Part Two: Expanding The NHL: How An Expansion Draft Could Impact The Canucks

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In a three part series Caleb Harder looks how a potential expansion draft could have an impact on the Vancouver Canucks. In part two, he looks at the defence.

As we mentioned in Part One, rumours made their way through newspaper and the internet that the National Hockey League would be granting four new franchises to Seattle, Quebec City, Toronto, and Las Vegas. If the rumours turn out to be true, the NHL will hold an expansion draft for the awarded franchises.

In the expansion draft, each existing team has the choice of protecting one goaltender, nine forwards, and five defensemen, or the option of protecting two goaltenders, three defensemen, and seven forwards. For teams that protect two goaltenders, all remaining goaltenders are required to have played a minimum of 10 NHL games in the previous season or 25 total games in the previous two seasons. Each team must also have one defenseman and two forwards left unprotected who have played in 40 NHL games in the previous season or 70 games combined in the previous two. Players exempted from the draft are first and second year pro’s and presumably other prospects.

In the Canucks current position, the team has the ability to choose whatever option they please in protecting players, but I will be using the “two goaltenders, seven forwards, three defensemen” format for this series. With all those rules in mind, if the expansion draft were to take place tomorrow, which defensemen would the Canucks protect on their roster and why?

To give an overview of the players eligible in the draft here is a quick overview chart of the defensemen on the roster.

THE DEFENSEMEN

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(3) Kevin Bieksa

Kevin “Juice” Bieksa is the true definition of leadership. Bieksa always provides 110% in the game whether it’s standing up for his teammates, delivering a solid hit on the opposing team when they get in the zone, or setting up his line mates for the winning goal. He is one of the most physical and aggressive defenders in the game and is not afraid to provide some gritty play. The Juice is a player with a true passion for the game and the kind of defenseman a team should never think twice about protecting for their roster.

(2)  Dan Hamhuis

Last year, Dan Hamhuis had the best plus minus rating among his fellow team mates. It seemed to be in the previous season that he was always on the ice when the Canucks scored and when they were scored on. Hamhuis has proven throughout his ten year career to have a decent point shot, however he is a fantastic defenseman when it comes to setting himself up an assist with a career high of 33 assists in the 2011-12 season with the Vancouver Canucks. Hamhuis also proved under the John Tortorella regime last season that he can definitely put the puck into the net and who knows, maybe this year it will be on the opposing team.

(8) Chris Tanev

Chris Tanev is the image of the Vancouver Canucks defensive future. The 24-year-old blue liner has strong hockey knowledge and can swiftly move the puck like no one else. His playing style is most comparable to former Canuck, Christian Ehrhoff, whom he played alongside in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final season. The undrafted defenseman has been one of the few successful prospects of the Mike Gillis era and it looks like it’s nothing but up for the rest of Tanev’s career.

If these three were to be protected by Jim Benning and the Vancouver Canucks, it would create the trifecta of the modern defensemen as it fills in the requirements of being tough on the ice, large on offensive strength, and honing the basics of what a strong defenseman is overall.

Part Three: Goaltenders

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Part One: Expanding The NHL: How An Expansion Draft Could Impact The Canucks

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In a three part series Caleb Harder looks how a potential expansion draft could have an impact on the Vancouver Canucks. In part one, he looks at the forwards.

It was recently rumoured by Tony Gallagher of The Province Sports Editorial that Las Vegas has been granted an NHL expansion team. Howard Bloom of Sports Business News then went on to add more wood to the fire by reporting that the NHL has also granted new teams to Seattle, Toronto, and Quebec City. Overall, this ended up causing a flurry of speculation among hockey fans on social media. If these rumours turn out to be true, then the National Hockey League would hold an Expansion Draft for the newly awarded teams.

For those who are unfamiliar with the draft, here is a quick guide to how it takes place. In the draft, each existing team has the choice of protecting one goaltender, nine forwards, and five defensemen, or the option of protecting two goaltenders, three defensemen, and seven forwards. For teams that protect two goaltenders, all remaining goaltenders are required to have played a minimum of 10 NHL games in the previous season or 25 total games in the previous two seasons. Each team must also have one defenseman and two forwards left unprotected who have played in 40 NHL games in the previous season or 70 games combined in the previous two. Players exempted from the draft are first and second year pro’s and presumably other prospects.

With all those rules in mind, if the expansion draft were to take place tomorrow, who would the Canucks protect on their roster and why?

In the team’s current position, the Vancouver Canucks have the ability to choose whatever option they please in protecting players, but I will be using the “two goaltenders, seven forwards, three defensemen” format for this series. In this article, the spotlight will be on the forwards of the franchise and who would the management possibly select for protection?

To give an overview of the vast number of eligible forwards in the Canucks ranks, here is a depth chart for each forward position.

THE FORWARDS

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(33) Henrik Sedin and (22) Daniel Sedin

The Swedish twins have been a key part of the franchise since they were drafted in 1999. Since then, both Henrik and Daniel have picked up the Hart Memorial Trophy, two Art Ross Trophies, the Ted Lindsay Award, an Olympic Gold and Silver medal, and two Presidents Trophies. The twins also hold the record for most career points with the Vancouver Canucks franchise at first and second place respectively. Though some may believe the two star-studded players are far past their glory years, with the proper support in the line, they still stand as a major part of the Canucks leadership.

(17) Radim Vrbata

Vrbata was picked up from free agency last summer to infuse some scoring power to the aging core of the Vancouver Canucks. He holds one of the best records in the shootout, which is an area the team has always struggled with in past seasons. Radim Vrbata is also a first line forward and will tie in seamlessly with the Sedins giving them the shot in the arm they need to return them to their former glory.

(13) Nick Bonino

Nick Bonino has been determined to act as the new second line centre for the Canucks since he was acquired in a trade alongside teammate Luca Sbisa for former centre Ryan Kesler. Though some argue that Bonino will not be able to fill the void left behind by Kesler, the young gun had a remarkable breakout season. He picked up 49 points while playing on the third line scoring 20 of them on the power play. The new Canuck is a fantastic playmaker and is a no-brainer to protect in an expansion draft.

(14) Alex Burrows

Alex Burrows is a grinder but given his performance last season, some would question why even bother protecting him on the roster. This veteran player has time and time again proven himself as a true warrior on the ice and as a force to be reckoned with. Burrows is also a very versatile player that you can place on any line and he will flourish with his teammates. Although he had a disappointing season scoring only a mere handful of points, expect him to not go down without a fight this season. He has bounced back from three injuries during the season and one in the offseason publicly stating he is fully recovered, training hard, and is dying to hit the ice with a fresh slate. This is what makes him a true hockey player with heart.

(57) Linden Vey

In his last two seasons in the AHL, Linden Vey has been a point a game player for the Manchester Monarchs, a minor league affiliate with the Los Angeles Kings. In a system that was jam packed with forwards, Vey never got the chance his deserved with the Kings and was traded at the draft to the Vancouver Canucks for their third round pick. Now with his new team, it is up to him to decide whether he thinks he is ready or not to make the big leagues because the opportunities in Vancouver are plentiful. If Linden Vey is able to play in the NHL the way he has in the minors, he will turn out to be one of the major driving forces for the team.

(9) Zack Kassian

This wild card has left us wondering if he will turn out to be the all-star he was projected to become or the worst trade that former GM Mike Gillis made in his darkest time. In his few years with the team, Zack has had a streaky run of success and drought wearing the blue and green. All was forgiven though when the management recently inked a two-year deal with Kassian, giving him another shot at proving himself. Protecting a player like Kassian can either be the best idea ever or one that fans will regret for many years to come.

If the Vancouver Canucks were to protect these players in an expansion draft, I believe it would reflect kindly on their roster with an even mix of veteran leaders and solid promising players that are bound for success in the seasons to come.

Part Two: Defensemen

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It’s Miller Time Canucks Fans

By Caleb Harder – CanucksCorner.com

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It’s the moment that all Canucks fans in Vancouver knew was bound to happen, the signing of all-star goaltender, Ryan Miller. The former Buffalo Sabres and brief St. Louis Blues netminder signed a 3-year $18 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks to solve the question of the unproven tandem of Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. With Miller in place to run the crease, Lack (26) will be backing up for the veteran goalie.

People have been pondering what Eddie Lack is thinking since fans and analysts assumed he could be carrying out the starting role by the 2015-16 season. One could view the new goaltending line-up to be as if it were like a mentorship. Miller will be turning 34 on the 17th of July, and as he is still in his prime, he could show Lack a few tricks on how he became a successful goaltender. Miller was drafted late in the 1999 entry draft, usually indicating a limit on his future prospects. Through careful development under the mentorship of Martin Biron, that did not affect the career that he would have.

Lack will then eventually take up the slack for Miller after his contract expires, and take on what Miller did for him and in turn, mentor prospect Thatcher Demko, who is expected later on to become the next star goaltender of the Canucks. All of this of course, will not have the names of Markstrom and Joacim Eriksson in the future of the franchise and Joe Cannata, unfortunately, not going any further than the Utica Comets.

The next question is what is the relationship going to be like between Rollie Melanson, the Canucks goaltending coach, and Ryan Miller? Melanson likes his goaltenders to play a collapsing Butterfly style game, but it will be difficult in the fact that Miller plays a Hybrid style, a blend of Butterfly and Stand-up goaltending. At this point in Miller’s career it is highly unlikely that Melanson will convince the veteran to play a different game, but the two will have to come out to a respectable compromise. The recently signed goaltender was asked whether he would be willing to change his style under a new coach but responded reluctantly to the question.

Ryan Miller has been said to not be the greatest when it comes to dealing with the spotlight of the media, which some have considered an issue because that spotlight will be shining on him a lot in Vancouver. Though individuals would dismiss him as a bad person for attaining only a passable social relationship with media, it’s perfectly normal. Roberto Luongo was not the best with the media either until everything he crammed inside was passively brushed out on Twitter under the “Strombone1” handle. Miller appeared to be fine when answering media questions yesterday, and coming right off the ice, players are usually in a different head space when they are immediately bombarded with questions on their play. This could lead to why Miller could come off as trite in post-game interviews. Ryan Miller is not a bad person for not always being up for an interview, and in the end, he is still the Canucks new goalie even though the news might not get the same breaking headline stories that were provided through his predecessors.

This then leads us to addressing the inevitable “goalie controversy” chatter that is as old as remixing viral videos. Since Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo have been traded, the controversy is long gone and should not be expected to be carried on as a Vancouver tradition.  The signing of Ryan Miller should not be viewed as another problem for the Vancouver Canucks, but the beginning of a new chapter for the franchise.

It’s Miller time, Canucks fans.

 

Twitter @cjaharder

Comparing the 17’s: The Ryan Kesler / Radim Vrbata Story

By Caleb Harder – CanucksCorner.com

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On Wednesday, July 2th, the Vancouver Canucks inked a 2-year $10 million deal with former Arizona Coyotes right-shot winger, Radim Vrbata. The 33 year old veteran will provide substantial support for the roster and is expected to be playing on the first line alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin. This would be bumping Alexandre Burrows (33) to the second line to assist recently acquired centre, Nick Bonino (26) who came in a package deal with Luca Sbisa in exchange for former Canucks star, Ryan Kesler. In memory of Kesler, one thing that he and Vrbata have in common is the jersey number 17. With that in mind, let us take some time to compare the two great hockey players.

Kicking it off, let’s go back to the grassroots of how their NHL journey began in the prospect entry draft. Vrbata and Kesler were eligible for being drafted in separate years, Vrbata being the 1999 draft and Kesler the 2003 draft. Ryan Kesler was selected 23rd overall by the Vancouver Canucks and it was one of the best picks that they have made in franchise history as further down the road he became the face of the team and carried them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.

Radim Vrbata, on the other hand, was not a first round draft pick. The Czech Republic native was selected in the seventh round at 212th overall by the Colorado Avalanche and had not spent two seasons with the team when he was traded in March of 2003 to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for left wing forward, Bates Battaglia. Vrbata was then eventually traded to Chicago and then went to Phoenix where he spent six seasons between 2007 and 2014. Overall, Vrbata did not live up to expectations in the place he was drafted, but ended up playing remarkably higher than he was ever projected to.

So what makes Radim Vrbata better than he was projected to be? The veteran forward is a fantastic play making winger who knows where to put the puck and how to utilize his teammates when it is needed. Vrbata, through this favoured style of play, was able to post up a 20-31-51 point total in 80 games for the 2013-14 season. Ryan Kesler, on the other hand, is a great hard-hitting, two-way forward who can be physical and still provide the points that his team needs. Although Kesler is able to crash about on the ice and snipe pucks into the net, he does not use his wingers in this process. He prefers to keep the puck to himself and play his way or it’s the highway. This style of play has not always been effective for the centre because it increased his chance of injuries. Kesler has had more than his fair share and it has, at times, cut down his productivity on the ice when he was needed by the team to save the day.

In games where the Canucks are attempting to roll four effective lines, it would not be possible with Ryan Kesler in the ranks.  He put up a 25-18-43 scoring tally in 77 games this season. Though it looks like a reasonable record for the once struggling Canucks, he was not playing at the full potential to which he could perform. In career totals Vrbata has a playing record of 464 points in a 792 game span with a point average of 0.59 points per game and Kesler with a 392 point total in 654 career games with the Vancouver Canucks and having a 0.60 points per game average. Overall, their point averages are the same but Kesler’s wear and tear game will eventually bite him back whereas Vrbata’s game is safer and guarantees he’ll be dependable for years to come.

The shootout has always been something the Canucks have dreaded with their streaky statistics in the game deciding skills competition. Fans may have more faith in the team during shootouts with Radim Vrbata who is ranked fifth all-time scorer in the shootout throughout the NHL with 35 goals in 82 attempts with a 42.7 shootout percentage. Ryan Kesler is currently ranked third within the Anaheim Ducks team roster with 11 goals in 45 shootout attempts with an overall of 24.4 percent in his career. With Vrbata now in the Vancouver ranks, the team will have more skill under their belt than previously under the lead of Ryan Kesler.

In comparing the number 17’s, even though Ryan Kesler has been impressive, Radim Vrbata is a great team player and possesses a skill set the Vancouver Canucks desperately need. He has the potential to be a fresh change that the team has been searching for.

Change is good.

Twitter @cjaharder

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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.