Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Raymond Kirk: With The Canucks Health Improving, Can The Team Make a Playoff Run?

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The 2013 NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone, and like it or not, Canuck fans now know exactly what the Vancouver Canucks look like as they head into the final quarter of the Regular Season and Playoffs.

GM Mike Gillis was able to make one trade the day before the deadline, acquiring skilled centre Derek Roy from the Dallas Stars, with prospect Defenseman Kevin Connauton. Considering the cost of a rental player at the deadline this season, I feel it was a more than fair price to pay to address a need that could be considered critical if the Canucks are to make any sort of long run in the postseason this year.  It’s no secret that an effective, consistent centre for the second and third line in the wake of injuries to Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra has virtually been nonexistent. Rookie Jordan Schroeder has had a decent beginning to his NHL rookie season, but has not been consistent game in and game out. Max Lapierre has been “OK” yet still takes the mind numbing penalty every second or third game that just makes you shake your head, and is not an offensive catalyst to say the least, and is best served in a 4th line capacity. And although Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins have done an admirable job in attempting to Center a second line at times, it is not the natural position for either player and has created holes all throughout the line-up that have led the once high-octane Canucks offense to become a check like crazy and hope to score two goals a game team that has brought comparisons to the dreadful style of hockey that Jacques Lemaire’s Minnesota Wild used to play. Tolerable, as long as you are winning, but brutal to watch when your goalie or defence has an off night, as has been the case in the last two losses to the youthful, exciting to watch Edmonton Oilers and the physical well-coached San Jose Sharks.

With Derek Roy making his Canucks debut against the Oilers, Zack Kassian returning from his surprise “wake up call” conditioning stint with the Chicago Wolves, and Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Dale Weise and Keith Ballard all appearing to be close to returning from short and long term injuries, the Canucks are almost as close as they have been all season to being ‘healthy’ for the stretch drive and a battle with the much improved Minnesota Wild for the NW title.  And lest we forget the Oilers, who have found confidence to go along with their undeniable youth and talent, now sit only five points back in the chase for the NW, with all three teams having twelve games left in their schedule. It made last night’s matchup with Edmonton even more important, as the Canucks needed to find a way to stop a short two game slide and do what they can to keep the Oilers at bay, if not for division title purposes, then at least for playoff seeding. With the return of the injured bodies, I firmly believe that we will see a return of the offense that has been in hibernation since the second Kesler injury.

As glum as it has appeared at times for Vancouver this season, it is worth keeping in mind that only Chicago, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Montreal and Boston have more points. Granted, Vancouver is stuck in a pack of several other teams either tied or right behind them for overall points this season, but considering this club has virtually played all season with only one legitimate offensive center, a “goalie controversy” that will now not be addressed at least until the summer. The fact that the Canucks are still in the race for another division crown and are getting healthy at the right time, should bode well for this team’s chances of locking up home ice for the only season that matters…the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I still firmly believe that it is much more important to be playing your best hockey and important games late in the season, and this club has not really had to play important games down the homestretch the last couple of years.

Sure, there are many reasons to be discouraged by the play of the two-time defending Presidents Trophy winning club, but in the end those teams did not end up winning the ultimate prize. This team needs much to go right over the next month (and hopefully beyond) to make some serious noise. Just like the LA Kings did last season, and the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings did before them. The key is getting to the dance in the first place and we’ll have the answers to these questions soon enough.

Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233


 

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