Canucks

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

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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

Is The Entire NHL Colluding To Trade Away Erik Gudbranson?

Think about it for a second, why would anyone say good things about Erik Gudbranson’s game? He’s been a bit of a band-aid the past two seasons, he doesn’t score or add any real value to his current team, the Vancouver Canucks, and he shies away from critical hits during the game. OK, he’s third on the Canucks in both hits and hits-per-game but I’m pretty sure those numbers are inflated.

His CF%, 42.47, is lowest on the Canucks as is his Rel CF% -7.9%. When he’s on the ice, it’s definitely not a great thing. He’s a right-handed defenseman, tall and, sure, can hit people but it does seem a bit strange he’s being hyped up so much, no?

What does Renaud know that we don’t? Do Canucks games fail to broadcast anywhere but Vancouver? It just doesn’t make sense reading a comment like this. Everyone in Vancouver, everyone that follows, covers or berates the Canucks has been in sell mode with Gudbranson for most of the season because he just doesn’t move the needle in terms of physicality (that’s noticeable anyway) and his failed defensive assignments continue to resemble Sbizzas night in and night out.

It’s like a Willie D redux but with a hulking statue of a defenseman.

This is the reality most games:

Yikes! The reports from the Canucks camp are that they would like to re-sign Erik to stay with the Canucks, potentially as long as fellow dud Loui Eriksson wears the whale, err… orca.

Why would the NHL’s top reporters be so gung-ho on moving Gudbranson, what information does the general public not have access to? They all see the same games, the same mistakes and the same lack of fear in opponents eyes when they face-off against EG. Is this just being left alone and accepted as reality?

Erik Gudbranson has very little going for him that would make him “tradeable”: He’s quite handsome, have to give him that, he’s a RHD as mentioned above, he’s a former third-overall pick, tall, and… OK, that’s all I have. This feels like doctors being paid to promote a drug even if they have no idea what it actually does or if it even works.

There’s a conspiracy to move Gudbranson that is being accepted by everyone outside of  Vancouver and it doesn’t sit well with me and it shouldn’t sit well with you either. The Canucks never have anything good happen to them and this is probably one of those times where the trade is about to go down and someone yells “GOTCHA!”

Someone needs to deep-dive this situation and get to the bottom of why Erik Gudbranson is a good player to trade for. The math just doesn’t add up and if it does, it will probably end up looking like $5M x 5 years. That’s the worst math of all.

 

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

 

Photo – Daily Hive Vancouver

Team Toughness Already Exists On Canucks… Without Gudbranson

First and foremost, I am not declaring the Canucks are a tough team, far from it. They also aren’t complete pushovers. With the trade deadline looming and the rumours of a potential Erik Gudbranson contract extension getting major press, it should be noted that the Canucks are doing just fine, relatively speaking, without Gudbranson’s “toughness”.

Saturday night, the Canucks had a pretty spirited game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and of all the players that should be making a case for their spot on the team, Erik Gudbranson was pretty much invisible when it came to the checking part of the game.

Technically, he had one hit. I wasn’t able to pinpoint when that was. Above him: Michael Del Zotto, Alex Edler, Jake Virtanen with nine, three, and three hits respectively. Notable hits were also executed by Brendan Gaunce who is starting to come alive, Brandon Sutter because obviously, and a hard-nosed Sven Baertschi.

All of those players were noticeable while Gudbranson could be seen many times hunched over and watching the play. OK, he’s a big guy but if his claim to fame is that he can stand up for his teammates and deliver hits that keep opponents wary of his presence, he was anything but that guy against Tampa.

He’s been anything but that in most games this season, healthy or not. He signed a “show me” deal this season to prove his injuries last year weren’t a one-off but it’s looking more and more like they were the norm. The mantle that comes with being a top draft pick is a heavy one to bear but at some point, the Canucks have to cut their losses. He isn’t the guy they thought he was.

I agree with Benning but I don’t think I agree with who he is referring to. If there actually is a market for Gudbranson, they need to move him ASAP and not let this drag on further than it has to. This also could be a defining decision to get Jim Benning re-signed or let him walk after his deal is up this season. A bitter pill to swallow is that Luca Sbisa was probably the better overall defenseman.

Yikes.

Statistically, Gudbranson is towards the top of the Canucks in the hit categories but it doesn’t seem to be visible during the game. He has the worst CF% on the Canucks with 42.37%, same in the Rel CF% with -8.46%, a full 1.5% lower than the next closest teammate Brandon Sutter. Vancouver shouldn’t be holding on to his services for his offensive game, which I doubt they were, to begin with, but he won’t be turning into the second coming of Willie Mitchell on the Kings.

He’s a liability to the present and the future of this team and even with the stats pointing out he’s doing an alright job of being physical, it hasn’t shown up anywhere that matters.

This guy might be serious but if the Leafs follow him on Twitter, he’s doing great work to # GetGudbransonTraded. However, looking at a bunch of his other posts, he’s a bit off the deep end.

Taking a chance on Jake Virtanen panning out is a much safer bet than signing Gudbranson long term, or at all. There are hits to be given up and down the lineup and Travis Green should be able to make his players buy in that they have to push back. Going forward with #44 would be a very bad idea and the final nail in the coffin if Trevor Linden and the Aquilini’s decision to move on from Benning.

The clock is ticking…

 

 

photo – Independent Sports News

Canucks “Very Official” Mid-Season Awards

It’s awards season everywhere! The Grammys, The Oscars, The SAGS, Golden Globes and the “very official” first-ever Always90four mid-season Canucks awards. The NHL All-Star Game has just concluded and obviously, super-rookie Brock Boeser won MVP*. He is winning everything lately, including our hearts and with all the accolades and Schedule A bonuses that he’s earned, Boeser might be well on his way to the trophy awarded to the AHL’s Championship team… no wait that’s the Calder Cup, not Trophy. Confusing.

Even though the NHL’s actual awards aren’t given out until June, I’m here to hand out the mid-season gold statues, thankfully my kids still had some gold glitter and construction paper from the birthday party this weekend.

Without further ado, here are the “very official”, “super important” Canucks Mid-Season Awards:

 

Cody Hodgson/Zack Kassian Award

This goes out to the player(s) that really had a lot more to give to the Canucks, or so we thought but failed to deliver on their potential. Oddly enough, this award has co-winners in the inaugural ceremony and it’s no stretch of the imagination about whom I am referring to and they are Jake Virtanen and Erik Gudbranson.

Virtanen has been given opportunities to succeed, put in a position to use his big frame but he just can’t unleash the power-forward player from within. He’s a good NHLer but as of right now, it doesn’t look like he’ll amount to a whole lot more than a third or fourth line winger. It’s a little early to suggest a trade but like the award he’s honoured by, even Cody Hodgson was dealt early on.

Erik Gudbranson was brought in to provide a physical presence much like Virtanen, but he is more of a shadow than the monument Jim Benning and co. thought he was. In all fairness, there were signs he could get back after his injury a season ago but he’s healthy now and has been less than impressive.

 

Sami Salo Blue Cross Award

The Finnish defender was an absolute threat with his booming slap shot from the blue line but the man couldn’t stay healthy to save himself. Vancouver has been anything but healthy this season and it’s tough to pick just one. Is it Alex Edler and his knee injury, Sven Baertschi’s jaw getting dismantled, Chris Tanev’s teeth, or even Bo Horvat’s broken foot. Jeez louise, Brock Boeser blocked a shot that we all thought was potentially going to end his season.

Taking home the mid-season Salo Blue Cross Award is Brandon Sutter. This guy has really had a rough couple of seasons as a Canuck. Last year was basically a write-off while he’s battled to stay healthy this season with what was called a hip injury. This isn’t something any player would want to be known for but such is life. If Sutter makes it a month without some sort of ailment, that in itself deserves a medal.

 

Tom Sestito Award

No, this is not a tough guy award. The Tom Sestito award goes to the player on the Canucks who has been given a roster spot night in and night out and has failed to do almost anything with it. Digging through the Internet to find a former player worthy of having this award named for his efforts, or lack thereof, was difficult.

The one player that pretty much stole this award on day one is none other than, wait for it… Brendan Gaunce. His career statistics should make Travis Green wonder why that spot couldn’t be better suited for a producing centre and allow a player like Reid Boucher to get called up or Darren Archibald to sign a league-minimum deal and bring some grind into the lineup. The Canucks need to figure out if Gaunce is in their future. He doesn’t feel like he will be.

 

Jayson Megna Loyalty Award

Everyone remembers the Lassie-like loyalty Willie Desjardins had with Megna last season which made absolutely no sense whatsoever. It’s not like Megna was all that good either. Travis Green has his own loyalty towards one individual this year and just like a season ago, most of us are left shaking our heads in confusion. And the winner is…

Yup, Nic Dowd.

There really isn’t a better player to stand behind? Jake Virtanen has fought through a tough season but at the very least, give THAT guy more ice time. Heck, if it came down to it I really wonder if Green would think long and hard if it came down to Dowd or Boeser. Scary stuff.

 

Jeff Cowan/Jason King Participation Ribbon

Cowan the Brabarian was a folk hero for a short time before reality set in and the question of sustainability was answered. Same could be said for the former NHL Rookie of the Month November 2003, Jason King. For the smallest pocket of time both of these players ran a hot streak as good as anything seen in Las Vegas and then the bottom dropped out. They were the equivalent of a really good chorus on a single track of a 13 song album. Needs to be more than that for 12.99 on iTunes.

When the Canucks are spending $6 million a season on a player that has a good week twice in a season, they’re paying too much. The participation ribbon goes to none other than Loui Eriksson. His late November streak gave us hope but alas, it was a repeat of watching Todd Bertuzzi after “the punch”. Not the player he used to be, not at all. Jim Benning wins GM of the year if he can move that contract.

 

And last but definitely not least is the most important award of them all…

Todd Bertuzzi Mid-Season MVP Award

This isn’t the actual MVP award. That one is hands down given to Brock Boeser. The Bertuzzi MSMVP is given to the player who has turned in a great half-season effort, put up respectable numbers but most likely is either A) not even on the team after the season or B) has fizzled out down the stretch. It’s the backhanded compliment of all awards. There are no prerequisites to have punched and seriously injured another player, trolled a fanbase and failed to back it up, or leave the bench to start a fight.

There were a few candidates for this one but in the end, for the betterment of the Canucks future, Thomas Vanek was given the shiny glove trophy. Vanek has done everything he was signed to do, averaging 0.71 pts/game, and now that the Canucks are out of the playoff run (not actually, but let’s be real here) it’s time to focus on how great of a haul Benning can bring in.

I can’t see Vanek fizzling down the stretch, he just doesn’t have that in him. Getting traded would really help the Canucks and Vancouver could easily sign him again next season.

*Boeser won the MVP award via Twitter fan vote. The actual 2018 NHL All-Star MVP should have been Nikita Kucherov and it wasn’t close. Regardless, like an empty-net goal that ends a slump or starts a streak, Brock has another feather in his cap on his journey towards the Calder or maybe more.

 

photo – TSN.ca