Top 10: Epic Canuck Fails of the 2013/2014 Season

The Vancouver Canucks have hit ‘rock bottom’. I’m not exactly sure how they got there, but they are there. Losing to the Islanders 7-4 after they went into the third period with a 3-0 lead, was nothing short of abysmal. I’ve never seen a team unravel as quickly as they did. The big money blue line, who were great through forty minutes, were nowhere to be found in the third. Even “Big Steady”, aka Chris Tanev looked human. Perfectly inconsistent. The dramedy known as the Vancouver Canucks imploded right before our eyes.  If there is one thing they have done one thing consistently this season, it’s when they failed, they failed miserably and colourfully.  So colourful in fact, if Canucks fans could paint a picture about their failures,  it would be a Jackson Pollack. In no particular order, here are the Top 10 Epic Canuck fail moments of the 2013/2014 season, so far, it’s not even over yet. I might have to make another Top 10 at the end of it.

A dejected Eddie Lack after the Islanders take the lead and didn't look back.

A dejected Eddie Lack after the Islanders take the lead and didn’t look back.

 

  1. From an “Embarrassment of Riches” to a down-right embarrassment: The Canucks goalie situation last June had not one, but TWO legitimate starting goaltenders. In fact, together, they won the Jennings award a couple of years back. Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo were the media darlings with their battle for the crease, but more so, their ability to be professional and good friends throughout it. You couldn’t have asked for two better guys to battle it out. In the end, Gillis wanted to keep Schneider and trade Luongo, and what remained of his 12 year contract. Roberto waives his NTC and gives Gillis a list of teams he would be willing to head to and Gillis gets on the phone. The hot-wires were either Florida or Toronto. Gillis felt they weren’t offering enough back, so instead of really gunning for what he wanted in keeping Schneider, Gillis doesn’t buckle in the trade asking price and trades away, Schneider to NJD for a first round pick. That pick became Bo Horvat. Luongo stays, but the Heritage Classic dictated another scenario later on. Now, the Canucks have a rookie expected to be a starter, without grooming, without paying his dues, without a mentor. His back up? According to the head coach, he is not ready yet. Well done, Mike Gillis, well done.
  2. NTC’s Up the Ying Yang: Sure it sounded good to  few fans out there. Lock up the assets, have them retire with the team. Let’s make sure they are happy here with their contracts and they are going be Canucks forever! Well played, if you’re a player agent, but a bad move if you’re a GM of a hockey club. Luongo, Hank and Daniel, Bieksa, Edler, Kesler, Garrison and Higgins…did I miss anyone? If I did I apologize, I’ve never seen so many NTCs given to one team in my life. I was speaking with Blackhawks fan, and I said to him that even Jon Toews and Patrick Kane don’t have NTCs in their contracts, but Bieksa  and Higgins do? What seemingly looked like a good loyalty idea, turned out to be a terrible for the Canucks as an organization. I think Mike Gillis forgot that loyalty is now to the team, more than the players.
  3. John Tortorella: With the December the Canucks had, I wasn’t sure if I was right about Torts not being the right fit for this team. In fact, I was ready to swallow that pill and be wrong. I wanted it to work here in Vancouver with Torts, but after the meltdown versus the Flames, things really started to unravel for the team. My friends in New York City, who are Rangers fans, warned me about Torts. They warned me that he has a knack of losing players without even realizing he is losing players. I guess they would know.  The lack of goals, the lack of winning, the lack of effort, the lack of confidence, oh hell, the lack of many things, including the lack foresight to start Roberto Luongo in the Heritage Classic left Vancouver with well, Lack.  Canucks fans, we’ve been Bobby Valentine’d. If you don’t know what that means, get out of your “Canucks hockey only” sports bubble and look it up.

    John Tortorella has lost the team and the fans. A short-lived experiment needs to be terminated.

    John Tortorella has lost the team and the fans. A short-lived experiment needs to be terminated.

  4. Alex Burrows: I am a little torn about this guy and his streak of luck lately. However, if there was ever an epic fail of a season for one of the core players, Burrows wins, hands down. Opening night, Burrows foot is broken blocking a shot. Less than two months later, he has his jaw broken and is out for another two months. He hasn’t scored a goal and whenever seems to get a chance, luck has it, he doesn’t. Last night versus the Islanders, he had an open net with a distracted Nabokov, he fanned on the shot.

    How terrible can one year get for one player?

    How terrible can one year get for one player?

  5. Revolving Door to the Infirmary: Yes, yes, I know, I know. All teams have injuries and the good teams find ways to play through them. The Canucks have had injuries before, but this is ridiculous! How many man games has the team lost to injury issues? In one game alone, one player took out three guys. The game in Phoenix where Hanzal took out Booth, Santorelli and Henrik Sedin. That happened with guys already, day to day and on the injured reserve list. No matter how I don’t want to use this as an ‘excuse’, I don’t think the Canucks have iced a healthy team this year, not once. Oh yeah, Richardson is now the latest victim of injury. When will it all end?
  6. Most Expensive Blue Line in the League: Well, it if isn’t, it is definitely top five. With the exceptions of Tanev, Weber and Stanton, there isn’t a guy on the Canucks defence that makes less than $4million per. Edler $5million, Bieksa $4.6million, Garrison $4.6million and Hamhuis $4.5million. Alex Edler is a -27 in the +/- category. A MINUS TWENTY SEVEN! Edler is your team’s most expensive Dman and he has the worst +/- rating on the team! He supposedly is allowed to be listed to play defence? I know! Crazy, right?  I don’t have the words to describe how I feel about that, all I know it doesn’t sum up to anything good.
  7. David Booth: When fans and media in your team’s town know more about your hunting abilities than your hockey prowess, there is something wrong. First off, David, why show a picture of a  slain bear in a market known for animal rights and that is environmentally conscious? When David Booth does get some time to play, fans have made bets as to when he is going to be out with another injury or how many days he will sit in the press box. Luckily for Booth, there are enough injuries at the moment to warrant him some playing time. $4.25million dollars of cap space wasted. Instead of getting a Ferrari, the Canucks got themselves a fickle Jaguar from the 60′s.
  8. Third Period Meltdown- Islanders Edition: What should have been a sure two points, and with playing 40 minutes of nearly flawless hockey, only the Vancouver Canucks could fall in such epic fashion. In a game where, Henrik Sedin finally bumps his point slump and lead his team with FOUR hits, that’s right, Henrik lead the team with hits, the third period unravelled like a church garage sale crocheted scarf. The Vancouver Canucks gave up, seven goals in 20 minutes of hockey. Seven goals, a franchise record, was tied. How the hell does a team with the Canucks roster fall apart like that in 20 minutes? Anyone? I’ve got nothing.
  9. Mike “Player Agent Man” Gillis: This could be an entire blog on its own, but let’s summarize in as part of this Top 10.  The team Gillis inherited was mostly put together by Brian Burke and Dave Nonis. Going into his first year in Vancouver, he had a nice start to a masterpiece. However, even before the blunders (that we see now) started to show, Gillis made some strange moves that had me questioning his train of thought or his vision for building a culture in Vancouver.  First off, he didn’t re-sign Naslund, not even to one year to retire a Canuck. In fact, he didn’t even throw an offer sheet Markus’ way. Loyalty? That would have been a nice gesture, Gillis, I’m sure Naslund would have taken a discount on his market value to stay in Vancouver. Second, he makes Roberto Luongo, the starting goalie, the Captain. Isn’t being a number one goalie in a market known as a ‘goalie graveyard’ hard enough? More pressure, no worries. Good thing that was rectified and Henrik subsequently wore the “C”. Offering Mats Sundin a $10 million contract, which he didn’t get the player until the second half of the season. Sure it was pro-rated, but what that money could have bought and kept. Twelve year contract to Luongo and then all those NTC’s to players that wouldn’t even get a blink from other GMs for an NTC. Worst move he did, was losing two starting goalies, in less than 8 months, and having the team anchored with two Swedish rookies in the blue ice. Ah, I could go on, but it leads me to the biggest blunder of the year.
  10. Havoc at the Heritage Classic: What should have been the marquee game for the Vancouver Canucks and Roberto Luongo ended up being an epic failure that cost the team dearly. The Canucks were already struggling but the moment that defined their season was when head coach, John Tortorella did not start Roberto Luongo in the Heritage Classic. A game that Luongo has expressed he has looked forward to since its announcement. Coming home from Sochi, and winning his second gold medal with Team Canada, Lu posted a 6-0 shutout versus Austria in the prelims. It seems, it wasn’t good enough to start the Heritage Classic for the team that deemed him the No. 1. Not according to John Tortorella anyway. Torts, whether he was here for the goalie controversy or not, should have had the sense to start Luongo in net. It was a big pressure game, a marquee event and even at its most basic, Luongo needed to get some playing time. Evidently, this was all over the head of John Tortorella. The season that has been unravelling has pretty much been ripped apart with that one decision. Luongo was traded after his agent talked to Mike Gillis and now he is a Florida Panther. Although, Gillis had enough respect for Torts to not interfere with the decision on a professional level, after all the ass kissing he and Aquilini had to do to get Lu to play here in Vancouver, why didn’t he? It would have been the ONE time he would have had every right to do just that.

There are more failures, I am sure, but those are the 10 that stick in my head. It’s always been tough being a Canucks fan. I’ve seen more losing over the years than winning, but I’ve never seen the Canucks fall so far down the ladder  than I have this season. In my 33 years, this has been the hardest pill to swallow. For those players who plan on being here  for the long haul, I hope they get a shot of redemption, but for that to be a valid chance, Torts needs to go, and Mike Gillis needs to follow him. I’m sure there are few people here that wouldn’t mind driving both individuals to the airport, but with the price of gas these days, I’d tell them to take a damn cab.

Justine Galo

@Aviewfromabroad 

No success without a dependable fourth line

van-kesler-sedin

In my first article back in October I talked about the Canucks bottom 6 not being good enough. A month and a half into the season, I can say I am content with the part of the bottom 6. The third line has been dependable. The fourth line hasn’t.

John Tortorella doesn’t have faith in his fourth line and is reluctant to put them on the ice. I can’t blame him for that. For the better part of the season, it seems like whenever the fourth line is out on the ice they are getting scored on or can’t get out of their own zone. The Canucks best fourth liner is Dale Weise. He’s hurt. Darren Archibald showed more in his 8 games up with the big club than Tom Sestito, Zac Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh have shown in their games, but the Canucks sent the big forward back down to Utica to room for David Booth.

Injuries have forced the Canucks hand all year. They had not, until Sunday, been able ice the line-up they had envisioned during training camp and arguably still haven’t considering Jordan Schroeder is out for the second time this season. Jannik Hansen’s return and Richardson’s move to the fourth line didn’t make a difference in how much the fourth liners played. Richardson has averaged 13 minutes throughout the season; he played under 8 Sunday night against Dallas. Tom Sestito has played an average of five and a half minutes so far this season, he played 30 seconds Sunday. Jeremy Welsh played just 2 shifts in the game, totalling 18 seconds. It’s not a recipe for success.

Like I mentioned in my previous article, teams that win the cup have dependable fourth lines that can at least go out there to give the top guys a little bit of a break. This year’s Canucks team doesn’t have the luxury. Last year’s team didn’t have that. Amongst forwards, the Sedins and Kesler are in the top 4 for average minutes played a game. It’s not sustainable. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but until the team upgrades the fourth line, it will be tough to make a deep run come April, May and June.

Opening Night: what would your lineup be?

schnu

The final cuts have been made, and we all now know what the 23 man roster is for the Vancouver Canucks, on the eve of the long overdue beginning to the 2013 NHL season.

To me, there was only one surprise to me on final cutdown day, and that was in seeing Jordan Schroeder being sent back to the Wolves as the teams final cut. Not needing to be put on waivers had to be the main determination as to why he was not included on the final roster, but I still feel that his name should have been there come opening night. If it came down to risking losing Cam Barker or Jim Vandermeer to waivers to keep him up, it is a risk that I, personally, would have made. There is an offensive void that does need to be filled on this roster, minus David Booth and Ryan Kesler. And though you can take virtually nothing out of a couple of scrimmages, in which Schroeder and Mason Raymond seemed to have some nice chemistry, there is always that one training camp story in every city, in which a player you do not expect to emerge explodes on the scene and captures everyone’s imagination, even if for only a short spell. (Hello, Steve Kariya) Not that I am comparing Schroeder to Kariya, but with every NHL club in a situation where they have not had a long training camp, let alone no pre season games, I thought it was a great chance for Schroeder (who has played all season) to show that he can put up positive numbers in a meaningful role, as NHL players catch up to live game speed. Granted, we may see Schroeder sooner, rather than later, once again with the big club, but I thought the time should have been now, and if not now, I begin to wonder if it ever will be?

The Canucks go into the season with 12 forwards, 2 goaltenders and NINE (yes, nine) defensemen. Obviously, not the ideal scenario for AV, and a head scratcher to me, to say the least. When the lights dim, and the arena begins to go crazy with the return of hockey to Rogers Arena Saturday night, I anticipate that the opening night roster will look like this.

Daniel Sedin Henrik Sedin Alex Burrows

Mason Raymond Andrew Ebbett Zack Kassian

Chris Higgins Max Lapierre Jannik Hansen

Aaron Volpatti Manny Malhotra Dale Weise

Kevin Bieksa Dan Hamhuis

Jason Garrison Alex Edler

Keith Ballard Chris Tanev

Corey Schneider in between the pipes, and Roberto Luongo wearing the ballcap

In the pressbox: Cam Barker, Jim Vandermeer and Andrew Alberts

Not exactly the lineup we had all hoped we would see on the ice once the season started, but to be fair, not a bad lineup. Not at all.

The first line is an All-World line, and has been now for years. The Sedins are among the elite, still top 10 players in the world, and I cannot wait to see “Sedinery” at it’s finest come Saturday night. We, as fans, are so fortunate to be able to watch what the twins bring to the table game in and game out, and although it may be tempting to try and take Burrows off this wing, to try and address possible holes in the lineup due to the injury bug that currently has Kesler and Booth out, I feel it would be a mistake to split up a line that works SO well. As always, the Canucks will go as far offensively, as the Sedins take them, which has been at or near the top of NHL scoring the last number of seasons. I see no reason why that changes right now.

Many will emphasize on how that second line is NOT a second line. But does it really NEED to be? Under AV, we all know that he will spread out the minutes, ride a bit of a hot hand if he sees one, and if things aren’t working, the lines will be in the blender in the second period anyways. You can categorize Higgins, Lapierre and Hansen a third line, but I will not be shocked if they play more minutes than Raymond, Ebbett and Kassian. The 2011 trade deadline acquisitions Higgins and Lapierre have far exceeded my expectations since they joined the club, and with the speed of Hansen, I feel that they can be a very effective two-way line, and it is a line that will not need to be altered once Kesler and Booth return from their injuries. The “second” line is full of “IF’s”. IF Raymond can build off of a strong (albeit, short) camp…IF Zack Kassian can use his size and speed to his advantage, and open up ice for Raymond and Ebbett to find ways to contribute offensively……IF this group can play a two-way game, and not hurt the club in the defensive end…if…if….if.

I like Andrew Ebbett. I do. I feel he has paid his dues, and through a strong showing in the AHL with the Wolves, and not hurting himself with a bad camp, he has earned his chance to make a difference with the Canucks this season. He is versatile, has good instincts on the ice and deserves to be on this club. He has shown in flashes that he can contribute offensively in the NHL, and AV is banking on his two way game once it starts for real, come tomorrow. There are still too many questions without answers when it comes to this line, and I guess a day from now, we will start to receive some of those answers.

The fourth line is of concern to me. You have to love Manny Malhotra, but it is fair to say that since that horrific eye injury he sustained in 2011, he has not been close to the same player. And to me, he is just not suited as a 4th line center. Aaron Volpatti has shown flashes that he can be an effective in-your-face winger, but injuries have slowed his development as well, so I will be curious to see just what he can bring to the table out of the gate this season. Dale Weise…..well, I honestly was not a huge fan of his game last season. To me, he needs to “play bigger” and be a winger that is difficult to play against night in and night out. If I didn’t see that last season, I don’t know why I should believe that I will see that this year. This isn’t the Dutch League…..all I want to see is a gritty effort night in and night out.

The defence of the Vancouver Canucks is an area that currently, I have very little concern with. For the most part, they will be very dependable in their own end, all three pairings have the ability of a defenceman stepping into the rush and joining the offensive attack, and will be one of the higher scoring defence groups in the NHL once again. Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis displayed great chemistry last season, and I have every confidence that this will continue this year.

Sami Salo is being replaced by Jason Garrison, and to me this is an upgrade in every aspect, even if Garrison does not put up as many points as he did with Florida last year. Every time Salo went into a corner. I wondered if he was going to take the hit that would put him on the shelf for an extended period of time. In a small sample size, Garrison showed me in two scrimmages that he can make a great first pass, and will not be a defensive liability. I won’t sit here and say that i know a lot about him, as let’s face it, no one watches the Panthers unless your team is playing them, but he seemed to be comfortable on the ice with Edler. More inportantly, Edler appeared to be comfortable with Garrison, and if Edler is feeling good about his game, it’s huge for this hockey team. Having just signed a new deal, it is time for Edler to be a consistent premier defenceman and a leader.

Ballard and Tanev….oh Ballard…..Is it fair to say that he possibly could not have had two worse years in Blue and Green? There is too much talent here, and it can’t have just disappeared once he arrived in Vancouver. I think AV needs to just let Ballard play regular minutes. Let him play knowing he will be given every opportunity to be succesful, and not have to look over his shoulder, wondering when he is going to be once again relegated to the press box. So much of this game is mental, and Ballard seems to have been playing scared, wondering what gaffe or injury or coaches decison was going to derail him next. With Cam Barker, Andrew Alberts and Jim Vandermeer waiting in the wings, its now or never for Ballard to show that he still belongs in a prominent role on an NHL blueline. I have my doubts, but it’s a new season, and I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Chris Tanev is a great story, and I feel he deserves to be on the third pairing. No question I feel that he, and Ballard, are a better option than any of the three not on the opening roster. Depth is key, especially in a compacted schedule, and with ganes on back to back nights, it’s good to have options to slot a player in and give another rest. This team has shown you can never have enough defencemen, and Alberts, Barker and Vandermeer will all get their opportunities to play. How they play, when given the chance, is another thing altogether.

In my perfect world, in light of the injuries this club currently has, I would have loved to see Schroeder skating with Raymond and Kassian on opening night, and Ebbett playing the wing with Malhotra and Volpatti. That being said, I still look at this lineup and feel that it will win, and win often this season. Until Roberto Luongo is traded, the Canucks arguably have the best goaltending tandem in the NHL to begin the season, and I feel that either keeper can “steal” a game any night they play, if the offense is not quite up to par. Sure, a 2-1 win is not as flashy or exciting as a 6-4 shootout, but at the end of the day, I remember wins and losses. I don’t care how this team wins. Just win and much about game style can be forgiven. I do not buy the theory that AV will have to play a 2007 brand of Canucks hockey for this team to have success this year. Top to bottom, there is just too much talent on the ice, especially when you factor in defensive contributions, for this team not to score on a regular basis, even with the loss of Kesler and Booth.

I do not remember the last time I sat here, night before opening night, with so many questions about the roster and how it may play once it matters. But I am excited to see just how these games against the Ducks and Oilers play out. If the “IF” line can produce offensively better than expected and the fourth line can give this team 6-9 serviceable minutes a night, once can only salivate about what it will be like to welcome a healthy and rested Kesler and Booth to the club once they return from injury.

This is a very good hockey team. A deep hockey team. Is it still a first in the West hockey team? I say no, but it is definitely still a two or three seed team. The gap between the Canucks and the rest of the Northwest (Flames, Wild, Oilers and Avalanche) has narrowed considerably, but not to the point where I see one of these teams wrestling away the Division mantle from Vancouver. Not this season. And come April, when it will matter the most, I feel that the twenty men who step on the ice for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be a much deeper, more skilled hockey team, with less questions about who they are, than the twenty who step onto the ice tomorrow. And that is a very good thing. Your thoughts?

GAME ON!!!

Raymond Kirk

Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233

What’s the proper way to say sorry to the fans?

bwagon

The lockout is over, training camps are open, but there is a debate among hockey fans on what the league and it’s teams should do for the fans to make up for them missing half a season of their beloved sport.

Gary Bettman has said he’s sorry, but what was he supposed to say? And does anyone care? The Pittsburgh Penguins are offering 50% off all merchandise and free concession items, while the Tampa Bay Lightning offered 200 season-ticket packages for their 24 home games for $200 on a first come, first served basis.

For their part the Canucks have opened up Rogers Arena this week for their abbreviated training camp. They will also hold a “Jersey’s off our backs” night for Saturday’s season opener against Anaheim. The team says there will be other giveaways and random prizes given out during the season.

But that’s not good enough for some fans, who feel the team should be a little more generous if they hope to maintain their loyalty. The reality is however, at least in Canada, they don’t have to. There is a waiting list for season tickets that spans years, so the Canucks have that in their back pocket, and know that soon hockey fans will forget. Probably after the first big save by Cory Schneider, or the first tic-tac-toe play by the twins. Canucks fever will be back, it’s already back so if you’re expecting that half price jersey, don’t hold your breath because if you don’t buy a full priced one, ten other people will.

In Winnipeg the MTS centre was sold out for the Jets first practice of the year. The buzz in Edmonton isn’t “what can you do for me”, but is instead one of getting to watch their exciting young team possibly contend for a playoff spot. In Toronto the rink will be packed as they hope for the arrival of a goaltender from the west coast that could help them get to the playoffs in a post Brian Burke era.

Talk of boycotts of this and boycotts of that are noble and understandable stances, and everyone is entitled to their own way of dealing with the return of hockey, but they likely won’t last long with the true hockey fan.

In the end, I would have been happy with the league making their Centre Ice package free for the duration of the season. A quick look at the Shaw Cable website shows the package is mentioned, but not available to order at the moment. Could it be a discount or free offering is in the works? We’ll have to wait and see, but there would be no better way to get fans interested again than to give them maximum exposure to what promises to be some intense hockey once we get going.

What individual teams do is obviously going to depend on the market they are in. Teams in the U.S. will no doubt have to make more of an effort and Canadian fans will  point south and say, “What about us?” In a way it’s a shame that the game’s most passionate fans will likely get the fewest perks when it comes to post-lockout apologies, but let’s face it…Canadian fans already have the biggest prize they could hope for; their game is back.