thatcher demko

Next Season Crucial In Proper Canucks Rebuild

To say the next couple of years are important for the Canucks would be an understatement. It’s huge. Making the change at the coaching position and slowly dismantling the old regime were important to show the fans, not everything that Trevor Linden and Jim Benning said was a complete lie. The fans and media alike, have been told many different things over the course of the “retool on the fly” era and for the most part, it failed.

The inconsistent message that has been preached outwards has just confused the process for the fans, media and I would guess the players as well. Not knowing the direction the Canucks are headed can’t be easy when the players can’t even see where the team is headed. Linden needs, to be honest, and officially call this a rebuild.

How this team was able to be so fantastically deconstructed in such a short amount of time is truly amazing. What the Canucks failed to do was to have a succession plan or the very least passable options when moves were made. That is starting to happen now but it came at a fairly high cost. Giving up on players like Gustav Forsling, Zack Kassian, Nick Bonino and shipping off high draft picks at the same time just muddied the state the team was in.

I get it, those moves all had different situations attached to them but looking at each of them, it feels like Vancouver didn’t give them a true chance. Management has stuck by Luca Sbisa, Brandon Sutter and given an aging Loui Eriksson a hefty, long-term deal. If the Canucks are rebuilding, all of these moves feel like they were poorly thought out. There is no room to take on smaller contracts and the small contracts they HAVE taken on could have been avoided.

But fear not, this is not all doom and gloom, there is hope still to be found but don’t expect to see it next season or the season after. Providing a few things go the Canucks way, and one of those things is the placement in this year’s NHL Entry draft, the Canucks might be able to put a realistic timetable on the changes that are coming.

It’s no secret that picks #1 and #2 hold a lot of value and can slightly speed up the process of the Canucks rebuild. Having a centre that can instantly be inserted into the lineup to take the 3rd line pivot job can force Benning to look at moving Sutter. If Sutter is claimed in the expansion draft, that is all moot anyway and the #ExposeSutter movement will have succeeded.

Looking at point production, there is optimism, not much but a bit. Henrik finished with 50 points and it could be argued Daniel probably could have been there too! Bo Horvat led the team with 52 points and again, had Sven Baertschi had a healthy season he could have challenged for a 45ish point campaign.

Injuries crushed the Canucks this season which hampered the point production and a failure to adapt on the power play when it hit all-time lows as well as not allowing late game heroics due to poor line deployment absolutely cost the team both points on the scoreboard and in the standings. How that changes in October has yet to be seen.

So, having four potential 50 point players makes the Canucks a little more believable as a rebuilding team on the rise but don’t expect the same type of production after the season they had. Teams have figured the Canucks out and it will take a complete overhaul of their current structure to make the team competitive again. New look power play units, emphasis on available speed and holding on to the puck instead of the ever-predictable dump and chase.

There are players in the lineup that can make some of this happen and a few new ones as well. Ollie Juolevi looks ready to take on the NHL game and Jake Virtanen seems to have cut weight and sculpted his frame to fit in as well. I have no clue if they even make the opening night roster but with an offseason of opportunity, both players know they can earn a spot.

How about the late additions?

Even though we’ve only been given a small sample of Nikolay Goldobin and Brock Boeser, the talent these two possess has been noticed. Boeser made an immediate impact notching four goals and an assist in nine games to finish the year. Goldobin put up three goals in his first 12 with the Canucks. It wasn’t just the production on the scoresheet but the ability to use their linemates effectively and trust the talent they have. These guys know they’re good and with a new coach, their chances to succeed may be higher than when Willie Desjardins was at the helm.

The youth movement will be a lot more visible come the 2017/18 season, which is what many have asked for. I doubt there will be much change in the standings and Vancouver realistically may fall even further before they climb back up the ranks. Seeing an entire line of players under 24 years of age that are leading the Canucks is something worth noting.

Bo Horvat, Boeser and Sven Baertschi seem to present the future of the franchise while the Sedins may get the opportunity to bring a player like Goldobin along and groom him for his future reign in the NHL. I think it would be a great idea to potentially split the Sedins up on both power play units.

Not an original idea, I know. What I’d love to see would be Daniel on the first unit and Henrik on the second. Putting Horvat/Daniel/Baertschi up front to start and maybe Troy Stecher and Olli Juolevi on the back end would be my choice. Assuming they don’t score right away ( a safe assumption), bring on Henrik as the lines transition and allow the Sedins to potentially capitalize on the shift.

They have been beyond predictable for the last few seasons and this change would allow a small hybrid of ice time before putting Henrik out with potentially Eriksson and maybe Boeser or Goldobin. You may all think this is crazy talk but I’d say there is some merit there. This could also be applied to the regular 5-on-5 lines but trying it on the power play would be a good start.

Keeping the Sedins in the fold as productive 2nd and eventually, 3rd line players put them right back where their careers took off when they were alongside Trevor Linden. A depth pair of players that can be counted on to keep the lines moving and keeps the focus on the top two lines which in turn creates more scoring chances, probably not goals, but chances.

The focus on faceoffs was once again taken seriously in 2016. Manny Malhotra was brought on and the team climbed back up to finish 9th in the league with a 51.1% success rate. It was a bit less than the famed 2011 season at 54.9% but even then, this year’s position would have been good for 10th in 2011. It’s like they focused on something to be good at and it WORKED!

Jake Virtanen could use some of that love. The Canucks finally played the patience card with Virtanen this season and decided not to rush him back into the lineup. His numbers weren’t other-worldly by any means but it looks like he learned how to be a pro. Does he become the power forward Canucks fans have longed for since Todd Bertuzzi, probably not; but he could end up being a valuable part of the team’s transition.

Alex Edler is another point of interest or disinterest depending on who you ask. Edler isn’t leaving the Canucks and even if he’s asked it can be assumed he doesn’t want to leave Vancouver. He’s starting to show wear and please, please, please change the flex on that stick. He still has a booming shot but he just doesn’t get the chances anymore to let it go like he used to. If Juolevi makes the team, putting him with Edler might be a smart idea and it would allow Stecher to play with Chris Tanev.

Much of this is assumptive and all of this could change by June.

Which brings me to the goaltending situation and where Thatcher Demko fits into all of this. When Demko was drafted in 2014, Roberto Luongo had just been dealt and Eddie Lack along with Jacob Markstrom looked to be the immediate future of the Canuck’s net protection. That didn’t last long. Ryan Miller was eventually brought in through free agency, Lack was shipped to Carolina and Jacob Markstrom still hasn’t seen this cup of coffee everyone keeps talking about.

Demko finally went pro this past year and had a tough go to start his career but down the stretch, he was unbeatable for the most part.

Cory Schneider took the same route as Demko when he was drafted by the Canucks in 2004, he finally made his debut with the Canucks in the 2008/09 season but only played in 8 games when Roberto Luongo was injured. Schneider eventually made his full time, well full-time backup, start in the famous 2010/11 year.

Luongo and Schneider went neck and neck the whole season and it was at that point that Schneider had truly arrived, six years after being drafted. Demko most likely won’t have to wait that long but giving him time to fully mature can only help the Canucks in the long term. Ideally, if he followed the same lineage as Schneider and taking into account the current net situation and the numbers he’s put up, Demko would be the bonafide starter in 2018/19 or at the latest 2020.

There are a lot of similarities between both former college netminders but given the current state of affairs in Vancouver, Ryan Miller (hopefully) will have kept the net warm when it becomes available. By 2020, the Canucks should have a good portion of the building done, if not all of it, and the pieces being developed now will be reaching their primes.

By 2020, the Canucks should have a good portion of the building done, if not all of it, and the pieces being developed now will be reaching their primes. It’s time to look at the Oilers and Leafs rebuilds and understand that the process takes time.

Seeing Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier in a Canucks jersey makes the process easier to swallow but neither of them will be the answer to the rest of the problems the team still faces.

One year at a time.

photo – http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/bo-horvat-scores-winner-lead-canucks-lightning/sportsnet.ca

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Defending The Canucks Defense… Is That Possible?

For starters, I’M not defending the defense of the Vancouver Canucks.

Seven games into the season and potentially the worst injury has already occurred: Chris Tanev has been damaged. I suppose Ben Hutton would be the next guy that would cause a public outcry to just burn Rogers Arena down and start over but that hasn’t happened so maybe put down the torches. There are numerous areas up and down the Canucks lineup that are cause for concern but the defense seems to be the lightning rod to start the year.

Believe it or not, though, Luca Sbisa isn’t the #1 target. It’s not even newbie Erik Gudbranson and his lack of “real good” defensing. Alex Edler has been better but is showing signs of coming around and Ben Hutton, well, don’t you dare raise a hand to him.

The elephant in the room so far is the guy that hasn’t even gotten a sniff after Chris Tanev went down: Nikita Tryamkin is wasting time with his “holier than thou” contract. When he first came over, the gimmick was obvious: a big, potentially speedy defender that could throw a hit and might even contribute on the scoresheet.

Thankfully for Tryamkin, last season turned into a lost cause early enough that he was given enough time to show what he could do and essentially learn the NHL game without the AHL training phase. As a fan, ideally, this is the situation to see the new flashy player everyone is talking about. The downside to all of this is he hasn’t translated (no pun intended) into anything worth showing off, at least yet.

We all know there was only one way Nikita was coming to North America and that playing in the AHL for any length of time was a non-starter. As someone who understands how development works, this is ridiculous and unless Tryamkin was the second coming of a defensive Pavel Bure/Zdeno Chara (ya I know, terrible reference), he is just wasting away sitting up in the press box deciding what kind of popcorn he likes best.

For my money, movie popcorn and buffalo chicken flavour from Kernels are the best; but this isn’t about me.

If Tryamkin is going to amount to anything on the Canucks, Jim Benning and Willie Desjardins, no wait, Doug Jarvis, should get together with Nikita’s translator and get it through his head that the NHL only exists for him if he’s willing to work. I’d love to see NT pan out because quite frankly I know the history of the Vancouver Canucks defensive corps and a player like him doesn’t come around very often.

When it comes to Russian players not exactly “playing along” in the NHL, this wouldn’t be the first time. The latest defector, Valeri Nichuskin of the Dallas Stars, headed back to the Motherland and we may never see him in an NHL jersey again. A recent article from The Canuck Way describes the “Russian Factor” and how it’s affecting the Canucks themselves right now.

Frustration is the feeling around the Canucks, it has to be. You have this potential gem just sitting there on a fitness program trying to get him to a point where you can sell the fact he is ready to be a possible game day decision. Goaltending doesn’t seem to be an issue this year, scoring would be an entirely different discussion and on defense, you need guys that can produce.

Preseason standout, Troy Stecher, finally made his Canucks debut against the Senators on Tuesday night and although he didn’t score, he Corsi’d like a boss and was pretty darn close to being the #1 used defenseman:

That being said, it was one game. If Chris Tanev gets back into the lineup on Friday against the world famous Edmonton Oilers, Stecher might be sent back down for cap reasons.

It’s not something you want to do when guys like Luca Sbisa are delivering pizzas on the regular and even Gudbranson isn’t turning heads. Rookie Philip Larsen won’t be taken out because the powerplay funnels through him; that’s a whole other conversation. If Stecher can’t stay, what does that mean for guys like Tryamkin and Alex Biega?

You can’t start putting these guys as forwards, this isn’t a beer league. Maybe this is the problem the Canucks need to potentially shop a guy like Sbisa or even Tryamkin while his hype value is still high enough?

Defending this team in 2016/17 isn’t a fun task and it will only get tougher. There are absolutely some huge bright spots to look forward to and with some tweaks, the Canucks defense might actually be worth talking about outside of Vancouver.

Can the Canucks find a way to make their backend work, that’s a pretty tough call. Up front, there won’t be much to talk about in a positive light until Canucks brass can decide on how this team will fit together.

Let’s all be happy we aren’t desperate for Thatcher Demko’s debut quite yet in net. It could be a lot worse and a few PPs combined with some goals from the guys that are supposed to score will keep the mobs at home for at least another day.

Don’t write them off yet.

 

photo – ottawacitizen.com

Canucks Got PTOs in Different Area Codes – Season Preview Remix

Im sure Ludacris didn’t have the Canucks in mind when he penned his classic “area codes” jam in 2001 for the Rush Hour 2 soundtrack.  But here we are, one PTO veteran making the team and another going the way of the Ruutu (its actually funny because that’s his name). Jim Benning felt Jack Skille warranted a full season on his team after a solid? preseason. Tuomo Ruutu was let go but the Calgary Flames/Toronto Maple Leafs are always trolling the Canucks wastelands for pickups.

As this season gets underway there aren’t really a whole lot of questions with this team. I mean, no one has them picked to win the Cup so that can be put away, goaltending really isn’t a problem after seeing last year that Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom can easily handle the duties this year while super prospect Thatcher Demko hones his craft in the AHL.

Up front, the Sedins will once again lead the way for Vancouver and it wouldn’t surprise me if they still have some tricks left up their sleeves. New line mate Loui Eriksson (also from Sweden) will start the year on the top line and after a positive first go around with Henrik and Daniel at the World Cup of Hockey, they should easily transition into the regular season. A healthy Tre Kronor will probably net Eriksson 30 or so goals, the Sedins each around 80 points…ok maybe high 70s.

Last year was abismal and I’m willing to say a healthy, properly used Sedin line probably does get close to those totals. Henrik put up 73 points two seasons ago while Daniel put up 76. I’m not even going to link it because I know that YOU KNOW how to use the Internet and I want you to stay here. With Eriksson up front, for we’ll say 70 games, the 70-80ish point threshold is doable. Canucks Army just fired me, pretty sure….pretty sure.

The Sedins aren’t really the focus though for the “wow” factor this year if there even is one. Bo Horvat along with Sven Baertschi will hope to relight their spark they found last year and Jake Virtanen would be smart to get in on that action early. Sure, the lines aren’t in his control but no one wants to be stuck with Markus Granlund or Derek Dorsett.

Brandon Sutter will be starting the year almost healthy and will do his best get back to being a normal NHLer. He was the forward version of Sami Salo last year when it comes to injuries. A broken jaw and sports hernia pretty much shut Sutter down last year and there was no way he was going to be anything close to normal.

Willie Desjardins needs Sutter to produce for him to give this team a lick of hope in 2017. Three reliable centres make the Canucks somewhat legit like Crocs you buy at Canadian Tire. You know they aren’t the real thing but you’ll use them how they should be used and heck they’re 10 bucks! Where was I going with this? I forgot.

Brandon Sutter, right.

If Sutter does indeed stay healthy enough to warrant regular rotation between the top 3 lines, guys like Jannik Hansen, Markus Granlund and even Alex Burrows can become relevant once again. The checking line of Brendan Gaunce, Alex Burrows and most likely Jack Skille/Derek Dorsett might be a regular checking line if the top 3 lines are going. Again, not a Cup contending roster but rolling 4 lines does make the Canucks a bit tougher to defend, ya I said it.

Who’s really going to challenge that line anyways, on the Canucks I mean? If you’re in the first 9, don’t screw up and you’ll be fine.

Does that go for the defense as well?

Apparently you can tear up the preseason (meaningless hockey) and still get sent down. I’m talking Troy Stecher, I’m talking Ben Hutton ver. 2.01. Going into training camp and then the preseason, Stecher to the general public, me as well, was a name we were told to watch for. We watched, he delighted and somehow for a second season in a row, a Canucks defenseman from college was going to crack the roster.

The Utica Comets will give Stecher some solid playing time on a top pairing and it will only be a matter of time before he’s called up. He’s too good and Philip Larsen can’t really be our PP QB, can he? I bet fellow Dane Jannik Hansen is high on him but he can’t really believe our problems are solved on the man advantage with Phil.

Vancouver’s defense looks like this to start the year: Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, Nikita Tryamkin, Lou Alex Biega, Luca “ya they haven’t gotten rid of me yet” Sbisa, Erik Gudbranson, Ben Hutton and the aforementioned Larsen.

I shutter to think where the Canucks are without Hutton or worse, Tanev. The defense on paper is sketchy and anytime you ice a team that has a really tall unproven player along with a veteran not good whatsoever player, you have issues still. Sbisa is our resident dumpster fire but thankfully Matt Bartkowski’s astonishments are now done here.

Tryamkin better start figuring his stuff out quick because having a guy that can’t be sent down to the AHL or he leaves is stupid. If he was that hot, you wouldn’t need that clause in there. Be a big boy and earn your spot. Even bulldog Biega earned his stripes, we like him. He’s not great but when Biega is out there, you want him to succeed. I hope Nikita is everything they hoped he’d be but man, he has to own that body and take names.

One man who doesn’t need to prove himself is newcomer Erik Gudbranson. A gritty defender who doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff. His #fancystats aren’t anything to write home about but he is what the Canucks have lacked since Kevin Bieksa’s hay (sp?) days minus the offensive punch. Markstrom and Miller are definitely safe this season with Guddy in front of them.

As for a nicely wrapped basket of what the Canucks will or won’t accomplish this year, the jist is don’t expect anything promising. They won’t make the playoffs but in typical Canucks fashion, they won’t finish dead last either; thus eliminating them already from Nolan Patrick the first overall pick in June.

We may very well be witnessing the transition into what Canucks land will look like for awhile but thankfully there are a handful of bright spots (Horvat, Virtanen, Hutton, Stecher, Demko and Tanev) that make you think it’s going to be OK eventually.

The Canucks will hang in there this year but at the end of the day, be prepared for many, many 1 and 2 goal games; most of those being defeats.

I won’t sugar coat it because we’re past that now. Enjoy watching hockey again even if it means a bunch of #moralvictories again.

Go Canucks Go, We are all Canucks and all that jazz.

See you out there.

cover photo – insidetoronto.com

It Will Be Interesting To See: Canucks And Goalies

Canucks training camp started on Thursday and apparently it was already decided that Ryan Miller is the #1 goaltender this season for Vancouver because it says here, here and here. The last one was kind of overkill but you get the point. Jim Benning has declared the 36 year old veteran will lead the Canucks on the ice and defend the pipes as its top tender. In the next edition of IWBITS, I dive into the goalie issue and declare it will be interesting to see how this season pans out…heck how the first month goes.

When Ryan Miller signed with the Canucks back in 2014 it was tough to say if he was a consolation prize or if he really would help the Canucks while everything else was sorted out. There was the Eddie Lack saga, the Jacob Markstrom run and with Thatcher Demko signing his pro deal the clock will indeed be ticking until the heir apparent (Demko) takes the throne.

The funny thing is, Miller has actually been the least of the team’s worries since he signed. Sure, he’s had injury issues but what veteran goalie hasn’t? His actual stats aren’t very becoming but when you’re injured, splitting starts every second game and being relied on as the backbone of a team that scores less than the USA World Cup hockey team, you get a bit of a pass.

Millers GAA was a voluptuous 2.70 last year good for 34th overall, his SA% was 28th at .916 and because the offense and well the defense as well wasn’t all that effective, Miller finished 15th overall in saves with 1634. He was a workhorse and there were 31 games he didn’t even play.

It’s not a bad thing that Jacob Markstrom is the backup, in Vancouver you always seem to get your chance. We all LOVED Roberto Luongo and then Cory Schneider went and did his winning thing so then we were torn. We had Eddie Lack backing up Miller and we all thought THAT was the answer when he turned it on, but alas.

I say let’s enjoy Ryan Miller’s swan song, he’s pretty much done everything that has been asked of him and many of the games last season that were won with him between the pipes, were HIS wins. He definitely stole a few and our frustration was being pointed in many, many other directions.

How this all plays out this season will be interesting because Miller could easily get banged up and Markstrom would take the reigns. So being that Demko isn’t getting called up right away, Richard Bachman is basically the glorified door opener unless things get really dicey. The Nucks signed BTO this past offseason and he’ll be go figure, the door opener for Demko down in Utica.

All of this puts Jacob Markstrom in a position to prove his worth either as the tandem mate of Demko when Miller leaves after the season or trade bait if Thatcher is the Auston Matthews/Connor McDavid equivalent in net. We used to get bent out of shape when things got iffy in net, but now there’s a clear answer and losing our favourite son Roberto Luongo will hopefully be a fond memory and only that.

Don’t expect the Canucks to surprise anyone this year challenge for a top playoff spot, they aren’t built that way yet. What they do have is a team of veterans and guys willing to learn from them. This team is on the verge of very good things and goaltending is included, unless of course Jim Benning decides to trade away Demko (but I just don’t want to think he’s that bat ish crazy).

It will once again be a roller coaster season and if Willie/Jim/Trevor know what’s best for this team, we’ll see a healthy dose of Miller/Markstrom every 2nd or 3rd game. It keeps it “interesting”, it keeps each goalie fresh and maybe they can pinpoint matchups, hey strategy!

Watching the fall last year was tough and seeing the result of a 5th pick instead of the 3rd still stings but knowing there’s a elite prospect between the pipes getting ready for his takeover is exciting. With Twitter handing us info by the second, Demko’s progression will be all too documented and if things go as well as everyone thinks, it will be tough not hand him the keys to the car.

On the off chance something amazing DOES happen on the big club, the Canucks may push their relevance back into the NHL I don’t see that happening but there’s a lot I’m wrong on.

The Canucks are tied for 1st overall right now…it will be interesting to see for how long.

Check me out on twitter: @always90four

cover photo: thecanuckway.com

 

Canucks Leaky Tire Goaltending About To Be Fixed

By now you’ve figured out I love comparisons! Most of them fall by the wayside and a handful of people get them but are half impressed to say the least. However, with the recent contract extension of Jacob Markstrom it’s safe to say I have a gooder here. Ever since the dual departures, nay, triple departures of Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack, the Canucks have been searching for a fix to their goaltending problem. Some may say it’s been a slowly leaking tire.

I too am experiencing a leaky tire situation and until its ultimately fixed/replaced, it will nag away on the message center of my vehicle. I can go to the gas station and fill it up back to normal pressure, I can buy the spray in repair kit but unless its truly fixed, the problem will remain. When Vancouver re-signed Markstrom to a new 3 year deal, they took their leaky tire and replaced it with a name brand snow tire that can handle the challenges of winter.

Ryan Miller has one more season left on his own 3 year deal and as the team came down the stretch both he and Markstrom split the duties almost 50/50. It was evident the Canucks played well for both tenders and with a cheaper, younger option in place until soon to be superstar Thatcher Demko completes his training in Utica, Markstrom can start the 2016/17 season with aspirations of being the #1.

Knowing that the Canucks will soon have a high performance all weather tire in Demko makes the next few seasons quite bearable. It should be known that Ryan Miller on many nights last year was a big reason the Canucks even hung around; I guess we could blame him for not dropping another two standings spots.

A far from stellar statistical year for Marky, sporting a 2.73 GAA and .915 SA%, his starts increased confidence in the Canucks fan base knowing we had a solution on the back end. It may only be July but once training camp begins, Miller, Markstrom and Demko will all have played and grown with the developing defensive corps sprouting on the blue line.

Alex Edler is now the wise teacher with Dan Hamhuis’ departure, so guiding Ben Hutton, Erik Gudbranson, Chris Tanev, Nikita Tryamkin, Luca Sbisa and 2016 first round pick Olli Juolevi may be a challenge for the goaltending standing tall. It’s expected M&M (see how I did that?) will have to shoulder a fair amount of defensive blunders but thankfully without Matt Bartkowski, they’ll just be Sbizzas.

When Schneider and Luongo were sent to far away lands there wasn’t much air left in the goaltending tires and just when we all thought Eddie Lack had repaired the problem, the Nucks sent him away too!

We all saw this roulette wheel of goaltenders before Luongo came to town and we knew until it was ultimately solved the fixes were all temporary. The vehicle is almost fixed in Vancouver, we’re so close to having those high performance treads installed. Jacob Markstrom gives the Canucks time to let Demko mature at the pro level with more games than a college season delivers and the pro game will help him adjust and prepare for his eventual succession.

Maybe it’s the Swedish connection that keeps us calm? The Sedins made us believe too; I guess there’s something to be said for the Tre Kronor? Jim Benning did a smart thing, yes Pet Bugs, a smart thing by signing Markstrom and if the tandem of Marky and Demks can be better than Lu and Schneids, we’re in for some good times once more.

And that’s just the back end.

Once a goalie graveyard, Vancouver is again becoming the place to be for the masked man. The tires are taken care of and I can’t wait for that new engine to be ready. The Canucks will be ready for Race Wars sooner than we think.

DAN, DEMKO! Back At It Again With The Van Goalies

When you think Dan Cloutier, most think of this:

But after his tenure with the Canucks, ok and a few close calls…not quite like his days with NYR, Clouts established himself for a time as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. He’s hung up his everyday skates and has moved back in with the Vancouver Canucks. Rollie Melanson has relocated east to be with his ailing motherand has vacated his spot so the Canucks checked in to the Cloutier Hotel. The present gets a fresh face and Thatcher Demko gets a Canucks alum as a mentor.

This is a good thing.

Even though Rollie is out, he’s not gone completely. Melanson is still accessible but will be focusing more on helping goalies on the other side of the continent. As we all know, Dan Cloutier is no stranger to the Canucks and was a win away from the Conference Finals. He had injury problems but I still feel he was given an unfair shake as he was let go.

Cloutier’s aggresive, sometimes unpredictable style combined with his flare for the dramatic (where have we seen that before) made him a fan favourite and helped steal his fair share of games back in the day for the Canucks. Now, he’s the mentor to a current aging goaltender in Ryan Miller who could use some pointers on staying fresh as his career winds down. In Jacob Markstrom, Cloutier will be able to take what works with Marky and I believe, get him to be more of the aggressor towards his shooter.

Melanson got his goalies to play deeper and that gives the goalie the ability to play his posts tighter but doesn’t necessarily cut down the angle as much. I can’t see a dramatic culture change or anything but if he brings any of his game to his current students, at the very least, these guys will steal a few that they may have just lost last season.

The bonus of having a reliable goaltender is that with a growing team like the Canucks, mistakes are going to be made more often than not and the last line of defense will have to be on point. In Cloutier’s prime, he was a gamer in every sense of the word; he didn’t like to lose and he knew when he had to be the star that night.

Clouts also had Salo, Jovanovski, Ohlund and a few other notable d-men that he could rely on but having Hutton, Tanev, Tryamkin and I believe Dan Hamhuis, his work will show early on.

Not lost in all this is what Thatcher Demko will get out of all of this. Melanson will most definitely be working with Demko on a periodical basis and what that spells is ALL STAR. Rollie took a very capable Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, tweaked some of their tendencies and turned them into Jennings trophy winners, All Stars and shut out beasts.

Demko has already proven he can be all of those things and getting valuable lessons and ice time with the former Canucks tendy talker will reap all the benefits, like all of them.

Back to Cloutier though; he knows the juggernaut that is the Vancouver hockey market and having lived through just as many bad times as the next Canucks tender, he knows what it will take to get past the hump. From travel to taking chances, Dan Cloutier is a fantastic pickup for Vancouver. Aside from a handful of goalies (Hedberg, Noronen, Auld, Flaherty) the Canucks have done pretty well in net.

The “Goalie Graveyard” has buried many names but the talent managed to keep coming somehow. As this wave of new talent is ushered in between the pipes, Dan Cloutier has a chance to reinvent himself and become the textbook for the future in Vancouver’s nets.

No more beach balls, no more lottery balls; basically no more balls.

At the very least, the Canucks will have a 1.000 SA% vs. centre ice shots. We can be sure of that.

 

No Quick Fix For Canucks; A Season Lost Is a Season Gained

By now it’s fairly obvious I am a philosophizer of words, a craftsman of verbiage and a knight of partial sentence structure. The Canucks have turned me into a 21st century literary magician and I only have them to thank. But enough about me; this latest Canucks season may have looked like a colossal tire fire on the outside but the guts of how they got there and the results that follow are a positive.

There is no magic bullet, I mean there is and its $39.99, but a handful of things that occurred this season paired with the recent draft success of Trader Jim Benning will help put this team in a better position to succeed down the road. As the title states, a season lost is a season gained.

Let’s look at the positives and more specifically Jimbo’s draft picks. He didn’t pick Nick Merkley and for that I may never forgive him but he did pick some kid named Brock Boeser and he just won the NCAA Championship with North Dakota. Add to that Boeser’s goal and three assists in the final and things are already looking up for a future Canucks star.

Rewind a bit back to the Frozen Four and 2014 2nd round pick Thatcher Demko just lost out in the semis. He capped off a monster season with a 28-7-4 record, 10 shutouts, 1.88 GAA and a .935 SA%. The kid is good.

After Demko’s first two games this year, he shut out his opponents six of the next seven games. If you thought Cory Schneider was awesome, it’s safe to say we might have a short memory.

Fast forward to Benning’s current success stories and although he can’t claim responsibility for Ben Hutton or Bo Horvat (edited, thanks for the reminder @GoFour3,it was late), JB did bring on Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann. Benning hasn’t been the GM of the Canucks that long and all 3 of these guys currently occupy a regular roster spot. The obvious stand out is Horvat.

In just his second season, he has more than developed into a key member of the Canucks and had Brandon Sutter not been injured as much as former Canuck Sami Salo, Bo may have had a better statistical season. That being said, Bo was dealt a less than favourable situation and was forced to do more than he should have.

He was voted most exciting player this year and if you check out a recent piece I wrote about Bo, he has the skills to pay the bills.

OK, a lot of the good things end here. The Canucks finished 28th overall in the standings which sounds great if you know, you’re in nationals for I dunno, high jump? This is the NHL and with only 30 teams, it isn’t a good place to be.

There may or may not be a glimmering prize at the end of this season but was watching this season implode before our eyes really worth it? How can Jim Benning and company honestly say they progressed this year? Last year?

The frivolous signings and downright odd ball trades make you wonder if Benning or moreso John Weisbrod got their GM certificate from collecting 6 UPC’s from Froot Loops. What do other GM’s around the league think? They can’t possibly view the Canucks as the model franchise anymore, or did they ever?

Zack Kassian for Brandon Prust —— This actually happened and one wonders why. Even Cody Hodgson was caught off guard.

Matt Bartkowski – 1 yr/1.75M ——REALLY??? Was there no one better, did you really think Frankie Corrado was that bad?

Derek Dorsett – 4 yr/10.6M ———– A fighter and 4th line fill in basically. Hardly the guy you want mentoring the actual talent on the team. He’s here until my 2yr old is done kindergarten. Think about that, I sure will be.

Luca Sbisa – 3 yr/10.8M ———- Benning didn’t have to sign him. The Kesler trade could have played out and that would have been the end of it. You don’t commit to something like that unless that player has shown you he’s worth hanging around. I use that term loosely.

Trading Hunter Shinkaruk for Markus Granlund – what in your right mind would make you think that’s a good deal? Shinkaruk didn’t even get an instant cup of coffee in the NHL before management decided he wasn’t a Canuck. If we are being told patience, the least they could have done was shown a bit of it themselves. This one is seriously going to bite them back.

Putting Frankie Corrado on waivers when Chris Higgins could have gone on LTIR at the beginning of the year and they could have salvaged a valuable asset for more than….nothing. This pattern is becoming quite disturbing.

However, all these moves have helped structure what needs to be done and that is the rebuild we all talk about. After the 2012 season, it was perfectly clear that the Canucks were no longer on top of the mountain and the mountain was quickly fading in the distance. This season ended up being so bad that it highlighted the exact places where depth players and youth should be stationed.

It’s clear that Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev are the future on the back end but if those are the only two, we have problems. When Luca Sbisa and Alex Edler were injured it was apparent what their presence and big time minutes meant to the team. Combine that with Matt Bartkowski, his fluky defense leading 6 goals and the errors, oh the errors; its a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully late in the season towering d-man Nikita Tryamkin came and gave us all a breath of fresh air. He is the player the team could have used in 2011 but better late than never. Tryamkin will definitely be a fixture on the Canucks defense for years and if he’s anything close to Zdeno Chara, we should be so lucky.

Unfortunately, that’s how bad it’s gotten. We were looking forward to the guys on the farm to save the team. Shouldn’t that be the job of the mainstays, the vets? This was the first year in a long time where the goaltending really didn’t matter because they were the only guys showing up every night.

Even with Ryan Miller’s hefty contract and what began as Jacob Markstroms clean resume, they managed to be the one consistent thing going.

Next season goaltending will not be addressed because for now, it works. If Thatcher Demko ends up signing on, it’s only a matter of time before his throne is made available.

Starting Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann on the big club this year was the way to go and even though they were met with many struggles and adversity, they can start next year in Utica and play at a level that they can build their skill base. These are two very talented young men and their development at the pro level is now the next task.

Having this year’s crop of rookies growing up on the farm for at least a year will free up spots once again for some free agents and maybe a proper trade or two. Is Alex Burrows still in the Canucks plans? The fan in me says I hope so but he was so bad this year and its surprising he wasn’t asked to leave before some of the other rumoured guys like Vrbata and Hamhuis.

There is some big money coming off the books and fans have been told the team will spend on July 1. Steven Stamkos is quite unlikely but adding real depth around the Sedins, Horvat, Sutter and on the back end will make this team better.

Back to Burrows though, he has been everything to the Canucks and at the very least he deserves a shot. I’d give him a chance to start the year and if they aren’t seeing what they want, trade him. He has a decent cap hit at 4.5M next season so if there is anything to offer elsewhere, he should be easy to move.

Finally, the Canucks are saying Willie Desjardins is their guy next year. Desjardins really didn’t look great this year and with so many injuries and having to ice a team that maybe he wouldn’t have picked if he had the ultimate say makes his coaching look suspect. To be fair, he did much of the same things he did in his first season. He just had a really poor roster this year.

It might be a lot of the same next year or it might involve Auston Matthews and a new coach but the struggle this year was a place to grow and they did, we did too.

We all found out what we were willing to tolerate this season; some of us 82 games, others sporadic periods. We have been so spoiled for so long, it felt good to be ok with losing. This team will bounce back and its when you see the absolute bottom that you can truly appreciate the top.

So long 2016, we hated you.

Photo credit – vancouversun.ca

Thatcher Demko GETS Christmas; He Aint Forkin Around

When Canucks goalie of the future Thatcher Demko isn’t stopping every puck he faces, he’s at home getting ready for Christmas like the rest of us. Thing is, ol’ Thatch is a college man and if I remember correctly, he isn’t working with a very big budget for decorations. Mom and Dad could have ponied up a few bucks to get him in the festive mood but like his goaltending, Demko pulled out all the stops.

 

Over on the twitter Thatcher Demko showed us all that a tree and lights are all you need for your Christmas set up; everything else you need can be found in your home. To be perfectly honest, I really like how simple this tree looks. He’s not trying to out do anyone and it gets the point across.

Speaking of getting the point across, if Thatcher decides to go pro next year, he’s putting up stats that are most welcome in Vancouver.

He has 6 shutouts already this year, a 1.62 GAA and a 13-2-1 record. Those are numbers I can get behind, actually no, that’s not possible; he would have kept me out.

What he can’t keep out though is his dancing excerpts from the Internets.

I scoured the web and found this gem of Thatcher jammin to T-Swifts “Shake it off” in the crease, enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Thanks to tendysmakemehappy on tumblr for this.

Follow me on twitter and instagram: @always90four

main image: ultimatehockeynetwork.com

Canucks Next Step Is So Important

Optimism only can last so long once reality rears its ugly face. The Vancouver Canucks were eliminated by the atrocious Calgary Flames on Saturday night. It hurt even for the ones that didn’t think they’d get THIS far. Now we are all left licking our wounds and wondering what the next step will be. I would hope at the very least its finding a way to trade Luca Sbisa and/or Kevin Bieska (yes I spelt it wrong).

I don’t hate Bieksa, he is actually one of the best characters on the Canucks. His play over the last year, really two, has raised many questions as to what he still brings to this team. When he was with Hamhuis, Juice could afford to pinch a bit more while Deputy Dan held the fort in case it went awry. Luca Sbisa isn’t any of that and I think we all still wonder why he was re-signed let alone for that much.

All in all for Kevin, he has a year left on his deal and if there is a trade to be made then it wouldn’t be the worst decision to get younger there. The worse decision already happened and he wears #5.

Speaking of defensemen that need a contract, Yannick Weber is due. His use on the powerplay was actually an improvement to the tire fire they had. And then he wasn’t used there for awhile. I think Willie D is still figuring out how NHL players fit into his brain thoughts. We like Weber and he shoots hard and stuff, please bring him back.

Goaltending ended up being more of a discussion topic than I anticipated this season; Ryan Miller was pretty good, but Eddie Lack stepped his taco game up and gave Jim Benning some serious options. WIth Jacob Markstrom at a point he needs to be a NHL backup and Thatcher Demko being groomed, Ryan Miller after one season may be gone.

That’s a pretty big price tag to put out there and there might only be a few teams even remotely interested in that guy. If Lack is the guy, that cap number drops considerably. If Ryan Miller stays, he needs to work on basically everything to make it work here. Both options are fine as goaltending didn’t lose us that series, but it was close.

UFAs Brad Richardson and Shawn Matthias may be put to pasture and that sucks. Linden Vey could have potential but if the Canucks are supposed to make a run in the immediate future, Vey is a boring, inconsistant opton. All that hush money that went Derek Dorsett and Luca Sbisa’s way has strapped Benning a bit and even though the cap rises to $71.5M, spending money because you have it isn’t a smart idea.

2015/16 will be the year of the young gun in Vancouver. A full offseason and maybe Calder Cup playoffs with Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk could do wonders for the Canucks. Giving Jake Virtanen a chance early next year like they did Bo could also translate to some early returns. Right now, those are small pipe dreams but at some point all those guys will play together. Ronalds Kenins was the big surprise this year and he has earned himself a spot for next season. His murders, along with Virtanens will be a welcome addition.

At som point we will find out about Zack Kassian and Alex Burrows and pray nothing major is going on. Kassian missed a solid amount of time after really finding his stride on the top line. Burrows freak accident (whatever that actually was) might be something he has to rehab into the season. Again, speculating but in this new NHL, we have no clue. If Kassian needs back surgery, I sure hope its minor; bodies like his eventually break down heavily and he isn’t very old at all. 

 And finally to the big guns! Radim Vrbata seemed like a consolation prize last July and he ended up being a solid addtion to both the Sedin line and the second line. His lack of grit was noticed in the playoffs and really, thats where it all counts. The Canucks lack of grit everywhere was noticed by all and adding a power forward would get things going. Henrik and Daniel looked like maybe they were starting to hit the back nine of their amazing careers but then they went and finished in the top 10 in scoring. 

The Sedins are always welcome on this Canucks club and their leadership will help take this next Canucks team to the top once again.

For now, we sulk for 5 months and figure out what went wrong. We curse the wretched Flames and hope Benning and Linden make some savvy moves. 

As for me? The Kelowna Rockets are making a ru nto the Memorial Cup this year and they get my full support now. And Jim, if you’re reading…please draft Nick Merkley.

Goodbye 2015 season, it was real.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Canucks Are Past The Future, It’s Here

Going into the trade deadline as well as the final push to finish the season in the top 16 is an exciting time. Is making a trade going to help the Canucks go deep into the playoffs or is it false hope and a meaningless dump of talent yet again? Jim Benning has played his cards pretty cool this year and even though Ryan Miller hasn’t been entirely as advertised, or really as we fantasized; its been a very productive year.

Thankfully the rest of the NHL is making moves right now that don’t really involve the Canucks and some of them are trading for LTIR spots (while still paying said players). That’s just fine by me. In past years, former GM’s have traded for Keith Carney, Eric Weinrich, Sami Pahlsson (post mono), Derek Roy, Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre. Oh I forgot, one of those GM’s dealt Luongo too!

The actual market that exists still isnt exactly enticing this spring and the best thing Vancouver’s Jim Benning can do is take a nap; well unless Ryan Miller can be moved. It’s not that Miller hasn’t been a good goalie, its that its ALL he’s been. It doesn’t really make sense why they went after him in the first place but I can buy the theory that they wanted to groom the kids under his tutelage. 

Did that happen sooner than management thought? It looks that way. It was a pricey teaching assignment but who really cares, its not my money. So now what does Benning do in net? The cheap option and quite frankly the best option IMO is to move Miller as the Leafs did David Clarkson (Ok ok ok, not the same but it sorta is) to a team that can take the hit OR decide who gets you the most between the IKEA boys and milk it for all its worth as the market is paying great this season. Keeping Eddie Lack and/or Jacob Markstrom keeps the seat warm for Thatcher Demko in about 5 years or less.

What does the rest of the team hold though? Up on line numero uno, the Sedins are still proving their worth but the time is coming soon where they start sliding back down the rankings. Everything else has options; Alex Burrows despite his injuries has had a nice bounce back season. Moving him isn’t neccesarily a smart move. A finisher and clutch playoff performer, he may not put up big regular season numbers anymore but I like Burr when it counts.

Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and Chris Higgins all strike me as trade bait this year. Bonino and Sbisa just aren’t Canucks. Sounds stupid to say what a Canuck is but there isn’t a “fit” there. Higgins is halfway through his 4 year deal but his role as the worker bee seems to be done. On the flip sided, Ronny Kenins, Shawn Matthias and upon his safe return, Brad Richardson, have fulfilled that role in spades and they all seem to be producing on top of many other talents.

Move a piece, get a younger piece.

Bo Horvat was the piece we didn’t reallllly know we needed until he got healthy and started being all faceoff winny and goal scorey. I thought Hunter Shinkaruk would have come up at the same time but that hasn’t panned out yet. Horvat took a shortcut and could really make a difference sooner than later; he’s not going anywhere.

This season was billed as a retool and as they played we would see what the team needed to do. Well, if any of us thought they would do this well, Benning and Trevor Linden probably would have made a few moves sooner. We all talk about the future and when prospects turn into valuable roster players and the results were different than we thought and actually better. 

Kenins has been a find and a half, Matthias has basically been the Tiger Woods 2015 putt preview for Zack Kassian this year and the diamonds in the rough keep coming. The answers always seem to come when the right questions are asked. Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Chris Tanev and newbie Frankie Corrado all signed up for injury camp and a few new guys stepped up. Enter Adam Clendening and Alex Biega

A Chicago cast off and a timely call up have turned the sting into a boost. This Canucks team should not be doing as well as they have been and they are far from the team that started in October. Clendening and Biega aren’t stealing anyones jobs right now but the ridiculous depth they have given the Canucks is stunning. They are a few key forwards and maybe a dman short of a poor mans 2011.

AGAIN, the cavalry isn’t here but the services of Kevin Bieksa start to become expendable. Just another salary cut the Canucks can afford to move. The injuries don’t help right now but hey Evander Kane got traded and he’s a mess. Every move towards the future seems to have taken a big step forward. Speaking of forwards…

Then there’s the young amazing young winger version of the career killer Bryan Allen: Jake Virtanen. He might get a shot as soon as next season; I bet Horvat is ok with that.

The future of the Canucks is basically here. So Jimbo, sell the old parts for picks or heck troll the Kelowna Rockets and make a move for Flyers prospect Tyrell Goulbourne, Caps future star blueliner Madison Bowey or somehow parlay the first pick you make this year into a better one for stud forward Nick Merkley. Now about those NTCs.

You are shooting out the lights Benning and the cresendo is about to be occur.

Playoffs or not this year, the Canucks are on the verge and you should be happy.

PS: This is not a public service announcement for the Rockets, but it isn’t hard to do.

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