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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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 ]

Sukh Purewal: Same old same old for Roberto Luongo

After all that has happened to Roberto Luongo the last few years, I didn’t think it could get any worse for the Canucks goalie. I thought there was no way the Canucks organization could disrespect the franchise’s best goalie of all-time again.

Boy was I wrong.

With the news coming out that Eddie Lack would be starting the Heritage Classic for the Canucks, it was just another slap in the face for Luongo, who has given so much to this organization. Roberto is responsible for some of the best years in Canucks history. He backstopped them to two straight Presidents’ Trophies and took them to within one game of a Stanley Cup. Even if it is the teams’ intention is to move forward with Lack as the starter, throw Luongo a bone and give him this start.  It seems harsh to punish Luongo for the team’s recent struggles, especially when you consider the fact that Vancouver has scored 2 or few goals in 15 of their last 17 games. No goalie in the NHL is going to win when the offence in front of him is putting up those types of numbers.

To some the Heritage Classic might seem like just another game. But it’s not for Roberto. He said Saturday that he’s always wanted to play in an outdoor game and considering this Canucks team is probably not going to do much should they make the playoffs, it was likely the biggest game of the year for them. Eddie Lack is a great goalie, but this should have been Luongo’s start. Reward the guy who’s done so much for you. This is quite possibly the only outdoor game Luongo is going to get a chance to play in. New Jersey gave Marty Brodeur the start in their outdoor game even though Cory Schneider had the better numbers and has started the majority of the games since that day.

I’m not sure there is a player in pro sports who has been treated as poorly as Roberto Luongo has. He has had to put up with so much from this organization. He was relegated to backup. He asked to be traded so he could be a starter somewhere. The team agreed and tried to move him, unsuccessfully. He was then asked to come back and be the team’s leader again after he had moved on. He came back and didn’t pout about having to back in Vancouver. He has been the consummate professional the last few years. I think it’s time the organization shows Roberto some respect and trades him somewhere he will respected and can be a starter.

He deserves it.

Top 10: Torts-less In Oiler Country

In a night where the Vancouver Canucks won’t have head coach, John Tortorella, behind the bench until the end of the Olympic break for game situations, they take on the Edmonton Oilers with their new netminder, Ben Scrivens, between the pipes.  Mike Sullivan makes his Canucks debut as head coach during Torts’ 15 day, 6 game suspension.
Tonight is a night the Vancouver Canucks need to play catch up and make some ground on the teams that are leading the Pacific Division and the Oilers, more often than not, are a sure two points. Here are 10 things I picked up during the game, via twitter, television and whatever other media you can throw my way.
  1. Hashtag of the night #FreeTorts: Many of Canucks Nation not happy with the suspension for head coach, John Tortorella, and have started a hashtag about it. I’m sure it will be kept on until the return of the charged-up leader.

    John Tortorella's suspension has Canuck Nation united in #FreeTorts

    John Tortorella’s suspension has Canuck Nation united in #FreeTorts

  2. Ironman Streak Dies: Henrik Sedin did not start a game for the first time in about 10 years and 679 games. Have a seat Hank, you deserve the rest. The boys got this.
  3. Kellen Lain: If you play him more than two seconds, he shows he can score a goal with some ice time. Lain gets his first NHL goal in the first period.

    Lain scored his 1st NHL and logged a career high in TOI. (photo credit : Vancouver Sun)

    Lain scored his 1st NHL and logged a career high in TOI. (photo credit : Vancouver Sun)

  4. Boom Boom is Back:  Kevin Bieksa continues to show he can still go toe to toe dropping the gloves with Jones. Juice has been fiesty lately and fighting in almost every single game since LA.
  5. Tweet of the Night :  @kb34myhart The last time Burrows scored was before Hank’s ironman streak started– Poor Burr, just can’t buy a goal.

  6. Kassquatch is Beast: Zack Kassian scored a goal, made a few Henrik-like passes and shows just how fast he can skate. At 23, he is still inconsistent, but we can see the flashes of power forward brilliance the kid has. Cody, whaaaa??? Oh yeah, Zack scored the game winner as well.
  7. Shutout Mucked Up: Luongo was brilliant in this game, but Sam Gagner pushed Luongo out of his crease. Lu had to dive back in, over Gagner, had the puck in his net. Now, if there was ever a goal to overturn, that would have been it. Seriously NHL officials, how is that not goalie interference? Despite that, Luongo stopped 28 of 29 shots and looks ready for Sochi.
  8. Scoring Woes Continue: The Canucks as a collective still have only scored 7 goals in their last six games with a 3-3-0 record. Their goalies have been spectacular without much goal support.
  9. Bottom Half Pickings: The Canucks aren’t winning against the top teams in their division yet, but they are collecting the ‘gimme’ points as they should to keep in the hunt. Sometimes, you need to work your way from the bottom up, and with the depleted line-up, as a fan, I will take the two points where I can get them. However, when facing team like Edmonton, more than two goals would be nice to see on the score sheet.
  10. MIA: Torts (suspension) Henrik- (Rib/Finger, DTD) Santorelli (Shoulder, IR) Stanton (Left Ankle, IR) Alberts (Head, IR) Schroeder (Foot/Ankle, IR)
 The Canucks won 2-1, but not without giving the fans a bit of a heartattack in the last few minutes of the third period. It set the twitterverse on edge and the cynicism came out in droves, it felt like a meeting of disgruntled divorcees bitching about how good they used to have it before the struggles came into their lives. However, the two points were the Canucks’ and all was well (sort of) in Canuck Nation once again.
Kevin Bieksa hits Ryan Jones before scrapping with him.  (photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

Kevin Bieksa hits Ryan Jones before scrapping with him. (photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

Up next is home versus Nashville. I will not be attending that game in person. In fact, I am even thinking of cross the Fraser River to the suburbs to keep away. I like this short two game winning streak the Canucks are on right now, so I will stay away. Those nasty Predators always seem to win when I am present in the building they are playing and it doesn’t have to be the Canucks, but I will tell you that story another time.  Tonight, I’m content. The Oilers still suck and the Canucks sucked less for a 2-1 win.
Justine Galo
@Aviewfromabroad

Sukh Purewal: Fixing the Power Play

It used to be the strength of this team: the powerplay. Gone are the days of the number 1 ranked unit in the league. It’s hard to fathom how far they have actually dropped. Heading into the Coyotes game, the Canucks were ranked 23rd in the league clicking at a success rate of 15.4%. That number is going to drop after an 0 for 7 effort against the Coyotes. Gone are Ehrhoff and Salo who helped make the powerplay what it was. But it is hard to believe that even with Henrik, Daniel, Kesler and Edler still around, and with the addition of Jason Garrison, how bad it looks. The team is struggling to get into the zone. If you can’t get into the zone, you’re not going to score. It’s simple.

What Glen Gulutzan is doing just isn’t working, and it seems like he isn’t really willing to change anything. Game after game we saw Dan Hamhuis on the ice as part of the first powerplay unit. No disrespect to Dan, but he is not exactly the type of guy who strikes fear into an opponent on the man advantage. We’ve seen Tom Sestito get powerplay action, Dale Weise has been out there.

The personnel and the way they set up doesn’t make sense a lot of the time. It’s frustrating when you see Henrik setting up on the left wall. Setting up on that side completely eliminates Kesler from the man advantage, and allows teams to zone in on Garrison’s shot from the right point and like I mentioned before it doesn’t help having Hamhuis as the defenceman on the left side.

With the first unit, the Canucks should set up on the right hash with Kesler and Garrison on the point. Let Daniel and Henrik do their thing down low and along the wall. Kassian, Burrows, or Higgins are all players who can make an impact standing in front of the net. With this set-up, not only is Garrison’s shot a threat, Kesler and Garrison can play catch at the point and considering they are both playing on their off sides, they are in prime position to one-time the puck at any moment.

I get that it’s hard to overcome some of the injuries the team has had. They haven’t had the personnel they’ve wanted. Missing Burrows has caused the team a lot of problems. He has missed most of the season thanks to a broken foot and then a broken jaw. The Sedin’s have struggled mightily at 5 on 5 without him, and that’s likely led to their powerplay struggles. Burrows will likely be back Saturday, and I believe he will be put right back on the top line and he will hopefully be able get the Twins going, both at 5 on 5 and with a man advantage.

Edler being injured for the last month or so has also caused the Canucks to experiment a little bit. We have seen Chris Tanev get a chance to play the point. Tanev’s shot has gotten better since he first came into the league, but let’s be real, it’s still not great. The team has missed Edler’s shot. He is a guy who can make the first or second unit better, depending on where he is used. He and Bieksa would do a great job quarterbacking the second unit. Edler and Garrison on the top unit would terrify all of the penalty killers and whichever Canuck has the unfortunate pleasure of standing in front of the net with those two unleashing bombs.

I understand that it is a tough fix but it is something the team should be practicing more. The Canucks struggle to score at the best of time. They’ve scored one goal in the last 200 minutes of game action. They have to take advantage when they go up a man. They Canucks are going to make the playoffs. Their goaltending, especially when Luongo is back, is too good for them to not. But unless they start scoring more goals they won’t make any noise. They need the powerplay to start clicking. That might mean pulling the trigger on a trade for a sniper. Their penalty killing is remarkable. If they could get the other part of their special teams going, who knows what this team would be capable of.