Change is the Only Sure Thing for Canucks


I will be writing a series of posts on the Canucks through the summer, focusing on sections of the club, from players to management. Today’s post is about the management of the club.

This was a wasted year for the Canucks. It has taken me awhile to get to this blog post, and it’s likely because I have largely been indifferent about the team performances this season. If playoff ticket demand is any indication, many fans feel the same way as I do. As a fan that is difficult to say. I always like to have a positive spin on situations – hey, Luongo almost had that – but this year was too much like last year: Shorter than expected.

There are positives for the Canucks in the last couple years: more wins than losses, amazing goaltending, some wonderful performances, and 2 more Northwest Division titles.

There are also negatives: poor player management choices from the draft on up, horrible defensive blunders despite being a defensive minded team, consecutive 1st round exists from the playoffs, and oh yeah: The Northwest Division is one of the weakest in the NHL. There’s a false sense of security in winning the Northwest Division title. It’s a guaranteed top 3 seed in the playoffs, but it allows the Canucks to play mediocre hockey and believe that they are playing better than they are. In the two President’s Trophy winning seasons, the Canucks were the only team to make the playoffs from the Northwest Division. This year, the Minnesota Wild were the 8th seed.

The jury is decidedly out on Mike Gillis’ tenure so far.

There are many hits – Gillis does seem to have a talent for getting players to re-sign for the so-called “Hometown Discount” – Sedins, Bieksa, and others. However, some other free agent signings have been regrettable – Sundin and Demitra (R.I.P. – no disrespect) among them.

The drafting has been mediocre, and the trading worse. Granted, you don’t always get a roster player out of a draft pick, and the Canucks have had late picks due to their regular season success, but the Canucks have traded away numerous picks and prospects for not much in return. Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier and a 1st round draft pick were traded for Keith Ballard. Kevin Connauton and a 2nd round pick were traded at the deadline for Derek Roy, who looks to be a pure rental. Since the Canucks were swept in the first round, that rental was short lived. Cody Hodgson was traded away for Zack Kassian. Hodgson is now a nearly a point-a-game player with the Sabres, while Zack was occasionally scratched for his inconsistent effort.

And finally, the goaltending debacle controversy was “solved” by trading Cory Schneider at the draft for New Jersey’s 9th overall pick. This might prove to be the worst trade the Canucks have ever made, this side of Cam Neely for Barry Pederson. The Canucks traded away their #1 goaltender for a draft pick (Bo Horvat – a fine young player from the London Knights) and no roster players that might be able to help out the Canucks right now. Schneider stands to inherit the goaltending throne of Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, and will no doubt flourish behind New Jersey’s defensive style of play. It’s not fair to Horvat, who will be compared to Schneider for years to come, or to Luongo, who will once again resume the #1 role under the microscope of the Vancouver media and fans.

No Surprises – Stanley Cup Playoffs by Seed

The 2012 Los Angeles Kings are the only 8th seed in the Conference seeding era to have won a Stanley Cup.

 

Much has been said with respect to the so-called “President’s Trophy Curse“. I’ve been told and it has been tweeted that it’s bad luck to win the President’s Trophy, and people love to cheer for the Cinderella underdog teams. Add hockey superstition to the mix, and well, no player touches any trophy except the Stanley Cup, if they’re lucky enough to win it.

If you actually believe that the President’s Trophy is bad luck, first of all, you’re a dummy. Secondly, here are some statistics that may surprise you.

The current Conference Seeding style of playoffs has been in place for 18 seasons, since the 1993-94 season. In that time, the President’s Trophy winner has been in the Stanley Cup Final 7 times: 1994 Rangers, 1995 Wings, 1999 Stars, 2001 Avalanche, 2002 Wings, 2008 Wings, 2011 Canucks. The President’s Trophy winner has gone on to win the cup 5 out of those 7 times. The 2004 Lightning were a non-President’s 1 seed that also won the cup.

Division winners seeded 3rd or better have been in the final 22 times, winning 14 cups. Breaking it down:

  • 1st seed has been in the final 9 times, winning 6 cups
  • 2nd seed has been in the final 10 times, winning 6 cups
  • 3rd seed has been in the final 3 times, winning 2 cups

Middle seeds 4th or 5th seeds have made the final 6 times, winning 3 cups.

Cinderellas seeded 6th or worse have made the final 7 times. Out of those, only the 8th seed LA Kings have won the cup in their amazing run in 2012, defeating the 1st seeded Canucks, 2nd seeded Blues and 3rd seeded Coyotes consecutively on their way to the cup final.

Year by year, here are the Stanley Cup final matches:

2012: (8) LAK over (6) NJD
2011: (3) BOS over (1) VAN
2010: (2) CHI over (7) PHI
2009: (4) PIT over (2) DET
2008: (1) DET over (2) PIT
2007: (2) ANA over (4) OTT
2006: (2) CAR over (8) EDM
2004: (1) TBL over (6) CGY
2003: (2) NJD over (7) ANA
2002: (1) DET over (3) CAR
2001: (1) COL over (1) NJD
2000: (4) NJD over (2) DAL
1999: (1) DAL over (7) BUF
1998: (2) DET over (4) WAS
1997: (3) DET over (2) PHI
1996: (2) COL over (4) FLA
1995: (5) NJD over (1) DET
1994: (1) NYR over (7) VAN

What does this all mean? It’s pretty clear that home ice advantage is exactly that – an advantage. If your team is one of the top two seeds, it’s looking good. But before you plan the parade, you’ve still got to play all the games. Every season has twists and turns, and with the parity of the teams in the last few years, you never know.

Being A GM Is Easy As ABC: Always Be Closing

2012 Playoffs, one year ago: Roberto Luongo sits on the bench in favour of Cory Schneider. It wasn’t enough to save the Canucks from a 1st round exit from the playoffs. Since then, the Luongo trade talk has been ever present.

It’s easy to be an armchair GM. The view is good even from the cheap seats at Rogers Arena – there’s not a bad seat in the house. We’re not paid big dollars like these guys are to manage a team’s direction. But make no mistake, and Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis knows this better than anyone, the fans ultimately sign the paychecks with our dollars – tickets, jerseys, posters, pencils, it’s all hockey related revenue. We do all of this for the love of the team, and the love of the game. So with that in mind:

If You Want To Work Here, Close.

The line comes from the movie Glengarry Glenn Ross. In the scene, Alec Baldwin is the boss barking at his lazy team of real estate agents. “Only one thing counts in this life – get them to sign on the line which is dotted.”

 

Gillis was unable to deal Roberto Luongo at the deadline, despite having the better part of a year to make it happen. After all the rumours and rhetoric, the trade deadline came and went and nothing happened. Besides Derek Roy, Gillis was also unable to land any other player. Not many players moved, but among those that did: Ryane Clowe, Marion Gaborik, Martin Erat, Raffi Torres and Jason Pominville. And despite the “weak” market, numerous goaltenders were moved at the deadline: Ben Bishop, Matt Hackett, Steve Mason, and Michael Leighton were all traded.

At the deadline last year, Gillis traded away Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian. It was said that Hodgson’s issues cost the management team time and effort to deal with. Looking at the team now, they’ve had troubles at center all season long, and Kassian is now in the minors. Hodgson has flourished in Buffalo and is scoring at a point per game clip. And where is Gillis spending his time? Trying to find a center.

This year, Gillis was able to trade for Roy by sending Kevin Connauton to Dallas, along with a 2nd round pick in the 2013 entry draft. This trade was alright – I like the deal because Roy can help the team here and now. Connauton is a prospect at least 1 or 2 years away from playing meaningful minutes. But make no mistake – this was a deal to fill a hole at center, which Gillis created by trading away Hodgson.

Gillis, if you want to work here, close. Close the deal, get players to sign on the dotted line. Players were moved – forwards, centers, and goaltenders. The opportunities were there. Get it done!

What deals do you think Gillis should have made? What could we have received in return for Luongo? Let us know in the comments!

Canucks Winning While Walking Wounded

The hand isn’t hovering directly over the panic button, but in Vancouver it’s always close by.

From the middle of February to the middle of March the Canucks lost 11 of 16, including a disappointing 8-3 drubbing at the hands of the Red Wings, and lackluster efforts against some of the poorer teams in the conference.

Most recently, the boys have rattled off a 4 game win streak. They’ve done this despite a rotating lineup of injured forwards, and playing the last 5 games in 7 nights. On this streak, the hand has strayed from the panic button somewhat. But even with the Canucks winning streak, it seems like there is always the potential for disaster just past the next game. Why is that?

Injuries have decimated the roster depth at all forward positions.

The Canucks injured reserve already included Ryan Kesler (foot), David Booth (ankle), and Manny Malhotra (eye). More recently, the boys have also played without Chris Higgins (back), Zack Kassian (back), Dale Weise (shoulder), Steve Pinizzotto (illness), and Alexander Edler (suspension).

For one game against the Coyotes, the Canucks were missing their entire second line of Kesler, Booth and Higgins. Coach Vigneault was able to put together a lineup of forwards that included moving Keith Ballard out of the doghouse, and onto a 4th line with Andrew Ebbett and Dale Weise. Going into the last week, I felt that 5 games in 7 nights was going to make or break this team’s hopes for the playoffs, especially as the Canucks were not playing to their potential. And my hand was hovering directly over the panic button.

The team still has two #1 goaltenders, and only one center that can score.

Manny Malhotra has been forced into retirement by the team, and with all due respect to Andrew Ebbett, Jordan Schroeder and Max Lapierre, none of them have proven themselves in the 2C spot. Ebbett and Schroeder have been up and down from the farm for most of the season, and Lapierre is the prototype 4C grinder. Once they get Kesler in the lineup, he will again have to work to get his game timing back, which will likely take at least 2 weeks of games, which will likely run right in to the playoffs.

I like having the insurance policy of two #1 goaltenders, but hockey history usually tells us that while a goalie tandem can work in the regular season, it is dangerous to run this system in the playoffs. The move that makes sense is to trade one goaltender for a center that can score, and pick up another goalie to play backup.

Canucks have goaltender supply, but demand is low.

Earlier in the season, potential trade partners for a Luongo deal included Tampa Bay or Florida, who currently sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. There’s not much hope for a deep playoff run in either city, so the demand for a goaltender is low. Other potential trade destinations included Toronto and Chicago – both of which seem to have solved their goaltending problems internally. Reimer looks to be able to get the Maple Leafs into the playoffs this season, and Corey Crawford in Chicago has been lights out.

The Canucks will get through this rash of injuries, and they’ll make the playoffs. They might even win the Northwest division. There are only 4 games left until the trade deadline. What do you think will happen? Blockbuster trade? A couple small deals to shore up the depth? Or nothing at all?

NHL History Will Be Made Right Now

The NHL is coming up on the half-way mark of the lockout shortened season. Most teams have played over 20 games so far. One team has yet to lose in regulation time.

The Chicago Blackhawks as of this posting have a sparkling record of 19-0-3. It’s so good it’s gaudy. They say you have to be good to be lucky, and yes the Blackhawks have been lucky in some of their games. But for the most part, they have dominated the opposition with offensive speed, good defensive play, and rock solid goaltending.

On February 19th, the Canucks were in Chicago looking to deny the Hawks their season-starting record, but it was not meant to be. In fact the Canucks played about 30 minutes of that game and were lucky to escape the United Center with 1 point after a shootout loss. For the majority of that game the Canucks were badly outplayed. It was embarrassing to watch as the Hawks speed generated numerous Grade-A scoring chances. Odd-man rushes, and Canucks defensemen getting walked around the outside, it looked like the Canucks were out for a family skate. For a Canucks squad that prides itself on team speed, they were given a lesson that night.

Which reminds me of a time…

When I was much younger, Wayne Gretzky played for the Edmonton Oilers. Everyone knows that Gretzky is perhaps the greatest player to have ever played the game. He was revolutionary. Yes, it was a different era of small goalie pads and free-wheeling hockey, but there’s no denying Gretzky’s place in hockey history. He was the key to the Oilers dynasty of the 80s. That Oilers team was full of future Hall-of-Famers: Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr to name a few. Even their so-called role players were good: Ken Linseman, Esa Tikkanen, Glenn Anderson, Charlie Huddy, Kevin Lowe and so on.

I hated the Oilers. 

In those Smythe Division days, teams played divisional rivals 8 times each season. That meant that the Oilers got to pound on the Canucks 8 times every year. Even with that many amazing players on their team, I could hardly stand to watch the Oilers when they were in town. Only later did I understand and appreciate how good those Oilers teams were. The records (both team and individual) speak for themselves. Some of those records I consider to be untouchable (eg: Gretzky’s 215 points in a single season, and 92 goals in a single season).

The Blackhawks are not the 80’s Oilers, but…

This is one hell of a run that the Blackhawks are on. I found myself listening to WGN radio on a Canucks off night just to see if the Hawks would pull off another win (and they did). The Hawks run right now reminds me of Ken Jennings – the Jeopardy! champion who won 74 straight games. The guy was in a rhythm, and seemingly unbeatable. I don’t watch a lot of Jeopardy! , but I watched Ken Jennings. His play transcended regular television watching.

It’s the same with this season’s Blackhawks team. Whether you like them or not (and most of you don’t), they’re making NHL history. You’ll look back later in life and say you were around when the Hawks set that record. While they’re on this run, don’t forget to watch – you’ll miss something incredible.