brandon sutter

Bizarro World Canucks

Somehow, the Canucks are supposed to finish dead last this season. They’re supposed to get 65 points, their lowest every point total and every team in the NHL will be better than them. Even if things fall off the rails, it just doesn’t seem plausible that THIS Canucks team will amount to such disgust. 3 games in, the Vancouver Canucks are undefeated, yup that’s right, undefeated. Like a scene out of an alternate universe Seinfeld episode, THESE Canucks are winning and for some odd reason, it actually makes sense.

The term “cardiac kids” gets thrown around a lot when you see a run of comebacks and the Canucks have been part of this crowd before. What is odd and surprisingly refreshing is that the line combinations don’t warrant a run that we’re seeing and yet by the end of regulation, it all seems to fit together.

Bo Horvat on the 4th line?  How does that even make sense? It didn’t take long before he was reunited with Sven Baertschi and for a night, Jake Virtanen. Horvat has already proven yet again that it really doesn’t matter where he fits in, scoring chances seem to find him. Through 2 games, he’s put up 2 goals and those opportunities will keep repeating by the looks of things.

So maybe that’s not so weird but the guy in front of him seems to have flipped the script on what was to be expected – Brandon Sutter might just be what the Canucks needed. After losing most of his last season with a sports hernia and a broken jaw, the Canucks were limited to a handful of games with Sutter and there wasn’t much to go on.

Now, Sutter is factoring in on key faceoffs, he’s logging crucial minutes and for whatever reason, he has been the deciding goal in 2 of the Canucks first 3 games. Something isn’t adding up quite yet but honestly, who cares?

After the delayed call that ended up with Loui Eriksson scoring his first goal as a Canuck, on the wrong net, it only seemed fitting that this season was about to continue the way the last few months of 2015/16 did. The new highly paid Sedin compliment was now along for the ride, the roller coaster cluster muck. But, instead of giving up or at least looking like they had, the Canucks hung in the game against the Flames and battled to a shootout victory.

Going down 3-0 to the Hurricanes the very next night refreshed the feeling that the horrors had only delayed themselves by one night, but yet again the Canucks battled back and took it in OT.

Add to all of this the Luca Sbisa storyline and this season is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in recent Canucks history. Luca Sbisa? Why bring him up? Oh, I dunno how about the fact that he’s trying to change his status as an all-around liability by throwing out monster hits, “walking the line” and doing goal scoring things:

Everything is spiraling out of control for the Canucks and they’re winning games at an alarming pace. If it keeps up the Canucks might surpass 65 points and make the playoffs.

There’s no logical reasoning for any of this. I almost can’t figure it out but is it that hard to believe that maybe just maybe the Canucks are actually a decent team? I don’t buy that they’re the worst team in the league and by the looks of things so far, they don’t either.

Vancouver gets their next test against Buffalo on Thursday and their first meeting of the year on the weekend against a dismal Kings squad. If they manage a 5-0 start, maybe Don Cherry will even give them some publicity.

It’s a bizarro world for the Canucks right now and no one wants it to be normal anytime soon.

 

photo – vancourier.com

Brandon, Bo, Battlestar Galactica

Preseason will only give you so much to go on, Bo Horvat won’t be doing anything that will surprise you before opening night. He might not even do anything surprising this season. Brandon Sutter on the other hand still hasn’t shown anyone that A) he belongs here and B) he’ll last the season. You know what else didn’t last? NBC’s hit comedy The Office. The catchy tag line that hooked you into reading this was spawned from The Office and like awkward addition to the show, Andy Bernard, Brandon Sutter may already have been here too long and he’s taking up a valuable roster spot from someone that actually SHOULD be a Vancouver Canuck.

Do I have a point here?

Is Brandon Sutter committing identity theft? He sure as heck thinks he’s a second line centre and even with his injuries, he doesn’t strike me as a guy worth those minutes or $5M actual dollars. Jim Benning must see something in Sutter but thankfully Bo Horvat was forced into that role last year with the lack of depth up the middle and saved his bacon. Or did he? I mean, they didn’t even get the first pick and they were pretty bad.

After Bo’s impressive rookie campaign, he had everyone listening to what his next move would be and had he not been relied on so heavily in Sutter’s absence, Horvat may have continued to build up his resume the right way. 40 points is no slouch in year two but his progression level would definitely have netted him another 15 or so if he wasn’t targeted as much.

Thing is, it doesn’t always go the way you want it to go. Did anyone expect Ben Hutton to not only make it out of camp but become an integral part of the Canucks back end inside of a month? I mean, if you aren’t the Canucks Army gurus? You roll with it.

Bo put up a 40 point season in his sophomore year and he did it with spare parts, well until the whole Sven Baertschi bromance came along. That will be the pairing going into this year one has to assume and after a stellar performance against the Oilers in preseason action, notching 20 of 23 face off victories, his game only looks to be rising steadily.

Will Brandon Sutter last a whole season? The Canucks need him to, Jake Virtanen needs him to, Jannik Hansen does too! As this team tries to make the jump back up to the playoffs, Sutter needs to not only stay healthy but show why his 2nd year 40 point season in 2009/10 wasn’t just a outlier in his 8 seasons thus far.

Manny Malhotra is back in the fold this year and I’m a big proponent of the face off. The reason Manny was so great as a Canuck and why that 2011 team was always the team ahead on the scoreboard was their face off wins. The 2010/11 Canucks had the 3rd best FOW% in the NHL going back to 2009 with 54.7% That’s impressive! Of course, that includes the 2012/2013 lockout year so really they place 2nd.

Furthermore, that 3rd place rank holds up for GF in the same time frame and 5th in GA. Winning a face off gives you possession, gives you the opportunity to score first and if you’re hemmed in your zone, keep the puck away from your own net.

Horvat and Sutter can utilize this amazing mind in Malhotra and elevate their own games to not just a scoring pivot but a possession player that impacts every shift. This is only remotely possible if Willie Desjardins actually platoons his players appropriately. If we start seeing Derek Dorsett getting valuable minutes again, I think we all take a step back.

But back to the centres of attention, maybe having Bo Horvat force fed grown up minutes and situations wasn’t such a bad thing. We’ve all seen his rapid progression, his leadership and his will to win. The Hockey Writers put up an interesting piece on Bo regarding him getting the other “A” now that Dan Hamhuis is gone.

Does Bo get that kind of pub if Sutter sticks around last year and plays a full season? We’ll never really know but it makes you think. So like Jim Halpert, Dwight Schrute and the imitation game; what type of Bo is best?

The bearish kind.

Follow me on twitter @always90four

cover photo – faceoff.com

IWBITS: Canucks At Centre Of Attention

Staying healthy is a big key to any teams success and the Vancouver Canucks are no different. Last season, the Canucks lost Brandon Sutter for a large chunk of the 2015/16 campaign with a broken jaw (and not becauseit hit the floor from his team being astonishingly bad) as well as a sports hernia. Having your #2 pivot on the shelf definitely creates opportunity for a guy like Bo Horvat but it came at a cost.

Part two of the It’ll Be Interesting To See series focuses on the Canucks need for consistency at the centre position. Henrik Sedin will once again be the main man up front and will draw the lions share of matchups. A healthy Brandon Sutter will take pressure off of Henrik needing to be the answer every game.

When Sutter IS in the lineup he creates options for the Canucks as Bo Horvat can develop his game on the 3rd line. Having three solid options at centre makes life easier, any coach will tell you. Having them produce is an entirely different issue. Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat and former Canuck Jared McCann combined for 36 goals last year and that…that just isn’t very good at all. The Canucks have been able to see better results when guys like Horvat and Sven Baertschi get less attention and this year Baertschi will most likely get the 2nd line duties with Sutter.

Line chemistry is a lot easier when you have a guy night in and night out that you recognize instead of going through the blender and seeing new faces all the time. Jake Virtanen will benefit from an improved Horvat and can bring some meat and potatoes to the 3rd line where it really needs to get going.

You have to believe the Canucks can still make a move before the season gets going or maybe they wait out training camp and see who impresses. Does Anton Rodin thrill and get a job? Its possible. Having him play with Horvat and Virtanen would be fun if they get going. Tuomo Ruutu has earned a PTO with Vancouver and a veteran presence might work out on either of those secondary lines.

What will be interesting to see is if the Canucks centres DO stay healthy and create chances and goals that were very much lacking a season ago. There is not Cup run with this year’s edition of the Vancouver Canucks but being able to roll four lines does increase their chances of success. I can see a hybrid approach with Horvat and Sutter interchanging on the 2nd/3rd lines but that pretty much comes down to results I think.

Sutter will be given every chance to own that 2nd line but if Horvat does what he did in his rookie year, Willie Desjardins may have an interesting problem on his hands; does that actually happen? Well this probably isn’t a team that we should expect miracles from just yet.

The wrench in all of this is if Henrik goes down with a back injury for any length of time; the Canucks just aren’t built to survive without him yet. Everyone waited in horror as he didn’t sit down for a whole game, even though it was close to Christmas, he wasn’t standing to get first crack at the presents under the tree, we all watched knowing full well something was up.

A lengthy Hank injury will most likely keep the Canucks in a 1st to 5th overall drafting position in 2017 so his health will be monitored every time he looks like he is ailing. I mean, Henrik’s an old guy in hockey terms but he’s only 36 and has kept his body in pretty amazing shape. Fluke injuries happen but he also doesn’t put himself in position to get hurt either.

I don’t want to see this team plunge again this year but there isn’t much dictating a different result. Perhaps some key goaltending and solid defense will aid the team’s chances if they do in fact get things going.

Being a centre in a Canucks uniform draws a lot of criticism but the ones that have succeeded here have seen their fair share and rose above it. The phone lines open full time in a few weeks and it will be interesting to see who they put in the cross hairs.

 

cover photo: vancouversun.com

It’ll Be Interesting To See: Canucks Hoping For Swede Dreams

Hey, remember me? It’s been awhile.

Looks like we’re close to another fun filled season of Canucks hockey because well, it’s September and that’s what happens. Listening to the latest The Pat Cast, they dropped probably the most overused sports phrase in the biz “It’ll be interesting to see”. Now, I’m not saying its a bad thing because the comments that come either before or after keep us in deep thought, not to mention who doesn’t love The Pat Cast?

So over the next weekish or so, I’ll be diving into a handful of Canucks scenarios, issues and most likely concerns for the upcoming season. You’ve seen the title already but to save twitter space I’m going with an acronym: IBITS. IBITS sounds cool and you can use it in regular conversation, kinda like the guys in Silicon Valley did with Richard (see RIGBY).

The first one we’re going to chit chat about is the well, the first line itself and the new wingman that joined the Sedins on July 1 of this year: Loui Eriksson.

It’s no secret the Canucks will once again be searching for scoring but hopefully as the Sedins get one season closer to retirement they’ll make the most of their newest assignment with fellow Swede Loui Eriksson. Loui had a  decent year with Boston in 2016 putting up 30 goals and 63 points. That will come in handy for a team struggling to buy 30 goals PERIOD.

Daniel and Henrik combined for 39 goals last year and they actually had a pretty good year considering. It wasn’t exciting but they still led the charge. The Canucks can still be competitive if they have a healthy top line, not to mention healthy centres on the other 3 lines as well (but we’ll dive into that later on). The Sedins and Eriksson are already building chemistry at the World Cup going on in Toronto. One goal at a time it seems:

In a division that is only getting tougher, and yes I’m including the Flames, keeping pace with everyone is crucial to staying out of the cellar. Had they done that properly last year Auston Matthews would be a Canuck or maybe even Pierre Luc-Dubois but even that didn’t work out. The Oilers are getting close to being a pain in the rear and Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and I’m saying it, Taylor Hall errr…Adam Larsson, no wait Milan Lucic, ok ok Jesse Puljujarvi will make teams pay with their talent.

I think having a line that is already clicking is good news for coach Willie Desjardins and maybe just maybe he’ll deploy the Sedins in a few more key situations. They won’t complain if he doesn’t because they’re Swedish and like us Canadians we just take it in stride and bury it deep down.

Not to get too much into the rest of the team right now but having Brandon Sutter back with a full camp, Bo Horvat backing him up one line after and seeing a familiar face like Anton Rodin could give the Sedin line more time to do their thing and their thing is being Sedintastic!

There will be so many things to debate and criticize throughout the season and some of you won’t even make it out of training camp without losing your bacon, I’ve seen it, it’ll happen. The fun thing about this all is that over at Canucks Army I’ll have another guy to talk about and get to know all his quirks and find out what makes Loui….Loui.

Will we chant his name as we did Luongo or maybe we nickname him Ricky? I’m not sure but as we get closer and see this team start to gel, progress will happen and like a clever Harambe meme (RIP Harambe) one thing will be blatantly clear for sure:

It’ll be interesting

 

cover photo: theprovince.com

Check The Canucks IR, You Like It So Far?

Props to every single one of you that get that reference.

This season, like so many others has been tested by injuries; but it’s how the Canucks have managed to adapt this year that brings hope for the future. Losing Alex Edler and Brandon Sutter to longer term injuries seems to be par for the course lately as the team has JUST been able to ice a healthy roster. However, the questions of how Willie Desjardins manages his young players are answering themselves through the infirmary.

The Vancouver Canucks aren’t even in the top 10 in man games lost but anyone watching on a regular basis knows its not just how many games are lost but the players that are injured. Dan Hamhuis just returned from a broken jaw after missing 21 games and Brandon Sutter’s sports hernia surgery kept him out for 33.

Not to mention Henrik Sedin’s back and Luca Sbisa’s hand, OH! and Ryan Miller; the Canucks have once again been dealt a pretty terrible hand. It might seem like all is going against the Canucks but when you look at who has been injured and I guess really, when, the guys looking to play full time have been given their chances.

When Jake Virtanen, Ben Hutton and Jared McCann made the team back in October, injuries to Chris Higgins and the timely poor play of Linden Vey and Frankie Corrado all made it possible for the guys everyone wanted to see crack the lineup. Same happened with Bo Horvat last year and now you couldn’t imagine this team without him.

Alex Biega was rewarded with a  shiny new contract after proving he is able to provide valuable services when the team is depleted. Circumstance can breed success and in the Canucks case, oddly enough its paying off. Biega has been a pretty nice depth addition to the Canucks and at some point he’ll be an every day top 6 for them. Ben Hutton pretty much took his own roster spot when September came, didn’t even ask. That’s so Hutton!

It hasn’t all been skittles and unicorns though; the injuries have really stretched this team thin and there have been moments this year where ice time has been amped up for guys that just shouldn’t be playing that much and mistakes mount. I seem to remember when Hamhuis was injured and Bieksa had to shoulder the load, that didn’t always end well.

It didn’t end well, you can cut out the maybe.

Matt Bartkowski is always in the mix for things to go wrong it seems (aside from when his mom is watching him live), and asking him to play more minutes on a defense that is adjusting on the fly can result in mistakes.

There’s a chance a trade or two happens by the deadline and injuries would continue to offer up opportunities for call ups to the likes of Andrey Pedan, Brendan Gaunce, Taylor Fedun and obviously Hunter Shinkaruk.

The Canucks are transitioning to a younger, faster, potentially Matthewsier type team and as the injuries pile up, we get more and more chances to see the eventual next wave of stars; and that’s just the guys up front.

On the back end, Jacob Markstrom is quickly becoming the next goalie the Canucks trade away for a 1st round pick. His 5-0-1 run in his last 6 games is turning heads and making Ryan Miller expendable. Ryan Miller hasn’t slouched this year but his age and cap hit aren’t very fan friendly. He can help any team making a run this year going into the deadline and would most likely bring back value.

For the second year in a row, Miller went down and this time Markstrom was the recipient of more starts. He didn’t disappoint. Eddie Lack didn’t either but that didn’t stop the Canucks from shipping him off. With Markstrom making a case to be the eventual #1, its just one more example of how injuries are secretly helping the Canucks.

It would be nice if we didn’t have to constantly see this team get decimated with hammys, hernias and hips but that’s hockey. Jim Benning and Willie Desjardins are very close to making some tough decisions based on their misfortune in the health department but every guy that has been given a chance has stepped up.

#TeamTank may still happen but the rebuild, if that’s what you want to call this, seems more like a reno. It may turn around quicker than we think.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Canucks All Smiles After Trading Kesler and Bieksa…Mostly

Watching the Canucks wait for the opening puck to drop after 60 minutes against the Ducks was tough to watch. Plenty of story line to go on and if Vancouver even puts in 40 minutes, they probably could have beaten the Ducks. That didn’t happen, they didn’t put in 5. Aside from that game though, things are noticeably better in Vancouver after jettisoning Kesler and Bieksa to Anaheim. They didn’t really have a choice but Vancouver’s loss is actually their own gain. Who would have thought no Kes or Juice would be a good thing? 

You can’t replace experience but the Canucks should be all smiley face emojis now that they don’t have a selfish centre and an aging, stale defensemen bogging them down. 

Only recently has Ryan Kesler started to show his worth after inking a 6 year deal worth $41M. His 3 goals are alarming but his body has been beaten to nothing over his career. Thankfully the Canucks brass saw that they had an unhappy, selfish player and granted his exit to the Ducks, apparently Chicago wasn’t lucky enough! Now, the Ducks are on the hook for a whole lot of wasted space and it only gets worse for them.

The Canucks took on up and coming defenseman Luca Sbisa and Nick Bonino as well as Anaheim’s 2014 1st round pick who now is the Canucks 2nd line/3rd line pivot Jared McCann. We all know Nick Bonino aka  too many men on the ice was moved to the Pens for Brandon Sutter and his injury is being felt up and down the middle of the lineup.

On the surface it would seem the Canucks are very happy with their return on Kes and on a scale of 1-10 smiley faces, they have to be an 8. McCann is quickly turning into a reliable two way centre and is leaned heavily upon only 26 games into his career. When Sutter returns, McCann will be able to see a bit more space and further his game even  more.

Luca Sbisa has gone from new guy to token hated new guy to apparent 2016 Cyclone Taylor Winner. Figure that out. The return for Kesler a year later is easily in favour of the Canucks and for Anaheim, they  have to start breaking down how much Kesler is going to cost them:

So far, Ryan Kesler’s “Between Two Zambonis” skits are costing the Ducks $1.25M/ per episode – might want to get syndicated Kes. Imagine if they continue to film these things? Their budget will be through the roof and for a guy that isn’t exactly friendly, they’ll be off the air in no time; but they’ll still be paying him until Ryker, his son, gets drafted.

Feeling better yet Canucks fans? We don’t have to pay for this guy anymore and look how much happier the team is. Ben Hutton can’t wipe the smile off his face but I’m beginning to think he has a medical condition because no one should smile that much. Just kidding Ben, nothing but love.

HUTTON MANIA!!!!

But who really cares about Kesler anymore? Let’s go over how disappointed the Ducks must be that they have a extremely underperforming defender in Kevin Bieksa.

I love Bieksa, I really do. His interviews are the stuff of legends and he doesn’t hold a grudge against Vancouver. You can tell when he converses with Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy. They’ll always be bros…fo sho.

Bieksa just signed a 2 year deal that will net him $4M per. We thought Luca Sbisa was overpaid? I’m so happy we’ve come around to seeing Sbizza has more to offer. Can you imagine paying Bieksa that kind of coin for 2 seasons? Oh man, that’s not even healthy. At some point Dave Nonis will be let go for suggesting the awfulness that is the old Canuck guard.

Jim Benning has quickly become a genius and even though many of us are ready to have his head on a platter, he quietly has turned the Canucks around and if we’re all patient enough we might just buy him a Christmas card next year. Not this year though, they’re awful.

It is yet to be seen what the pick for Bieksa will turn into but having moved him has given Vancouver the ability to give Frankie Corrado Ben Hutton a roster spot and if you watched the two of them on split screen in the same game, its not close. Ben Hutton can become a hybrid of Edler and Tanev and imagine if he does; ok don’t, I hate seeing those pictures all mashed together like they do on the Internet, its creepy.

At some point, everyone will stop grading this trade like so many others that have gone down and we can all focus on one of two things:

  1. How bad the Canucks are currently doing and….
  2. Is Willie Desjardins still the coach?

I feel like this is the direction we are headed and to put a final stamp on things, YES, the Canucks won those trades and they purchased the uber smiley emoji because they are set up the middle for years to come; or until they waive one of them for nothing and Toronto picks them up.

Follow me on twitter for mega hot taeks and the occasional factual tidbit: @always90four

JAKE VIRTANEN VS. JARED MCCANN: THE DECISION

ESPN never came knocking on the Canucks door when they decided to give both Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann the 9 game audition in the NHL. Do these kids have what it takes to warrant a 60 minute sitdown interview with The Province’s Jason Botchford? Probably no is the answer. Botch might be able to get a good show out of it but I doubt Willie drops the hammer at the closing credits and tells you who is taking their talents back to junior. Is Botchford ESPN caliber? Well, that’s not for me to answer. Lets focus on our two young prospects. What is their fate? What is the decision?

Its been 6 and 5 games respectively for McCann and Virtanen and its a tough decision to make as to who stays up with the big club. Do both of them stay? Tough to tell. With Jared McCann he brings the versatility of playing the pivot and the wing and would theoretically receive more ice time mainly because you need that guy to start the shift and he has two vets in Prust and Dorsett to help him along. Are they the best guys to develop Jared, I don’t believe so but that’s the reality thus far.

If Benning and Linden based their decisions solely on points, McCann stays but not by much. The other thing here is that they’re ROOKIES!!! You aren’t going to see the Bo Horvat type of transformation inside of the first month but there has to be more of a sample size; these two guys need to see more opportunities. Willie is limiting them and in turn their linemates as well but we need to see more.

With Jake Virtanen, you get an electric player that has the chance to be a bull in a china shop and he can explode a hit on someone at any moment. He hasn’t exactly done that since the infamous “McDavid Mash”…no one’s calling it that but its alliteration. You know what, let’s take a look at it again.

Doing a quick youtube/google search on Virtanen will unleash a plethora of hits, hit compilations and awkward teenage hockey player profile pics pointing a stick at a camera. Its so early to get a good read on Jake but he can hold his own physically and he has had some grade A chances to put the puck in the net. Some guys get the chances and can’t put it home but if you GET the chances you’re in the right places.

This is a different season for the Canucks in that they have 3 true rookies in the lineup and they don’t exactly look out of place. I could go off on a tangent about the craze of #HUTTONmania but I had that fluff piece air a few days ago. McCann and Virtanen also are forwards and you grade them differently.

Keeping Virtanen just for the physical game would be shameful and when Chris Higgins returns its no secret that Jake’s minutes will drop; unless he can start making an impact that keeps him relevant. Its a lot to ask of rookies but Willie has floated him a bit with different linemates to try and find that chemistry. Putting Brandon Sutter on a line with Virtanen and Burrows is a great mix and we’ll get to see that against the Canadiens. Its a perfect mix of speed, skill and veterans to give Jake that confidence to just play HIS game. Easier said than done.

McCann albeit a centre and a guy that we all believed HAD to crack the opening night roster hasn’t shown the stature that makes him a nightly NHLer. Kinda like the Trudeau attack ads, we’re not saying never, just not right now. Adam Cracknell also made the team and he most likely is waiting his turn until they decide what to do with McCann. If it’s me, I take Cracknell based on his experience and let Jared get one more year in the Soo.

It’s not the first time a team has done that and he’ll get more ice time as well as the chip on his shoulder to bulk up and prove himself come next season. Jared’s 19 and has a long NHL career ahead of him and I hate to see guys rushed in. Enjoy your time in junior, enjoy being a kid.

You didn’t come here for fancy stats or necessarily even normal stats, not in this piece anyways so I’m not going to break down how his Corsi needs to be better or that his zone exits are better than Virtanen’s. As you know, I am  the Game Day Preview guy for Canucks Army and they’re the guys you want to hit up for that stuff.

At the end of the day who do we choose to continue with the Canucks this year? In a quick note: Jake Virtanen. He’ll have more opportunities to move around and his “presence”, going Eric Lindros there, will eventually transition from rookie nerves to “WATCH OUT, HERE COMES VIRTANEN!” Just like any job, once you get past the probation period, you can calm down more and ease in. At the very least, Virtanen has that monster hit and all his other ones and at some point they’ll benefit him greatly.

I’m really excited that these are the kinds of discussions that are taking place with the Canucks and not the every polarizing goalie debate, Luca Sbisa checklist of errors and did we win the “insert public opinion bad trade here”. The Canucks are changing, lets embrace it.

Oh, we picked Virtanen right? Ya, Virtanen is the answer to the headline. But maybe also McCann, but for sure Virtanen. So Virtanen and maaaaaybe McCann.

Virtanen. Definitely Virtanen.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four