. Push came to shove (sorry for the pun) and long-time AHLer Darren Archibald was given a contract and quite simply, a chance to prove himself and he may have earned a spot and an extension with the Canucks. Archibald’s toughness and his energy leave you with hope this team’s grit can be fixed as well.

Add to that, Jake Virtanen’s maturity as a young power forward and the Canucks are creating the building blocks for their future. Virtanen has shown he can drive the net with the puck and still maintain possession as well as a decent scoring chance where that did not exist before.

Bo Horvat has firmed up his game yet again this season which gives star forward Boeser the opportunity to make his own magic. Boeser hasn’t thrived in the dirty areas yet but he’ll most likely be asked to be more involved next season. It’s tough to do more when you don’t have anything to work with. Relying on Sven Baertschi as the team’s other top winger hasn’t been the answer and the Canucks may opt to go another direction next season.

Thomas Vanek was a nice stop-gap and the arrival of Brendan Leipsic may fill his void. Leipsic has the makings of a young Alex Burrows with more offensive potential. He was a stunner in junior and seems to have a fit with a handful of players since being traded for from Vegas.

It hasn’t been a productive season as a whole but there are small improvements that will move the needle, if only slightly, in the fall. Elias Pettersson is having a stellar season in Sweden and will most likely be a fixture up front for the Canucks next season. He has the ability to play both center and wing which may help the Canucks overload the Horvat/Boeser line in the future.

Henrik and Daniel most likely will return next season as they have shown they still matter. It doesn’t help the rebuild a whole lot but the Canucks would be a heck of a lot worse if they were already gone.

One of the more important things to take away from this regrettable year has been the resurgence of the power play and its rightful place in the top 10 again. Much of this is to do with Boeser and Travis Green will have to tweak it next season to make it dangerous again. Getting it to Boeser on every available opportunity can only work for so long; there need to be more options. Pettersson may be one of them and potentially even Virtanen.

Jim Benning will need to make some waves in the offseason to further this thing along but this stinker of a season hasn’t been all for not. It hasn’t been pretty, not even close but it hasn’t been a complete waste either.

 

 

photo – USA Today

The Sun Rarely Shines On Canucks Market; Positivity Is Like Finding Gold

On Tuesday, Sportsnet personality Elliotte Friedman hit the Sportsnet 650 radio waves and delivered a hot, hot take that couldn’t be ignored. The Vancouver sports market has felt forgotten on many occasions so when a hit like this is dropped there are tremors that travel far distances and create a response that feeds the airwaves for days.

Elliotte hit a home run and he is very “woke” as the Internet says. He sees what goes on here, he hears what many of us don’t hear and he delivered news that sparked a reaction. Is the Canucks/Vancouver market too negative? Sure. Every single move good or bad is criticized to the umpteenth degree and the powers that be aren’t oblivious to what’s going on.

When Jim Benning or Trevor Linden hit the radio circuit they aren’t shocked to hear what’s being said about them. This stuff isn’t new. The current situation that has created the ire of fans and media is the culmination of years, nay, decades of disappointment.

Not getting draft picks for Thomas Vanek or throwing away extra picks to get Erik Gudbranson is not what keeps the informed fan up at night. It might be the current reason they’re choked at the Canucks but it isn’t “the” reason. The Canucks, as we’re all well aware, have never won a Stanley Cup and closing in on 50 years in the league, it’s not exactly unwarranted that people are a little edgy.

Go back to the first ever expansion draft where the Canucks lost out to Buffalo, the trade that sent Cam Neely to Boston, the Wayne Gretzky deal gone wrong, treating Pavel Bure like a stooge, the Mark Messier/Mike Keenan era, missing out on Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews, etc. I could go on. The build-up to today’s team weighs so heavy on an organization that has rarely caught a break.

Were there good days to speak of? Absolutely. Acquiring the Sedins was a work of art by Brian Burke and we’ll never be able to thank him enough for that. The path that led to the Canucks trading for Roberto Luongo isn’t all unicorns and roses, much of the pain fans suffered through led to that trade happening. Stealing Markus Naslund from the Penguins, Brock Boeser going at 23 in the draft, Elias Petterson being available at pick 5, again there have been good times.

As the Canucks re-signed Jim Benning and expected the fanbase to sit idly by while he does his work, frustration mounts when a player like Erik Gudbranson is re-upped for three years when he’s shown basically no signs of improvement and he’s proven to be a detriment to the team up until this point. Gudbranson hasn’t had a very healthy tenure in Vancouver but when he has been ready to go he hasn’t shown any reason to get excited about his presence. Brandon Sutter, who was the target of criticism before he showed fans what he could do when healthy, has turned a corner and although not a world-beater, he’s shown improvement.

Coaching hasn’t kept the pitchforks and torches at home when a simple task of starting Roberto Luongo in the “outdoor” game at B.C. Place could have put the team in a different direction, overplaying a borderline NHLer in Jayson Megna over many capable players on the power play, let alone the lineup only further draws fury.

Lately, there haven’t been many reasons to get excited and praise the Canucks for the moves or lack thereof they’ve made and when the clouds have been shadowing Vancouver for so long, both figurately and literally, it’s tough to see the sun even when it’s out. The man that has accepted a job that knowingly comes with loads of critics waiting to pounce should expect them to be negative, even overly negative as part of the gig.

There are many players in every league that plays in volatile markets that just don’t read the press. It’s not rocket science to think the knives are out daily on a whim when a decision isn’t well thought of. A general manager’s job, a president’s job, an owner’s job is to do what’s best for the team and put enough people and pieces in place to create success and eventually if all things fall into place, a championship.

Jim Benning was left with the remains of Mike Gillis who was left with Dave Nonis’ parts and so on. There is room for fixing the process and if there is a visible plan being carried out that looks like progress, the wolves back off. It’s not the easiest thing to accomplish and there will be bumps and bruises.

When JB goes public and talks about retooling on the fly or saying things will turn around in a few years and it’s already been a few years and the team is further behind, well sir, you now have some explaining to do. As the great Justin Bieber sang “is it too late now to say sorry?” No, it’s not. Admit blame, admit things were done wrong and you want another chance to fix things. Prove to everyone you’re going to do better. Honesty is the best policy.

As a fan, I don’t want to be fed a lie. Save the BS because at a certain point it’s just lip service and it becomes old. I’m personally willing to buy into a long-term plan but don’t sell me a story that everything will change next season and the young kids will change this team. They won’t because this isn’t a Disney movie. Continue to build through the draft and do your damndest to move aging assets to get more picks to turn this around sooner.

This market is negative because the history of this club has been almost anything but positive.

 

Photo – NHL.com

Kelowna Rockets Getting Results Despite Stubbornly Challenging Themselves

The 2017/18 Kelowna Rockets have continued to prosper despite creating roadblocks on their path to the playoffs. Convincing losses to the Victoria Royals and Portland Winterhawks early in the year, as well as a few stinkers to other Western Conference opponents, put the Rockets in a position they don’t often find themselves: playing catchup.

Their roster is once again loaded for bear with star forwards Dillon Dube, Kole Lind, and Carsen Twarynski aka Leon Draisaitl Lite, taking the lead on the scoresheet most nights. On the back end Captain Cal Foote, Gordie Ballhorn, and over-ager James Hilsendager have helped propel the Rockets up the standings and currently into first place in the WHL West.

After a see-saw battle with the Kamloops Blazers on Saturday night which resulted in an electrifying 6-5 come from behind win, the Rockets should look at the road ahead and shore up a few issues they are experiencing, which to a certain degree are self-inflicted.

Giving up the lead has begun to shoot the Rockets in the foot after putting up a lead and sitting on it. Going ahead 6-2 on the Cougars on Tuesday should have been a cakewalk at that point but the Rockets let PG back into the game before finally shutting it down 6-5 to earn the victory. Saturday, Kelowna went up 3-0 before squandering their lead 4-3, tying it 4-4, dropping back 5-4, tying it again 5-5 and then stealing it late 6-5 to take the victory.

Kamloops didn’t deserve to be in that game but Kelowna let them in with a handful of decisions they most likely will regret. If it wasn’t for the balanced scoring on the Rockets it might have had a different result. That probably could be said a few more times this season as well. It’s inevitable that the Rockets will matchup against the Royals in the playoffs so do a little housekeeping before the end of the season will benefit them down the stretch.

Kelowna and Victoria split their season series 4-4. Tons of goals, a few blowouts, and a recipe for a seven-game series gem is in order.

Goaltending has been a strong point for most of the season even with the call-up of 16-year-old Roman Basran who managed to put up a shutout in only 10 games played along with a .926 SA% and a 2.28 GAA.  James Porter Jr. earned the starting job over Brodan Salmond and until his injury didn’t look like he’d be giving it up.

Salmond has taken back his net for the time being but he’ll need to be better if the Rockets want to go deep this post-season. He has never been the best option in net since arriving in Kelowna but as has been seen so many times in their net, when push comes to shove they rise to the challenge. If and when Porter returns they’ll have a 1-2 punch they can feel confident in.

The defensive unit in front of Salmond hasn’t been as elite as much as coach Jason Smith would like but he’s starting to see a progression from Minnesota Wild draft pick Braydyn Chizen, and Kaedan Korczak.

Chizen has appeared to be awkward on the ice on many occasions even with his large frame and booming shot when it gets through. Only recently has Chizen used his body to create separation from forwards and the puck and he even threw down the other night in a convincing win via KO:

His defensive awareness has grown and with Cal Foote beside him, he’s able to take a few more chances.

Kelowna shouldn’t be giving up leads like they have or going down early to teams either. Jason Smith might have to tap into his Oilers days and remind his players what they’re playing for. A WHL Championship isn’t entirely ridiculous to think about when they’re producing but this team has looked pedestrian at times which can end games quick.

As a team, the Rockets are closing deals on the power-play as often as possible and their 27.2 PP% is second in the WHL. That will be their strong suit with Dube and Lind giving goalies headaches this spring. On the PK, however, Kelowna has given up the fifth most goals while down a man or more combined with the fact they’ve taken the third most penalties in the WHL with 273, eight back of first. It’s too late to change that statistic but it resets in late March.

Discipline will be key as the Blazers game gave evidence to. Allowing Jermaine Loewen, notable Blazers tough guy, to get in their heads… and on the scoresheet is the Micheal Ferland to Vancouver Canucks equivalent. Kelowna has the weapons to go far this post-season and keeping a level head will make the Rockets a very dangerous team to play.

Of course, they’ll have to beat Everett.

 

Photo – World News Tweets