canucks

The Canucks Are Back In The Playoffs; Why I’m WILD About Their Chances

Photo courtesy of The Athletic

REVISION VERSION: In my excitement to write an article, I ran with the idea of a one-game playoff. It’s a five-game series for the first round, ala ALDS.

I apologize. Read it regardless.

 

The NHL and NHLPA have agreed in principle to returning with a 24-team playoff format when hockey resumes. Sure, they’ve essentially adopted the CFL’s model of allowing almost everyone to be a participant, but if you think about it for a second, this could be the beginning of a re-structured playoff format going forward.

Of course, the Vancouver Canucks would then be assured of a one-game play-in versus their heated rivals, the Minnesota Wild. The “purest” fan in me doesn’t love this idea 100% but really what is the big deal? The NHL did have a five-game first-round series format prior to the first lockout… OK, a little before that.

People will argue that it isn’t the playoffs with this proposed idea and to a degree, they’re correct. That being said, the play-in game is one of the most exciting games of the season, case in point the clip below:

The Toronto Blue Jays required a one-game playoff against the Baltimore Orioles in 2016 and in epic fashion, Edwin Encarnacion blasted a three-run homer to send the Jays to the ALDS. It was appointment viewing, especially in Canada where playoff baseball from the only team in the country had eluded its fans for decades.

Every pitch, every hit, every steal was monumental and played out like a high-stakes chess match. It was as playoffs as the playoffs could be.

Prior to the Wild Card game, there have also been a handful of extra games required to even get to the Wild Card game, dubbed Game 163. If teams with identical records were in the same league, a one-game playoff was required to get to the official one-game playoff. Confusing, right?

Baseball has embraced this format for years and it might be time the NHL reworked its playoff structure. Not too long ago, the WHL had its own one-game playoff between the Kelowna Rockets (you didn’t think I wouldn’t mention them, did you?) and the Kamloops Blazers.

Kelowna really had no business being in that game but they made the trek to Kamloops to face their age-old rivals on a heightened Tuesday night matchup to make it to the WHL Playoffs. Kelowna got spanked but the atmosphere was electric even as a fan in the away barn.

Rewind back to the Canucks.

A one-game playoff against the Minnesota Wild doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing in the world but knowing the stakes are so high, it won’t take long to become must-watch television. After all, no one is going to the game anyway.

What I love about this matchup is the opportunity to exorcise the 2003 demons of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. You remember the ones, don’t you?

Wes Walz, Willie Mitchell, and the great Hnat Domenichelli. That team should have lost to Vancouver but it didn’t. This year, the new Canucks can right the wrongs and if they do they get a first-round matchup against, oh crap, the Colorado Avalanche.

I like Vancouver’s chances against Minnesota in a do or die situation. The Canucks are fully healthy and giving Jacob Markstrom the net makes them scary good. I also think this is the kind of game Brock Boeser could put his name back in contention as a star player against the team he grew up watching.

Speaking of Boeser, he hasn’t been the sniper fans, and I’m sure coaches, have wanted him to be but his 200-foot game has turned him into a more complete player. He’s not exactly being placed in situations where he can properly get off the shot that made him famous but maybe he just needs to find a linemate that can set him up.

Boeser also hasn’t scored a goal since he potted a pair Jan. 11 vs. Buffalo. Concerning, for sure. His power-play deployment is also something I’m not thrilled with as it’s beyond predictable of how he’ll get the puck. Anyway, I’m confident Boeser can get back to his scoring ways and this year’s playoff is a great opportunity.

Vancouver hasn’t faired well against the Wild this season and their 2020 has been all over the map. What is certain is that they’ll be healthy when this all returns much like the team they’re trying to forget about at the turn of this century.

This year’s Canuck roster isn’t a juggernaut compared to 2003, stating the obvious, I’m sure.

It still blows my mind that the Canucks never won that ’03 series considering they had one heck of a team and the hottest duo in the league in Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi. They had THE Gatorade spokesman on their team and couldn’t muster one more win. In case you forgot, here’s what I’m talking about:

I am really not a fan of team sports like hockey returning during this point of the pandemic but at the same time, I can’t wait to see my favourite sport return. There are a lot of hoops the NHL will have to jump through to make their official return happen but after watching the UFC on Saturday night, I think it’s possible.

With the NHL bringing in this modified playoff format this year to make it fair to all the teams in the hunt, every one-game playoff will have as much intensity as the regular series themselves. Hockey is ready for a change and this might be the time to alter the game yet again.

They removed the red line, added trapezoids, introduced no-touch icing, and brought in coach’s challenges; the NHL is far from its origins but at the heart of it all, the game is the same.

24 teams with a chance for the Cup? Why not?

The Canucks may have a chance at Lord Stanley this season when only two months ago we were all concerned they would just miss out.

I’ll be here when it returns and I know you will too!

 

Check out the rest of my work over at Canucks Army and my vocal cords as a member of the PP1 Podcast

Hockey Cards Are All Grown Up – My Re-introduction to Collecting Cardboard Heroes

Got ’em, got em’, need ’em. We’ve all been there. Trading hockey cards to try and complete your set. It usually took a long time but through flea markets, local card stores, and card shows, it was possible to complete it.

When I was a young boy, I’ll admit hockey cards, and really hockey, in general, weren’t my jam until I was about 10 years old. I was a big Ninja Turtles fan that came with its own collectible cards, figures, comics, and so on. I had hockey cards from the Esso series, baseball sticker books, and yeah, probably a hockey one too!

I don’t know exactly how it all happened but I do remember my cousin being a big influence on me for liking hockey cards and I think Christmas 1991 was when I got my first box of cards.

Pro Set was my introduction to hockey cards with team logo cards, referees, the puck, and of course, collecting the set. Back then, there really wasn’t much in the way of parallels, subsets, or limited editions. I remember Premier had a gold-alternate of their cards so maybe that was one of the first chances to get rare ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upper Deck had their “Young Guns” series as well as Hockey Heros with Brett Hull. There were Canada Cup subsets which introduced Teemu Selanne’s rookie card and Nicklas Lidstrom’s as well. Upper Deck was also the early favorite when it came to the best cards out there. Holograms were introduced as alternates to regular photo cards and as the years progressed, more options were available.

OH, and the Pavel Bure cards, can’t forget the Bure cards:


It feels like forever ago when I started collecting but in the last year that spark has been reignited and I had to get re-introduced to a hobby that I spent a ton of time involved in. My daughters are now at the ages where they can understand what’s going on and what makes collecting so much fun.

Before them, I was opening up what I can remember as hundreds of packs of the McDonalds cards that came out every year until they became too expensive to collect the set. I can still hear that crinkle of the wrapper and endless insert cards telling you which ones to collect that year.

Much of this fun can be attributed to our local card and memorabilia shop, Players Choice Sportscards and Collectibles. Jason and Katie run their store just behind Prospera Place in Kelowna and they have become the go-to place for the latest and greatest in collecting. What I never thought I’d be involved in are the new ways to get your hands on must-have cards.

Every year, Upper Deck sponsors the National Hockey Card Day and gives away thousands of packs of cards for free to get people interested in the hobby. There’s usually some fun to be had at local shops and even a few giveaways I’ve heard. That’s where this all got started for us. After that, I was hooked again.

Before the term “social-distancing” existed, Players Choice hosted what is called “break nights”. No, they don’t offer Kit Kats or a chance to take your date to ogle a Sidney Crosby signed jersey, but they probably have one you can buy.

These breaks consist of a group of people coming to their shop and opening up cases of brand new cards with the chance to get every card opened from a specific team. With 31 teams to collect, there are 31 spots to buy a chance at a team. It’s done at random to keep things fair and you don’t know the team you have until the end.

12 boxes are in that brown box and then the craziness begins.

Names are drawn after all the cards are opened and as each name is drawn, that person reaches into a bag and takes out a chip with an NHL team’s logo on it, that’s the team you get. Maybe it’s the Canucks, maybe it’s Columbus. Seeing all the cards opened is the first part of the fun, the suspense when the teams are picked is next level.

Image may contain: 3 people

courtesy of Players Choice Instagram (Series 2 case break night)

There are a lot of Canucks, Oilers, Canadiens, and Leafs fans in town so those are the ones most of us are vying for. With star players like Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, and Alex Ovechkin, everyone is hoping a special card is waiting for them when they pick.

Having to stay hunkered down at home has forced card collectors to find different ways to get their fix. Players Choice has introduced Facebook card auctions from stock they’ve opened or purchased. Loyal followers spend a few hours bidding on cards a few nights a week. Even without a bricks and mortar location accessible to the public, they’re finding ways to stay available.

I’ve found myself, as well as my kids, sitting at the laptop watching card auctions and box breaks just wanting to see what cool cards are opened. It’s tough to explain but seeing a super rare card get pulled is a pretty neat experience. Everyone has a favorite team or player and getting a card from that player is special.

These are a few I managed to pull awhile ago.

Sharing this experience with my kids is that much more special because they get excited the same way I do but they find their own cherished pieces they want to own. My oldest is a huge Henrik Sedin fan so we’re always looking for Hank’s gems. I’m trying to find this guy:

Now, these aren’t just hockey cards anymore, they’re so much more than that now.

It used to be just collect the set and you’re happy. Not now. Autographs, dual autos, triple, quadruple, heck, SIX signatures on a card are possible. Pieces of jerseys, multiple jerseys, patches, sticks, pucks, goalie equipment, tickets, you name it, it’s probably on a card.

Add to all of this the availability for these cards and you have yourself a serious problem: how am I going to get my hands on that card?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sets are separated into base cards and then subsets. Even the autographed ones, jersey ones, and others can have alternates, it never ends! Upper Deck has a number of different releases throughout the year including their flagship namesake split into Series One and Series Two.

There are also newer releases within the last decade or so including The Cup, SPx Game-Used, Artifacts, Trilogy, Credentials, Black Diamond, Allure, and even brands like O-Pee-Chee with multiple offerings under the UD umbrella.

I should point out, these aren’t exactly 2.99/pack kind of things anymore. You get what you pay for and some of these lines can run you $500/pack, even more. The serious collectors (with a few bucks to spend) can parlay cards they’ve pulled into some serious dough. There are newer Connor McDavid cards, Quinn Hughes, and others that can be found for thousands of dollars via resellers.

It’s no joke.

There are also the regular offerings that you can get involved for around $5/pack. So don’t get discouraged, anyone can be a collector. Just figure out what your budget is and set your sights accordingly. Don’t shop for a Ferrari if you can’t afford it in the first place.

But, for the casual collector, the Saturday out for a fun morning collector, or the kid that just wants to see what something shiny looks like, there’s always a fit. I seem to have reignited my love for these little cardboard treasures and I know I’ve already passed that on to my kiddos.

Check out my podcast, The PP1 Podcast, for more card talk with our sponsor, Players Choice.

 

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram – @always90four

 

Canucks Having A Mumford And Sons-Type Season

It’s a corny lead-in but the Canucks genuinely are having a season resembling the hits of Mumford and Sons. Getting waxed in the preseason, it felt like this team was going to be exactly like its predecessor from a season ago: a “Hopeless Wanderer”, a dud with little hope aside from the debut of Elias Pettersson and the continuation of a flow-like Brock Boeser traveling through yet another season with a cup over their fire. Ups, downs and almost everything in between, this Babel-like season is removing the mask from its face to show what true identity has been hidden, it’s better than we thought.

Feeling all warm and cushy after a couple of impressive Canucks wins gets everyone in the feels and yours truly is not excluded. I’ve also been on a bit of a Mumford kick lately and it’s funny how some of their songs resemble the first third of the season. MAS no doubt had a cult following before they made it big and like most sports teams the same can be said.

So what makes these two so similar? Is it the catchy choruses that relate to the latest flavour of the month EP40, the relatively short catalog history of four albums or three trips to the Stanley Cup, or is it the numerous hits that have won awards as the Canucks have trotted out award winners in various categories? All of these are true to a certain degree.

HOPELESS WANDERER – This track is a direct hit to how the Canucks season has gone so far.

“You heard my voice, you came out of the woods by choice”.

We all knew what to expect when the season started, mostly not a lot. There was excitement from the super rookie to look forward to, the promise of an eventual quarterback on defense in Quinn Hughes, and a healthy Brock. The defense came back the same and there was no reason to think Erik Gudbranson would be, well, good.

“So leave that click in my head, I will remember the words that you said”.

The players know what’s said about them and they knew what we didn’t. The addition of Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel was delayed which gave others the chance to step up, like Nikolay Goldobin Adam Gaudette, and somehow, Bo Horvat. Vancouver came out of the gate 5-5 with a lot to talk about, namely the Alien, Elias.

Pettersson led the Canucks in goals right off the hop with five tallies and eight points in only eight games played.

“But do not tell me all is fine, when I lose my head, I lose my spine”.

His concussion scare seemed like a cruel joke, Canucks fans never get nice things for too long, but he came back and has throttled the NHL rookie race ever since. In the midst of that, Vancouver couldn’t figure themselves out and wandered aimlessly trying to find a fit that didn’t include EP40. They’ve given up countless chances to win and even had a run where wins were mirages.

But there was #Shotgunjake and there was a wave that traveled through the NHL that many Canucks fans had never seen. This time, there wasn’t a hopeless feeling anymore.

“Don’t hold a glass over the flame, Don’t let your heart grow cold, I will call you by name, I will share your road”

There may be tons of losses to come but this road has been shared and as long as they fight the way they have, there is hope.

BABEL –  “Like the city that nurtured my greed and my pride, I stretched my arms into the sky, I cry Babel, Babel, look at me now. For the walls of my tower, they come crumbling down”

Seeing the Canucks sit at the bottom of the NHL standings yet again, has a familiar warm feeling. The rebuild is still going strong with no end in sight quite yet but it has a feeling of ease for whatever reason. Have we all accepted our fate as fans and embraced the long road?

“Cause I know my weakness, know my voice,. And I’ll believe in grace and choice. And I know perhaps my heart is fast. But I’ll be born without a mask”

The Canucks aren’t hiding anything. What you see is what you get. They’re predictably unpredictable in the fact we know that we have no idea what we’re in store on any given night. As the losses mounted it felt inevitable we’d accepted this team would drop to the bottom and then even with a few victories, hope had been restored.

Wondering how in the world would this team survive 82 games seemed like one of life’s great mysteries but Bo Horvat has led his team away from the cellar and they’re slowly climbing the stairs. They’re scoring around three goals a game while also allowing around the same amount, the PK isn’t perfect, and the power-play is awful. They’re about where we all thought.

The walls on their special teams are indeed crumbling down and as our hands are raised in frustration, the answers have come at even strength and it feels like eventually, it’ll be ok.

I WILL WAIT“These days of dust, Which we’ve known, Will blow away with this new sun”

In year seven of the “rebuild”, there hasn’t been a steady climb out of obscurity and even with Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Troy Stecher, Quinn Hughes, and a goalie of the future Thatcher Demko, the needle hasn’t moved a whole lot. This team is younger and faster but is it really any better?

It isn’t a Cup contender yet and making the playoffs is wishful thinking, not out of the question, but a long shot. It’s been this long so continuing to patiently support the change will have to do. You’re either still in or you’ve jumped ship. The product has been more watchable than its been in years with less to show at the end of the day.

The Sedins are gone, as is Roberto Luongo, and depth makes up most of this roster. There are but a handful of difference makers and even then, only three of them are actually making a big difference. “Waiting” should be their new slogan.

“So take my flesh, And fix my eyes, A tethered mind free from the lies

We’re all in whether we want to be or not. Management is finally starting to show their true intentions, even if only for a minute, and somehow Jim Benning has steered the machine in the proper direction. If it actually is, has yet to be seen. Until then…

” I will wait, I will wait for you”

The Canucks and why We just want to so bad

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

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

How are the Canucks managing to sell this?

This for starters.

Also this.

OK and that one as well.

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

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

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

Is it sustainable? Who cares?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: National Post

The Canucks Parade Goes Through Penticton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

That’s for another day.

 

Cover photo – The Hockey Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photo – The Hockey Writers

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

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

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