Canucks Linden Sowing Seeds of Hope

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The good news is the NHL playoffs were fantastic. The bad news is the Canucks didn’t make the show and if they did, they would have been eliminated in 3 games. 
The gap between the Canucks and the teams in the playoffs is wider. The pace of the game in the playoffs was incredible, and the style of play in each and every series was hard hitting.

When the Canucks ownership fired Mike Gillis and hired Trevor Linden as President of Hockey Operations, it seemed like the ultimate Public Relations and Marketing move. The extension of the season ticket sales period, the fact that Linden has been away from hockey for many years, it just seemed as though it could be a horrible mistake. It seemed like Trevor Linden was the ultimate distraction – away from the fact that the team was getting older, the gap between the Canucks at the Western Conference was widening, and the cupboards were bare of any prospects.

Now, just a short time later, it seems there is hope. Maybe not hope for a lengthy playoff run, but for things that have been missing for just as long: development, hard work, and an exciting brand of hockey. It happened the same way for Linden as a player. The Canucks didn’t win President’s Trophies or Stanley Cups, but the fans were proud of the team and excited about the brand of hockey the Canucks played.

Linden hasn’t been on the job for very long. In his initial press conference, although he seemed green, he was Trevor – honest and approachable. He has conducted meetings with nearly everyone on the Canucks roster and staff. Since firing John Tortorella, he has hired Jim Benning as his General Manager, and Willie Desjardins as the Canucks next head coach.

What we know about Linden’s new hires is that he has created his management team in his own image.

Their game isn’t about showboating. They’re not flashy or sexy (okay except for Trevor), but they have other qualities. They’re all sincere and thoughtful. They have the same vision for the Canucks team. They’re all known as hard working. They were in demand. And they win. Win at every level. So far so good for Trevor Linden.

Next step is the draft. Keep hope alive.

Follow The Bouncing Ball

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Well that was one way to relax a slumping Canucks lineup. In the 3rd game of Hockey Day in Canada, the Canucks and Flames went to the 5th round of a shootout before the Canucks prevailed. The game featured a line brawl off the opening face off.

Kellan Lain Breaks 50 Year Old NHL Record

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Penalty summary from the first 2 seconds of the game.

24 year old Kellan Lain was playing his first NHL game on Saturday night. Most of his family flew into Vancouver and were watching, when he played for 2 seconds. He was then penalized 5 minutes for fighting, and a game misconduct as part of a massive line brawl that erupted, resulting in over 150 penalty minutes. The previous record for the fastest fight to start an NHL career was 12 seconds, set by John Ferguson, over 50 years ago. Clearly the teams didn’t read my blog post about fighting in the NHL.

There were many subtleties about the game even before the puck was dropped. In an NHL game, the road team submits their starting lineup first; the home team can then review that and submit their own starting lineup. Calgary’s starting 5 was: Kevin Westgarth, Blair Jones, Brian McGrattan, Chris Butler, and Ladislav Smid. Without their goaltender, that’s a combined weight of 1097 pounds. John Tortorella naturally responded by starting his 4th line. All hell broke loose after that. According to The Code, McGrattan had to answer the bell for injuring Andrew Alberts in the previous game between these teams. He is now square with the house as he shed enough blood that they needed to give him a new jersey and scrape the ice to clean the blood off.

And Then It Got Weird

At the start of the first intermission, Tortorella decided to go all Ghost Ops and storm the Flames dressing room. At the start of the season I was not a fan of Tortorella but I’ve become a big fan of his intensity, and how honest he is with the players and media. But this is just bush league. This happened after the 1st period, which took about one hour to play. Plenty of time to mull it over and think about things like a rational human being. The best part of this has to be that tough guy McGratton has to hold back Torts and Flames assistant coach Clint Malarchuk. Cooler heads prevailed, but Coach Tortorella will most definitely be disciplined by the league for this mess. The whole situation is an embarrassment for the NHL and hockey as a whole.

So what does it all mean? 

For all the moral victories, blocked shots, fights and bloodshed, the Canucks record in the last 10 games is 2-5-3. It’s all a wonderful distraction from the fact that the Canucks needed 5 rounds of the shootout to beat the slumping Calgary Flames. Yes – the Flames have been playing even worse than they normally play. Previous to this win, they had scored a total of 1 goal in their last 3 games.

First prize is the Stanley Cup, no one cares who comes  in 2nd place. We can only hope that the Canucks can get into the playoffs and get hot at the right time. If the team wants to go deep into the playoffs, they will have to remember the lessons they’ve learned at this point of the season.

UPDATE: John Tortorella has been suspended for 15 days without pay. This amounts to a 6 game suspension. Tortorella is to have no contact with the team before, during or after any games for the duration of the suspension. Calgary coach Bob Hartley has been fined $25,000.

Canucks Report at the Half Way Mark

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After 42 games, the Canucks are 23-12-7. The team managed to string together a 7 game win streak, on their way to posting a 10-1-2 record in December, their best month of the season so far.

The team has 53 points and remains at 4th place in the Pacific Division. At the quarter pole the Canucks were at 4th in the Pacific, but had played the most games in the league. Their hot December has allowed the team to remain in the same spot while other teams have made up most of the difference in games played.

The Canucks have been bit hard by the injury bug. Defencemen Alex Edler, Ryan Stanton, and Andrew Alberts are all out of the lineup with various injuries, forcing the Canucks to call up Yannick Weber and Frank Corrado to fill in. In addition, Alex Burrows is out with a broken jaw, while Roberto Luongo was out of the lineup briefly with a groin strain. The defencemen that have remained healthy have been rock solid. The play of Chris Tanev has been lauded by Coach Tortorella throughout this season. Along with Hamhuis, Garrison and Bieksa, the top 4 defencemen have been receiving a ton of ice time.

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David Booth has 5 goals so far this season – one for each leaf on this “clover”.

As I predicted in a previous post, the Canucks have improved their play as the season has gone on.

The team has done this despite the top line scoring cooling off, and the power play being ice cold. Currently, the Canucks power play is ranked 26th in the NHL. Henrik and Daniel Sedin have 3 points each in the last 6 games. Secondary scoring has come from everywhere in the lineup, and the makings of a 3rd line is starting to emerge, with Brad Richardson centering Zack Kassian and David Booth. Yes, that David Booth. He has 5 goals this season and his speed and strength fit well Kassian and Richardson’s size and grit.

The Canucks schedule is tough over the next 7 games: Kings and Ducks twice each, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Phoenix. With most of these games against solid, physical teams in the West, the Canucks look to prove that they belong in the Western Conference playoff race.

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

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Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?

The time between Christmas and the New Year is usually a time of reflection and remembrance. We think back on the events of this year, and of years past.

In the summer of 2011, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak all died. All 3 were enforcers in the NHL. Known more for their skills with their fists than for their goal scoring prowess, all 3 suffered from depression and related substance abuse problems.

The fourth NHL player pictured above is Bill Masterton.

Although most NHL fans know of the Bill Masterton trophy, not many fans know much about his playing career. He was one of the few hockey players to complete a U.S. college degree and play in NHL. Although he was highly educated as an engineer, his skill and love of the game led him to play in the NHL. Masterton was the first player to sign with the expansion Minnesota North Stars, and actually scored the first goal in North Stars franchise history.

Masterton also holds the distinction of being the only NHL player to have died directly as a result of injuries suffered in an NHL game. On January 13th, 1968, Bill took a hard hit. His head hit the ice, and the subsequent head injuries caused bleeding from his nose, ears and mouth. He never regained consciousness and died 30 hours later.

Masterton was not wearing a helmet at the time of the collision, which was common for most players in that era. 11 years later players entering the NHL in the 1979-80 season were mandated to wear helmets. 18 years after that (nearly 30 years after Masterton’s death), Craig MacTavish retired, the last player to have played in the NHL without a helmet.

The Code is Dead.

After Boogaard’s death in 2011, it was revealed that he suffered from numerous brain injuries, presumably sustained in concussions throughout the many fights in his career.

Concussions in the NHL due to fights and other hits to the head have been happening for decades. The hits, clean or dirty, have robbed us fans of some of the best players in the game: Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau, Paul Kariya, Pat Lafontaine, Adam Deadmarsh, to name a few. Only within the last few years has the NHL truly been serious about getting rid of blindside hits and direct headshots in the game. Time will tell if the suspensions for headshots will make a difference in the play of the game.

Yet repeated headshots and related concussions are doled out nearly every game in fights, which are largely useless and serve no purpose.

I have no idea why fighting is still allowed in the NHL. There it is, I said it. Many players and fans believe that fighting is an integral part of the game. Yes, there was a time when fighting was somehow more useful as a deterrent to dirty hits. That time is over. If fighting still had a legitimate place in the game, how are so many of the players still being lost to injury, headshots or otherwise?

If you want to watch a fight, the UFC has plenty of blood for you. Knock yourself out. I’m sure that the pro-fight fans will have something to say about this. To save you all some time, no, I didn’t play in the NHL. I haven’t played at a high level. I merely enjoy watching and playing the game.

If it took the NHL nearly 30 years to get all their players wearing helmets, which we can all agree is a good idea, how long will it take before the NHL seriously looks at all aspects of head trauma, including fights?

Happy New Year, hockey fans.

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Canucks Report At The Quarter Pole

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After 20 games, the Canucks are 11-7-2. The team managed to post a 5-1-1 record on a long 7 game eastern road trip, ending with 3 victories in extra time – two wins in overtime and one in a shootout. They went 2-1 on a home stand, and have just finished a tough 1-2-1 California road swing.

The team’s 24 points are good enough for 4th in the Pacific Division, and 8th spot in the Western Conference, although the Canucks have played the most games in the entire league at this point in the season. When people say the West is the Best, they’re not kidding – the same 24 points would be good for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference.

The Canucks first line has been scoring, and they’ve got a healthy amount of secondary scoring from many of their bottom 6 forwards and defencemen. At 7-4-1, Luongo posted his best October ever as a Canuck. The team seems to have embraced Tortorella’s new systems and has been playing a high energy style of game that is fun to watch. The one thing the Canucks lack at this point is consistency.

In a previous post, I mentioned that if the Canucks can get through October with an even record, it should shape up to be a great season, and reiterate that now. On any given night the Canucks can play inspired and exciting hockey – a pleasant change from the last couple seasons where the team scored and seemed to sit on 1 goal leads.

So far, so good. As the season goes on, the Canucks should improve their play. Some Canucks threads this season include:

  • Tortorella’s high energy style of coaching, translating to Canucks play on ice
  • Re-signing and resurgence of the Sedin twins
  • Pavel Bure’s jersey retirement
  • Depth (or lack thereof) at any position
  • Ice time for top forwards and defencemen
  • Slow but steady development of Zack Kassian
  • Where is David Booth this week?
  • Great penalty killing, horrible power play
  • Local boy Mike Santorelli having an impact playing for his hometown Canucks

What are some of your early season compliments, gripes or stories this season?