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

Forwards

(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.

Top 10: The State of Florida

Back to back games starting on Sunday for the Vancouver Canucks in Florida and then to Tampa Bay on Monday. Sunday afternoon was a hard game for many of the Canucks fans to watch. It was the first time in eight years the Canucks had to face Roberto Luongo as an opponent. Strange times  in Canuckland indeed. Vancouver won the game in a shootout with a goal from Nik Jensen 4-3 . The next night the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Canucks by the identical score.  Some of the happenings were definitely memorable and a few moments would have been left better off forgotten. So from the “Sunshine State”, here is CanucksCorner’s

Top 10.

1. Luongo may not be a Canuck anymore, but it would be hard to tell he wasn’t, if not for that Panthers t-shirt.

Luongo in his Panthers gear chilling with old Canucks teammates.

2. Alex Burrows scored three goals and had three assists in the two games in Sunrise and Tampa. The winger became the ringer we have come to know and love over the years. After playing 30+ games without a goal, he is scoring in bunches. Now tied with David Booth with five goal on the season in about half the games. Here’s one on the power play:

3. Nik Jensen has brought some youth and enthusiasm to the Canucks line-up. Scoring the shootout winner against Roberto Luongo and reviving his line mates, Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows. The line looked good in both games. Jensen has good hockey sense and seems to just want to nothing more than score. Good. This team could use a little more scoring these days. Here’s his goal on Luongo and the Haida hat winner video:

4. Love him or hate him, John Tortorella was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup wining team in 2004. He and a few other members of that team were honoured in Tampa Bay last night, and the usually aloof Torts, was gracious and embraced the moment at the Tampa Bay Times Forum  from an appreciative crowd. The first 30 seconds of this reel sees Torts smiling and waving to the crowd.

5. Goat of the Tampa Bay game: Ryan Stanton doing his best Dan Hamhuis impersonation and scoring on his own goalie twice. Lack had no chance on those ricochets off Stanton’s body and the Lightning were up 3-0. Burrows scores two to battle the Canucks back and Hansen brings it within one with a shorthanded goal but still fell short 4-3.

6. Great Save!:Kevin Bieksa makes the best save of the night against the Panthers on Sunday afternoon. Really? Bieksa?

7. Tweet of the Night:I think Jason Botchford said it best:

This says it all down in Sunrise, FLA versus the Panthers, and all the goalie hoopla that went on over the last year and this past weekend.

8. .500 Hockey: It’s just not going to cut it with the Canucks playoff hopes dwindling. There are only 11 games left in the regular season. It would take a fall from the Dallas Stars, and an incredible and consistent resurgence from the Canucks to make the playoffs now. I don’t see it happening but with the way the team has spiralled since January, many of the bandwagon has now found  a new place to plant their behinds. Image courtesy of @CrownRoyal22
Look who's driving!

9. MIA: Ryan Kesler is rumoured to be missing action for about two weeks. This is not a good sign for the Canucks who are completely depleted down the middle. From the looks of it, Kesler won’t be back until the last week of the regular season.  The injury happened in Winnipeg and Kesler didn’t complete the rest of the trip. He went back to Vancouver to have the extent of his injury assessed. The infirmary is still full. Kesler joins, Richardson, Daniel and Andrew Alberts.

10.Good-bye Sweet Bromance: Probably the saddest thing about this whole weekend is not  realizing that Canucks aren’t probably going to make the playoffs, but the Bromance between Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack  (at least as teammates) got some closure in that 4-3 shootout win over the Panthers. Thing 3 beats Thing 1 in a skills competition.

The road trip brought out some pretty good things and still glaringly bad things about the Canucks’ play. The good is, they are scoring more than just one goal again. The bad is, they are playing .500 hockey. This team should be winning but their defensive lapses keep coming back to haunt them. Three goals for, usually means a victory, but the Canucks just can’t seem to have a winning streak beyond one game. Let’s hope the last 11 games turn up some better fortune for Vancouver.

Justine Galo

@Aviewfromabroad 

PS: Since the luck of the Canucks haven’t been of the norm these days, I am going to do something out of the norm and attend the Canucks versus Predators game. For those curious as to why I don’t attend such games, here’s a little reminder to that very subject. [ The Curse of the Predators ]